Friday, 19 April 2019

Q is for...Quailing, Quaking...n... Quivering

Well, those doing words in the title line are just what I've been doing - because unlike Africans and Arabs,  Bengalis have neither click sounds nor the glottal stop, transliterated as Q. So quivering, quaking et al are perfectly in order. 

Luckily, I stopped quaking long enough to nose around and find a couple numbers to start this post off - the first track is from a Bangladeshi band called the Q. Fortunate choice of name, whew! 

Trigger warning - The linked video below has some seriously unpretty images and slang/profanity - so avoidable if you are easily shocked. The good thing is that if you don't speak Bengali, then you won't be affected.  But the warning about the visuals stands.

The track is called Tubelight, and is directed by Qaushiq Mukherjee, otherwise known as Q. (Thank goodness! - for the forced super-quirky spelling of Kaushik, which I believe, is the handle he started off with) He is known for making controversial films with shockingly graphic sex scenes. Audiences have apparently left halfway too revolted/disturbed to stick it out. 

Altogether over-the-top cutting edge for my taste, not embedding here, nope. I like to keep things family friendly.  But this too is an aspect of Bengali music however niche it may be. (To be perfectly honest, I'm okay with the music and lyrics, it's the visuals that are majorly off-putting for me, just there for the shock value, I have a sneaqing sneaking suspicion)

Besides, it's the toughest letter of the challenge - and the song poz was desperate, what could one do? :) 

Q is for...Mir Jafar

In Murshidabad – Bengal’s erstwhile capital, there’s a gateway known as ‘Namak Haram Deori.’ Or the Traitor’s Gate. It opens to a palace now lying in ruins. In those precincts an agreement was made which toppled the last independent ruler of Bengal and allowed the British an entryway into India. The name of the person who was party to it became synonymous with traitor in both Bengali and Urdu, and is used much as quisling is used in  European languages.

To understand the exact events in the lead up to the somewhat unorthodox naming of the gateway, we’ll have to go some way back…

Aurangzeb, the sixth Mughal Emperor and effectively the last, died in 1707, ushering in  a period of great uncertainty for the vast Empire he had built. Many of his policies and his religious intolerance had alienated the majority of his Hindu subjects. Constant campaigns against several rebelling factions had drained the treasury. The Empire generated untold wealth, but the upkeep of its colossal army and administration was also massively expensive. In short, it was ready to implode and none of the rulers who succeeded Aurangzeb had the political acumen to correct these issues. The centre could not hold, so naturally the fringes fell apart. From 1707 onward,  there was a power vacuum in which regional kingdoms, provincial governors and the European powers all jostled for supremacy. 

So what happened to the plum province of Bengal?

Murshid Quli Khan had been appointed to a powerful position in Bengal by Aurangzeb in 1700. He rose progressively  through loyal service and by the time the dust had settled after Aurangzeb’s death, he had displaced the viceroy, declared himself the Nawab and ruled from 1717 to 1737. Records show that Bengal continued to pay the Mughal tribute throughout Murshid Quli Khan’s reign. He was succeeded by his son-in-law Shuja-ud-din Mohammed Khan, and then by his grandson and Shuja’s son, Sarfaraz Khan. Then Alivardi Khan, a Shia Muslim of Arab and Turkic descent and a prominent official in the provincial administration, killed Sarfaraz Khan in battle and became Nawab in 1740.

Alivardi had taken into his service Mir Jafar. Mir Jafar was an ambitious Persian Shia Arab who traced his lineage back to the Prophet of Islam on his father, Ahmed Najafi’s side, and was related to Aurangzeb through his mother. Mir Jafar had proved to be a brilliant commander and thus risen to the position of provincial Bakshi (paymaster of the army) and married Alivardi’s niece. Alivardi died in 1756, he had no sons, and therefore had raised his grandson, Sirajuddaula, his youngest daughter Amina Begum’s son, as his heir and successor. This did not sit well with his other, older daughter Ghaseti Begum. Neither with Mir Jafar who, with his illustrious connections to Najafis, Mughals and Alivardi himself, nursed ambitions to rule Bengal.

