Oct 25, 2007

Kalibari at BHEL Bhopal

Soon after the independence, India embarked on its course of planned development as per the prevailing Nehru vision of the era. One of the first heavy power equipment factory Bharat Heavy Electricals (Private) Limited was set up in 1956 at Bhopal. People from all over India were selected on merit basis to develop and run this unique establishment. The planning for first unit of BHEL started and batches of graduate engineers were sent for training in AEI factory, Manchester, UK . They returned in 1960 to be assigned engineering, production, supervisory and management duties. At the same time artisans holding Industrial Training Institute (ITI) diplomas were inducted for specialization training in fabrication, assembling and testing of rotating and static electric machines. Out of around 10,000 employees of the BHEL plant in Bhopal, there were 800 artisans and 200 supervisory staff who were Bengalis.

As is inevitable with the presence of Bengalis, a Bangiya Sanskritik Parishad (BSP) was formed in April 1960, with a library and reading room facilities at BHEL Bhopal. The Kali Puja, Durga Puja and Saraswati Puja started to be organized annually. Around 1963, the government approved allocation of land under the non-trading societies act for religious purposes. A piece of land was allotted in writing under the scheme, near Piplani, to the Bangiya Sanskritik Parishad by the BHEL Management. In 1967 a Kalibari samiti (association) was formed. 

The first president, Mr S. N. Ghosh, died in an accident in Calcutta (Kolkata now) which was followed by some more deaths in the Bengali community, raising doubts whether the goddess wanted the temple at all. After one year of non activity, funds started to be raised for construction of Kali Temple from building contractors, material suppliers and other individuals. The efforts of fund raising were no doubt supported by the high ranking officials of the Bengali community in BHEL Bhopal. The renowned Yoga teacher of Bhopal K. M. Ganguly (a government contractor at that time) and his brother D. K. Ganguly built the temple on a no-profit no-loss basis, which took three years to be completed. 

Dr Suresh Sharma (Ex-Chief Medical Officer at BHEL) contacted his father-in-law, an MLA in Jaipur Rajasthan, for a suitable sculptor for the idol of goddess Kali. Sri Mahendra Das , a well know sculptor, was contacted for the job who immediately refused. After much convincing Sri Das eventually visited Bhopal and agreed to make the idol of goddess. The entire idol of goddess Kali and God Shiva at her feet was sculpted out of one ‘Makrana’ black marble stone. When sculpting, some gold was found in the stone at the exact location of third eye of the goddess. The idol has the gold as her third eye till date. In 1971 the idol was consecrated with full religious formalities, after being brought to Bhopal from Jaipur on truck loaded with sand. The Diwali night is when the Bengalis celebrate the Kali Puja.

However the Durga Puja at BHEL Kalibari is very popular in Bhopal. The “Bhog” organized on the seventh, eighth and ninth day of the festival (Saptami, Astami and Navami) attracts hoards of local populace. The puja location becomes a meeting place for all the old BHEL Bhopal employees, mostly retired now, and their families. The cultural festivals that are religiously organized by the working committee of the Bangiya Sanskritik Parishad (BSP) go unnoticed as the long separated friends get on to the famous Bengali adda (gossip sessions). The chat sessions are temporarily stopped in the wee hours of morning only to be taken up on the next night. The Kalibari Durga Puja might not have the spunk and glamour of Kolkata pujas, but the socialization makes the event a much looked forward to. Mostly old retired ex-employees of BHEL Bhopal still man the organization. Even the younger Bengali generation that remains in Bhopal has abandoned the traditional “Dhunuchi Naach” of Bengal, going for the more glamorous Dandiya dances organized in recent years in Bhopal.

Still the charm remains, if only in the nostalgic hearts of the 'not-so-young-now' generation.

Oct 13, 2007

Eid at Bhopal

To all my gentle readers, a very delightful and happy Eid ul-Fitr.

Princess Abida Sultan recalls in her interview that in pre-independence days "For Eid, the first tray of Sehri [meal before fast], it used to be sent by the Hindus to the mosques." Eid continues to bring so much joy everywhere, but we Bhopalis have to do it differently you know. It took an appeal from the chief cleric Shahar Qazi Abdul Latif Qasmi to the people to go home and observe the festival peacefully to bring the situation under control.

Oct 8, 2007

Sultan Jahan’s Abdication

On 29th April 1926, while still away from Bhopal in London, Sultan Jahan informed the secretary of state for India, Lord Stamfordham, that she was abdicating as Begum of Bhopal in favor of her son, a decision that stupefied the British ministers. There was another flurry of legal controversy in the Viceroy’s Secretariat questioning the Begum’s right to abdicate as ruler of Bhopal. The Begum refused to accept, and the British eventually accepted on 17th May 1926 accepting Hamidullah as the Nawab. Meanwhile Habibullah left Bhopal for Poona, vowing never to return. There, he went to the dogs under the influence of assorted scoundrels who told him they could get the British decision reversed - for a price. Habibullah lost money, became an inveterate gambler who eventually fell under the spell of a prostitute called Nawab Jan whom he married.
On his return to Bhopal, Hamidullah Khan was recognized by the viceroy as the 13th Nawab of Bhopal in a durbar held on 29th June 1926. The drama of the Bhopal Succession case did not quite end with Sultan Jahan’s abdication. Soon it was recognized that the situation was fraught with the danger of Hamidullah being assassinated. The British, Begum and the new Nawab closed off this possibility by getting Hamidullah’s eldest daughter Abida Sultan recognized as heir apparent. This was accomplished after much controversy on 15th March 1928 almost two years after Hamidullah was recognized as ruler. Content Sultan Jahan hereafter dedicated herself to two objectives. The first was the molding of her eldest granddaughter Abida into a personality that would rule Bhopal in the manner of preceding Begums. The child was given a harsh apprenticeship in learning Quran’s Urdu translation besides Farsi, Hadith and English. She was encouraged to ride, shoot, swim, drive play all the manly sports like hockey, tennis, squash and go out big-game hunting. Sultan Jahan personally supervised construction of a house for the wedding gift of her beloved grand daughter named the Noor-Us Sabah (now a heritage hotel). The second objective of her life was crusade for the emancipation of Muslim women. After going about pleading her case in the highest offices of London and running a state without any difficulty, clad form head to tow in a burkha, she dramatically discarded purdah at the age of 70. giving a message to the Muslim women of India to follow her example.

(Video courtesy: www.britshpathe.com)

Shortly after , she underwent a gall-bladder surgery. The operation was not a success. As she lay dying on her bed in the palace her favorite granddaughter, Abida Sultan, sat grieving silently in a corner of the darkened room. The doctors had forbidden Sultan Jahan water and her lips were parched as she lay comatose in deathly silence. Sultan Jahan stirred but unable to speak beckoned her with her eyes. “Pani” (water) she whispered imploringly. Abida knew she was not allowed water but she also knew her “Sarkar Amman” was dying. She brought a cup of water to her beloved grandmother who sipped from it. Sultan Jahan blessed the child and closed her eyes, never to open them again.

Bhopal : A Prayer for Rain

Bhopal : A Prayer for Rain, a film on the Bhopal gas tragedy of 1984, was declared tax-free in Madhya Pradesh by chief minister Shivraj ...