The Hari Putar Dialogues - 65
(BBC News ; 6 July 2009 ; Calcutta : A descendant of India's last Mughal emperor has been rescued from a life of penury in Calcutta by getting a job with the state-run Coal India. Madhu is the illiterate great-great-granddaughter of emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar and has been employed to run errands in Coal India's offices. A letter of employment will be formally handed over to her by the coal minister at a function in Calcutta next month. She and her mother currently run a tea stall in the slums of Calcutta. "It will be great to have Madhu working for us. Actually, it will be a great tribute to the last Mughal emperor who played a key role during the first war of independence in 1857," Coal India Chairman Partha Bhattacharyya said. The move by Coal India follows sustained efforts by a Delhi-based journalist Shivnath Jha, who launched a campaign to rescue her from poverty. Madhu's cause was one of several highlighted by Mr Jha and his wife Neena in an initiative to rehabilitate descendants of the forgotten heroes of India's independence wars.)
Putar: There is a report on the BBC website today that the great great granddaughter of Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar has been lifted from a life of penury.
Hari: What was she doing for a living?
Putar: She was running a tea stall with her mother.
Hari: Was her mother also a descendant of Bahadur Shah Zafar?
Putar: No, apparently it was her father who was the descendant. In 2009 Mr Jha began promoting the cause of Sultana Begum, the poverty-stricken widow of Muhammad Bedar Bakht - a direct descendant of Bahadur Shah Zafar - who died in 1980.
Hari: Bahadur Shah Zafar was the last Mughal King. But he was not only a King, he was also a poet. His Urdu poetry is still very popular.
Putar: That is true. He continued to write poetry even after he was exiled to Burma. One of his famous poems, allegedly composed while he was in Rangoon is as follows: Kitnaa hai badnaseeb Zafar dafan ke liye, Do gaz zamiin bhii naa milii kue-yaar mein
Hari: Very nice. In other words, 'How ill fated is Zafar, that for his burial he could not find even two yards of land in the street of the beloved.
Putar: And, had he but known the future his granddaughter Madhu would face he may have composed a poem as follows: Kitni hai badnaseeb auladey Zafar, ke Madhu ke jeenay ke liye, Do gaz zamiin bhii naa milii shahr-e-Zafar mein.
Hari: In other words: 'How ill fated are the descendants of Zafar, that for their living, Madhu could not find two yards of land in the city of the Emperor.'
Putar: The city of the Emperor would of course be New Delhi. Sultana Begun, Madhu's mother has expressed a wish to live in Chandni Chowk so that she can look at the Red Fort everyday.
Hari: The Delhi Government can consider giving Madhu a small house there.
Putar: But, I wonder. What of other descendants? According to historical sources, Bahadur Shah Zafar had four wives and numerous concubines. Zafar had twenty-two sons and at least thirty-two daughters.
Hari: In other words, around fifty-five children.
Putar: Yes. Now, if each of those children had only three children in his or her family, this would mean about one hundred and sixty five grandchildren.
Hari: I see what you mean. And if each grandchild had three children each, it would mean about five hundred great grandchildren.
Putar: True. And if extend the use of the same formula there would be at least fifteen hundred great great grand children. So Madhu is one of fifteen hundred great great grand children. Is it practical to continue to help such a large population of descendants?
Hari: But it's not easy to know where the others are. Most have disappeared. At least with Madhu we know she is a descendant.
Putar: Now that she has got some benefit, other descendants may also now turn up, also demanding help. If Madhu has been helped, why not them? They are in the same relationship with the Emperor.
Hari: Has Mr Jha decided to help only the descendants of Bahadur Shah Zafar?
PUTAR; It's not only the Emperor's family that has been helped. Last year, Jha persuaded India's former Railway Minister Laloo Prasad Yadav to help the descendants of Tantia Tope, one of the leaders of the 1857 mutiny which many Indians say was in fact the country's first war of independence. In an interview with BBC Jha said: "Two of Tantia Tope's great granddaughters were given employment by the Container Corporation of India on Mr Yadav's intervention."
Hari: In a way this makes sense. Don't we provide assistance to the families of those who die fighting wars on behalf of the motherland?
PUTAR; True, but in those instances, the widow is helped or the children. Here it is the great grandchildren. Tantia Tope too may have hundreds of descendants. And if we consider other important people who fought against the British in the 1857 Mutiny, there will be thousands and thousands of descendants.
Hari: But not all can be tracked down. We help only those whom we find.
Putar: Tell me something, Papaji.
Hari: Bol, Putar?
Putar: The immediate children of Bahadur Shah Zafar and people like Tantia Tope did not receive any benefits from the Government, did they?
Hari: Why would they receive benefits? The British were in power, and those were the children of their enemies.
Putar: Correct, and then after independence, the off spring of those freedom fighters were still forgotten for many decades.
Hari: Also true.
Putar: In the Bible it says that the sins of the fathers are visited upon the children for three generations.
Hari: I've heard that saying.
Putar: So, based on what's happened to Madhu who represents the fourth generation of Zafar's family, should we therefore conclude that the virtuous acts of the fathers might also be visited upon their children, but only after three generations?
Hari: I don't know, Putar.