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Book Review: Far More Than A Game (2020)

“The modern-day journalists and the media professionals would not have even imagined the difficulties and the hiccups that I and other reporters of my generation had endured during the 1950s and onwards.”

Chapter 30 Page 289


INTRODUCTION

Since the 1960s, Qamar Ahmed, the author of the book, has covered more than 450 tests, 700 one-day internationals, and nine World Cups (the first eight and then 2019) as a journalist for many agencies like BBC, The Times, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, AFP, Reuters, just to name a few.

The cricketing journey of the author is not about the history of Pakistan cricket but international cricket. It is a passion that leads you to eternal respect that you earn after a love affair with the game.

Far More Than A Game is divided into thirty chapters that are spread over almost 300 pages. Most of the details are the author’s first-hand experience due to the nature of this book being autobiographic with an assistance of a few national and international books.

The reading of this book is easy, comprehensive, punched detailing with straight incidents from different timelines, and with complete liberty of his opinions.


 PERSONAL ACCOUNT

This autobiography is pretty personal and perhaps I can say the book is a rollercoaster ride about Qamar Ahmed’s life. By latter, I mean that he is totally open to all the parallels if he feels to speak about and thinks of no consequence about a series of questions he may be asked about his life. And I liked the nature of his openness that describes his personality and the autobiography being put to the best use of it. The reader won’t feel the sensationalism of the literature but the admittance about his life that he moved on but were vital to being written in the book.

The author depicted his disappointment in General Zia-ul-Haq’s leadership which was so disturbing to him that he refused to shake hands at a party. There is an entire chapter (no.22) about the two incidents that soured his relationship with Imran Khan. The writing of this chapter clearly indicates an agitation that should be addressed to the reader due to the fact that this eighteen-page chapter is surprisingly the lengthiest of all the chapters he wrote along with another chapter about his first-class career. I do not question the author’s motive but I am writing my honest observation about the writing of the book that this particular chapter was stretched as compared to the other interesting chapters that required more detailing than this. If this chapter had eighteen pages of details, then I reckon that a chapter about the road trip from London to Pakistan (no.14) deserves a separate book.

There are several personal accounts that help in shaping the authenticity of an autobiography. In one chapter (no.9), he writes about a life that was wasted in college because his parents wanted him to pursue a career in science rather than wanting him to choose his own career. An octogenarian passes an important piece of information to the readers about his younghood that his life decisions were made by his parents that succumb to a traditional parental syndrome in South Asia which has been emotionally attached in this region for quite a long time. Deciding about the life of a kid is understood but someone who passes his childhood and enters into college hood has the right to make his/her own decisions. The author addressed this matter, advocated liberty, and encouraged the readers to follow their passion rather than a silly tradition.

There was a French girl he was seeing in 1965 who was in England to learn the English language (no.11). Only a few paragraphs were written about her but nothing much. I liked the idea of keeping it short just like a brief series of meeting in life. It is like a gust of wind that blew from one direction towards the other once in life. It is a special mention of interest people at old age remember despite the time has passed around fifty years to that.


“Never for one moment as a schoolboy then I had even the slightest of inkling of what the destiny had in store for us and what was to come which would not only change the life of my family and that of many others and that of the country itself which would influence also the course of history.”

Chapter 1 Page 20


EUROPEAN PERK AND HISTORY LESSON

Far More Than A Game is a fascinating read for more than one reason but the most significant point to consider reading this life story is that the author was one of those few Pakistanis who got European, especially a British exposure to a socioeconomic life that fetched a lot of international diversity. Living a life in a multicultural country develops individualism and helps in socializing with people from different diversity. So that worldly experience fetched a lot of stories and incidents that happened with the author.

And then the author belongs to the greatest generation who experienced the partition of India. A lifetime that the next generations can neither feel nor imagine the suffering. So his personal account from the earlier chapters is a source of real history that the readers are unable to find in the books that are provided by their academic authorities.

The book starts with a sorry tale of partition and his childhood memories in the first chapter followed by a gripping narrative of his family’s migration from Chapra to Hyderabad. There are two chapters that are history lessons, one is about Hyderabad city and the other is about his ancestors, a knowledge that was treasured to him by his uncle from Mairwa, a city in Bihar state.


UNFORGETTABLE MEETINGS

One of the luxuries in the field of journalism is meeting important people from different walks of life, and so did the author. Qamar Ahmed missed no chance detail in separate chapters about his once-in-a-lifetime moments when he met Kerry Packer (no.15), Sir Don Bradman (no.16), and Nelson Mandela (no.21). Touring India was mostly personal for Qamar Ahmed due to his origins. But he holds the distinction to have met with the Indian film industry’s greats. Imagine people in those times like the author getting the honor of meeting the great Raj Kapoor at his residence where along with the Kapoors, they also get to meet Dilip Kumar. Meeting two of the biggest superstars of the golden age at the same place is surely one of the best memories of a lifetime.


CRITICAL CHAPTERS

Far More Than A Game is not only about history and the people he met in his lifetime, it is also about some very serious highlights that were needed to be addressed that occurred in the last chapters of the book. One was about Salim Malik and the kind of world he entered to regret for life.

There is a special place for Indian cricket legend Sunil Gavaskar in his heart and the twentieth chapter is dedicated to him to talk about some situations which may have gone unheard of. It was shocking to understand that Sunny was stopped by the MCC staff twice to enter the Lord’s cricket ground. The details about these incidents are covered in the chapter.

A much-needed drive to address some controversial incidents like the Gatting-Rana altercation, the Inzamam-Hair ball-tampering controversy, the bus attack on the Sri Lankan team, etc through his experience made rounds in the book.

The twenty-eighth chapter is full of funny and priceless moments that the readers will read with keen interest. I like a few of his moments like the historic moment of South Africa’s re-entry into international cricket, his brawl with a mugger, mistakenly calling Alec StewartHansie’, a cricket manager asking to sacrifice a black sheep, and many more. If I was sitting along with the author when he called Alec Stewart ‘Hansie’, I would have seriously couldn’t stop myself from laughing my ass out. It was a really funny and ‘innocent’ blunder.


CHAPTERS ARRANGEMENT

Arranging and compiling chapters in a book, especially in autobiographies are very vital. I have read a few autobiographies and being a bibliophile, I have this idea that there are two different arts involved in shaping and publishing a book; one is writing it as a whole, and the other is giving the whole writing the best possible finishing in a way that reader is captivated to read a life story.

I will be a little critical here about the arrangement of the chapters. As per my reading experience, Far More Than A Game didn’t conclude fittingly. I think the thirtieth and the second-last chapter where he wrote about the evolution of sports journalism and the use of technology, would have been the perfect end with a personal message or some inspiring words for the readers.


“When checking out to proceed to Calcutta (Kolkata) for the sixth and final test of the ongoing series between Pakistan and India, I requested the receptionist at the hotel for my bill.

The reception officials gave me a pleasing smile to say: “No bill Sir, we know who you are. We have been told by Dr. Hari about you that this was your house before you left for Pakistan as a schoolboy.””

Chapter 4 Page 47


The first three chapters in the book highlight in detail about his childhood, migration, and painful history. And then in the next chapter, he remembers his return to India. That fourth chapter needed to be distanced from the previous chapters and arranged in the middle of the reading.

With a gap of a few chapters and crossing the time to the late 1970s, this reunion moment would have melted the emotions more. It is my opinion that talking about the reunion in just the fourth chapter of the book was way too soon.  The editor or compiler of the publishing company should have considered giving the sentimental feel to the reader by arranging this chapter somewhere far from the earliest details.

The fourth chapter has an amazing detailing of reuniting, giving the readers a staunch view that partition gave us a lot of painful stories and reunions of a lifetime. Imagine if hatred had its say and those landlords had killed Qamar and his family? There would be no story to tell us, there would be no legacy of cricket journalism and broadcasting, and there would be no reunions or faith in humanity to hope from those tragedies.


CLOSING REMARKS

“Far More Than A Game” is the anatomy of cricket journalism, a pocket dictionary to the evolution of cricket, a time-traveling diary that settles nowhere but gives you an experience of a lifetime. A cricketing life to celebrate, thank you so much for your lifetime contribution and service to this beautiful game.


“I always believed that if you are good with people they are good with you and in turn respect you for what you do. That is how I thought a journalist should be when dealing with a story or with people related to it.”

Chapter 22 Page 207

The autograph of the legend himself…

Book Review: Jo Dekha, Jo Suna.. (2007)

WHY I CHOSE TO READ THIS BOOK?

A few months ago, I happened to read Tariq Ali’s “The Leopard and the Fox” which was a script for the show BBC commissioned him in 1985 to write about the final days of Pakistan’s former Prime Minister and the founder of Pakistan People Party (PPP), Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. The project was shelved for being anti-Zia-ul-Haq.

Bhutto’s leadership in Pakistan has always been a talking point whenever the country’s political history has been reflected. During the entire political fiasco the country has suffered, it is worth observing that Zulfikar’s political career was confronted with three of the four military phases. Under Ayub Khan, Bhutto was the Foreign Minister. Yahya Khan handed over his presidency and his government to Bhutto after the fall of East Pakistan. Zia-ul-Haq was Bhutto’s second Chief of Army Staff who later became the reason for his death.

