Sir Winston, You Got It Wrong

In 1896, the Lumiere Brothers of France arrived in Bombay to display short-length moving images with their Cinematographe, the oldest ancestor of today’s cinema. But the French brothers were not the only men of history to come to India in 1896. Many other Europeans entered through where the Gateway of India now stands, in the same year. One of them was a British Army Lieutenant named Winston Churchill, who in time would become one of the most significant people in the history of the world.

Lieutenant Churchill’s very first step into India was a disaster. As he was transferring himself from a boat to the land, he fell, permanently damaging a shoulder. Then he proceeded to spend three years in Bangalore. He hated that time. This is what he wrote to his mother: “Poked away in a garrison town which resembles a 3rd rate watering place, out of season and without the sea…my life here would be intolerable were it not for the consolations of literature”

In time, as the Prime Minister of Great Britain, Winston Churchill did a remarkable job for his country in the Second World War. But he continued to dislike India and its capabilities, as evidenced by his many observations, including this one he made in 1947, when they were debating India’s Independence in their Parliament: “In handing over the Government of India to these so-called political classes we are handing over to men of straw, of whom, in a few years, no trace will remain”.

Were he alive, he may have marvelled at how reasonably well those men of straw, and their descendants, had managed their land. In fact, the Lumiere brothers too may have marvelled at our cinema, since we are now the largest film-producing country in the world.

So then, on the 70th anniversary of our Independence, is it all right to sit back and think we have made it, that we are the best, in a Saare jahaan se achha Hindustan hamaara kind of way? Of course not! Ideally we should not be thinking too much along the lines of Saare jahaan se achha Hindustan hamaara because while this poem advances intense patriotism, the words don’t ring true. Surely the reality of India’s actual position on the world’s landscape cannot put us on the top in many parameters. Moreover, the man who wrote this ode to his motherland well over a hundred years ago, Muhammad Iqbal, was talking about what was a united India then. Later on, in 1930, he endorsed the idea of a Muslim land, which became Pakistan. In fact, in a glaring turnaround later, Iqbal wrote, retaining the Hindustan hamaara idea: “Cheen-o-Arab hamaara, Hindustan hamaara, Muslim hain hum watan hai saara jahaan hamaara”.

Perhaps then, today, seventy years after becoming free, it’s a good time to take stock of both our failures and achievements, and we have had plenty of both. We have got by, with much distance covered, but we also have a long way to go yet. Perhaps our core strength—an inclusive society—needs to be highlighted more. That can be found in the song Mile Sur Mera Tumhaara today. Generally called the unofficial anthem of India, Mile Sur Mera Tumhaara is set in raag Bhairavi. This raag is not just euphonic; it is inclusive, since it engages with all the 12 notes—including the sharps and flats—of the octave. That itself becomes a subtle metaphorical message, but even more, the song in video—with its key personalities from different ethnic backgrounds, singing in multiple languages—identifies the interesting layer of the embarrassment of riches in the defining oneness of our culture.

Given India’s diversity, it is perfectly reasonable to imagine that people like Churchill may have thought only our adversity had glued us together against them. That once free, we would implode or be balkanized. So, through her songs, let’s now take a quick look at patriotism in a free India. That means, let us just for today overlook the nationalistic fervour that existed before Mr Churchill’s remarks in 1947. We are giving a miss to Jalianwala Bagh and Netaji Bose and Shaheed Bhagat Singh and all those who fought for us to be unshackled. Here are some such songs:

