Saturday 26 October 2013

Mofussil Junction

At times, just the cover of a book attracts me so much that I end up buying the book impulsively. The same happened when I saw Ian Jack’s ‘Mofussil Junction’ (India Encounters 1977-2012, Penguin 2013) recently and thanks to the online shopping I was holding the book in my hands in no time. There are two lovely images on front and back of the cover with gel in effortlessly with the title of the book (See image below).I have a fascination for small towns/semi-urban areas and the this book seemed just right up my alley. Shortly afterwards I attended the Bangalore Literary Festival where I had the good fortune of listening to Ian Jack in person and also managed to get my copy signed by him (He seemed a bit surprised when I approached him for his autograph as he was sitting next to Shobha De and most of the crowd was interested in getting books autographed by her only!!).He looked quite old and weak (as compared to the photograph which appears on the cover in the book) but  from his conversation during the festival I could make out that he was still mentally very agile and was someone with a formidable intellect. (He still writes a column for the Guardian). Let me confess upfront that I had not heard about Ian Jack earlier but after my brief encounter with him I would like to read more and more what he has written. I am currently reading Mofussil Junction (MJ) which is a ‘collection of essays, profiles and reportage of subjects, which he encountered in more than thirty years of reporting from India’. The book is divided into five parts starting with Places, followed by People, Dynasty, Life and Death and Fellow Travelers. I am at part two at present and already hooked on to the book! Part one dealt with with favourite subject-travels into small town India (or as the British would have called-Mofussil areas (Mofussil has its origin in the Urdu word Mufassil)). The towns he visits include Motihari in Bihar, Serampur in West Bengal and McCluskiegunge in Jharkhand. I do not recollect hearing about either of these small towns before I read MF and am pretty sure that neither would any reader be familiar with these but each of this small town has a lot of Indo-British history attached which Jack sets out to explore. Motihari is the birthplace of George Orwell (best known in India for his cult novels Nineteen Eighty-four and Animal Farm). George’s father worked for the British civil services in India   and Jack seeks to trace the bungalow where he resided. He enlists the help of some prominent local citizens is his quest but does he succeed?

Serampur, located on the banks of the river Hoogly was first colonized by the Danish East India Company in around 1676 and had an exotic name- Fredricksnagore after the Danish king. Later, in 1845, the Danish sold all their Indian colonies to the British East India Company. Ian traces the history of Serampur through the life and times of former shoemaker turned missionary, William Carey. In the forty odd years that Carey stayed in the area, till his death in 1834, he was responsible for establishing a college, a hospital, a printing press and newspapers in English and Bengali. How did a weaver’s son and a shoemaker in Northamptonshire end up in a tiny place off the cost of West Bengal and adopted it as his own makes for a fascinating tale.

However, the most poignant tale comes from his travel to McCluskiegunge. We have all heard of McLeodgunge (mini Tibet and also know for cricket matches now) and also Forbesgunj (recently in news because of communal riots) but McCluskiegunge? I had heard of it. Maybe this is opinion is a little biased because I reside In Delhi (which is in the North) and people in eastern India may have heard of it. It is named after McCluskie , an Anglo-Indian who wanted to establish a separate homeland for the Anglo-Indian community at the site which was originally called Lapra.It was an ambitious plan (‘the most historical move of the community, fighting for its very existence and solving its own salvation in its darkest hour’). However it failed miserably and the town lies in ruins now. In tracing the history of MaCuskiegunge, Ian in fact is tracing the history of the Anglo-Indian community and the sad state in which they find themselves. What went wrong?  Read this most interesting book and find out. Inspite of being a Britisher, Ian writes dispassionately and I look forward to read the remaining parts of the book.


No comments:

Post a Comment