Zulfikar’s political legacy and fresh memories of reading the previous book on Bhutto-Zia prompted me to read Qayyum Nizami’s political analysis of the PPP’s prime era and the memoir of Bhutto in the shape of almost a 500-page book, ‘Jo Dekha Jo Suna’ (What I Saw, What I Heard).


WRITING STYLE AND DETAILING

Although, a book with such lengthy detailing does not really buy me as a reader as I feel that the author has heavily sugar-coated Bhutto’s heroics and overpraised him. I adore Bhutto’s style of addressing and his leadership, the man had the courage to raise his voice against the military dictatorship and address eye-to-eye with the United States. But the flaw is in the style of writing that makes ‘Jo Dekha Jo Suna’ look like some propaganda project.

On page.192, there is a detailed chronological timeline of the Bhutto government’s activities. In these pages, I noticed that a lot of times Bhutto government got loans from Saudi Arabia, the United States, Russia, etc. Why the author doesn’t explain the reason for asking for loans? Pakistan in 2022 still continues the tradition of receiving loans from the IMF and other countries but this history book should have highlighted, why Pakistan was receiving loans fifty years ago.

Bhutto was, without a doubt, a great leader but the author being his disciple has glorified Bhutto and made me think if I was reading a biography of God but not Bhutto. Almost every turn of a page has dramatic praises for him. There is literally a line on page.176 where the author compares Bhutto’s martyrdom with Hussain’s by writing that “Pakistan and third world countries regret Bhutto’s martyrdom just like Islamic world regrets with Hussain’s.”

And then there are various incidents or statements that make you think if the authenticity compromises. The author writes on page.119 about one night during the times of Pakistan military and government officials’ humiliating surrender before the Indian Army, Bhutto’s daughter Benazir enters her father’s room and notices that he is lying on the floor instead of in bed. When she asks the reason then Bhutto replies, “How can I sleep on the bed when 90,000 soldiers sleep on the floor of Indian camps?” Maybe this reads very inspiring to the other readers but I feel as if this is a reel incident but not real.

On page.38, the author states that former Indian Prime Minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri, died of a heart attack. He didn’t bother to clarify that Shastri’s death is still a mystery despite the reason for his passing being announced to be a heart attack. But the author finds it more important to inform the readers that the-then Foreign Secretary Aziz Ahmed called Shastri a bastard.


INTERESTING HIGHLIGHTS

‘Jo Dekha Jo Suna’ is not really full of a disciple glossing his party and the leader in its entirety, there are many pages that are either of some critical significance or heartwarming. I really liked reading about the relationship between Bhutto and his wife, Nusrat. In the earliest pages, there is a chapter where Nusrat Bhutto gives details about how she and Zulfikar came to know each other and tied the knot. In the middle of the book, a chapter reflects on the entire meeting of Nusrat and Benazir with Bhutto in prison a day before he was hanged, and that was pretty heart-boiling to read, picturizing and imagining how things would have gone between these Bhuttos.

‘Jo Dekha Jo Suna’ also offers to read Bhutto’s memorable speeches that are stretched to around fifty pages. The book has documented a lot of letters that Bhutto father and daughter wrote to the author and vice versa. There, also, are letters by famous British philosopher Bertrand Russell to different global leaders of that time praising Bhutto and sharing his point of view about his political vision. There also are over a hundred rare pictures of Bhutto, Benazir, and Qayyum Nizami during various political events.

One of the last chapters of the book covers politicians, journalists, and people from other fields of work briefing their own ‘What they saw, What they heard’ to the readers. Some events and incidents are interesting.


LAHORE, PAKISTAN, APR 08: Punjab Assembly Opposition Leader, Hamza Shahbaz leaving
after court case hearing, at High Court in Lahore on Monday, April 08, 2019. The Lahore High
Court (LHC) granted Punjab Assembly Opposition Leader, Hamza Shahbaz pre-arrest bail till
April 17 and restrained the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) from arresting him in cases
pertaining to ownership of assets beyond means. (Babar Shah/PPI Images).

CLOSING REMARKS

Qayyum Nizami is a veteran politician and columnist who played an important role in Bhutto’s party. He had close political relations with both Bhutto and Benazir. ‘Jo Dekha Jo Suna’ is his extensive insider about the struggling times of his leader and the party.

The motive for reading the book is that the reader acquires knowledge. Bibliophiles cannot remember every word or page of the book they read but naturally, our brain has the obvious capacity to store at least one to twenty percent of the information that is collected from the book. By reading ‘Jo Dekha Jo Suna’, it doesn’t matter whether I liked reading this book or not, I get some clues and rough ideas about the existence of the party, the Bhutto administration, and the political conflicts of his time, and that is what is valuable for me.


Book Review: The Leopard and the Fox (2006)

LAHORE, PAKISTAN, APR 08: Punjab Assembly Opposition Leader, Hamza Shahbaz leaving
after court case hearing, at High Court in Lahore on Monday, April 08, 2019. The Lahore High
Court (LHC) granted Punjab Assembly Opposition Leader, Hamza Shahbaz pre-arrest bail till
April 17 and restrained the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) from arresting him in cases
pertaining to ownership of assets beyond means. (Babar Shah/PPI Images).

WHO IS TARIQ ALI?

Tariq Ali is a well-known British political activist and author of many significant political and historical books like 1968 and After: Inside the Revolution (1978), Clash of Fundamentalisms (2002), Bush in Babylon (2003), 5 novels of his Islam Quintet, and many more.

Born to a Pakistan Times journalist Mazhar Ali Khan and one of Communist Party of Pakistan (CCP)’s founding members Tahira Mazhar Ali Khan, Tariq Ali inherited Marxism and journalism from them. But more than that, Tariq Ali came to prominence through activism and being part of some social and political rallies. He became part of the New Left and also joined the International Marxist Group in the late 1960s.

Tariq Ali was the president of the Oxford Union in 1965 where he met Malcolm X. He also conducted an interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono for the Red Mole newspaper in 1971. The Rolling Stones’ most political song “Street Fighting Man” was written for Tariq Ali after he participated in the infamous 1968 anti-war rally at London’s US embassy. He also wrote a screenplay for Oliver Stone’s 2009 documentary ‘South of the Border‘.


THE BIRTH OF THE BBC PROJECT

Tariq Ali’s book ‘The Leopard and the Fox’ was published in 2006 but the inception, of what became a British problem for the broadcasting company tackling with the foreign policy, occurred twenty years back. In mid-1985, BBC’s Head of Drama, Robin Midgley approached Tariq Ali and commissioned him to write a three-part limited series about the trials and execution of Pakistan’s former prime minister and the founder of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. The author agreed and worked on the story for the next few months.

At the beginning of the next year, Tariq Ali had completed his writing. In fact, the discussions went to the next phase about the casting for the political characters where Ziya Mohyeddin and Naseeruddin Shah were opined to play General Zia-ul-Haq and Bhutto respectively. Further discussions suggested that the makers wanted Angelica Huston and Sian Thomas to play Benazir Bhutto and Nusrat Bhutto respectively. But things stood without motion and in a few weeks, the proceedings halted when the hierarchy of BBC took the rounds of reading Tariq’s script in its entirety and asked Tariq to meet and discuss.

Eventually, the meetings failed to reach some agreement and the project was shelved after the script made the big bosses uncomfortable. The fire that was to rise, the spark that was to shine, the flame that was to ignite, all watered down.


WHAT WERE THE ODDS?

The most obvious reason for that the BBC dodged and overlooked the production is the interference of the government who didn’t want to bring their position on the West fighting the Russians in Afghanistan in jeopardy. General Zia was the US’s most valuable ally and airing a limited series about Zia in a negative portrayal would have risen the political eyebrows and questioned their government about their cooperation and commitment.

The American interests came between the productional body, and the environment within the BBC became more political than the upcoming BBC show. This gives an impression that perhaps BBC wanted to air a show that pleases American friends. But they made the mistake of offering the project to Tariq Ali. Maybe because they were not aware of his rebellious nature. Tariq Ali had been in the rallies against the Pakistan military and the US wars in the past. So I refuse to believe that they were not aware of him. It is just an assumption.

But it is quite awkward from the British part that BBC will make a mistake to offer him. Tariq Ali landed on British soil for the very reason of his anti-military nature. His military uncle warned his parents that he will not be able to protect him if he continued his lobby against the military. Therefore, his parents moved him to the UK and admitted him to Exeter College, Oxford to study Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE).

If things were not going in BBC’s way, they could also have changed the writer with a new script draft instead of shelving the project. So I am not sure about the circumstances.


THE BOOK, THE BAD, AND THE UGLINESS

106 scenes in 167 pages were written about the final days of Bhutto. I am believing that all that was written was not at all true but partially fictional. Because if 80% of what is all written in the book is accurate, the book richly deserves to release its television adaptation.