  • 1954: Hum laaye hain toofaan se kashti nikaal ke (Jagriti)
  • 1956: Chamka banke aman ka taara (Ek Hi Raasta)
  • 1957: Ye chaman hamaara apna hai (Ab Dilli Door Nahin)
  • 1957: Ye desh hai veer jawaanon ka (Naya Daur)
  • 1959: Humne suna tha ek hai Bhaarat (Didi)
  • 1960: Aaraam hai haraam (Apna Ghar)
  • 1960: Pyaar ki raah dikha duniya ko (Lambe Haath)
  • 1960: Desh ka pyaara sab ka sahaara kaun banega (Masoom)
  • 1961: Insaaf ki dagar pe bachcho dikhao chalke (Ganga Jamuna)
  • 1961; Uttar mein khada Himalaya (Pyaar Ki Pyaas)
  • 1962: Nanha munna raahi hoon (Son Of India)
  • 1963: Ab koi gulshan na ujde (Mujhe Jeene Do)
  • 1963: Watan pe jo fida hoga (Phool Bane Angaare)
  • 1964: Kar chale hum fida jaan-o-tan saathiyo (Haqeeqat)
  • 1964: Apni azaadi ko hum hargiz mita sakte naheen (Leader)
  • 1965: Na koi raha hai na koi rahega (Johar Mehmood In Goa)
  • 1965: Aye mere watan mere pyaare watan (Tu Hi Meri Zindagi)
  • 1967: Meri awaaz suno (Naunihal)
  • 1967: Mere desh ki dharti sona ugle (Upkar)
  • 1968: Ye dharti Hindustan (Duniya)
  • 1969: Mere des mein pawan chale purwaayi (Jigri Dost)
  • 1970: Taaqat watan ki humse hai (Prem Pujari)
  • 1970: Hai preet jahaan ki reet sada (Purab Aur Pashchim)
  • 1976: Aag pe rakh kar haath kar lo (Fauji)
  • 1986: Aye watan tere liye (Karma)
  • 1993: Bhaarat humko jaan se pyaara hai (Roja)
  • 1997: Ye mera India (Pardes)
  • 2003: Ik saathi aur bhi tha (LOC Kargil)
  • 2004: Ye jo desh hai tera (Swades)

There have been dozens of non-film songs of patriotic fervour too. Examples: Aye mere watan ke logo (Lata/Pradeep/C. Ramchandra) and Watan ki aabroo khatre mein hai (Rafi/Sahir/Khayyam), both recorded well after 1947.

Songs often reflect life, but at other times not so. In any case, we can look around us with a hard stare, and see for ourselves that we are still managing together, never mind the bumpy ride. Mr Churchill’s ‘men of straw’ remark was a bad call. But reams of paper have been written about him, detailing his hatred for India, his megalomania, and his fondness for the bottle.

Many people also know that around the mid-1940s, because of an intense war and his dependence on sedatives and alcohol, the great man was gradually losing it, so how could he be trusted to make informed judgments across the board? In 1945 the Queens’ private secretary informed her that Churchill could not follow the trend of a conversation.

As for his fondness for the bottle, it seems he got attracted it from his early years. The Bangalore Club knows about it from his younger days as a Lieutenant. Its members are only too aware of the drinks Churchill had in their club during the years he was there, especially from some drinks he did not pay for. The club has put his name in a glass-enclosed ledger in its lobby. He owes them 13 annas, a bad debt they have proudly written off.

