The Aam Insaan — Frozen in Time and Space

by Devika Mittal

I live in the city of qilas and makbaras. For Dilliwalas and especially, Purani Dilli walas, Lal Qila is the most important monument. It stands as the symbol of a romanticized imperial past. It was, after all, the residence of their beloved emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar and also of their culture.

Whenever I look at the Lal Qila — the beautifully-carved halls, the jharokas, the massive Darwaza and the pit outside the Qila, which in its heyday, had water with crocodiles — I try to go back in time, trying to imagine how life must have been in those days. While scenes from Jodha Akbar and Mughal-e-Azam would help me in my quest, a smile would flash across my face and I’d lament, “wo bhi kya din hote honge”. I wish if Bahadur Shah would have never been defeated: how things would have been different. No, wait. DIFFERENT! Really? Even in the time of Mughals, if I were what I am now, would the Lal Qila be mine? The grandeur attached with it and with the Badshah — the mehfils, the chaka-chown  and in short, the romanticized past, would I have had a stake in it? No. Because I am just an aam insaan.

Whether it is Bahadur Shah or Manmohan Singh; whether it is Lal Qila or the Rashtrapati Bhawan; I am but the aam insaan. I was suppressed in the 18th Century and still am. Whether it is for their Mahals or their Swiss bank accounts, it is I who suffers the burden of heavy taxation. I am the mohra in their political games. In their fights, it is I who pays. I am the one who dies when there is a ‘disagreement’ between two rulers. I am the one who dies, gets raped or become orphaned during the communal riots. I am the one who pays the heaviest during an economic crisis.

There have been movements and revolutions which are attributed to the ‘will of the people’. French Revolution, America’s war of Independence and the Russian Revolution — they boast about the support of the masses. However, little did the masses actually achieve. Even Russian Revolution, ultimately, led to the dictatorship of the rich and the powerful. In fact, when Lenin claimed to established the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, the rural proletariat referred to him as the new Tsar!  Today, the general political form of existence is democracy or rule by the people (demos) but we know the reality. Our ‘representatives’ have now even established dynastic rule. Their posts are even becoming hereditary.

So why should it matter to me If it is Shah Jahan or Vajpayee on the throne? They are the rulers and I am the one who is always the ruled.



  1. You have expressed quite eloquently a thought that crosses the mind of most of us on a routine basis, and frustrate many more who do not have access to dynastic or other forms of political power. Most of us have been, and will be footnotes of history. But then, what is the value of a serious text, without its footnotes? No one will build monuments for you and me. But then, do we really need them? As elegant as the Taj Mahal is, it is not merely a monument for one man’s eternal love. It is also a reflection of unmitigated political power, the ability to control resources and people; so it is also a monument for the foot notes of history from Akbar’s time. Fortunately, at least it turned out to be a beautiful building rather than some monstrosity which clutter South Asian cityscapes today . Personally, even if I had these dictatorial powers to manipulate resources and people to build a monument, I would rather write a poem for my love(s). But rulers’ idiosyncrasies and seemingly endless sources of power should not deter us from imagining futures with a difference or dreaming of greatness as we see it. It may manifest in what you become and what you self-consciously chose not to become; it will be evident in what you think and how your express your thoughts; it will live in your rambling thoughts and in your poetry. But if we lose the capacity to imagine and dream, then we would neither be a monument to history nor to our own existence. So frustrations of the real world notwithstanding, my hope is that the people of your generation would make up your minds to give the powers that be a run for their lives in the way you do things, so they would know that you are watching and that you are aware.

  2. This is the very intention of the article… i had written a poem in hindi(this is the prose form of it, actually) in which i had mentioned that even though, we generally exist in the ‘footnotes’, whenever the common people have risen, great regimes have collapsed. So even though we have always been the oppressed, we have the potential to change things around us..its just that we need to realise it. and its only when there are changes in the base, hat the whole system starts shaking. change is from “us”.

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