Being a film critic myself, reading a script based on Pakistan’s infamous political event that set the example of the most brutal military dictatorship and authoritative enforcements made me visualize how the military meetings and suppression of the Bhuttos in the book would have made it on the camera. Imagining Rawalpindi aerial shots with the demonstrators clashing with the police, the sound recording of the bullets firing on the roaring protestors, and the sound of tear gas would have given adrenalin if the chosen director would have shot this with meticulous care. Imagine someone like Oliver Stone, Roman Polanksi, or Ridley Scott shooting this demonstration scene.

Bhutto’s parties were written that develop a dubious environment where chess players find corners to establish evil whispers and understand the political game. Whiskey was a common drink in the entire book and it is an open secret that Bhutto was addicted to drinking. The military is portrayed not as a powerful force but puppets who are to follow the orders of the outsiders and change the political environment. The military maintains innocence and tries to convince that they have no ambition in politics. Bhutto has a dark theory since the start of the book that they wanted their head and bottoms out of leadership for purpose.

 Reading this book got exciting when the script began to scream where Bhutto was losing his strength as the country’s leader and the military was about to take the advantage of his jaw-dropping speech. The intensity of the story from scene 33 is unusual. The buildup of the military’s takeover and Bhutto’s first two arrests are written exceptionally well. It gives you that horror that you do not ask for while you try to say peace at night and suddenly all hell breaks down. The application of that hell was gripping.

Some references were funny, interesting, and thoughtful. Like Bhutto mentioning Kissinger’s curse, and the wife of a famous politician who stole panties in Marks and Spencers. No name was mentioned in the book as the incident was enough to guess who brought shame with this crime of shoplifting. It was Wali Khan’s wife Nasim Wali Khan who was caught red-handed at Kensington in the late 1970s. There is an interesting guess when the Chief Justice asks the judge if he has a nephew in the army. That would be the author Tariq Ali himself who was a nephew to a military uncle.

The courtroom scenes were pretty short and Bhutto’s episodic speech ran with the change of dates. Here, I expected broader detailing because a story like this humongously demands an enormous courtroom scene where the trials and tribunals make the reader (and the television audience) pessimistic and thoughtful at the same time. A specific courtroom scene edges you to incline on one part of the theory but the book in its entirety is strictly biased towards one side. I feel some portions of writing must have compelled both the leopard and the fox to challenge the goods, the bads, and the ugliness of their characters. I am on Bhutto’s side but as a reader or an observer, I wanted to see both the parties being judged on the same scale, I wanted to see the wrongs of Bhutto and the rights of General Zia too.

I also wanted to realize how the episodes were separated. There is no division of episodes at all. Pretty sure the story didn’t conclude well. I mean the reader knows how the story will end but unfortunately, the technical finishing was missing. After all the buildup of Bhutto’s final days as the leader, the trials, and Zia’s martial law, the story abruptly ended in a jiffy.


CLOSING REMARKS

The book holds a lot of questions. Reading both the appendices is a must. Because when you read those appendices, a lot of theories and questions give birth. The value of the subject is computed. The assumptions and probabilities from the trials and the military meetings are figured out. The complexity of the global politics that was played in the 1970s, the conflicts that were raised from the West, USSR, Gulf, and the South Asian countries were vast and the talks were unprecedented. Writing aside, a history check is a must.

Why do the Americans want Bhutto’s ass out of the equation as the ruling head? Was the then US government giving orders to the generals in Pakistan? Was Bhutto’s execution necessary? Were the judges involved in the conspiracy?

Anyone can read this book. The book has a simple vocabulary. No strong advanced literature. It is a script, you may imagine as a theatrical play. The Leopard and the Fox is not a history book but a play about history. So you may say that the writing is inspired by true events.

Is reading this story important? See, if you are looking for some answers, you may not get it but reading about this infamous event will give birth to an idea that changed Pakistan’s political situation forever. For those who seek, they can learn a lot of deal about one segment of international politics.

It doesn’t matter if you were or are on the leopard’s side or the fox’s because the painful fact is that between the lines of Bhutto-Zia political rivalry and the interference of the then American government, it was Pakistan as a whole that met social, cultural, political, and economic damages and couldn’t ever recover after that.


FAVORITE SCENES

06, 09, 14, 18, 19, 22, 24, 28, 32, 36, 39, 41, 43, 45, 56, 59, 64-72, 75, 80, 81, 85, 88, 89, 93-96, 101, 102


Book Review: The Begums of Bhopal (2000)

The third Begum of Bhopal, Shahjehan Begum.

INTRODUCTION

In early 2000, Shahryar Khan was appointed the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) and it was to my usual bitter disappointment that once again, the committee decided to elect an individual who had no experience in the field of cricket. In those times, I came to know that he was a diplomat. He couldn’t tolerate the situation of Pakistan cricket after that infamous Oval test and Younis Khan’s refusal of captaincy. A decade later, Shahryar Khan was appointed the chairman again.

Back in 2017, when Shahryar Khan left the position as the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, I was googling him and found out that he was born in Bhopal. I further discovered that besides sports and a political career, he is an author. And one of the titles of his book that stroke the cord was the name, The Begums of Bhopal.

Being an ardent book reader and history aficionado, I gradually paced up digging about why a Bhopal-born octogenarian in Pakistan wrote about the wives of Bhopal. My eyes widen when I found out that Shahryar Khan belongs to some royal family who ruled Bhopal state for 241 years. But the most riveting part was that out of 241 years, his four female ancestors ruled for 107 consecutive years.

After understanding such a ravishing part of history, my honest feeling was that after learning so much about history, I was an ignorant fool not to have an inch of enlightenment about this. And it is a sad part, most of us have lost the hunger or enthusiasm to learn about one of the oldest civilizations. There is so much treasure of knowledge and the history of Bhopal is just a branch of it.

Curiosity bore so many questions about the book. The two most critical questions were that how come the Pathans ruled a state for more than two centuries where the Hindus dwelt in the majority? How come not one but four ‘Muslim’ ladies ruled a state in nineteenth-century India for more than one hundred years?

A brief introduction, nine chapters, an epilogue, and some drawings, appendixes, and some assessments of this book enrich you with the most precious detailing about the state’s history. Thanks to British India Office Records that preserves many scores of letters, documents, drawings, photographs, and history books that maintain the accurate information about the history of yore. Plus, dozens of books also assisted in shaping a proper history guide.


THE DYNASTY

AN AFGHAN IN BHOPAL

The foundation of the princely state was laid by the traveler from Tirah, Dost Mohammad Khan of Mirazi-Khel clan of the Orakzai tribe when he joined Aurangzeb’s army and soon took control of Malwa, the region where the Gonds and the Bhils were the original and indigenous inhabitants.

Dost began to provide protection and made his presence stable in the region. In a few years, he persuaded his clan in Tirah to move and join him. As a result, fifty of his clan people along with his father, five brothers, and his wife Mehraj Bibi traveled from Tirah to Berasia. Thus, the Mirazi-Khel tribe became the pioneer settlers of Bhopal and were called the Barru-kat Pathans of Bhopal. With the steady progress of the Bhopal village that turned into a city, Dost became the first Nawab of Bhopal.

RIVALRY WITH THE MARHATTAS

The direct descendants of Dost continued to dominate and led the state with their leadership and faced many rivalries with the neighboring states. In the eighteenth century, the Marhatta Empire made attempts to take the control of Bhopal. First Peshwa Bajirao, then his son Nana Saheb Balaji Rao, then Raghuji Bhonsle.

In the 19th century, Bhopalis faced the toughest times when Scindia of Gwalior and Bhonsle of Nagpur along with their army strength of 82,000 sieged Bhopal. Dost’s great-grandson Wazir Mohammad Khan successfully led the defense of an army strength of only 11,000 that included the Rajput allies, Sikh mercenaries, and the Pindaras of Tonk. I took a special interest in the detailing of this siege because this was the most important battle in their history where the lives of Bhopalis and the fate of Dost’s family and legacy were at stake. I have written a separate 2-part blog about the Siege of Bhopal that you can read here:

  1. https://atomic-temporary-52124787.wpcomstaging.com/2018/12/21/the-siege-of-bhopal-1812-first-part/
  2. https://atomic-temporary-52124787.wpcomstaging.com/2019/01/07/the-siege-of-bhopal-1812-last-part/

THE BEGUMS: QUDSIA & SIKANDAR

The second Begum of Bhopal, Sikandar Begum, and her royal court with a few musicians.

A decade after the Siege of Bhopal began the rule of female rulers of the Bhopal dynasty starting from Wazir’s daughter-in-law and 5th Nawab Ghous Mohammad Khan’s daughter, Qudsia Begum. The arrival of women’s rule to the state turned the fates of Bhopalis as the state began to progress and Dost’s legacy continued to influence.

Amongst her vital contributions as the state leader was buying lodges in Makkah and Madinah for Bhopali pilgrims, and employing David Cook to construct a pipeline to provide her people free drinking water. She provided funds from her personal account to construct a railway station.

When Qudsia’s daughter Sikandar Begum took control and became the second begum to rule, she left no shades of their golden legacy behind but gave more reasons to believe why the begums of Bhopal were to be trusted as their supreme leader.

