You are on page 1of 5

30

Khushwant Singhs Delhi :


An Epic Journey
SANDIP TIKAIT*
Focusing on six centuries, ranging from the time of Ghiasuddin
Balban to the assassination of Indira Gandhi, leading to the massacre
of Sikhs, Delhi celebrates the city of Delhi, its glory, its mystique and
its cosmopolitanism. As the author-narrator undertakes an epic
journey in time, he comes across many people, emperors and eunuchs,
poets and prostitutes, saints and soldiers who have participated or
have been witnessed to major historical upheavals wherein some of
them take the task of throwing light on their personal lives and on
the times in which they lived.
Out of the nine historical chapters, seven are largely
monologues of ordinary men- Musaddi Lal Kayasth, a government
official living in the reigns of Ghiasuddin Balban and his successors;
Jaita Rangreta, an untouchable, living in the reigns of Shah Jahan
and Aurangzeb; Meer Taqi Meer, a poet living in the turbulent period
of later Moguls marking Nadir Shah and Abdalis invasions; some
of the representative characters of the revolt of 1857- Alice Aldwell,
a British lady, Bahadur Shah Zafar who had become almost a
common by that time and a Sikh soldier Nihal Singh who fought
for Britishers and the people who narrate the political events of the
early twentieth century in The Builders, the plight of the refugees
in The Dispossessed, and finally the assassination of Indira Gandhi
and the later killings of Sikhs which is narrated by the authornarrator himself.
The Muslim conquest of India had profound impact on the
social, cultural, religious, economic and political life of India. Mussadi
Lal is a Kayastha scribe who lived during the reign of Ghiasuddin
Balban. He was taught Sanskrit and Hindi by a Pandit and learnt
Arabic, Turki and Persian in a madrasa. People, who belonged to
the religion of their ruler, were always in a better position as
compared to those belonging to a different religion.
*Lecturer, Dept. of English, Saltora Netaji Centenary College, Saltora (W.B.)
Vol.-I Number 2
29

Winter

July-December 2009

Journal of Literature, Culture and Media Studies

Those who attempted to be a part of both, like Mussadi Lal


were worse off. He finally took refuge under Nizamuddin Auliya,
who made no distinction between Hindus and Muslims. The invaders
coming to India had always tried to demonstrate their superiority by
destroying places of worship that belonged to the people following
a religion other than their own. For instance, the Turks had demolished
twenty-seven Hindu and Jain temples. They built the Quwwat-ulIslam mosque on its ruins and buried idols of Vishnu and Lakshmi
underneath the entrance gate so that the Muslims going in to pray
would trample upon them. Hindus would attempt to regain some of
their prestige in different ways. An example of this is the inscription
Sri Visvakarme Prasade Rachida on the Qutub Minar. When Allauddin
Khilji came upon the throne of Delhi, he set about despoiling the
Hindu kingdoms of the South. His General, Malik Kafur extended
his dominions right up to the seas. Tremendous wealth was brought
into Delhi. Hindu women were given away to Muslims as reward
for service.
All the foreigners who invaded India used religion as an
excuse to do so. This is seen in the chapter, The Timurid. Taimur
justified his invasion by saying that it was a holy task enjoined
upon him by Allah. He also motivated his troops by invoking their
religious zeal. He summoned all his nobles and We told them that
our object in undertaking the invasion of Hindustan was to bring
infidels to the path of true religion and to purify the country from
the filth of polytheism and idolatry.... (Delhi 96) Taimur truly
believed that his act of invasion had been sanctified by the hand
of Allah. His army also believed in it, and so they were able to fight
with tremendous zeal and emerge victorious. Superior military
tactics also contributed towards their success. Even so the people
were not willing to take things lying down. After their king,
Mahmud Tughlaq, had been defeated, the citizens showed
tremendous courage. They refused to pay the indemnity Taimur
imposed upon them. For this defiance they paid dearly. Taimur
ordered a brutal massacre. For ten days there was merciless killing
and looting all around. He and his men acquired untold wealth and
numerous slaves. A similar scenario is repeated in the chapter,
Nadir Shah. Nadir Shah also invaded Hindustan in order to rid
it of infidels and restore Islam to its rightful place. .... We will
not allow an Islamic kingdom to be despoiled by heathens .... We
would soon be taking the road to Delhi to put the House of Mughals
Vol.-I Number 2

Winter July-December 2009

31

Khushwant Singhs Delhi: An Epic Journey

in order and to restore the kingdom of Hindustan to Islam.


