Friday, October 08, 2010

Of Shyam Benegal's Bharat Ek Khoj and General Zia's Pakistan

Bharat Ek Khoj was Shyam Benegal's serial based on Jawaharlal Nehru's Discovery of India. This was telecast on Doordarshan (national television) during the late eighties on sunday mornings. It was one of those few well made serials on Doordarshan. And in spite of being rather academic in flavour it had a huge fan following.

The other day I happened to see a DVD set of this serial in an Indore bookshop. That led to a search for the DVDs on online bookshops. In one of these sites I came across a comment by a Pakistani viewer:

"When it went on air way back in 1980s, I was also a school going kid. In those pre-dish antena days, we used to struggle with our VHF aerial to catch Amritsar station of Doordarshan TV. Discovery of India was mesmerising experience for me. Those were the days when General Zia was in power through martial law and had put all kinds of censorship to distort history to make it more Islamic. Discovery of India not only allowed me to strike a mental balance but also enabled me to have an organic link with the past of my people, whom we were being taught to consider the Indian enemy."

Interesting. As Naipaul had once said "The convert denies his origins." Pakistanis have done this in a bewildering manner. When it comes to music and literature they have no option but to look eastwards towards their cousins on the other side of the Radcliffe line but when it comes to fundamentalism they look westwards and deny their subcontinental origins and roots. This denial of the pre-Islamic past was done with a vengeance during General Zia's time.

It is more than two decades since I read Naipaul's Among the Believers. If memory serves me right Naipaul talks about history books in Pakistan which talk of the Indus civilization (pre-Hindu) and then fast forward to the advent of Islam in the subcontinent and then to independence from Britain. Besides Jinnah, Liaquat Ali and some other politicians the heroes of Pakistan are their soldiers who, the text books say, fought valiantly against India.

Zia's efforts to Islamise Pakistan ended with the fundamentalists virtually taking over this 'moth eaten' state. It is a strange nation. We have Pakistani generals who plan the next invasion of India and interact with hardcore Islamic fundamentalists and then go home and listen to a Lata Mangeshkar song while sipping Scotch and patting their rather un-Islamic pet Pomeranians.

And we also have those who admit that Pakistan will never be able to host a Commonwealth Games. I do not know whether that is a blessing or a curse. But the admiration of India pleases the heart even though there is a Kalmadi connection.


Rajesh said...

Can I get a copy of the DVD, Dev?

I skipped quite a few entrance coaching classes to get to the end of each episodes, much to the dismay of my parents!

This was happening when Ramayan was going full throttle. Vanraj Bhatia's title song (Shantimantra "Amritham Gamaya..") was out of this world. I remember the episode featuring "Mrichchakatikam" that had given me a glimpse of an idea of India more than anything - where a King (Shudraka) could write a play depicting political intrigue, corruption and redemption of society that are in line with contemporary sensibilities. This helped look beyond the lack lustre self image of 80s "secular" India.

Om Puri's voice over and some outstanding performances by Naseeruddhi Shah were the highlights. Don't know what hit the good old DD then, they showed the possibilities of TV as a medium of cultural synthesis.

You couldn't have missed out Naipaul's notes from his book. You definitely want to check out "Beyond Belief" to explore more about his later travels in Zia's country.

Let's not confuse Kalmadi scenario with Islamic imperialist enterprise. Civil society has to deal with corruption in a democratic system forever. The absence of such a setting will begin with losing the mental balance the guy from yonder is talking about...

Dev said...

Hi Rajesh, thanks for the beautiful (cannot think of any other word) comment. As far as getting a copy is concerned I think you should be able to. Please check at

A copy of Naipaul's Beyond Belief is in my bookshelf. Haven't yet started reading it.

And you are right about going beyond Kalmadi. India will grow inspite of her netas. :-)

Sunil said...

If I haven't said it before, can I just take a moment to say how much I dig such stories you guys share here, esp. you Dev. The last such being of the Jeans in preliberal India.

Yes, Bharat Ek Khoj was superb. I so so want to revisit esp after this blog. Do you chaps how difficult it is for me to picture a Kushan empire at its peak piecing it together by reading western authors. It would be so much of homecoming to just watch Roshan seth start his story again with great recreation of lifestyles of the era.
I think people underestimate the Mahabharata in Bharat Ek Khoj which was outshone by a much easier to view Chopra versions. Takshashila, Nandas, Hampi... need to buy it somewhere. Soon.

Thanks for bringing it all back for me.

And here:

Dev said...

Hi Sunil, Glad you like these posts. I guess Neti-Neti has that something in it which brings out, from within me, bloposts which are celebratory in nature.

It is fascinating to see how the mere mention of this serial triggers off memories in almost everyone who had watched its telecast.

A friend is visiting from California and we are visiting Indore today evening to pick up the DVDs of this serial. She intends to present this to her daughter.

You are right about the manner in which Benegal presented the Mahabharata in this serial. The slaying of Dushasana by Bhima was shown through the medium of Kathakali and it was blood curdling. In comparison, Chopra's serial was like a "Mahabharata for Dummies." I also remember Benjamin Gilani (a very good actor who could not do well on celluloid)playing the role of Krishna.

And the episode in which Aurangzeb (played by Om Puri) meets Kabir (played by Naseeruddin Shah) continues to remain in my memory as if I had seen it yesterday.

Thanks for the Youtube link.
Here is a link to the page on an online bookshop I often visit to buy books.

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