Moti Masjid was built in 1860 by Sikandar Begum, daughter of Qudsia Begum

In Sikandar’s era, postal service started, a police force was formed, and constructed a treasury and a mint for the local production of coins and currency. Sikandar also constructed a hospital and a few dispensaries and invited Hakeems from all the states to settle down in Bhopal. To transform the royal household into religious intellectuals, Sikandar invited Yemeni scholars to teach them Arabic, Hadiths, and the holy book of the Quran. When it comes to her religious contributions, Sikandar introduced Majlis-e-Shoora that passed 134 laws during her reign.

Sikandar holds the distinction for working for harmony between Muslims and Hindus by constructing mosques and serais for them. She also appointed an Accountant General who would check the waste and corruption. Urdu became Bhopal’s official court language, previously it was Persian.

THE BEGUMS: SHAHJEHAN & SULTAN JAHAN

Mother and daughter, the third and fourth Begums of Bhopal, Shahjehan (right) and Sultan Jahan (left).

The third begum Shahjehan, Sikandar’s daughter, brought more reforms into the system. The postal and police services that were initiated in her mother’s reign, were modernized. The revenue system was improved. Shahjehan also constructed a jail, a dam, and a proper arsenal for the state’s artillery.

Shahjehan’s daughter and the last Begum of Bhopal, Sultan Jahan faced a lot of challenges when she sat on the throne. Only 40,000 rupees were left in the treasury to run the state. Bhopal’s political system was on a razor edge and the economy was compromising thanks to her step-father Siddiq Hassan whose incompetent leadership resulted in social and economic corruption and despite sharp criticism by the British, Shahjehan preferred to defend him.

Sultan Jahan’s era was the symbol of promise and in the first ten years of rule, she built hope, faith, and future for her people. Despite being very religious and conservative, Sultan Jahan brought educational reforms, liberalism, and modernization to Bhopal.

Sultan Jahan improved systems in taxation, irrigation, agriculture, armed forces, police, jails, judiciary, and public works. She initiated municipality elections that upgraded sanitation, hygiene, and supplying tax-free water. In her era, Bhopali women found their voice in Begum. They were encouraged to join the Bhopal Ladies Club. The technical institutes were opened to teach them embroidery, handicraft, and needlework. She became the first chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University that helped in raising the bar for education, especially for girls.

The author’s great-grandmother and the last Begum of Bhopal, Sultan Jahan Begum.

Four ladies from Dost Mohammad Khan’s bloodline ruled the state for over a century and laid a solid foundation of discipline, faith, courage, commitment, integrity, and self-belief. We do not find any such example of political dominance and ideal leadership where women ruled keeping the peace between people of different faiths, stayed loyal with the British, and brought numerous social, political, and economic reforms in political history.

Balthazar de Bourbon

My book review will be incomplete without mentioning the Bourbons of India, the French connection to the Bhopal Dynasty; the descendants of high-born nobleman Jean-Phillipe de Bourbon de Navarre. They were the superior loyalists to the dynasty for generations that fought and defended a few battles and supported them at every cost.


MY FAVORITE LEADERS

Amongst all the leaders of the dynasty written in the book, my favorite leaders were Mamola Bai, Qudsia Begum, Wazir Mohammad Khan, and Sultan Jahan Begum. I found them more distinguished and their leadership more propelling because they all encountered challenges and tackled them successfully.

Before the 19th century witnessed Bhopal being ruled by four ladies, Mamola Bai was the first significant woman in Bhopal’s political history. She was a Hindu but first, she was the wife of the first Nawab Yar Mohammad Khan, and Dost’s daughter-in-law, who ruled the state for 50 years. She faced a tough time from the opposition who was Yar’s own brother Sultan who wanted to sit on the throne. But she invoked Islamic legitimacy in favor of Yar’s son Faiz against the claims.

The British Empire’s connection to Bhopal state began with Mamola Bai when she warmly welcomed General Goddard in 1778. Abdul Qadir Jilani’s direct descendant Pir Ghous Ahmad Shah Jilani formally declared her Rabia Basri II, the author’s mother Abida Sultan held the custody of the formal attestation of this declaration.

This is the first Begum of Bhopal Qudsia Begum’s only portrait found in the book as well as on the internet.

The point where Qudsia Begum impressed me the most was when she unveils her burqa in front of all the family members, contenders to the throne, qazi and mufti, and reads her husband’s will. These were the times when Dost’s male descendants were fighting for the throne and then, this 19-year-old Qudsia, pregnant with her second child, announces her regency and begins the century-old era of women’s dominance over the state.

The dazzling aspects of Sultan Jahan Begum lie in her leadership that turned the fates of the Bhopalis, especially women. Plus, she cleaned the mess made by her step-father Siddiq Hassan who made a lot of damage in corrupting the economic and political situation of the state.

But my favorite amongst all the leaders of this Bhopal dynasty is Wazir Mohammad Khan, the true defender of the state. He is the one who protected the state falling in the hands of the Marhattas, twice. Once, Wazir along with Ambapani’s Jagirdar Kuli Khan with 1000 tribesmen defeated Sironj governor’s General Bala Rao Anglia of Gwalior, Raghuji Bhonsle of Nagpur, Pindara Amir Khan of Tonk with 40,000 force. And the second time, he courageously defended Bhopal’s siege against Marhatta’s heavy army force of 82,000. The four Begums would have never led the state if Wazir’s gallantry never existed.

Tomb of Wazir Mohammad Khan in Bhopal. The site is hardly 3kms far from the tomb of his great-grandfather, Dost Mohammad Khan.

AUTHENTICITY

The Begums of Bhopal guarantees history check and authentic detailing because of the four vital factors. One is that Shahryar Khan had his mother Abida Sultan’s library in hand that preserves books, documents, and rare manuscripts. Two, he had access to the British library where he scoured through confidential reports about the state by the-then British civil servants.

Three and the biggest factor that distinguishes this book from any history book a historian may have written in the past two centuries is that Shahryar gained direct knowledge about his ancestors through his mother’s tape recordings that recorded her impressions of the state’s history as related to her by her grandmother Sultan Jahan Begum, the fourth and final Begum of Bhopal. On the tape, the grandmother, old civil servants, and family members spoke in detail about their time and even recalled the time of Sikandar Begum’s golden era when she ruled Bhopal in the mid-nineteenth century.

And four, the book discourages to be quintessential or overpraise the pride of his ancestors. The book refuses to deceive the readers by exaggerating the details of their greatness of being the most ideal of all Bhopalis. The book highlights the state’s leadership that went in good and bad hands. The book stamps an unbiased history of centuries-old rulership where the author details the rights and wrongs of Bhopal’s leadership in safe and unsafe hands.

The golden example of the book’s historical authenticity is writing about one of his ancestors who sold his rank and Bhopal’s fate for his comfort and pleasure, Ghous Mohammad Khan, father of the first Begum of Bhopal, Qudsia Begum. Then there was Siddiq Hassan, the third Begum Shahjehan’s second husband, whose leadership in Bhopal raised questions in Bhopal and the British.

Portraits of prince and princess, grandchildren of Sultan Jahan Begum of Bhopal, c.1910

The author also holds no tolerance in courageously detailing the clashes in the royal family, complicated mother-daughter relation between Shahjehan Begum and Sultan Jahan Begum. The author was also not shy of speaking about the speculation of a romantic affair between Qudsia Begum and Shahzad Masih. Qudsia Begum disallowing to transfer her power of authority to her son-in-law is also spread in pages. The point of highlighting all of this is that the author pens the history of his ancestors in an impression that the Bhopal state and its people went through changes in the period of the leadership of their dynasty that resulted in good and bad outcomes. People lost their lives in their battles but also trusted for the reforms they made.

The author neither shows any pride nor does he write any respective names as his relatives but he broadly commentated their stories. You will not observe any page where he calls his relatives in person but rather speaks their names. He mentions himself in the epilogue but only writes his name. The preface is the only part where the author personally speaks and writes ‘I’.


CLOSING REMARKS

I began to read The Begums of Bhopal back in March 2018. The knowledge was so driving that I began to prepare notes and draw myself the lineage of the princely state. Although, the drawing is there in the book, but for me, it was helpful to update all the lines with the completion of chapters I read. This book made a lot of reading intervals due to my own mid-life crises. But with a strong will, I have finished reading this book by the end of 2021.

The beauty of reading this book is that you grow with the timeline from Dost Mohammad Khan’s arrival in Malwa in 1707 to Hamidullah Khan’s succession of the throne in 1926. It is like if you are watching the American television show Roots and following Kunta Kinte’s descendants. This book deserves a television series with an extremely huge production budget, and I wish if this ever happens. Because this part of history needs to be told.

To all the readers who seek knowledge about the tareekh-e-Hindustan, The Begums of Bhopal is a part of it. A lot of information about India’s ancient history has not reached the internet; that makes me think that there is still a lot about the past to reach us. Gain it, treasure it, before all these cannons go further missing.