(Delhi 171)
The aftermath of both these invasions was disastrous. After
Taimur departed, Delhi became a desolate place. There was nobody
to bury the corpses left behind:
We had realized early in our youth that just as there is
one God in heaven, so the earth can support only one
king. In the years granted to us by Allah we strove to
bring the nations of the world under our rule. If he wanted
to bring all the nations of the world under his rule, he
should have also ensured the happiness and prosperity of
his subjects.
(Delhi 95)

However, Taimur blatantly neglected to fulfil this primary


duty of a king. After the plunder of Nadir Shah, Delhi became a
wasteland where gangs of Rohillas, Marathas, Jats and Sikhs
preyed upon the people. It is strange that both of them had
invaded India in the name of Islam. This happened when the
current rulers of India were themselves Muslim, and the upholders
of Islam. Clearly religion was used as a tool for acquiring untold
wealth and riches. Nadir Shah did absolutely nothing to crush the
Marathas. Rather, by diluting the strength of the Mughals, he
indirectly empowered the Marathas. All this caused the citizens to
suffer further misery.
As seen in the later chapters, they continued to live a life
of ease and did nothing to evolve a better administration and superior
military strength. They did not learn to treat all citizens as equal
irrespective of their religion, which would have gone a long way
towards fostering unity amongst the people. If they had done all this,
the history of India would have been very different. For instance, the
sectarian policy followed by Aurangzeb gave rise to feelings of
resentment amongst the Hindus. He imposed the jazia tax in order
to induce non-believers on to the path of the right religion.
Subsequently, this led to the rise of the Sikhs, Marathas, Jats and
Satnamis.
The chapter, The Untouchables brings to light some of the
lesser known aspects of Sikh religion. No doubt Khushwant Singhs
considerable erudition in the field of Sikhism helped him to fashion
Vol.-I Number 2

Winter

July-December 2009

32

Journal of Literature, Culture and Media Studies

this chapter in an authentic manner. The narrator is Jaita Rangreta,


an untouchable, who lived in Rikabganj. Everyone looked down
upon his entire community, so they attached themselves to the feet
of the Guru and began calling themselves the Sikhs of Guru Nanak.
This is similar to the lower castes adopting Christianity later on.
There was a commercial aspect to becoming a Sikh as well. When
Jaitas father died, the Gurus agent sent for him. He was told that
he had to pay a certain amount of money for his fathers soul and
for the accession of the new Guru. Jaita did not have any money
because he had spent everything he had in the feast that followed
his fathers death. So he had to borrow from a rich moneylender
to pay up. Thereafter, he had to pay the Gurus agent every year.
Jaita did not mind this very much, for now he was not a mere
untouchable, but a Sikh of Guru Nanak. The irony is; Although
he never allowed me to go near him or even touched my money
with his own hands (his servants did that) I felt different.
(Delhi 127)
Singh has not flinched in writing about this somewhat
demeaning aspect about his own community. This amply reveals his
objectivity as a writer. There has been a maturity in his perception,
for he has been biased in favour of the Sikhs in the story, When
Sikh meets Sikh. But here, all bias has been shed aside to reveal
a historical fact.
Everybody believed that an avatar would soon come to
save the people. This is a typical Hindu belief that when Kalyug
reaches a climax, God would send a saviour. But instead, Guru
Tegh Bahadur was also captured. Jaita awaits some miracle, but
the Guru is soon executed and it is ordered that his naked body
would be exposed to public gaze. Enraged at this behaviour, Jaita
takes it upon himself to do something. As has been said that
God helps those who help themselves, so it was with Jaita.
When he embarked upon the mission to kidnap the Gurus
mortal remains, a furious dust storm arose. Soon day turned into
night. Everybody shut himself indoors. And Jaita was easily able
to carry the Gurus body out of the Kotwali and give him a
decent funeral. Soon thereafter, the storm vanished as
mysteriously as it had appeared. Jaita Rangretas faith and sense
of self worth are in this way re-established. At last the Guru
had performed the great miracle. He had given a carrier of shit
Vol.-I Number 2