Sirajuddaula was 23 when he became the Nawab. There are conflicting reports of Sirajuddaula’s character. Some historians paint a picture of a depraved young man, too fond of wine and women and gratuitous cruelty as an amusement. The British gave a terrible account of him – a cruel, depraved despot. But that is probably just a rationale for the plot they hatched. Alivardi likely spoilt his grandchild rotten. What is clear that Sirajuddaula had made some powerful enemies at a fairly young age. Among them, Mir Jafar - the commander of his army. After becoming the Nawab, Sirajuddaula appointed his own favourites to powerful positions, superseding the old guard. In particular, he appointed a Hindu called Mohanlal as his Diwan (chief minister revenue and finance). It caused much resentment in the  court. Mir Jafar hatched a conspiracy with a local provincial noble but these plans were foiled. Sirajuddaula reshuffled the cabinet and Mir Jafar was stripped of the position of the Bakshi. This only added insult to Mir Jafar’s perceived injuries.

Meanwhile, Sirajuddaula took issue with the shenanigans of the East India Company, which had got bolder as the centre of the Mughal Empire had got weaker. The immediate causes of his resentment  were - customs tax evasion by the company officials, expansion of Fort William in Calcutta without applying for royal approval, and providing a haven for miscreants wanted by his court. Accordingly, Siraj led a campaign against the British in  June 1756 and captured Calcutta. This is when the famous Black Hole incident happened, although contemporary British sources ran it somewhat embellished.

News of the Company reversals duly reached Robert Clive in Madras. Troops were sent under Clive and Admiral Watson to Bengal, where Clive managed to recapture Calcutta, then sent half his troops to attack the French at Chandernagore. Siraj had meanwhile sent feelers to the French, and was furious at the attack. The British – Clive, the factory chief at Cossimbazar William Watts, together with disgruntled nobles at the court - Yar Lutf, Rai Durlabh, Mir Jafar, powerful merchants/bankers Jagat Seths and Omichand, hatched a plot to topple Sirajuddaula, divvy up the loot from the treasury, and replace him with a more malleable puppet Nawab. A treaty was drawn up with the terms and was signed.

The final showdown happened in the Battle of Plassey in June 1757, a little way away from Murshidabad. Siraj made his last stand with a strength of 50,000 men and an impressive array of canons against the British who numbered around 3000. In command of Siraj's army were Mohanlal, Yar Luft, Rai Durlabh and Mir Jafar. The French had contributed artillery and men too. The battle lasted for less than half a day, and was a decisive victory for Clive. Only Mohanlal’s troops fought that day, the other three commanders did not fire a single shot.  There was very little military strategy, bravery or glory involved. Clive bribed Mir Jafar and the other commanders to win the battle. When the situation become unsalvageable, Siraj fled the battlefield but was caught, brought back to Murshidabad and later killed by Mir Jafar’s son.

As per the deal, Clive put the puppet Nawab Mir Jafar on the throne. And so history branded Mir Jafar as a Namak Haram (traitor) forever, the one who sold India to the British for a stint on the viceroy’s throne. Mir Jafar paid the British more than Rs 20 million as restitution for the losses, in addition to the revenue of the lands between Calcutta and the sea. Predictably, the Company demands did not stop there and Mir Jafar soon found himself out of his depth. But that is another story. 

Posted for the A-Z Challenge 2019


  1. More history. History I only knew very sketchily (is that a word?). Many thanks.
    Interestingly I only knew Robert Clive as 'Clive of India'.

    1. Clive was anything but 'of India'! :) He is notorious for his disregard of the Indians and amassing vast amounts of wealth from his rather shady activities while he was there. Not a hit with the Indians then, or now. :)

    2. Sorry, I didn't make it clear I was being sarky. His behaviour was so reprehensible he was even put on trial, and attracted criticism in England (which says heaps about his behaviour) - yet still somehow continued to be known as 'Of India' despite the damage he caused.

    3. Ya, he wasn't a very stable and/or likeable character. William Dalrymple called him a sociopath somewhere...Clive committed suicide in the end, so a terribly mixed up, tormented soul. Why he was associated with India after the trial and all the hoo-ha beats me!

  2. It all gets very complex, but at the same time, it's an often repeated story of greed opening the gates.

  3. Ah, the East India Trading Company... they influenced so much of history. May as well have been a very public "secret" society.

    Excellent post. Great use of Q.

    J Lenni Dorner~ Co-host of the #AtoZchallenge, Debut Author Interviewer, Reference& Speculative Fiction Author

    1. We in India tend to overlook that - that EIC did not just affect India negatively but so many other countries as well...

  4. Another heartbreaking history lesson.

    1. There are Mir Jafar's descendants still living in Bengal - with the burden of their ancestor's guilt and terrible reputation, feel sorry for them.

  5. Hi Nilanjana -this is a fascinating slice of history thank you.