Sunday, July 26, 2020

History A Fascinating Subject

The word history generates so many images that come to mind, to name a few kingdoms, queens and kings, great wars, architecture and culture, literature and historians who pen down snapshots of a bygone era. If we look at human history in general, it is often broken down into ages driven by pursuits of man in a given age or era. Historical events also translate into books and films that help keep the narrative alive. However there are some fundamental questions that come to mind, whose history is it anyway? Past historic events are often debated by scholars who interpret them differently based on their own perspectives, mindsets and prejudices. What strikes me as a clear pattern, is the official narrative of history is largely driven by a state's view of events (state implies a country, a kingdom or smaller unit depending of the geographic location and point in time). The problem with an official narrative is it is unchallenged version and is often debated when other scholars with deep knowledge of the region to which such events are related, challenge the documented version with a counter view of events. If we look at Indian History especially, what is taught in schools and colleges is a very limited and myopic view of our History. Why do i say so? Because we don't read about regional history, most of the text is dedicated to history of Delhi Sultanate, Mughals, Cholas or the Gupta's. What about the naval capabilities of Marthanda Verma or the trading links India has had over the centuries. If we look at Indus Valley civilisation as well, our history books postulated that Aryan invasions brought it to an end. Recent studies have shown this is completely a viewpoint with not an iota of evidence.

So how did things come to this. Sadly our history has been largely written from a colonial lens and needs to be revisited. We now have all the scientific and technological aids to decipher history from a multi-disciplinary view covering History, Geography, Geology and Physics. Historical problems need dedicated research with site visits, collection of samples, lab investigations and even deep sea diving as well ! The way history is taught in our education system, reflects the scant respect we have given to this fascinating subject. We need a completely new approach to the way we decipher history as well as way we right and teach it as a subject. Another issue that we see with ancient Indian History is the prevalence of Sanskrit manuscripts (by some estimates 30 million manuscripts). Very few have actually been studied and analysed as Sanskrit is not taught in most schools and most modern day historians are unable to read Sanskrit. This is a huge challenge that needs to be overcome with missionary zeal and a clear objective. To do justice to our rich civilisation and unearth the knowledge that lies in these manuscripts, governments must focus on teaching Sanskrit as a subject as well as translate these works to other Indian languages. As the saying goes, to progress as a nation we must know our past and where we came from. Our historical research is clearly lacking both in skills as well as focus. Time to set the records right !

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

In Dublin's Fair City

I never had any illusions about coming to Dublin, the capital of Ireland. My only Irish connection in my student days was the hit Celtic song 'Molly Malone' that had the lovely lines 'In Dublin's fair city where the girls are so pretty'. So, when i finally landed up here for work last year, i came with no specific expectation. I was more interested in settling down with my joining and other settling down chores. Personally never bothered to even lookup a TripAdvisor guide for Dublin. I am happy i didn't, for it is a city where you connect with people and explore.

William Butler Yeats once famously remarked 'There are no strangers here, only friends you haven't met. I could not agree more with this assessment. The moment you step in to the city, it seems a different world. A world where you find a bit of everything be it history, culture, greenery, education, architecture and night life. Dublin is truly an interesting city which has much to offer to every type of traveler or resident depending on their interests. The more diverse your interests, the more you will love Dublin. It is a city with a rich history of education, culture. If you like history, one can explore the Irish War of Independence. You could visit the Book of Kells in Trinity College, which contains the four Gospels of the New Testament in Latin. If you like parks you could spend a day at the Phoenix Park, the largest park in Dublin or amble around the Stephen's Green (see image below) in central Dublin.

There are numerous quaint bookstores where you can explore fascinating books and sip a coffee. If you like to trek or explore the hills, head off to the Wicklow Mountains close-by (about an hour from Dublin). If you like the sea, Dublin has its share of beaches and rocky cliffs. You could explore the cliff walk at Howth or walk across the fishing harbour to the lighthouse.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

In Search of a Lost War - Imphal Diaries Day Two Moirang and Loktak Lake

After spending a better part of the morning at the Red Hill and India Peace Memorial, it was time to move on to my next destination Moirang. Moirang is situated 45 kilometres from Imphal and about 30 km's from the India Peace Memorial. The journey from the Red Hill crosses the beautiful Loktak Lake on the right and a wooded range of hills that flirt with the winding road sometimes in close proximity and sometimes a few miles away.
We reached the town of Moirang where the INA Museum is located. Moirang has a historical significance as the INA headquarters during the Battle for Imphal were located in this town. Colonel Shaukat Malik of INA raised the Indian tri-colour for the first time on April 14th, 1944 a red letter day in the Indian freedom struggle, which is sadly omitted from our history books. (see images below - INA Museum Moirang, photos - courtesy author)