Winter July-December 2009

33

Khushwant Singhs Delhi: An Epic Journey

and stinking carcasses the privilege of carrying his sacred head


in his arms. (Delhi 136)
It was religious intolerance, poverty and inequality that led
to internal revolts in the country. What was true then is very true
today as well Jaita Rangreta became a Sikh in order to establish a
feeling of self-worth. What have we poor untouchables to do with
kings! I remember my Bapu saying- They are all the same to usOne goes, another comes. Zulum goes on. ... My Bapu called every
badshah a zalim. (Delhi 124) This reveals the plight of the people
on the lowest rung of the social ladder and their kings indifference
towards them. Ensuring social equality among their subjects was
never a concern of the rulers. The situation is not very different today
either.
It is strange that Aurangzeb too believed that since Allah had
given him birth in the dynasty of kings, it was his duty to serve
humanity and to spread Islam. One wonders at his concept of serving
humanity. He ordered his commanders Mir Jumla, Shaista Khan
and others, to extend the domain of Islam to the furthermost comers
of Hindustan. The Mughal army gained victory over several kingdoms.
However, the duty of a monarch is not merely to extend the realm
of his empire, but to keep his subjects happy by treating them as
equal. Aurangzeb demolished temples and raised mosques upon their
ruins. He forbade drinking and forced prostitutes and dancing girls
to marry or leave his empire. The Muslim subjects were happy with
all this. The Hindu subjects, however, were far from happy due to
his discrimination against them.
Khushwant Singh shows that the monarchs who ruled over
India through the centuries spent all their time indulging in wine
and women. This through the successive generations became a habit
and a weakness. This was another factor, which allowed foreigners
to hold sway over Hindustan. All the monarchs came upon the
throne after slaying their own brothers, fathers and other male heirs.
After coming to power they did not do much to alleviate the
sufferings of the common man.
The British understood only too well the importance of
religion in India. They were quick to exploit this to suit their own
purposes. They enlisted Indians in their army to fight with fellow
Indians by preying upon their religious sentiments. The Sikhs were
Vol.-I Number 2
Journal-3

Winter

July-December 2009

34

Journal of Literature, Culture and Media Studies

recruited in the British army and told that they were to fight the
Mussulmans. As Nihal Singh recounts: When I was a child Mai told
me of Aurangzeb, King of Delhi, who had cut off the head of our
Guru. She called him Aurangzeb and spat whenever she used his
name. I also learnt to thoo on Aurangzebs name. (Delhi 273) The
Sikhs were told that their Guru had informed Aurangzeb that the
sahibs would come from the side of the rising sun and with the help
of the Sikhs overthrow his dynasty. Nihal Singh had not heard of
such a prophecy. Still he believes in it because he knew that the
Sahibs were wise people. In this way the Sikhs were used to fight
the Muslim rebels. The British enlisted Pathan and Biloches and
Punjabi Muslims in order to fight the Hindu rebels.
The revolt was also triggered as a result of religion. But
what right had he to order our Hindu and Muslim soldiers to put
cartridges smeared with the fat of cows and pigs in their mouths?
Did we need more to prove that he meant to despoil both Islam and
Hinduism and make everyone Christian? (Delhi 267) In this way
Hindus and Muslims united against the British. The rebels also used
religion to provoke the Indian soldiers to go against their British
officers. To the Muslim soldiers they sent Muslim emissaries with the
Quran and begged them to jihad against the pig-eating firangi.
Brahmins carrying Ganga water in brass-pots were sent to convince
the Sikhs to murder the cow-eating maleechas.
The chapter 1857 reveals another devious woman
somewhat like the Begum Sahiba of Meer. This is Alice Aldwell an
Anglo-Indian woman who fervently hides the fact that she is only
half-British.
She is extremely contemptuous of Eurasians and Indians, and
shares an unequal relationship with them. This is ironical because
she and her children escape death after she acknowledges her Indian
roots and gets converted to Islam. During the revolt of 1857, Alice
and her daughters take refuge in Mirza Abdullahs home. He asks
them to get convert to Islam to ensure their safety. She and her
daughters do so. Later he has her transported to another house. Here
he and his friends make love to her all night long. The Indians
fascination for white skin is evident here.
The attitude of the Indian women towards Alice (and other
English women) is generally reverential. For instance when Alice had
Vol.-I Number 2

