Monday, May 7, 2007

Remembering Kaala Paani

Remembering Kaala Paani
SWATI DASGUPTA[7 May, 2007 l 0010 hrs IST]
A tiny uninhabited island in the Andamans with a solar-powered lighthouse as its current sole usefulness still bears the name of a knighted general of the English East India Company and its successor British administration in India: Hugh Rose.Even the Andaman and Nicobar administration sometimes gets confused about the name. In some maps it is shortened to Rose island and in some others it is misspelt as Ross island.What was in British eyes Hugh Rose's lasting claim to fame in India? This general's forces besieged Rani Laxmibai at Jhansi, pursued her from one battle to another in central India for more than two months and ultimately killed, on June 17, 1858, this (by an assessment of her adversaries) bravest and best leader of the Indian Mutiny.If the national committee set up by the ministry of culture to prepare for a suitable observance of the sesquicentenary of the Great Indian Mutiny or India's First War of Independence accepts the idea of renaming Hugh Rose island it need not fear any objection.The committee has been stumbling through one controversy to another from its birth. The initial announcement of a budget of Rs 150 crore for the 150th anniversary of the uprising appeared hugely extravagant to many who suspected that this was opening a honeypot soon to be infested by corrupt hordes.Culture minister Ambika Soni hastened to explain that Rs 10 crore would be sent on the anniversary of the Mutiny of 1857 and there were other coincidental occasions to celebrate, like the diamond jubilee of India's independence and Bhagat Singh's birth anniversary.Nothing much has been heard so far about the programme of celebrations the committee may be drawing up.The anniversaries of the rumblings of the Great Mutiny such as the revolt of the XIX Regiment at Behrampore in Bengal on February 26 and the individual uprising and hanging of Mangal Pandey on March 29 and April 8, dramatised in a film by Aamir Khan, were allowed to pass in silence.One cannot be sure that those in charge will look as far away as a small island cluster in the Bay of Bengal.The Andaman and Nicobar adminis-tration is reported to have requested only a seminar like the one held at Port Blair during the golden jubilee of India's freedom from the British.The Andamans can claim not too unimportant a place in any programme for remembering the Mutiny and its aftermath. The notorious Cellular Jail at Port Blair was planned initially for transportation of the unbroken fighters for India's freedom to a Dantesque hell.And with sardonic deliberateness the British Indian government named or renamed some of the nearby islands after the soldiers who had crushed the mutineers of 1857.Hugh Rose was one of them. Names like Outram, Havelock, Nicholson, Neill still proclaim from the Andamans the glory of British generals of an era long bygone.And in an amusing hash cooked by bureaucrats, the recently-created Rani Jhansi Marine National Park now cradles the islands named after Outram, John Lawrence and Henry Lawrence.A touristic jewel is known as Havelock, the name of the general who retook Lucknow from Nana Sahib. Quite incongruously again, a Subhas Mela is held on Havelock every January.Netaji Subhas took symbolic control of Andamans and Nicobar for his Arzi Hukumat Azad Hind, renamed them Shaheed and Swaraj, flew the tricolour at Port Blair and appointed Colonel A D Loganathan of INA as governor of what was called a liberated part of India.The old names came back after World War II. In Indira Gandhi's days Samar Guha tried in the Lok Sabha but failed to revive the names chosen by Netaji Subhas.But Pygmalion Point in Nicobar was renamed Indira Point. Nobody has felt so far any need for taking up the cause of renaming the islands Havelock, Henry Lawrence, John Lawrence, Neill, Outram, Inglis, Sir Hugh Rose, Paget.The sesquicentenary celebrations are a good occasion to do what should have been done long ago.
The writer is a historian.

1 comment:

Ramanujam said...

Renaming islands is not a good idea at all. Surely there is such a thing as transcending history?