Bulandshahyr - Visual History

Date :2019-01-03

For whom the bells tolled , they probably took the bells away - This isn't Goa. The bells are gone & the Portuguese style church turned into a government school many years back. Barely, 40 mts drive from the edge of Delhi's Noida, this is an ancient town (shahyr) on a hill ( buland) - Bulandshahyr. Back in the news, yet again. Just another one of India's 8000+ towns with hundreds of years of fascinating antiquity, just waiting for proper documentation & curation. History of course keeps repeating & lessons are rarely learnt. Bulandshahyr though does have a baseline.

" Sir Frederick Salmon Growse (1837-93) was not only a devoted civil servant but also a knowledgeable and gifted scholar of India and her languages. His translation of the Rāmcaritmānas of Tulsidas is a landmark work, and his sympathetic (if critical) engagement with Indian tradition is evident in everything he wrote. The title page of his Bulandshahr book has a telling epigraph from J.R. Seeley, set in small capitals: “OUR WESTERN CIVILIZATION IS PERHAPS NOT ABSOLUTELY THE GLORIOUS THING WE LIKE TO IMAGINE IT”. Growse served as District Magistrate and Collector of Mathura District for some six years in the 1880s, during which time he founded the Mathura Museum.A local official’s report on civic development may not sound like a gripping read, but F.S. Growse’s study of his work in Bulandshahr is an absolutely compelling work of social observation. Its remoteness in time adds a valuable historical dimension that makes it a perfect window on colonial India.

Growse was transferred to Bulandshahyr from Mathura around 1884, and threw his energetic enthusiasm into developing the amenities and architecture of his new hometown. He reasoned, passionately, that a repeat of the massive upheavals of 1857 (still much in mind after just three short decades) could only be avoided by a sympathetic process of well-informed local government, and almost every page of his work complains bitterly of the folly and intransigence of centralized power; as a second epigraph (from H. Taine) has it, “NOTHING IS MORE DESTRUCTIVE THAN THE UNRESTRICTED INTERMEDDLING OF THE STATE, EVEN WHEN WISE AND PATERNAL”. Growse uses Bulandshahr to voice his strongly-held opinions about what ails the governance of India. On the other side of the coin, he is also strongly critical of local Indian mores, and is motivated by an enlightened paternalism in his wish to improve the lot of the populace. Recognising that the poor conditions of local life and culture are not necessarily caused by poverty as such, he says :

"Neither Hindus nor Muhammadans often hoard their superfluous wealth. Either it is lavished in utter frivolities, such as fire-works and dancing girls, or it is given to so-called religious institutions, which - if Muhammadan schools—are for the most part foci of sedition, or—if Hindu temples— are hot-beds of profligacy and licentiousness. Or it may be, it is employed with less injury to morals, but with greater prejudice to aesthetic taste by the erection of such costly and hideous buildings as the Dudnpur Gate, which forms the subject of one of my illustrations. If the rich native gentry can be put in a better way of spending their money, the influence exerted for this result seems to me to be well exerted."

Full Growse book, especially the introduction/preface is worth a read. Out of print but free on google books -