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Archive for July, 2017

Below is just an excerpt from my book Moen jo Daro: Metropolis of the Indus Civilization (2600-1900 BCE), for a detailed history and chronology of the seals you may refer to my book Indus Seals Beyond Geometry.

“Much before the discovery of Moen jo Daro, a seal depicting a humpless bull was unearthed and the story of the Indus seals typically begins with this discovery. The seal was rectangular in shape and engraved with a row of six signs or symbols above the image of the bull and ‘under its neck were two stars’ one of these is already faded. It was discovered in the last quarter of the nineteenth century from Harappa and its sketch and description was published by the Archaeological Survey of India in 1875. Alexander Cunningham the director general of the Survey while reporting the seal had also rejected it ‘They (symbols) are certainly not Indian letters; and as the bull which accompanies them is without a hump, I conclude that the seal is foreign to India.’ In 1877, however, he changed his opinion and suggested that the seal signs were possibly precursors of the Brahmi script inscribed on the pillars of King Asoka Maurya (304-232 BCE). This is yet another enthralling part of the seal story as it pushes the history of writing two thousand years beyond Brahmi, the oldest known script of India. The history of seals can even go beyond as occasionally seals keep appearing from fresh excavations, and some of these are dated to an earlier pre-Harappan phase. In fact, as early as in 1960s when Walter Fairservis scooped heaps of potsherds from Balochistan sites, he found among them a few button seals engraved with geometric patterns. Button seals are the earliest known seals in Indus civilization. A decade later more seals and some of them even older than Fairservis’ discovery were unearthed by Jean-Francois Jarrige from the site of Mehrgarh in Balochistan.”

 

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Many writers have written on the moving theme of Partition but, “the most powerful were the writings of Saadat Hasan Manto in Urdu,” acknowledges Khushwant Singh, author of ‘Train to Pakistan.’ Manto’s short story ‘Toba Tek Singh’ is a masterpiece on the madness of Partition, but he can be even more precise. Below is his story I am choosing for today’s short blog, enjoy reading and here is an article where you can read more about him and his stories.

The Garland

The mob suddenly veered to the left, its wrath now directed at the statue of Sir Ganga Ram, the great philanthropist of Lahore. One man smeared the statue’s face with coal tar. Another strung together a garland of shoes and was about to place it around the great man’s neck when the police moved in, guns blazing. The man with the garland of shoes was shot, and taken to the nearby Sir Ganga Ram Hospital.

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What can a fight between two little birds teach a mighty king and a warrior  who planned to conquer the world and who wished to live eternally.  An unforgettable character, Alexander the Great, whose story spans through a Persian epic is more known through the smaller stories rife in those eastern regions. One such story is of the two birds and Sikandar, as he is known in those regions. I first heard it from an old man in my village, many years later I read it in the English translation of Sikandarnama (The Book Of Sikandar) written in twelfth century by Shaikh Nizami, the great Persian poet.

This is how the old man began the story “When Sikandar Baadshah (king) was preparing for his great war to conquer the Persian empire,  he knew that victory is not going to be easy, as the battle  was against a mighty foe, Dara (known as Darius in the west), the baadshah of half the world”.

Nizami describes Dara’s response when he heard of Sikander’s intentions:

He laughed, and in that anger- laughter said:

“Ah, woe to the action of the lofty sky!

“Behold the sky, what tyranny it displays

“Since Sikandar entertains a design (of war) against Dara!”

There  was no way to forecast the result of the battle but Alexander foresaw his victory.  “One day when he was passing from a baazar,” continued the old man, “He saw a crowd watching the combat between two birds . Sikandar turned his steed closer to the crowd and watched the contest.”

Following are the excerpts of Nizami’s commentary of the bird battle and what Alexander learnt from it.

“From the fierceness with which the partridges grappled together,
They fled not at the sight of the king.” He was amazed at the resolve and could not help saying:—“How is this malice in the brain of birds!”

He named one bird Sikandar and another Dara

“The two bold birds in that contest
Made battle for awhile” and finally Sikandar defeated Dara.

Alexander considered this the proof of his victory in the forthcoming battle and he  watched the victorious bird fly. I will let Nizami continue and end the story.

(The triumphant bird) Flew towards the knoll of a mountain;
An eagle came and split his head.

When the mountain-partridge was overcome by that eagle,
The king grieved, but became not angry.

The fact of not being enraged is wisdom; for the end of all is to die

He knew that fortune would give assistance
Would give him success over Dárá.

But in that victorious time
His life would not be long lasting.

The famous battle of Arbela between Alexander and Darius 111  was fought in 331 BCE. Alexander died in 323 BCE soon after conquering the easternmost satrapy of Darius. Alexander’s story has reached posterity through various Greek chronicles and Persian accounts. Many books have been written on him and several movies made on his life. Here is a link to the first biopic produced in Bombay by Sohrab Modi, a Parsi film maker whose ancestors had migrated from Persia (Iran) to settle in India.

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