A Truly Historic Moment captured in a stone plaque

                                              Entrance to INA Museum, Moirang
While entering through the gates of the INA Museum, there stands a statue of the iconic leader Subhas Chandra Bose, the leader of INA. Standing to take a few photos, i noticed the INA's Martyr's Memorial on the extreme right and the Museum building on the left. Tracing my steps to enter the Museum i discovered that no photography is allowed inside the museum ! This limited my photos to the outer periphery, Netaji's statue and the Martyr's memorial.

                           A historic moment for me as i stood before the statue of INA's leader Netaji

Stepping inside the museum, one finds two sections where one is devoted to rare photos of INA in action during the war and of Netaji in different events in different places like India, Germany, Japan. There are a few colour photos as well of the iconic leader but sadly these are in a state of decay and in need for urgent preservation and restoration. It is explicable to me as to why such a treasure trove of rare photos and information is kept away from the photo enthusiasts as it help spreads the message (including maps of INA's march forward in 1944 and subsequent retreat in late 1944 early 1945).
The other section is devoted to equipment used by INA including guns, shells, coins and insignia. There is a separate gallery where the freedom fighters from Manipur and Chief Ministers are listed with photos. After spending an hour at the museum i finally stepped out with a heavy heart, that i had seen so much and yet there was little i could take in the form of photos to spread awareness about how much we need to visit Imphal and its nearby areas to truly comprehend the history of our freedom struggle.
My final stop at the Museum was the INA Martyr's Memorial. For the uninitiated this is a replica of INA Memorial setup in Singapore in July 1945 in memory of the INA men and women who lost their lives. The original memorial at Esplanade Park, Singapore was destroyed by the British when they recaptured Singapore in August 1945. The replica memorial was setup in 1968 and inaugurated by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1969. (see images below)

The memorial has the 3 words that tell us the DNA and character of the INA - Ittefaq, Itmad and Qurbani. As i walked away finally that afternoon i knew every moment of this trip had been worth it. I went with an open mind to Manipur not knowing what to expect and i came back overawed by the amount of history it has. It is our duty to ensure that we respect our history and protect our heritage before it is lost to future generations.
Before returning to Imphal, me made a final stop at the picturesque Loktak Lake. I had seen it from the air when the flight landed at Imphal. Getting to see the serene beauty of the lake from an adjacent hilltop, made my trip worthwhile.
                                           The beautiful colours of Loktak Lake
                                         Road to Imphal from hill top with Loktak Lake

If you are planning a trip to North East add Manipur to your list. Do keep a lookout for the law and order situation that sometimes does get delicate though. Happy travels !!

Monday, December 26, 2016

In Search of a Lost War - Imphal Diaries Day Two India Peace Memorial

After completing my first day at Imphal spending time at the Imphal War Cemetery and Kangla Fort, i was in an expectant mood for the day ahead at Red Hill, Moirang and Loktak lake the following day. In this blog i cover the India Peace Memorial erected at the base of the Red Hill near Imphal. Leaving the hotel at sharp 9 AM we set off in the direction of the India Peace Memorial at the base of Red Hill, Maibam Lopkaching which is situated about 19 km's away from Imphal on the Tiddim Road. The Battle for Red Hill was one of the most bloody battles fought near Imphal in World War 2 and was the closest the Japanese and INA got to Imphal. The densely wooded hill stands next to the Tiddim Road and at the base of the hill lies the India Peace Memorial setup by the Japanese Government to honour all the soldiers who died on the Japanese, Indian and British sides. There is lovely poignant stone in black 'This Monument shall stand as a prayer of peace and a symbol of friendship between the peoples of Japan and India. In memory of all those who lost their lives in India during the last World War'. The same inscription is repeated in Japanese ( see photos below courtesy author) Image of Densely wooded Red Hill where over 50,000 soldiers lost their lives in battle across Japanese, INA and British Indian Army lines.