(Featured image on top: Ik saathi aur bhi tha, from LOC Kargil)

~~~~

Originally published: 15th August 2017

http://epaper2.dnaindia.com/index.php?mod=1&pgnum=1&edcode=131002&pagedate=2017-08-15   page 12 (editorial page)

22 thoughts on “Sir Winston, You Got It Wrong

  1. What a superb article, Manek. I cannot say much here, as I am far removed from the pulse of current India. The British were self-centred, divisive overlords. It was fitting that they lost their strength and power when they did. The kind of arrogance in their declaration, The sun never sets in the British empire, is so narcissistic and self-absorbed. That they lost almost all the regions they lorded over, was a fitting culmination of their rule. Canada is still a dominion as the likes of Australia, etc. It is interesting, our government does not produce a surplus often, else it would line their coffers.

    Your selection of songs is touching. Your vast knowledge of so many topics is astounding. Would “Ae mere pyare watan” count? You do have another similar song in your list.

    My apologies for climbing aboard your train a little late! Thank you for these wonderful posts.

    1. Thanks for so much to think about Sneh. Especially about the lack of surplus in Canada where you live, and where that surplus could have headed 🙂 Aye mere pyaare watan doesn’t apply on two counts. 1. It is about before 1947, so we can’t effectively respond to Sir Winston with that arrow. 2. Strictly speaking, it is not a song about India, it is about Afghanistan…but no one cares these days 🙂

  2. Manek bhai I strongly have fascination for your indepth research and for all what you write.

    The political hierarchy left by British needs to undergo all changes at the root level. Congress was not doing so to meet their own ends and perhaps present rulers will do so after proper settlling down.

    However as a senior citizen, I feel these fields must be looked into earlier the better.

    Population menace needs to be controlled and all benefits to accrue to those with two kids.

    Education is a field required to be looked into with revamped patterns and courses. More schools, colleges and Universities are call of the day.

    Every Govt employee must be totally accountable.

    Income Tax must be made more realistic.

    Elections should be state funded and two parties should be in election battle.

    There should be reasonable logic in perks being enjoyed by this class.

    Judiciary needs revamping too.

    Lastly any body who declares himself/herself as INDIAN can only get to vote and eligible for all benefits.

  3. A brilliant article, especially as it sees hope and future for the Republic despite factors, either vicious or seemingly insurmountable, working against it. I do need such articles that repose faith in the Republic’s resilience and inner strength, for an assurance that the things will eventually work out. These serve as an an antidote to my growing skepticism as to the future of the country.

    I often feel that Independent India has ever remained a soft State except during the Indira rule, especially during the emergency. It was during the emergency that the trains used to reach their stops before time and wait at the outer signal before steaming in dot on time. Nothing of that kind had happened before nor after. This country given its overwhelming poverty, with most of its people on day-to-day existence, needs a stringent discipline than an irresponsible freedom of expression. Plurality that uniquely distinguishes this country is beautiful, is enriching. But it turns poison the moment a group sees it as a means to its political empowerment. The democracy that we have divides and polarizes. It is divisive in its outcome. We needed a model that, in the matters of politics and governance, de-emphasized the differentia that we are so proud of, though without in anyway depressing it. The democracy as it obtains in the USA would have been a better model – we needed to be a truly federal State. And the all powerful President would have been elected on pan India votes which would have incidentally de-emphasized the ‘local’ factors.

    While I admit to my wistfulness as to the form of democracy to take us forward, I seriously feel that we missed out on a few important things right in the beginning.

    First, we have allowed our population to grow limitlessly. There should have been a dispensation, if necessary coercive, to regulate the population. We needed a Sanjay Gandhi right in the beginning. I do not understand, how can we progress if we are adding 2.5 crore additional mouths to feed every year. We are crying hoarse on Gorakhpur. It is not even the tip of the iceberg. Yet the government of the day must ensure adequate health care besides other basic necessities. . But will it have the courage to limit free health care and education only for two kids per couple, as a measure of population control ?

    Second, we missed out on putting in place a pan India water conservation policy including river linking. It might have taken 50 years to achieve it. But this would have changed the face of the country. The consequent farm surplus would have given us a true economic resilience. Presently, we are awaiting a disaster to overtake us : the water riots !

    Third, we failed to evolve a common civil code. Nor did we abolish the Constitution of J & K, thus perpetuating the Kashmir ambivalence. Sir, you have quoted Iqbal and that is so contextual : Muslim hain hum watan hai saara jahaan hamaara”. This implied muslim aggrandizement, that consequently endorses two nationalities for muslims – one for form sake ( the place of domicile ) and the other real with its centre at Mecca – needed to be tackled right in the beginning – not through secularism – but by treating every one truly equal with no recourse for some, for governance, either to Shariyat or to Mecca !

