Friday, February 24, 2006

Local Histories - a tale from Lado Sarai

This is the first of a new column I write, called 'Resident Alien'.

It's actually an extract from a presentation I made at a conference, and is still readable, so my future in academia doesn't look too bright!!!

It's about Dilli, ruins, myths, and turning recieved classroom notions of history and the past on their head.


Predictable, really :-)

Lado Sarai has the famous f Bar and lounge, the Bed Lounge, and many carpet showrooms. On what used to be the agricultural land of the village, the government, in 2002, erected a Prithviraj Memorial, valorizing the last ‘Hindu’ king of Delhi, who went down bravely fighting the Muslim invaders. L K Advani, at the inauguration, drew a sword and thundered about fighting terrorism from Pakistan. The story of Prithviraj, as told to me in Lado Sarai, is slightly different -

One day, in his old age, the good king Anang Pal Tomar decided to go on long pilgrimage, and leave the kingdom in the care of two relatives, Prithviraj and Jaichand. Prithviraj was given custody of Delhi and Ajmer, while Jaichand took care of Kannauj.

Prithviraj told Anangpal that his custody was useless unless he had authority which other kings would believe in. “Give it to me in writing,” he said. “No King can enter Delhi without the permission of Prithviraj.” So Anangpal gave it to him in writing, and went off on his pilgrimage. Not much later, when he returned to his city, the gates were closed to him. No King can enter Delhi without the permission of Prithviraj. And so it was that Prithviraj came to rule Delhi.

Flashback. A trader from Afghanistan decided to start trading with India and thus expand his business and his profits. So he loaded his goods on camels and came to India, and to the court of the vigorous but childless king, Anangpal Tomar, along with his beautiful daughter. He offered Anagpal his daughter in marriage. “I know that you will have children with her.”

The marriage was consummated, the child was conceived, but the older, queen was jealous. While the younger queen was pregnant she forbade Anagpal from meeting her, and when the child was born, she threw him out on a garbage pile, ghor in Sanskrit.

The child was picked up by a passing childless potter, who then brought him up as his own. When the child was seven years ago, King Anangpal passed a judgement which dissatisfied his people. The potter’s son suggested another way in which judgement could be done. The news spread like wildfire and reached the palace.

Fearing the king’s wrath a servant from the palace went and told the potter who his son really was, and asked him to send the child off to Afghanistan, to his grandfather.

Years later Mohammad Ghori marched on Delhi to reclaim his inheritance, and Jaichand joined him. Prithviraj was defeated. Lad Singh, a soldier in Jaichand’s army settled in what was to become Lado Sarai village. His four sons lived in four domed structures, four gumbads which existed there prior to their settlement, and around these domes the village of grew.

Karan Pal Singh, about seventy years old, who told me this story, also told me, There are three kinds of history. One is those written in school books. This is written by those in power, and cannot be trusted. Then there is the history by the person who sits with books and tries to make sense of the past for himself. The third is oral tradition, what people remember from what ancestors tell them. There is some truth in both of these.

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