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The difficulty of being a Mughal emperor, and Mr Roy

If you have not read Sudhir Kakar’s analysis of Indian character, you have missed out something very precious. I have read every book he has published and eagerly await for the next one, writes Khushwant Singh.

columns Updated: Mar 06, 2011 17:32 IST
Khushwant Singh
Khushwant Singh
Hindustan Times

If you have not read Sudhir Kakar’s analysis of Indian character, you have missed out something very precious. I have read every book he has published and eagerly await for the next one. He is India’s best-known psychoanalyst and a veryhandsome man to whose charm many beautiful women have succumbed. He now lives in Goa with his second wife, a German psychiatrist.

You can start with his latest The Crimson Throne (Penguin-Viking) which I think is his best work. It is about the last year of the reign of Emperor Shahjahan and the war of succession between his four sons. It is based on the observations of two European adventurers — the Italian Niccolai Manucci, a semi-literate fellow from Venice with an appetite for women. He worked as a deck cleaner and arrived in Goa in 1675. He recorded his experiences in Storia Do Mogor. The other was a Frenchman Francois Bernier, a more perceptive observer who arrived in Surat and wrote about the state of affairs in the Mughal Empire. Kakar has based his work entirely on these secondary sources and what he said about India in the 17th century is true about the India of today.

To whet your appetite, let me tell you how Manucci travelled from Goa to Delhi and made his name as a magic healer. He received the hospitality of Jesuit priests who found him lodgings on top of a hill. His sole companion was a Hindu vaid practising Ayurveda. He told him that the stomach was the repository of all ailments and an examination of a sick person’s faeces before prescribing medicine was vital.

With that knowledge, Manucci proceeded to Delhi where there was a sarai every 29 miles. He let it be known that he was a great doctor. Soon he was summoned to the palace to heal a young begum in a coma. He made an enema apparatus out of a hookah pipe and pushed the Ayurveda medicine into the rectum. Her bowels opened up and she came out of her coma, sat up and began to talk. Manucci came to be known as the firangi magic healer.

Unsung scholar

The launch of the latest book on Delhi at the India International Centre was a huge success. The auditorium and the galleries were packed and many people had to be turned back. This was largely due to the event management skills of Preminder Singh, owner of The Shop and the number of writers whose articles had been edited and put together by Mala Dayal in the making of Celebrating Delhi (Ravi Dayal and Penguin Viking).

Upinder Singh, daughter of the Prime Minister and the principal contributor, presided over the function. She is a better speaker than her father. Her mother, Gursharan Kaur made a surprise appearance and became the focus of attention. All copies of the book, allowed to be sold, were sold out. But instead of getting one for me, my daughter picked up a free brochure of Pradip Krishen’s Jungle Trees of Central India. It then occurred to me that Pradip had not been given credit for all he has done to spread knowledge of the country’s flora. What Salim Ali had done to spread knowledge of birds of the sub-continent, Pradip has done for trees. Salim was loaded with honours and nomination to the Rajya Sabha. So far, all Pradip has got is admiration and gratitude of people who want to know more about trees they see every day. I know the reason why. Arundhati Roy is a household name. She has been an outspoken critic of the government’s policy on tackling the Naxalite-Maoist menace and listed among the world’s most influential women. Pradip, her husband, is a shy, withdrawn person who avoids publicity.

He wanted to be film producer. I saw his film, Massey Sahib, at his parents’ home. It was an excellent production. Pradip abandoned making films and turned to nature. First came a small booklet on trees of Lodhi Gardens. Since I went there for walks daily, I bought it and found I had gone wrong a few times in my writing on the subject.

Then came Trees of Delhi — a definitive work of scholarship. I have not seen any other book written on the subject as authentic. Isn’t it time the state, the Central Government and academies took notice of this man? If so far he has been known as Arundhati’s husband, we should also know her as Pradip Krishen’s wife.

Chinese puzzle

A Chinese couple named Mr and Mrs Hua were actually not married when they had a pair of twins. They put down their names as Jo Hua, So Hua. (Contributed by J.P. Singh Kaka, Bhopal)

The views expressed by the author are personal

First Published: Aug 21, 2010 22:20 IST