    Sir, Winston and his Bengarluru connection is interesting from another angle. He was not the only one to have served as a military officer there before eventually becoming the prime minister of Britain. Arthur Wellesley ( better known as the Duke of Wellington ) too was posted in that region as Lieutenant Colonel and he defeated Tipoo Sultan in the battle at Srirangapatnam. Arthur also defeated the formidable Marathas in the battle of Assye. He defeated Naploeon too before becoming the prime minister . Incidentally, I read Churchill’s History of the English Speaking People in the year 1974. He no doubt was an India hater but a brilliant writer nonetheless.

  4. A brilliant article, especially as it sees hope and future for the Republic despite factors, either vicious or seemingly insurmountable, working against it. I do need such articles that repose faith in the Republic’s resilience and inner strength, for an assurance that the things will eventually work out. These serve as an an antidote to my growing skepticism as to the future of the country. cynicism.

    I often feel that Independent India has ever remained a soft State except during the Indira rule, especially during the emergency. It was during the emergency that the trains used to reach their stops before time and wait at the outer signal before steaming in dot on time. Nothing of that kind had happened before nor after. This country given its overwhelming poverty, with most of its people on day-to-day existence, needs a stringent discipline than an irresponsible freedom of expression. Plurality that uniquely distinguishes this country is beautiful, is enriching. But it turns poison the moment a group sees it as a means to its political empowerment. The democracy that we have divides and polarizes. It is divisive in its outcome. We needed a model that, in the matters of politics and governance, de-emphasized the differentia that we are so proud of, though without in anyway depressing it. The democracy as it obtains in the USA would have been a better model – we needed to be a truly federal State. And the all powerful President would have been elected on pan India votes which would have incidentally de-emphasized the ‘local’ factors.

    While I admit to my wistfulness as to the form of democracy to take us forward, I seriously feel that we missed out on a few important things right in the beginning.

    First, we have allowed our population to grow limitlessly. There should have been a dispensation, if necessary coercive, to regulate the population. We needed a Sanjay Gandhi right in the beginning. I do not understand, how can we progress if we are adding 2.5 crore additional mouths to feed every year. We are crying hoarse on Gorakhpur. It is not even the tip of the iceberg. Yet the government of the day must ensure adequate health care besides other basic necessities. . But will it have the courage to limit free health care and education only for two kids per couple, as a measure of population control ?

    Second, we missed out on putting in place a pan India water conservation policy including river linking. It might have taken 50 years to achieve it. But this would have changed the face of the country. The consequent farm surplus would have given us a true economic resilience. Presently, we are awaiting a disaster to overtake us : the water riots !

    Third, we failed to evolve a common civil code. Nor did we abolish the Constitution of J & K, thus perpetuating the Kashmir ambivalence. Sir, you have quoted Iqbal and that is so contextual : Muslim hain hum watan hai saara jahaan hamaara”. This implied muslim aggrandizement, that consequently endorses two nationalities for muslims – one for form sake ( the place of domicile ) and the other real with its centre at Mecca – needed to be tackled right in the beginning – not through secularism – but by treating every one truly equal with no recourse for some, for governance, either to Shariyat or to Mecca !

    Sir, Winston and his Bengarluru connection is interesting from another angle. He was not the only one to have served as a military officer there before eventually becoming the prime minister of Britain. Arthur Wellesley ( better known as the Duke of Wellington ) too was posted in that region as Lieutenant Colonel and he defeated Tipoo Sultan in the battle at Srirangapatnam. Arthur also defeated the formidable Marathas in the battle of Assye. He defeated Naploeon too before becoming the prime minister . Incidentally, I read Chruchill’s History of the English Speaking People in the year 1974. He no doubt was an India hater but was a brilliant writer.

    1. “We needed a model that, in the matters of politics and governance, de-emphasized the differentia that we are so proud of, though without in anyway depressing it. The democracy as it obtains in the USA would have been a better model – we needed to be a truly federal State. And the all powerful President would have been elected on pan India votes which would have incidentally de-emphasized the ‘local’ factors.” That’s the point you make Vijay, and I have always respected your views.

      I admire the American system too Vijay, but look what has happened now. America is a divisive society due to one man who has become the all-powerful President you speak of. In fact it has never been so divided. Hardly a week goes by when don’t hear something tragic about him. He was someone I was morally backing, because he seemed forthright then. And this against the fact that the popular vote was actually against him, by about 2%! But the slide, based on his Texas-style shooting from the hip, and intemperate remarks have been ticking me off. Is that the kind of democracy you would have preferred?

      Trains running on time? That’s a high? And what price victory on that front? A pyrrhic one may I say. Do recall the forced sterilizations, en masse. Do recall the ban on Kishore Kumar. Do recall the gagging of the Press. And please, please let’s never forget those who were dispatched to jail: Jai Prakash Narain, Vajpayee, Advani, Piloo Mody, MAdhu Dandavate, George Fernandes, Charan Singh, Morarji Desai…omg…it was a black period in our history sir!

      As for those trains, they generally run on time. And for a country that’s in the middle order on the whole, we need to pat ourselves on the back: 11,000 trains running, every day! Yes, 11,000 everyday…the most in the world 🙂

      I do want to thank you most for your last para, very enlightening for me, but also for so much else, so much else _()_

