The most wonderful inscription I have ever come across. This is a legacy of the Indian rebellion of 1857 - what was once described as the Indian Mutiny, and on occasions is now referred to (equally misleadingly) as the first Indian war of independence. You can find it on an old British Magazine, an arms depot, on a small traffic island in old Delhi. It's near Kashmere Gate, and just a few minutes rather treacherous walk from St James's church, which bears so many remembrances and marks of 1857.
The plaque is a counterblast to a tablet erected by the Imperial authorities in tribute to British soldiers who died at the spot during fierce fighting here in the heart of colonial Delhi...
It's difficult to read the initial plaque - but this in part is what it says:
On 11th May 1857, nine resolute Englishmen ... defended the Magazine of Delhi for more than four hours against large numbers of the rebels and mutineers until the walls being scaled and all hope of succour gone these brave men fired the Magazine - five of the gallant band perished in the explosion which at the same time destroyed many of the enemy.
What's truly marvellous is that after independence, the Indian authorities didn't remove or efface the relic of Imperial valour and attitude. The original was left in tact - and a counterblast, again in tablet form, installed just beneath. Would that all rival versions of history are expressed with such tolerance.
The Magazine itself, small and architecturally undistinguished, has been restored after a fashion, but remains dilapidated - and in the middle of a really busy road. It's difficult to access and distinctly hazardous to photograph (you can see my look-out and safety adviser above, we were there late last month). It is though quite the most remarkable physical embodiment of sharply conflicting historical narratives.
Remarkably, not far from the Magazine there are to this day businesses dealing in arms and ammunition.
I mentioned St James's - beautiful, serene and in every sense historic, with some very telling and elegiac 'Mutiny' memorials. See for yourself:
Dr Yakub Quraishi has had an exceptional career - one-time head of Doordarshan (India's equivalent of the BBC), then - at the time I first met him - a wise and effective head of India's National AIDS Control Organisation, and now the country's Chief Election Commissioner. He has an electorate, he declares, bigger than that of every European country, all of Central America and of South America combined. He is among the most senior Indian Muslims in public life. He is also a keen fan of The Shadows and I have heard him on the keyboards - and to paraphrase Samuel Johnson (please forgive me, Dr Quraishi!): 'it's not that it's done well, it's that it's done at all'.
India's Election Commission, and above all a succession of powerful and forceful Chief Election Commissioners, have achieved what once seemed almost impossible. India's elections are now, if not model, much improved. Booth capturing, rigged electoral rolls, dubious counting - all now largely of the past. Though the hold of 'black' money, and of crime-tainted politicians, has not yet been fully tackled.
Dr Quraishi was in London principally to launch his new book, a richly illustrated coffee table volume about Old Delhi - or Shahjahanabad, to give the old city its ancient name which is now coming back into vogue.
At the London launch, Sohail Seth waspishly commented that of Old Delhi's two most famous sons, one is in charge of elections in the world's largest and most complex democracy, and the other is a former dictator hiding out off the Edgware Road. (General Musharraf was born in Delhi, though his family left the city for Pakistan when he was very young).
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