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Real World Traitors

Who comes to mind when you think of betrayers? If you're thinking along the lines of Luis Figo and Sol Campbell, you might want to think bigger.

Sure, kings have haters, but Julius Caesar had an army of enemies ready to kill him. Among them were Marcus Junius Brutus, Caesar's nephew, close friend and also a politician in the senate in Rome. After Caesar decided he was a 'Dictator for life', his tyranny caused many of his allies to plot against him.

On the day of the assassination, other conspirators, fearing that the plot had been found out, retreated; but Brutus was determined. He waited outside the senate till Caesar arrived, ignoring calls from messengers to leave. When the dictator finally arrived, his assassinators attacked him in such a way that they even hurt themselves. The king was shocked to see Brutus among them, uttering “Et tu, Brutus?”(Even you, Brutus?) before his death. Poetic last words? Check. Biggest traitor in history? Check.

Guy Fawkes
In hopes of loosening the Spanish influence in England, a rebel group plotted to overthrow English aristocracies in 1605. Guy Fawkes and 13 of his colleagues worked hard at their plot, using a cellar under The House of Lords as their base to hide over 1800 pounds of explosives under wood and coal.

Even though there were 14 conspirators, Fawkes was seen leaving the scene and was arrested and he's the one most famous for their plot. He was tortured and interrogated but to the surprise of his interrogators, refused to give the names of the others till he was sure they also confessed. He was torched and hanged, but his legacy lives on as November 5 is known as 'Guy Fawkes Night'.

Judas Iscariot
The infamous member of the twelve disciples betrayed Jesus to the Romans out of greed. For thirty pieces of silver he revealed the identity of Jesus, by kissing him. The kiss of Judas led to crucifixion of Jesus Christ and secured Judas the top place among the most dishonourable humans in history, making his name a synonym for treachery.

Mir Jafar
If one man could be held responsible for 200 years of British colonialism, it would be Mir Jafar. A close associate of the last independent Nawab Siraj-Ud-Daulah (till he deceived him, of course) his lust for power led him to alliance with Robert Clive. On 23 June 1757, in the Battle of Plassey, the Nawab was winning because of his overwhelmingly big army, until Mir Jafar (who had a large army of his own) made his men sit and watch. Since the superiority of numbers were lost, it was only a matter of time before Siraj-Ud-Daulah's men lost to a more efficient and well trained British army, paving the way for two hundred years of British rule.

Mir Jafar got the power he wanted when the British made their puppet a ruler, but by then independent ruling was long gone. It may be a quarter of a millennium since that man sold his country out, but his name is still one of the worst things you can call a person from this subcontinent.

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg would go to any extent to fulfil their communist dreams; even betray their country. They were associated with the Communist Party till 1943, after which they joined forces with a soviet spy. The husband and wife were heavily involved in espionage against the American government, revealing secrets about atomic bombs to the USSR during the cold war. Their duplicity earned them prosecution and execution in 1953, the first civilians to suffer such a fate.

Books might have Sarumans and Peter Pettigrews, but the real world is not so far behind in treachery.

By Orin

A Meeting with the Past

We've all heard the stories. Of how the noble princes fought for the people's rights against the oppressive lords. Over time these heroes faded from human memory, remembered only when a dusty ancient tome was brought down from the attic. Today, Rising Stars tries to bring you something different: a first hand glimpse into the lives of the Nawabs, the nobles of Bengal.

We caught up with Mr Salauddin Akbar Chowdhury, whose grandfather was a first cousin of Nawab Faizunnesa Choudhurani. We also had a chance to talk with Syed Masudul Huq, who is one of her direct descendants. For the uninitiated, Nawab Faizunnesa was the first female Nawab of Bengal. She was born into a wealthy family, but used her wealth and power to help people. The Nawab was a writer, philanthropist and a patron of several newspapers. She left much of her wealth to the state before she died, to provide for scholarships for poor students. Queen Victoria awarded her the title of 'Nawab' in recognition of her contributions to society.

RS: So tell us about the life of the Nawabs. What was it like?
SAC: Well, the Nawabs lived a life that would have been considered pretty grand in today's times. They kept elephants and foxhounds, and spent their time hunting and horse-racing. Some were patrons of the arts.

SMH: Other Nawabs were more religious, and they lived simpler lives. Even though the Nawab class in general lived in style, their lifestyles were still a far cry from the royal lives of the time. They were respected and well-recognised figures in society, and had a lot of influence over local happenings.

RS: A lot of people seem to confuse the role of a Nawab with that of a Zamindar. Could you please tell us exactly what each of them did?
SAC: The word 'Zamindar' means landowner, and that is exactly what they were. They collected taxes from the peasants who worked on the land, and also performed magisterial duties. 'Nawab', on the other hand, is a title that is awarded to someone because of their contribution to society. They were usually semi-autonomous rulers, and the title was hereditary.

RS: We know that the ruling class lost their powers during the partition of India. What happened to the Nawabs and their families at that time?
SMH: The government took away most of the lands that belonged to the ruling class. Their lands were a major source of income for them, and without them their lifestyle had to undergo changes too. Many of the ruling class could no longer afford the lavish lives they had once lived, and so the elephants and horses had to go. But they still remained as wealthy families with some influence in society.

SAC: Many Nawabs began to marry into other wealthy families, even into those without the 'Nawab' title.

RS: How was their relationship with the peasants that they ruled?
SMH: This actually depended on the Nawab himself/herself. Some were loved by the people while other Nawabs faced revolts and uprisings. Personally, I have been lucky to have the respect of the people. Whenever I visit my ancestral home, I feel the people still respect me in the way that they respected the Nawabs before me. They take care of our ancestral home when I am busy in the city, and they really do it out of their own love for the legacy that our forefathers have left behind.

RS: And could you tell us anything about their treasures and other family possessions?
SAC: Most people prefer to keep their valuables in the family. They pass them down through the generations to their children and grandchildren. Some families, however, have donated their treasures to museums so that the general public can see them.

His wife Mrs Khurshida Khanam Chowdhury shows us a full-length ivory tusk, used for decorative purposes. Her treasure-chest reveals a silver hookah stand and a jewelry box with intricate patterns on it. There are also ancient seals, coins and some silver hairpins. There is even a wooden palki, very old but still pretty much intact.

We wonder at these treasures as their words come to life through them. They take us back to a time and place that is at once far away and yet close to home. The very place that we are standing right now could have once been a Nawab's favourite hunting ground. Who knows?

Special thanks goes to Salauddin Akbar Chowdhury, Khurshida Khanam Chowdhury and Syed Masudul Huq.

By Tahmida Zaman


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