A stone plaque commemorating the Battle of Red Hill setup by the Government of Manipur

The India Peace Memorial with the three stones representing the 3 nations represented in the Battle Honours

The battle took place between May 21-29th,1944 and the Peace Memorial was setup on the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Imphal in 1944. I walked around the memorial and foothills of Red Hill soaking in the remains of what must have been a place of death and destruction some 72 years back.
Walking down from the Peace Memorial towards the road i found a small temple, built in Japanese style which had seen better days. The temple was set in black and white stones with Japanese inscriptions. Next to the temple lay a small anti-aircraft battery used by the Japanese in the battle. It is one of the few ruins that one finds of pitched battle that took place over 70 years ago.
Author poses at the India Peace Memorial

Japanese Temple adjacent to the Peace Memorial

World War 2 Vintage Anti-Aircraft Battery

Beside the main road lies a large board commemorating the 71st anniversary of the Battle for Imphal, of which Battle for Red Hill was a part. This was a big event held in May 2015 with the ambassadors of Japan and Australia in India in attendance along with the Manipur Chief Minister. Sadly there was no representative from the Central Government.
As i took photographs and made some notes, i wondered how it must have been for the thousands of young men who fought a pitched battle in these conditions. Sadly these battles and men have long been forgotten, lost in the sands of time. I was reminded of the touching words at the Kohima War Cemetery 'When you go home, tell them of us and say for your tomorrow, we gave our today'. How apt and touching these words were. 

Sunday, December 25, 2016

In Search of a Lost War - Imphal Diaries Day One

While a lot has been written about World War 2 in Europe and the Far East, not much is known about the great battles fought in the North Eastern states of India in the summer of 1944. A renewed interest among Indian writers has led to recent works like Hemant Singh Katoch's ' Battlefields of Imphal' and Raghu Karnad's 'The Farthest Field' that have explored how the war impacted people in India. With a plan to write a story set in the North East of India during World War 2, a trip to Manipur was very much on the cards for me. So with a plan to visit Imphal and Moirang i set out one early morning taking the Indigo flight from Kolkata to Imphal. The plan was to cover the Imphal War Cemetery, India Peace Memorial and the INA Museum at Moirang. I wanted to visit Kohima as well, the scene of a bloody battle between the British Indian Army and the Japanese along with the INA, but could not make it as i had no time to apply for the inner line permit needed for going to Nagaland. Thankfully the ILP is no more needed for Manipur and i was able to plan the trip at very short notice. landing on a Saturday morning, i checked into the Classic Hotel and booked a car from my afternoon trip to Imphal War Cemetery. There were two War Cemetery's - one for the British Army and another for British Indian Army both located in Imphal. The British it appears followed the principle of divide and rule even in death as there are two different cemetery's for the British Army and British Indian Army. While the armies fought shoulder to shoulder and the British Indian Army was the largest volunteer force in World War 2, yet they found no place in the same cemetery. The War Cemetery's are well maintained as they receive grants from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC). The British Army Cemetery had an unidentified Hindu soldier buried along with the British officers and men. The lovely poignant setting made the afternoon a memorable one as i paused briefly before each of the stone plaques in front of the graves to ponder on how these young men met their end so far away from home. (images of British Army Cemetery in Imphal)

Walking down the pathways between the horizontal rows of graves i found a white marble plaque with the immortal words 'Their Name Liveth for Ever More'. It made me ponder, that while the British and Australian governments commemorated the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Imphal in 2014, not  much was heard of and written in India. Why are we so indifferent to our own martyrs and history?

The memorials made me ponder on the futility of war and yet so many years later we still have so many wars being fought in the world around us. A nun from a local convent was out with a group of school kids and i requested her to take my photograph a memory of my trip to place that held a special place in my heart.

Came across a touching message from loving parents who had lost their only son 'Nothing but memories as we linger on thinking of you'. War creates divide, yet the human race seems to be hell bent on self-destruction. After spending the better part of an hour i slowly retracted my steps to my vehicle to head to the British Indian Army Cemetery a mile away. Driven through decrepit narrow lane that finally ended in the impressive British Indian Army Cemetery of Imphal where over 800 soldiers are buried. While the Hindu and Sikh soldiers were cremated as per their religious orders, the Muslim soldiers were buried here.

 A lot of the soldiers and officers buried here are from the Corps of the Royal Engineers and the Indian Regiment of Artillery. It is strange that our history has so little space for these young men who died in the prime of their lives. They are truly a 'Forgotten Army' so as to say.

Spending close to an hour at the Indian Army cemetery and spending a few minutes to speak to the caretaker there i realized barring a few locals and few foreigners who visit in search of lost relatives who fought the great war many decades back, there is very little interest among domestic tourists in India. History needs to be rewritten in India to create awareness about the battles fought in North East which had a huge impact on India history. My final stop for the day was the Kangla Fort also in Imphal where the British Fourteenth Army led by General Slim had their headquarters. Manipur was an independent state till 1891 when the British finally took it over. Kangla Fort was the seat of power for Manipuri (Meetei) rulers before the British captured it in the last decade of the nineteenth century.