Winter July-December 2009

35

Khushwant Singhs Delhi: An Epic Journey

visited Mirza Abdullahs house before the crisis occurred, the ladies
had become flustered and had behaved in a fawning manner. When
she and a group of ladies had called upon Queen Zeenat Mahal,
there was much coming and going of begums and their daughters
who wanted to see the memsahibs at close quarters.
The Indians regarded the English as superior and so their
mutual relationship has always been lopsided. This is also exemplified
by the awe in which Nihal Singh held Hodson Sahib. Their
relationship can be taken as being representative of the relation
between Indian soldiers and their British officers. The Indian soldiers
held their British officers are great esteem and had blind faith in
them. The slave mentality of Indians is clearly evident. They are easily
brainwashed and easily led. Nicholson Sahib is regarded with so
much reverence that some Sikhs go so far as to believe that he is
an incarnation of one of their Gurus. And they begin calling
themselves Nikalsainis. Whereas the English officers did not really
care for their Indian subordinates. When Hodson Sahib was taking
stock of the number of casualties incurred during the revolt, he only
counted the number of goras who had died or had been wounded.
He even counted the number of horses that had died or had been
injured. The Indian soldiers who perished were not even counted,
much less given a thought. The British were also able to exploit the
antagonistic relationship between the Indians themselves to their
advantage during the revolt. For instance, the Sikhs were told that
they were to fight the Hindus on the rebel side. After the suppression
of the revolt, the English favoured the Hindus and discriminated
against the Muslims. This kind of exploitation served to further cause
a rift in the mutual relationship between the different communities
of India.
The chapter, The Builders shows the interesting relationship
between Sujan Singh and his son Sobha Singh. This chapter also
reveals the relationship between the Indians and the English. In those
days, the words of the father were sacred for the son. Sujan Singh
teaches his son all the cunning and the various ploys required to
establish a successful business.
Religion also continued to remain an important pun of
politics and was exploited to the hilt by the English. Corruption had
become an accepted part of business. Also, it was the presence of
Indians like Khushwant Singhs father and grandfather that helped
the English to carry on their building works.
Vol.-I Number 2