The Begums (1819-1926): Qudsia (top left), Sikandar (top right), Shahjehan (bottom left), and Sultan Jahan (bottom right)

Book Review: The Diary Of A Young Girl (1947)

The events of the World Wars staging on the planet earth not only brought the highest recorded casualties of the 20th century but brought many historical consequences and incredible stories. People in my community often take Hitler‘s genocide of killing 6 million European Jews as an act of achievement or blessing because they theorize the opinion that it is the Jews being blood-thirsty toward the Muslims in Palestine for decades. Hardly they are familiar with the Zionism movement and do not recognize the difference between the Jewish religion and the Zionism movement.

The complexity of the subject lies in the tragic state where the Jews were the prime target in The Holocaust. In my life, I personally came to realize that Jews have been war or political victims ever in the timeline when I happened to watch Roman Polanski‘s The Pianist back in 2003. I was familiar with the face of the young Anne Frank as I happen to see in some tribute videos played on the TV a few years ago and I calculated the prominence of her picture in the history section that there is something very memorable about this girl.  Later on, through various sources on the internet, I learned about her personal and posthumous achievement as a teenage diarist revealing some very critical details of the existing chaos in Nazi Germany and the Netherlands, and her very tragic conclusion of giving up life in one of the concentration camps in Germany at a minor age of 15.

Anne Frank rose to posthumous fame globally when her diary was published with the sharp details of her personal life and the war disturbances during her two-year hiding with her family. It is not just an impression of reading a girl’s diary speaking of the world war but it is a deep psychology of understanding one of the 6 million casualties about how a normal person of any age is shaped in the historic or political chaos. How does a girl of 13 with all the luxury of a domestic and school life live an unfortunate life in the two-year hiding with her family?

Everyone in Europe was affected by the world war and Anne Frank is one of the most discussed Jewish victims of that time. As a reader, when you read the first dozens of the letters, you become a child like her. With her writing and your reading, you begin to create and develop an understanding of her, her ideology, her opinion, her social behavior, and attitude towards her parents, her sister, her friends (among which couple of them became more than a friend for a short period), and other people with whom she was hiding in the concealed rooms. Diary was Anne’s best and most loyalist friend but the reading mentally convinces if you are the diary’s replacement and the deceased is talking, admitting, and confessing to you.

Anne wasn’t a childish immature diarist as I was expecting. To my surprise, she was a mature girl who had a treasure of words to describe in detail her physical and emotional developments. She was impressive in giving detail about the structure of the house where the whole family was hiding which is known as the Secret Annex (Achterhuis in Dutch). She has spoken about her relationship with Peter in much detail which draws your attention. Peter was a 16-year-old son of the van Pels family, the family who joined the Franks in the hiding. Besides, she expresses her love for history and literature and set her ambition to become a journalist when the war is finished.

In my reading experience, the dozens of books which I have read so far, this is the book that gives me more pain and grief. I have to admit that when I was reading this book, I was traveling the time and wanting that bad to save the entire family from the evils of invasion. It breaks my heart to understand how much people have to suffer from the decisions made by the people in power. I began thinking while reading her letters about my honest opinion that the whole world, its existence, the life, the timeline, and every creature arriving at the surface are all scripted by God. He is the author, a writer of the fate of the earth and its inhabitants. Anne was bestowed with the diary, a present she got on her 13th birthday from her father. A month later, the hiding began and the diary gifted a month ago became Anne’s keeper of the secrets. For the next two years, she began writing in rich detail about a lot of things until she was arrested by the Gestapo and sent to the concentration camp. It was Miep Gies who hid the Franks and van Pels in the Secret Annex. Months after Anne’s tragic death, Miep found the papers and the diaries on the floor of the concealed room. She didn’t read it but forwarded it to Anne’s father Otto Frank after the war when her death was confirmed in the Autumn of 1945. If there was no war, there would have been no hiding and this book would never be written nor reached us. It is all scripted, Anne wasn’t brought into this world to live a normal life. She was born in the most disturbing timeline at the unfortunate place to write the diary and do us a favor to read her. It is all scripted. 

Miep Gies died a few years ago at the age of 100. One of Anne’s friends, Hanneli Goslar, is still alive at 88 and now lives in Jerusalem with her family. Goslar has appeared in several Anne Frank documentaries. Had Anne not died in the camp, she might have fulfilled her ambition to become a journalist and would have been 88 to date. Anne and her sister Margot were buried in an unknown mass grave but the reading of her memoir is buried in our hearts and we have sympathies and respect for the poor little girl. 

Book Review: The Substance and the Shadow (2014)

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 “I have consciously never oversold or overexposed myself to the audience. When I look back I feel it was quite risky to be starring in one film when other actors were busy with two or three films on the floors simultaneously. I determinedly decided to work in only one film at a time. It was simply my confidence in the subjects I chose and the hard work I was ready to put into them.”


I have always suspected and reckoned that the first half of the twentieth century has fetched more gripping and compulsive stories than the second half due to the time being disturbing and chaotic in its nature. Many wars were fought and casualties were witnessed and suffered. The outcome was painful for ages. The pride of Hindustan collapsed with the partition and communal riots in the result with many tragic stories to bargain some piece of time in the future. One of the same stories met the golden fortune of the Hindi film industry which was still in the development process from leapfrog. In this millennium, we are extremely fortunate and blessed that the story has finally been inked from his own hands and met a huge success after its publication.

Dilip Kumar sahab is the epitome and the real shamma-e-Bollywood. His presence is the magnitude and the real red carpet, whose footsteps to the industry brought new attention in the golden era and produced many memorable films. In my reading experience, it is convincingly confessable that before browsing this book, I knew the legend merely by 20% through his films; but after reading his twenty-five chapters, I must declare that I know the man by 75% and with the reading section of ‘Reminiscence’ where forty-three individuals have paid respect and shared incidents attached to him, I have to avow that the percentage of knowledge I have gained has stretched to 80%. The rest stays with his personal life with his best half, Saira Banu.

Being the greatest actor in India for all ages and generations, it was highly in demand and everyone’s desire to know him in his own speech. Although it took an age to decide him to speak up, the blessed part is that the biggest promise in reading the book actually fruits our patience.

The book is easily parted into three sections. The first section is the formality of the book introduction and forward. Saira Banu, Dilip sahab‘s superlative blessing has done the honors of introduction by touching on some memorable moments of her life with him and confessed that she should write a book about her life with him. Film journalist Udaya Tara Nayar has forwarded the book. She has the credit to compile and shape the book and narrate his autobiography. Ms. Nayar has explained in her pages how Dilip sahab finally made up his mind to write this book.

The second section is the reader’s borrowed time to enrich his understanding with the chronicles and memoirs of the legend consisting of 25 chapters. The third and last section is the tribute to Dilip sahab inked by many personalities which stretches to more than a hundred pages.

The first four chapters cover his childhood. His first years of life in the area of Qissa Khawani Bazaar, the Piccadilly of Central Asia located in Peshawar, the-then part of British India and the current city of Pakistan. We must praise the author that such an individual has the sharpest memory at such an old age to describe to us the toughest circumstances when he came out from the mother’s womb. Whatever the details his family explained are still stored with him and are now read to us.

The childhood chapters discuss his family specifically his dadi and his parents whom he calls amma and aghaji. In the fourth chapter, he mentions aghaji‘s Hindu friends in the same area; one of them was Basheswarnathji who used to bring his handsome son to their home stunning the ladies whose name was Prithviraj. Yes, Prithviraj! the father of Raj Kapoor and from here begins a childhood friendship between the upcoming iconic superstars of the golden era. Also in this chapter, Dilip sahab moves with his siblings and amma to reunite with his father in Bombay where aghaji meets business opportunities in fruit selling.

When we learn about his teens, we go aggressive like him. We read about his lovely bonding with his brothers, his affection and keenness for the English literature, his school and college life especially the latter life inking more pages on his restoring of friendship with Raj Kapoor as both studied in the same college. We experience his struggles and his attempt of settling alone in Poona (Pune) while running away from home after a mild disagreement with his father. His days in Poona are an interesting read with many troubling and funny incidents there.


“I had never ever seen a film studio in my life, not even in photographs. I had heard of Bombay Talkies from Raj Kapoor who spoke about it as the studio where films starring his father Prithvirajji were shot.”


The making of the legacy begins in the eighth chapter when the first lady of the Indian cinema, Devika Rani, a Bombay Talkies panjandrum, proffers him to join Bombay Talkies in their first meeting and learn acting under the guidance of the company. As we have read enough of Dilip sahab till his twenties till this moment, we emotionally begin sensing a change in fate, a blow of breeze in the alfresco. Here comes the learning process in Dilip sahab‘s acting life as the amateur encounters many significant and notable film personalities.

Those filmgoers who have watched his earliest works of the 1940s will observe that he was pretty a bungle ‘layman’ in the acting profession in films like Jwar Bhata and Jugnu but his skills developed rapidly from Shaheed, Mela, and Andaz. The same exercise is developed in these initial pages of the career beginning chapters from a keen learner who realized his fate was written to become a film star and aid his ever-growing family financially and raise his siblings with proper living standards and reputed education after his parents’ demise.