      1. Thanks you gave a thought to my comments. Have enjoyed your enriching response. Yes, the emergency indeed had a dark face, very dark…..

        1. I take inspiration from your thoughts Vijay, you are certainly a giant among us dwarfs…and I don’t say that with fake modesty…

  5. A lovely article and so topical. Along with Churchill, a neat observation of the country too. Whilst taking pride in the country and its achievements, a reality check is also necessary.

    As I see it, whilst standards of living and life span have increased, so also the widening chasm between the haves and have nots. The Gorakhpur tragedy of only a couple of days ago is a recent example and following that, the expose on the health care system on NDTV that I partly watched yesterday afternoon.

    We all take pride in our country but I resent the current dispensation’s diktats that patriotism must be worn on the sleeve.

    I liked your titbits on Churchill. I suppose only the rich and the powerful forget to repay their debts in full. Men of honour and limited means spend many a sleepless night over it and cannot rest until it is off their chest. A recent example are the many NPAs from wilful defaulters as reported by Indian banks and reported in the press on a regular basis – yet most of them claim to be respectable people. But they don’t look like down at heel to me.

    The song selection is of course excellent as always.

    1. Food for thought, Balbir…and patriotism on the sleeve, oh my! What a debatable subject that is. Incendiary too 🙂

  6. Beautiful and relevant article Manek. It is the British who fostered the religious divide in the hope that we would never be able to rise above it. Divide and rule was their policy. Most of the European nations who had empires in Africa Asia and South America followed this principle as well as trying to destroy local cultures. In Africa there was no religion so they used the tribal system to divide them. All this has in the end tarnished their own reputation.
    Now not only has curry taken over but Bollywood too.

    1. Nice point, especially about the tribal system in Africa, Sue. And now curry and Bollywood, and Ratan Tata? Is he still in control of Jaguar?

  7. Absolutely lovely, Manek. Wonderful article ……. again. It really tugs at the heart somewhere. As far as the ‘men of straw’, I have been to UK a lot in around the first decade of my IT career. I made an observation that the English in 1947 would not have guessed that in less than 60 years, the poor impoverished Indians would come and manage their IT completely. My friends did not appreciate my comments, but I felt it very strongly. When I sat at the Ambala chain of restaurants and ate food served by a Pakistani, I forgot I was in England. I felt I was sitting at a Ambala or Amritsar dhaba. We talked so comfortably. They were so good to us. Then till all Saturdays we were there, we used to go to him. Even otherwise all restaurant owners were mostly Pakistani and they gave us such lovely treatment. I realised the futility of the border that had driven deep divide among the same set of men in a particular part of the world. I also realised we were sitting right across at a place which belonged to the same set of people who divided us. You would have heard the name of Bricklane, a place in London famous for Bangladesh migrants staying there and running host of hotels. In 2006, I saw an ad of a England and Bangladesh test match at London and wondered why they were advertising here. The point is I had forgotten I was in London. I have a lot to say on these things and just writing it down here. I used a Bangladesh made umbrella in London, can you imagine. The typical long black umbrellas were imported from Bangladesh and sold for 5 pounds. You can imagine what even in 2000 times were pounds compared to Bangladesh takka. Just see the sense of enterprise that had come up. Go to Bricklane on a Saturday and you would find hoardes of Londoners enjoying food. There are families coming there, father mother kids and even son in laws and daughter in laws. It is nothing so big. But place this in reference to Mr Churchill’s statements of ‘men of straw’ ….. you can guage how much they have advanced. We know where UK stands in the progressive world. A place where sun never set, their rule was spread so far and wide …….

    1. Vedsen Ji, a nice observation on the interaction between yourself and the Pakistani Gent. Given their cultural heritage and lineage. It is the same be it in West Asia, USA, Canada, Eurpoe or elsewhere….but sadly now divided permanently by politics. I suppose once the people of this subcontinent leave its shores, they all become one to fight a common enemy – be it poverty or attempt to upgrade their social base; but once back on its shores, they sub divide again to fight amongst themselves….or perhaps become putty to do so at the hands of the political
      leaders.

    2. Whew, Vineesh, some observations those 🙂 Impressed with them, and I hope you will write some more about your stay and experiences in England. I have been there several times but never to Bricklane street. Hopefully the next time. And when I see those ubiquitous umbrellas, I’ll think of you and Bangladesh 🙂

  8. What a brilliantly studied piece this is! The anti-India invaders that arrived here caused a huge setback to the collective Indian psyche. They undermined our confidence thanks to their grand words and personalities. Winston was a symptom of that malaise, the malaise that started elsewhere and came and infected our psyches. Once unshackled India and Indianness has struggled hard to break free from the Indian pseudo-secularists who have attempted to keep Indians feeling defensive and prevent them from reaching their potential.
    Your articles never fail to amaze me, the research and 360 degree approach you have to the study of Indian music can only be marvelled and applauded. Kudos, proud that you are an Indian who is self-actualising, sharing and caring for this nation while going indepth into music. Please don’t stop writing, you are pushing the envelope with every piece on music.

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