Winter

July-December 2009

36

Journal of Literature, Culture and Media Studies

Along with the progress in the building of the new capital


of India, Khushwant Singh has also given an account of the rise of
Indian Nationalism. When Lord Hardinge came to India as the
Viceroy, there was an agitation amongst the Sikhs to liberate the
gurdwaras from hereditary priests. Gandhi and other Congress
members were also demanding self-rule. The Muslim Moplahs rose
against Hindu moneylenders. Gandhi, Motilal and Jawaharlal Nehru
called for a boycott of the visit of the Prince of Wales. Reading
promptly jailed them. He then sent the army to crush the Moplahs.
However, he was not able to stem the rising tide of Indian Nationalism.
The Congress swept the polls in the 1923 elections and Motilal Nehru
became the main spokesman in the Central Assembly. The new
Viceroy, Lord Irwin was friendly with the Nationalist leaders. It was
believed that the English and the Indians would now work together
as partners. But the Nationalists were themselves a divided lot. Some
of them were willing to co-operate with the English. Others wanted
to drive them out of India; by force if necessary.
The Dispossessed depicts the complete fragmentation of the
relationship between the Hindus and the Muslims that culminates
in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. This paper traces the
growth of the militant Hindu organisation, the RSS, which exploited
young boys like Ram Rakha. Boys who had suffered in some manner
due to the Muslims were indoctrinated by the RSS. They were then
motivated to indulge in terrorist activities against the Muslims. All
this caused a deep divide between the two communities.
This breakdown of mutual relationship among the two main
communities of India extends to the breakdown of the relationship
between the Sikhs and the Hindus, as seen in the last chapter,
Bhagmati. This too culminates in the assassination of Indira
Gandhi and the mass killing of Sikhs in Delhi.
All this has been analysed in the chapter on political views.
Delhi ends on a sad note, indicating that communalism has come
to stay in India and soon India will comprise of a seething mass
of different communities perpetually at loggerheads with each other.
The separatist movements in different part of India today, are a
testimony to this tragic fact. This has occurred due to the breakdown
of mutual human relationship between the people of our country who
no longer regard themselves as Indians. Rather they identify themselves
on the basis of their particular caste, community, religion, sect and
even sub-sect.
Vol.-I Number 2

Winter July-December 2009

37

Khushwant Singhs Delhi: An Epic Journey

Journal of Literature, Culture and Media Studies

References

A Comparative Study of the


Psychoanalytical Portrayal of the
Women Characters by
Virginia Woolf and Anita Desai

Albrecht, Milton C. 1954. The Relationship of Literature and Society.


American Journal of Sociology. Vol. 59, March : pp. 425-436.
Allen, Walter. 1963. Reading A Novel. London : Phonix House Ltd.

A. J. KHAN*

Hale, Nancy. 1963. The Realities of Fiction. London : Macmillan and Co. Ltd.
Iyengar, K.R.Srinavasa. 1959. Indian Writing in English Contemporary
Indian Literature. New Delhi : Sahitya Akademi.
Sarkar, Sir Jadunath. 1944, India Through the Ages. Calcutta : S.C. Sarkar
and Sons Ltd.
Singh, Khushwant. 1990. Delhi. New Delhi: Penguin Books India Limited.
Spegele, Roger D. 1972. Fiction and Political Insight. The American Review.
Vol.18, No.1. : 5

A critical and comparative study of Women Characters as


portrayed by Virginia Woolf and Anita Desai needs preliminary
discussions of the major prevailing conditions that had their
corresponding impact on these writers. When Mrs. Woolf started
writing her major novels, she had been influenced by the new
technique in modern novels known as the Stream of Consciousness
that became an influential force in the field of modern fiction. All
the psychological theories propounded by Freud and Jung influenced
the major writers of the twentieth century like D.H. Lawrence,
Virginia Woolf and others. Almost every modern writer tried to
explore various psychological theories relating to human behaviour
and human relationship. Fresh exploration in psychological studies
opened new vistas in the field of criticism, poetry and novels as a
result of which we had the emergence of such critical concepts as
Oedipus Complex, Stream of Consciousness and such other
concepts. But the main influence of the new psychology was on the
art of characterization leading to the emergence of some of the major
writings in modern fictions. Novels like James Joyces Ullysses,
Lawrences Sons and Lovers, and Lady Chatterleys Lover, Virginia
Woolfs To the Lighthouse and The Waves are some of the important
examples of this group of novels.
As one the characters, one finds that a particular novelist is
chiefly guided by altogether a new psychological theory, concept, or
idea. Thus, a study of the portrayal of women character by Virginia
Woolf immediately makes us confront with the major psychological
crises that are created in the lives of women character vis--vis the
various changing social circumstances that surround them.
Virginia Woolf must have absorbed many of the new ideas
* Assistant Professor, Dept. of English, Utkal University, Bhubaneswar.

Vol.-I Number 2

Winter

July-December 2009

Vol.-I Number 2

Winter July-December 2009


38