No great celebrity in any part of the world can cross the phases of life without tragic moments. From the eleventh chapter, we read and grow commiserations for him as he begins meeting tragedies in life. Some forlorn moments, inefficacious love affairs, and devastating episodes of quietus led by playing repeated sorrowful and gloomy characters produce upsets, sickness, and exhaustion in mental state enough to consult a psychiatrist in London who suggests bringing a change in the mood of character roles he plays in his career. During all this phase, there is a separate chapter on the beautiful but complicated Madhubala for obvious reasons. In this book, Dilip sahab responds to the questions revolving around decades of the involvement of Madhubala in his personal/professional life.

dileep-saira

 


“I…became aware that an actor needed to strengthen his instincts because the duality between the real and unreal cannot be sorted out by the mind, which is more concerned with truth and logic in any normal situation. The mind will always tell you this is nonsense… It is only instinct that will help you to absorb what you have to absorb from the script and drive you to render a performance coated with realism and conviction despite the knowledge of it all being fiction and drama.”


Also, he has detailed in pages about his working relation and camaraderie with few prominent celebrities like Vyjayanthimala, Sashadhar Mukherjee, Ashok Kumar, Bimal Roy, and many more. His acting pages will also annex to our knowledge the offered films he refused for some reasons but to my huge surprise, in fact, a shock, he didn’t shed light on David Lean‘s offer for the role in Lawrence of Arabia which went to Omar Sharif later. Remind me if I happen to miss it but there is no precise detail of the famous offer-refusing moment. Hilariously, Dilip sahab has mentioned Lean’s Doctor Zhivago as the story inspiring his writing of Kashmir Valley on his wife, a project he wanted to produce after Bairaag. Indeed it is the biggest omission in the book.

It is more than half of the book-reading when his best half, his dream girl Saira Banu shows up; a girl who madly fell in love with him when she was only twelve. From the seventeenth chapter, the reader’s most romantic portion comes into existence after all the troubles and struggles, and there is a sweet fascination in reading this golden love affair. The whole nineteenth chapter covers their high-profile wedding and the coming chapters tell you more about their marital life and the films they co-starred together.


“I do not know if it is in my genes or if it is something I have assimilated from the environment I was brought up in. It gives me great contentment and joy to espouse a good cause.”


In the last reading phase, I lose an edge when the timeline crosses like a rocket. Dilip sahab travels from birth till finishing Bairaag in 1976 after reading 238 pages and 22 chapters; but in the final three chapters and 45 pages, Dilip sahab travels 38 years and reaches 2014!! The biggest ‘?’ is why not fetch more details between 1976 and 2014. In the final three chapters, he did speak about his role as Sheriff of Bombay and the lawsuit slapped by A.R.Kardar, he did speak about his comeback in the 80s and working in major films like Shakti, Vidhaata, Mashaal, and later on Saudagar but my argument is that heavy detailing was badly missed just like he wrote few of the chronicles in first 22 chapters at length. In fact, he spoke more about Raaj Kumar than Saudagar.

The same case with his two tours of Pakistan (1988 & 1998); on both occasions, he didn’t go for lengthy details. Both tours were emotionally monumental, the first was his grand return to Peshawar after his childhood days; and the second time he visited, he was awarded Nishan-e-Imtiaz.

Due to short details in the final three chapters, he didn’t speak about his friendship with filmmaker and mobster Haji Mastan. More than this, the major surprise was not mentioning about Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award in 1993. Although he has mentioned most of the films he has worked in but not wrote a single word of his final film Qila. Perhaps he realized it was a regret to retire after finishing Qila rather than Saudagar. But remarkably he did speak about his biggest regret of getting involved with the lady from Hyderabad, Asma Rehman.

The newest incident from the book was Lataji‘s visit to Dilip sahab a few months before the book was released in the mid of 2014 which indicates that he was active in completing the memoir in his nineties. The Substance and The Shadow easily is one of the most important books in Bollywood’s richest library and showcase. Someday in the late future, I may read the book again with the same enthusiasm as I discovered a lot of treasure from his box. Many great legends and prominent celebrities of his time have left the world but he is still there and we hope he stays further long and may we witness him completing his century.

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Chapters:

Childhood (Ch#1 – Ch#4)

Younghood till Devika Rani’s Offer (Ch#5 – Ch#8)

Film Career till Marriage (Ch#9 – Ch#19)

Post Marriage Career till Present (Ch#20 – End)

 

About Personalities:

Ch#05 – Raj Kapoor

Ch#08 – Devika Rani

Ch#09 – Ashok Kumar, Sashadhar Mukherjee

Ch#10 – Ashok Kumar, Raj Kapoor

Ch#11 – Kamini Kaushal, Naushad, Mehboob Khan, Nitin Bose

Ch#12 – Madhubala, S. M. Sriramulu Naidu

Ch#13 – Madhubala

Ch#14 – Bimal Roy, Vyjayanthimala, S. S. Vasan, B.R.Chopra, Yash Chopra

Ch#17 – Saira Banu (till the end)

Ch#20 – Pran, Mukri, S.U. Sunny

Ch#24 – Subhash Ghai

Ch#25 – Lata Mangeshkar, Yash Chopra

(There are few personalities I have missed adding here who are mentioned in the book.)

About Films:

Ch#09 – Jwar Bhata

Ch#11 – Shaheed, Milan

Ch#12 – Azaad

Ch#14 – Devdas, Madhumati, Gunga Jumna, Paigham

Ch#16 – Gunga Jumna

Ch#22 – Gopi, Sagina

Ch#24 – Kranti, Shakti, Saudagar

Ch#25 – Mashaal

(There are few films I have missed adding here which are mentioned in the book.)

Important Deaths:

Ch#11 – Ayub (brother) & Amma (mother)

Ch#15 – Aghaji (father)

Ch#25 – Nasir (brother)

Best Reminiscences:

(I have picked 23 best tributes out of 43 chosen individuals.)

Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya Bachchan, Moin Beg, Yash Chopra, Farida Dadi, Dharmendra, Sitara Devi, Subhash Ghai, Rishi Kapoor, Anil Kapoor, Aamir Khan, Salim Khan, Manoj Kumar, Mumtaz, Lata Mangeshkar, Nanda, Nimmi, Waheeda Rehman, Harish Salve, Salim Sharifee, Ramesh Sippy, Sharmila Tagore, and Vyjayanthimala.

dilip-kumar-100-years-of-cinema-filmfare-photoshoot

Book Review: My Autobiography (1964)

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“Friends have asked how I came to engender this American antagonism. My prodigious sin was, and still is, being a non-conformist. Although I am not a Communist I refused to fall in line by hating them.”


A riveting manuscript blended with the toppling of articulation. An essence of dissemination with a gifted cerebrum that educates the readers the life of an artist who never inclined nor compromised. The quote above is from the thirtieth chapter which confirms the resistance and determination. An institution, an influence; whose artistic brilliance and extracting expressions from the silence won hearts and made him the most beloved entertainer of the 20th century. He was Charlie Chaplin a.k.a. The Tramp.

A verbal but soft revolt over the hatred or a memoir wonderfully constructed like an architect coalescing the whole tabulation with a strong grip. A case study that examines a life structure built from struggling poverty towards solving the enigma of solemnity. A gracious gentleman with a beautiful heart, a blessing smile that can melt a tart.

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He was respiring in his seventies when the pages of this incredulous book were inked. I am not surprised that the gentleman who wrote his own scripts, and directed his own films, would go on to write an autobiography; but what astonishes me is the chosen vocabulary. The school of words used in the text defines his individuality and indicates how indulged and fascinated was he to treasure the richness of words and then use them like a sword. It is not to my knowledge nor have I quested an answer to what length has the wordings of Mr. Chaplin been edited but the introductory words by his biographer David Robinson confirm that the writing is all done by the tramp himself. The artistry of a performer has his own percussion of conveying his message and reading his life in his own words helps you step into his world and understand him.

Being a stage/theater artist, the actor knows how to bring a ‘Vow!’ among the viewers. So as the author who happened to be an artist, he drops the revelation of mystery by beginning the book with a precise date, time, and place of birth this way;


“I was born on 16 April 1889, at eight o’clock at night, in East Lane, Walworth.”


This is exactly the confession and the first sentence of the book which gives the reader an impression that a grandpa in his rocking chair is about to excite you with the story that existed in his universe.

The first 5 chapters are very private, firsthand, and tragic and speak of his grinding poverty and mother’s mental health. Chaplin talks about the couples who were parted and the family comprised of a mother with her two children, Charles and Sydney, who depended on his weekly payments of 10 shillings a week. He talks about a failing stage performer whose vocal issues ended her career and her 5-year-old son took the stage in desperation to win the spectators, collected the coins, and handed them over to his ailing mother.

Chaplin recounts his struggles at such a tender age when his mother was shifted to medical care for mental sickness. The wait for some good fate and fortunes makes you anxious to turn over the pages.

