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Looking back at history

Looking back at history

Author: Rana Siddiqui
Publication: The Hindu
Date: February 16, 2007
URL: http://www.thehindu.com/thehindu/fr/2007/02/16/stories/2007021601190300.htm

Introduction: New Delhi gets a peep into history through Francois Gautier's exhibition.

Not often does an exhibition of Indian paintings serve a historical purpose. Hardly a painting exhibition in Delhi now has any recall value either. The only recent venture that comes to mind is Mahakranti, an insightful exhibition of 120 historical cartoons covering the period from 1855 to 1860. Mounted by Professor Pramila Sharma, it aimed at showing the conspiracy that triggered the 1857 Uprising. This exhibition, Pramila claims, was the first of its kind in the world. Also, in the last year, the city saw artist Veer Munshi's much forgotten exhibition of paintings and installations depicting the pain of the uprooted Kashmiri Pandits and extremist activities in the Valley.

But of late, there has been an interesting turn of artistic events in the Capital. Some exhibitions are not only likely to raise a debate, but also have nostalgia value. One of them is Sabia's works on the romantic side of Ghalib's life. It just concluded at India Habitat Centre. And the next is an exhibition of watercolour works and drawings on "Aurangzeb, as he was, according to Moghul Records". This exhibition now mounted at Open Palm Court from this Friday till coming Tuesday, is brought by famous French journalist and historian François Gautier. It highlights the cruel side of Aurangzeb, Emperor Shah Jahan's sixth son.

If in one exhibit you see Shah Jahan being imprisoned by Aurangzeb, the other shows his son, Aurangzeb's brother, prince Dara Shikoh being taken a prisoner while fleeing to Persia. Dara, said to be Shah Jahan's favourite son, was imprisoned by Aurangzeb because he opposed his atrocities on the Hindus. The disgraceful burial of Shah Jahan on Aurangzeb's command, the demolition of Hindu temples and so on are portrayed in other canvases. Banning of established Hindu schools and public worship, re-employment of Jaziya tax on the Hindus, Shivaji's son Shambhaji's execution, and his acceptance of "hard labour" that he put in to capture Shivaji, and much more form the other exhibits. All these works are accompanied with dates as sourced from various historic documents including Persian Maasir-i-Alamgiri.

Unknown painters

These works are made by some known and some unknown miniature artists from Jaipur including well-known artist Sumeendhra. Professor V.S. Bhatnagar of Jaipur University along with Gautier gave details of the events to the painters to bring alive the barbaric events.

The exhibition is the part of a two-year project under Gautier's Foundation Against Continuing Terrorism - FACT, formed in Delhi in 2003. Through this exhibition, the works will travel across the globe. Gautier aims at "portraying Aurangzeb as a terrorist".

Says Gautier, an Indophile living in India for 35 years and an expert in Indian history, "I don't understand why Indians treat Aurangzeb as a noble man. Why do Indians refuse to accept history as it is?"

But at the same time, many agree that he has conveniently forgotten the good deeds of the emperor in the form of huge donations for temple building at Banaras and Allahabad. "Its authentic documents are in Banaras math. Also Pandit Vishwanath Pandey, former Governor of Orissa, saw authentic documents procured by Municipal Chairman of Allahabad," says Bhatnagar. At the same time, he seems to care little about the religious frenzy India is known for.

Counters Gautier, "I had certain exhibits showing his good side too. But because of paucity of space I am not exhibiting them. People ask me why I am bringing alive the buried ghosts. Sometimes I fail to understand why I have done that. I am a Westerner and a non-Hindu. I just wish that it raises a healthy debate among the right thinking people."

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