Images of Kangla Fort (photo credits - author)
Spending close to two hours traversing the Kangla Fort on foot i finally ended the day with my field notes. It was a challenge finding General Slim's cottage which i finally did after some traversing the area close to the moats.
This was the end of my first day in Imphal. The next day had an exciting agenda to visit the India Peace Memorial near the Red Hill outside Imphal, Moirang where INA raised the Indian tricolour for the first time on April 14th, 1944 and Loktak Lake. More about day 2 in my next blog. Happy reading.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Exploring the Atlantic Coast of Ireland

Hardly two weeks into my baptism in Ireland, we ventured into the West Coast of Ireland that meets the mighty Atlantic Ocean. Leaving early on a Sunday morning, catching the Dublin Tour Company bus that headed into a misty highway towards Galway. The trip seemed exhausting based on the internet advertisement that caused some of the group to drop out at the last minute, though five of us were convinced it was worth every minute spent. Stopping for a short break at Galway, we headed coast ward to cover the coastal sections of Kinvarra, Doolin and the Cliffs of Moher. The first stop was the Dunguaire Castle near the south eastern shore of Galway Bay near Kinvarra. We climbed the stone wall adjoining the road, into supposedly private property and headed downhill to capture iconic shots of the castle and the back waters, that were now in low tide. Swans swam in the calm waters and we were told that when the tide comes in the water rises over 10 feet engulfing a lot of the low lands where we stood now ! (the gang of five immortalised in the frame below ;)

This was followed by a lovely drive along the Gallway Bay with the surrounding limestone hills, carved be geological forces of many years including glacial flows from the last Ice Age. The city of Galway was now left behind with the only evidence being white buildings in the horizon as we sped through the coastal highway crossing a white lighthouse. (see image below)
We stopped at a small limestone hill that meets the highway at a sharp angle. Climbing to a vantage point in quick time, i managed a few shots of the amazing landscape (see images below).
The cavernous limestone cut by glacial action made for some interesting climbing and lovely photos to savour as well. Reaching the highest point on the limestone hill, and using my Carl Zeiss optical zoom managed some interesting shots of the highway winding down the coastline.

Climbing down below the road level we reached the cliffs which stood close to 80 feet above the powerful currents of Gallway Bay. Though rather impressive, they are nicknamed the 'minor cliffs'.

Driving further along the coast we reached the lovely Doolin Bay which has a small beach below the rocks. The hallmark was the fierce wind that make the waves pound into the rocks with amazing force. The wind also made photography from vantage points a bit challenging, but that was really part of this wonderful exploration of Ireland's Atlantic coast.

Stopping for lunch at the O'Connors Pub that serves a huge plate of fish and chips and downing some beer got our spirits back to soaring heights. We were truly ready for the Cliffs of Moher. Taking a stroll through the main street of Doolin was a discovery of colour and character of the local houses and shops.

Finally we were en-route to the cliffs climbing a range of hills. Stopping at the visitor centre, the bus driver who had been a great guide all day gave us the chilling news that a lady had fallen to her death the previous day advising caution on the left track that got muddy and slippery and close to the cliff edge at places. A short chat and we decided to take the left track first as it was more tricky and would be time consuming. Moving along the parapet wall, we finally climbed over to the other side to capture some spell binding images. (a small word of caution the track does get muddy and unless you have good shoes it may be a good choice to stay away from the edge)
The Cliffs of Moher stand between 500 to 700 feet above the Atlantic Ocean making it a sight to savour. Though not explored as a base jumping location, i did check with a sky diver friend that this was indeed doable with a special chute design for short jumps.

Finishing the left side after an hour and a half, we finally set off to cover the right path which was a lot shorter and had steps all along the way. The right path ended in a small tower overlooking the Atlantic sea face. It was a mesmerizing sight that would remain with me for many weeks.

Stopping at the visitor centre for a few mementos we finally hit the road back to Galway stopping briefly at a pre-historic burial site supposedly over 5000 years old (see image below).

Cliffs of Moher must be on your bucket list, if you happen to visit Ireland. It has been described by the Nobel Prize winning author Seamus Heaney as a place that 'can catch the heart off-guard and blow it open'. I could not agree more with this assessment. So grab your travel planner and get going people. There is so much to see and so little time ;)