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Matters of coronation
It is that time of the year when people in the Walled City particularly relive the dire events of 1857. So was it this past week on May 11 when members of the old families of Delhi offered fateha for those who laid down their lives during the Uprising, which had broken out a day earlier in Meerut. Few indeed are such residents now though 45 years ago there were some whose grandfathers had witnessed those days of mayhem.
There is a difference, however, this year which marks the centenary of the Coronation Durbar of George V and Queen Mary. Haji Zahuruddin Qureshi's son recalls that his father was ten years old when the Durbar was held and he was taken to the steps of the Jama Masjid by his maternal grandfather (nana) to watch the spectacle. It happened to be a cold, misty December morning but that did not deter the people of the area from occupying the stands facing the Red Fort. Just when the sun peeped out, the royal procession emerged from the fort but to native eyes all the horsemen appeared the same goras with deadpan faces. It was difficult for them to identify the king who too appeared to them like the rest. There was no halo round his head, no flag-bearer preceding him and there was no crown on his head either.
This was a sore disappointment as they expected the British monarch to be as conspicuous as the Moghul emperors, Bahadur Shah Zafar, and before him Akbar Shah Sani and Shah Alam nobody had to point them out to the onlookers, for they could be identified even from a distance. Not so when the scars of the Great Uprising had not fully healed. Ahmed Ali author of “Twilight in Delhi”, and scion of an old and revered family of the Capital himself, has written about a fakir known as Bahadur Shah, who only sang of ghazals of the ill-starred emperor. He has also mentioned Mirza Nasirul Mulk, Zafar's youngest son, who used to beg on the streets of Delhi and looked with dismay at the tamasha being staged by the firangis in 1911. Many of his kin were also beggars or cooks, masalchis, tonga and ekka drivers or sellers of cut fruit. Their women still observed purdah in dingy houses with gunny bag curtains on the doors. Their plight was not hidden from the then residents of Delhi many of whom seethed with rage at the pomp and show of the coronation which was akin to rubbing salt on old wounds.
The Tommies parading the roads or trying to instil order among the assembled crown were the butt of many a joke. They were described as red-faced monkeys or hoosh.
The rajas, maharajas and nawabs who had congregated for the show also did not escape censure and ridicule as they were considered stooges of the British, whose support to their foreign masters had resulted in the failure of the First War of Independence.
These days when Delhi is preparing for the 100th year of the Coronation Durbar, not all are enthused about the re-enactment of a show that was supposed to bring home the fact that the good old days of the Moghuls were over and the throne was now occupied by a King-Emperor who lived overseas.
Who was it who said that though things change they remain very much the same? The antagonistic feeling of a century ago is still very much alive. You just have to scratch the skin and see for yourself. Hurt feelings keep smouldering in the heart long after the deed is done.
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