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The quality of eagerly reading this book is that with every chapter, the reader grows his fictional age from childhood to young hood to manhood. When Charlie reaches the age of puberty, he becomes romantic so as the reader. Those readers who have watched his films would realize how romantic was Charlie and how cavernous would he go to convey his utter emotions in the silent films. Plus the account of his love affairs distinguishes in writing to grow the feeling of youngness and maturity. For example, his depiction of love for Hetty Kelly gives a warm look at his boyhood which makes your understanding of ‘love’ a bit emotional but when he speaks about his relation with Paulette and Oona, his third and fourth wife respectively, the reader grows adult like him.

At 19, Chaplin proposes to 15-year-old Kelly who she keeps silent. He determines not to meet her again but he couldn’t resist and feels regret. He meets her at her residence but he couldn’t say more than ‘Goodbye’ twice. His love for Hetty Kelly is what grieved and ached him all his life and at such an old age when he chooses to write this book, he drops a ship of Theseus on the readers when he writes in chapter 6 about her;


“Although I had met her but five times, and scarcely any of our meetings lasted longer than twenty minutes, that brief encounter affected me for a long time.”


Moving from the affection of a love affair, he builds his career in the next chapters while landing in the United States; and in a space of 10 years, he works for Fred Karno, Keystone Pictures, Essanay Studios, and Mutual Films Corp. The amazement is reading about an inspiring journey by highlighting his earnings. Fair enough to reveal that his earnings under contract with Karno which stood at 6 pounds/week turn into an extremely rich contract of $670K with Mutual Films Corp. payable at $10K/week. What an accomplishment in a few years!

Also, the book has rich details of his life-long friendship with Mary Pickford and her husband Douglas Fairbanks from the thirteenth chapter who later form a partnership business by the name United Artists. Under this banner being a co. owner, Chaplin makes most of his feature films and makes the company one of the leading production companies of that time in Hollywood.

Charlie Chaplin Hanging Out with Famous People (1)

For the reader’s luxury, Chaplin has enriched and highlighted some very interesting episodes from his personal account and professional career. He records many elite names he met and befriended. In different chapters, Chaplin has covered the makings of his various feature films. For me, the most interesting read is about his film The Kid in which child actor Jackie Coogan co. starred. He pens an interesting story about how he discovered the child and how he approached Coogan’s father.

Monsieur Verdoux is a film that covers three chapters which is quite peculiar and outlandish for me because the film wasn’t received well. There is a whole chapter about the film when it encountered the clearance issue from the Office of Decency by copy-pasting their whole letter and writing the whole part of the script which was objected. I find writing this all at length redundant and extraneous; this chapter could have been easily abridged.

The reason I am pondering it too long a chapter is because a critically acclaimed film like Modern Times has surprisingly very short details as compared to the others. A film based on The Great Depression and the rise of the machines was a hard-hitting subject but to my discouragement, Chaplin wrote only a few pages.

Two films whose omission from the book hugely astound me are The Circus and A King In New York. The former, being one of my favorite Chaplin films, was a prominent film that depicted the rise and fall of a circus while the latter was produced after Chaplin was barred from the United States and he showed his anger and criticism over McCarthyism in the film.


“All I need to make a comedy is a park, a policeman, and a pretty girl.”


Chapter.23 is among the gripping chapters of the book which details Chaplin’s tour of Japan and describes how fortunate was he to escape the assassination of the then Japanese PM, Inukai Tsuyoshi, which was committed by 11 young naval officers who revealed the plan that Chaplin’s murder would facilitate war against the US.

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Also, has Chaplin filled a few pages about meeting very notable, established, and prominent personalities like Mr. and Mrs. Churchill, Mr. and Mrs. Einstein, business tycoon William Hearst, the then Premier of Soviet Union Nikita Khrushchev and his Defense Minister Nikolai Bulganin, India’s preeminent leader Mahatma Gandhi and first PM Jawaharlal Nehru, Russian prima ballerina Anna Pavlova, first premier of People’s Republic of China Zhou Enlai and few more.

The most critical readings are the last six chapters when Charlie’s life meets a severe turnaround when WWII begins. He has one whole chapter on his speeches for Russian War Relief. While Hoover and his FBI team begin scanning him after being accused of being the father of Joan Barry‘s child, his image meets a downfall. Also, the last phase of the book has heavy details on Chaplin’s final moments in the US and early days of settlement in Europe.

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So Charlie Chaplin has covered most of his life in 477 pages but somehow he still has missed leaking or providing few details. He speaks nothing about his second wife, Lita Grey nor does he mention his half-brother Wheeler Dryden. The readers will not find any details about his children, especially Sydney and Geraldine. Nor is there any word about Arthur Jefferson, his understudy while working with Fred Karno. Arthur Jefferson is Stan Laurel most celebrated for his partnership with Oliver Hardy in a world-famous comedy duo Laurel and Hardy.

 

 

Another major surprise is that Chaplin mentions nothing about his frequent collaborators like Henry Bergman, Mark Swain, Eric Campbell, Albert Austin, and Roland Totheroh who was Chaplin’s most regular cameraman for more than 30 films. Perhaps chapters may exceed more details in writing on these gentlemen or perhaps some other reasons. Chaplin talks about Limelight but didn’t speak about his novel Footlights which was unreleased for the next six decades until it was published in 2014. Footlights is considered a prequel and a fictional book that laid the foundation for producing this film.


“Loneliness is repellent. It has a subtle aura of sadness, an inadequacy to attract or interest; one feels slightly ashamed of it. But, to a more or less degree, it is the theme of everyone.”


Two things I would like to inform the readers about this book. The first point to remember is that Chaplin wrote this book in 1964, so obviously, the readers won’t have the luxury to read about his emotional return to the US eight years later when he received an honorary award for his contribution and outstanding achievements in the industry at the Oscars.

The second point is that the book should not be compared with Attenborough‘s film Chaplin produced in 1992 due to the fact that the details of the film are not precisely accurate as Chaplin has described in his literature.

But above all ‘My Autobiography‘ is a pure gift of The Tramp to his fans. Those readers who are curious to know how the silent cinema functioned at the beginning of the twentieth century should read this book and further realize how a pauper from England revolutionize the industry when the silent comedy was more focused on whacky vehicle races and pieing. His writing eloquence will melt you. A blatantly honest and easily one of the greatest autobiographies written and published.

Thank you, Charlie…

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Chaplin’s Wives:

Ch#16 – Mildred Harris (1st wife)

Ch#24 – Paulette Goddard (3rd wife)

Ch#27 – Oona O’Neil

 

Chaplin’s Love Affairs:

Ch#5 – Marie Doro

Ch#6 – Hetty Kelly

Ch#26 – Joan Barry

 

Chaplin’s association with the companies:

1899 – The Eight Lancashire Lads (Ch#3, Age.10)

1906 – Karno Company (Ch#6, Age.17)

1914 – Keystone Pictures (Ch#10)

1915 – Essanay Studios (Ch#11)

1916 – Mutual Film Corporation (Ch#11)

1918 – First National (Ch#14)

1919 – United Artists (Ch#15 – Co.owner with Mary Pickford & Douglas Fairbanks)

 

Chaplin’s Earnings:

1906 – 6 Pounds/Week (Karno company)

1916 – $10K/Week (Mutual Film Corp)

 

Chaplin’s Films:

Ch#14 – A Dog’s Life, The Immigrant

Ch#15 – Shoulder Arms

Ch#16 – The Kid

Ch#19 – The Gold Rush

Ch#21 – City Lights

Ch#24 – Modern Times

Ch#25 – The Great Dictator

Ch#27 – Monsieur Verdoux

Ch#29 – Limelight

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Book Review: The Alchemist (1988)

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“And when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

The Alchemist is Paulo Coelho‘s most famous book which he wrote in mere two weeks and published in 1988. The book is on the list of one of the most read books in the history of literature with the name mentioned in the Guinness World Records for being the book translated into most languages. By 2015, the book has been translated into 80 languages and had sold more than 65 million copies.  

The book is about Santiago, the Andalusian shepherd, dreaming about finding the treasure in the Pyramids of Egypt. Santiago makes up his mind about the quest for treasure. He meets numerous people during his spiritual journey who inspires/influences him and will give that same impression to the readers.

The book can easily be fragmented into four parts:

  • The first phase is Santiago’s dream and contribution of gypsy woman and old king of Salem, Melchizedek towards the boy’s goal of treasure digging.
  • The second phase is his life in Tangiers where he is robbed and works for a crystal merchant.
  • The third phase is the expedition at al-Fayoum Oasis where Santiago meets an Englishman who is in search of the Alchemist. This is where the boy falls in love with Fatima but she persuades him to find the treasure first.
  • The final phase is meeting his last inspiration, the 200-year-old Alchemist himself. He plays a very important role in the boy’s treasure hunting.

The Alchemist is a human torch on a journey of hope with supernatural power towards WILL. Need a hand? Then hold this book and read. The book has one story but we all are connected somehow. A tremendous guide!!

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Why this book inspires you after reading? Because no matter what religion you follow, what faith you obey, what career you pursue, whoever or whatever you love… the flow of the story teaches you something at every turning page. The reader is at ease solving the riddle of his life.

