Tipu Sultan's birthday is irrelevant
This ugly episode tells us that we tend to forget people around us to fight over ancestors long gone.
- Total Shares
“I want you to create a wiki page for your great-great-great-great-grandfather,” my aunt said to me, and while my uncle said nothing, I gave my aunt a wide-eyed look. “Don’t look at me like that,” she said, “Pundit Sita Ram was a good man. No harm in highlighting his achievements to the world”. I wanted to inquire the purpose of it all, when my aunt told me about the letter she was writing to the Chandigarh administration telling them how it’d be nice to name the international airport after him to commemorate his birth anniversary. “Aunty, people don’t take kindly to such suggestions. Know what happened to Girish Karnad? The poor man is getting death threats on Twitter! For God’s sake, think about your ten grandchildren; their mums can scarce afford a nanny if you are gone —” My aunt jabbed a finger at me, signalling me to shut up.
As I sat down to create a profile of my 19th century ancestor, I realised we did not have a single picture of his. “Oh, that’s not a problem,” my aunt said. “Take an old picture of mine, shave off the hair, put a handlebar moustache and use a photo editor online to make it look like a painting.” My uncle gave a comical laugh. “Offo! Facial features repeat after every few generations, don’t you know that? I’m sure Pundit Sita Ram had a long face, pointed nose and thick lips, just like me. Problem sorted.” What about his achievements, I wanted to ask, when my aunt told me about a trip to her native village where she met a long lost relative who gave her a battered copy of a journal that my ancestor used to keep. “I read it cover to cover,” she said. “He had seven sons and eight daughters. A quarter of them died from small pox, the remaining from some other disease. May their souls rest in peace!”
I thought of giving this journal a shot, but found nothing too exemplary. “He wasn’t a freedom fighter, aunty, neither was he a mathematician, nor an explorer. He was a tax collector and if nothing else, he must have made the lives of people around him more miserable. Even if the government overlooks those facts, I’m not sure how the right and left wing parties would react.” My aunt sniffed at my argument. “You are forgetting the power of the common man, my dear,” she said to me. “We don’t have to be a Tipu Sultan to be remembered. An ordinary citizen who has done his duties might be remembered just as well, agree to that?” The government was better off making atta dal cheaper rather than spend money on commemorating birth anniversaries of people, I wanted to say, but it was useless.
I had just about started writing content for the wiki page, when I got distracted again. “Aunty, look, look, Ryan Gosling is celebrating his 35th birthday. If nothing else, my ancestor at least shared his birthday with a Hollywood star, what say?” As my aunt and I scanned Gosling’s pictures online, my uncle folded his newspaper and strode towards the cabinet in the drawing room. “Drinking this early?” my aunt asked him. “Now that no one remembers my birthday, that’s what I have to do,” he replied, “take some gin, lime and tonic water, pour myself a long nice drink and relax.” Needless to say, my uncle drank himself to sleep on his sixty-seventh birthday, while we spent the day remembering birthdays of ancestors long gone.