Sunday, February 12, 2012

Are you proud of what your great-grandfather did?

As a teenager, when my sociopolitical outlook had various shades of red depending on how pissed off I was that day, almost every historic building came across as nothing but a symbol of oppression in the past.

Palaces were some of the worst ones.  For one, the splendor came at the expense of the poor and the disadvantaged.  And, to make things worse, quite a few of the palaces were also nasty reminders of how the kings managed to keep themselves and their families rich and safe by signing treaties with the British East India Company and the Crown.  In the process, they made sure that those who fought the British would be annihilated as well.

That was the angry and rebellious blood, which most of my high schoolmates never got to know existed underneath the "pappu" face :)

Now, older and (hopefully) wiser, I don't get angry about those issues anymore when I travel in order to visit old palaces, temples, mosques, cathedrals, mausoleums ....  I have come to understand that life was very different then, and I am glad I live now and not a couple of centuries ago, though it worries me, for instance, to think that we can easily cluster bomb the world back to the stone age!

The comments that "S" made reminded me of such a past of mine.  As we drove past the statue of Rani Lakshmi Bai, "S" remarked that the families of those who fought the British perished or ended up being poor, while the royalty who sided with the British continued to live well, even after India became independent. 

The royal family of Gwalior, the Scindias, was one of those who survived the British invasion.  In an independent India, they continued to flourish, exercising significant political influence over their territory.  It is one grand palace in an otherwise relatively poorer part of India:


The rooms and even the corridors in the palace spoke volumes about how well the royalty lived even back then.  My simple camera couldn't quite capture the richness of this one room alone:


Perhaps what pained "U," who was also visiting, and me, was a photo that says a lot:


The royalty and the British proudly stand by the eight tigers they had killed on a single day of hunting.  Eight tigers on one day!

In a way, I am glad that such photos exist--otherwise, one might even be tempted to think that such reports are fables.

I thought then that it will be neat to ask the current title-holder whether he is proud of what his grandparents and those even earlier did.

But then I checked myself: my great-grandparents practiced the caste system.  Within whatever was in their control, well, they too "subjected" people to a treatment that was/is not kosher.

No point throwing stones at the royalty; most of us abuse power and privilege in our own ways; some do it more than others, perhaps.  On my part, I now travel, observe, reflect, blog, and--hopefully--learn without getting pissed off when I see old palaces.

The irony is this: I no longer get pissed off, but am concerned that these historic buildings and arts are not well protected and preserved.  Even the post-hunt photo, for instance.  I had to take the photo at an angle because bright sunlight was streaming in through the window and the photo was reflecting that light.  So, even as I walked to avoid the reflection, I worried that such bright light might destroy the photo, and I hoped that what was on display was a replica and not the original.  No more seeing red :)

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