The author digs more about the human psychology and spiritual philosophy of life than you may act/react at your side in your own world. At every point of twist, the author shatters the puzzles and fixes them for your most difficult questions to be answered.

Paulo repeats some specific words and during the storyline, the writer indirectly emphasizes the readers to work on it. Some of these are omens, personal legend, the soul of the world and maktub, etc. ‘Maktub’ is an Arabic word that means ‘It Is Written’. The word is used by a few of the characters repeating when the character is at the defining moment where they choose to say ‘Maktub’ that whatever happening is written in your fate. The word is introduced by the crystal merchant.

Melchizedek talks about Personal Legend to Santiago, which he defines as “it is always what you want to accomplish in life.” The word ‘Omens has its own prominence like the previously mentioned words. Paulo has repeatedly motivated his main character Santiago to follow his ‘Omens’ to find the treasure. In an interview, Paulo defined “Omens are the individual language in which God talks to you” which gives a more clear point to a common person. The word ‘Omens’ is the highest level of motivation by which one can succeed. To my understanding, there is something in me and you that creates and builds your wants, and empowers you to reach your goal and make it possible. That something is your Omen, and God creates and builds your omens only if you want Him to assist you in achieving/accomplishing. That is how some specific Coelho words are worked on the human minds helping them to live and breathe a better life.

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Creativity is remarkable. Some names in the books are major references that the reader must understand. The name of the old King is Melchizedek who actually is mentioned in the Book of Genesis 18-20. Melchizedek holds kingship of Salem which is a biblical name of Jerusalem mentioned in Psalm 76:2. The two stones, Urim and Thummim which he gives to Santiago are basically associated with the sacred breastplate worn by the High Priest of the Israelites. These stones are mentioned in the Book of Exodus which is used to determine God’s will.

The Alchemist has the possession of Elixir of Life and Philosopher’s Stone. Both are legendary substances. Philosopher’s Stone is a chemical substance that turns any metal into gold whereas Elixir of Life is a drink by which the drinker is granted eternal life/youth and never gets sick. Both the substances of Alchemists are called their Master Work.

London Times says that Paulo’s books have had a life-enchanting effect on millions of people, so as this book. And New York Times has a better compliment for his writing which says that this wizard makes books disappear from stores. I am not admitting that my life has changed, but I am admitting that by reading this book, I am becoming aware of my options when I am surrounded by life’s complicated issues. Now I will be more at ease than before to decide why, what, when, where, and how to do it. Paulo is like a spiritual teacher becoming the reader’s imaginary friend, motivating and cheering you by reminding you to follow your omens. Such a book is recommended to every reader who surely will learn a lot from it.

Thank you so much Rossie Nathalie for suggesting this book…

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Book Review: My Feudal Lord (1991)

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The Islamic Republic of Pure Land has a bitter history of feudalism amongst the chieftains and the headmen stretching for decades. The woman’s pride and dignity have been dependent on the word of mouth fouling or polluting her for the hunger and lust of the tribe’s godfathers. The traditional silence of women on beatings, torture, and harassment is still a freedom’s wail. But there was a time in Pakistan, this silence was never whispered to the outsiders and diggers until one lady opened her mouth to the world and faced the consequences for speaking the truth – Tehmina Durrani.

Tehmina Durrani belongs to an influential family. Her great-grandfather, Mohammad Hayat Khan, served the government of British India and played an important role in establishing MAO College at Aligarh under the guidance of his close friend Sir Syed Ahmad Khan. Her grandfather, Liaqat Hayat Khan, also served British India who was once minister of Patiala and after independence; he became Pakistan’s ambassador to France. Her father, Shakirullah Durrani, was a huge name in banking who worked in PICIC, ICP, and later on, held notable positions in PIA as managing director in 1969 and governor of State Bank of Pakistan in 1971.

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Tehmina’s name and rank stabled more when she married Ghulam Mustafa Khar, the Lion of Punjab. Mustafa Khar is one of Punjab’s most powerful politicians, who was among the founding members of Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party. Their marriage had a disastrous impact on her personal life which led to shaping a controversy-bound book ‘My Feudal Lord’. The book was a European best-seller and made her name among one of the most successful Pakistani authors.

‘My Feudal Lord’ would sound like a soap opera with some spices of melodrama but the reader will fall behind the centuries-old gate of the haunting dungeons while notching the details. A reader unknown to Ms. Durrani may highly predict the insider of an almost 400-page storybook but the style of narration is propelling enough to harvest a forbidden fruit of the evil seed. The book brings out the hatred for the feudal and shows the true colors of the offensive decisions made on the throne by ruling over women by playing foul games.

The book is divided into three parts consisting of 18 chapters.

  • The first part is her introduction, her first marriage with Anees and falling in love with Khar resulting in divorce with the former and marriage with the latter.
  • The second part details the married life of Durrani and Khar in political exile, her sufferings and beatings, her support for Khar in the political movement, and sister Adila’s involvement.
  • The final part is the final phase of their married life with many emotional fluctuations and turnarounds making the reader think about the most possible ending.

One thing should never be forgotten while reading, this book is mainly the story of Durrani and Khar narrated by Durrani. This is half the narration of what we come to know from her. Khar never wrote a book nor do I think will be interested to speak about this topic ever. Durrani was actually Khar’s sixth wife with an age difference of at least 15.

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Another major aspect of the book is that by reading it, the reader will clearly understand the persona and psychology of Tehmina Durrani. It is her story but more than that she opens her world and invites common people to let them know who she is? what does she think? what is her take on male domination in Muslim society? what is the role of a person who has a dual role of a husband and a politician at the same time?. The book is more like a conversation between a mental patient and a psychiatrist where the former is Ms. Durrani and the latter is you the reader.

Many times you would even come to understand that she wasn’t wise enough to understand Khar’s art of deception. She easily fell prey in his cage and lost her mind. Ms. Durrani did break traditional silence by writing the book, but with the tale, she should have presented her short analysis summarized from her life as what exactly went wrong. Reading about her life will raise many questions e.g.,

  • Are all feudal lords omen to their women?
  • Is love really blind enough to fall into prey that easily?
  • Do parents contribute to their daughter’s marital misery?
  • Is defending your awful husband for the sake of children a wise decision to keep your marriage and protect your family image from falling?
  • Which decision was the worst? Leaving the first husband or marrying Khar?

I honestly believe, there should have been one particular chapter of her analysis where she would summarize and provide answers to the most complicated questions arose from her life, like the few I raised above. Those details would definitely hit on the eastern and western societies and their readers.

Ms. Durrani is indeed a brave individual who suffered the pain all those years and kept the marriage that long. This book is highly recommended to those readers who want to place the woman’s rank and acknowledge her role in society. This revolutionary book is a moral victory over a complex society. May you stay strong with high spirits, Amen.

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Book Review: The Dancing Girls of Lahore (2006)

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The title says it all. British author Louise Brown tours you to one of the shadows of the great Badshahi Masjid, the Diamond Market of Lahore which has a rich history of songs, dances, seductions, pleasures, fake and broken promises; and being a source of pleasuring men for centuries since the Mughal-era. It was once a land where the trained courtesans used to conquer the hearts of emperors.

The Dancing Girls of Lahore is a story of Maha, a classical dancer whose virginity was sold to an Arab Sheikh when she was only 12, but her existence cornered in the Walled City. Her fate is gashed with the timeline the author pens in each of the eight chapters, highlighting her struggles in raising money and children. 

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I am confounded shall I pay my compliments for mustering the author’s courage, bestowed in her for shaping a book blazing her analysis, research, and token of her lifetime in a historic sex market of Lahore or shall I appreciate the writer’s courtesy towards the humans of an entirely different world to whom she spent every inch of monotone…

It is quite a lantern of outcry from the details of a dark frame with hopeless life stories coming from an author who herself is a mother of three young children (by 2000). So I find super-naturally an extraordinary writing from a mother who forwards us a tale of a sex-selling mother Maha and her children i.e., soon-to-be sex workers in early teenhood.

The delicacy of the book lies in the anecdotes, descriptions of customers and various individuals, street foods and religious festivals, and history diggings over national and religious significance. Another impressive factor of reading this account is defining/detailing of the characters. Not only the leading characters have been pedals of bicycles, but also the minor individuals who carry less prominence were folded with some amount of paras.

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Reading the book has the comfort of fragmenting the pages by the headings which will ease the readers to read summarized details. Louise also covers the sorry state of transgender/shemale prostitutes in the bazaar. Also the use of Punjabi and Urdu words forward more output towards the meanings for comprehension and adding swear words ignite the sketches of emotions which is quite hilarious at some moments. Enjoyable parts are where Maha always turns ferocious and begins swearing. The author has made a careful observation of Maha.

Overall, The Dancing Girls of Lahore is a book presenting a terrible insider of a low-morale social life of the poor in the city of hearts but simultaneously a marvelous read of a summarized four-year timeline in a red-light district which guarantees interest towards the author’s explanations and research. It is a heartbreaking story that most importantly focuses on the lives of women residing there and confronting the horrors and cries. A ravishing sorrow…