The Sengol

The Man from Madras Musings was in far-off lands and deep in slumber when the sengol story hit the headlines. And the first he heard of it was when the phone rang. He answered it groggily and was immediately hit by what seemed a ton of bricks. On brushing off the last vestiges of sleep he was able to think with greater clarity and realised it was a North Indian TV anchor babbling all excited about sengal, which in MMMM (mind of the Man from Madras Musings) was a brick. Had she been hit by one asked MMM.

No, certainly not came the answer – and, added the voice, good that it had not for no human can survive a whack with the sengal – long as it is and covered with gold, and with a knob at one end. It was MMM’s turn to wonder if he was dreaming it all. How could a sengal be long, with a knob and be encased in gold he asked. He had heard of the proverbial gold brick but had never seen any. The voice was getting impatient. Had not MMM seen the news it asked. MMM explained that he was abroad, and it was the middle of the night where he was then roosting and he did not check on news every hour, no matter how breaking it might be. Then better check it all out commanded the voice and said it would be back in an hour to get MMM’s views on the matter of the sengal. 

MMM then got on with checking the latest developments and even as he proceeded with it, there were other calls, asking his views variously on the Sen Gal (Sushmita?), the Senegal and something called Songl of which MMM is yet to make sense. Rather cleverly none of them attempted Tiruvavaduturai, the village that houses the religious establishment that gifted the sengol to India’s first PM. Rather than conduct a tutorial on any of this, MMM chose to switch off his phone and go back to bed. When he woke up, sure enough, there were no calls, for the anchors had gone off after other news. Sengol was clearly old hat. But since then, MMM has not switched off on the subject and has been following the way the story has developed and acquired narratives of many layers. 

To put it briefly, MMM does not doubt that there was a sengol and that it was presented to our first PM at his residence. Similarly, MMM has no complaint about the sengol being taken to the new parliament. But what he objects to (and not that his views matter) is the myth being spun around it. The tale of the last British Viceroy accepting it with reverence and of Ganges water being sprinkled on it (no doubt to wash off his polluting touch) and of Nehru accepting it as a token of transfer of power was all just hogwash. Of the same variety was the story of old C Rajagopalachari being the mastermind behind this ceremony. Interestingly, CR’s family too cleaved along political lines. The eldest among the descendants flatly refused to believe the story while one of the youngest, now ensconced in the ranks of the party in power said it was all true.

Of all the stakeholders in this narrative, the head of the Tiruvavaduturai Math was the vaguest. In the beginning he said that his establishment had photographs of the actual ceremony held in the Parliament building at the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947, and that he would soon bring it all out. It is interesting that not one publication of the time had such visuals. Now, after the sengol story has become stale news he says that he could locate none and that they are all lost. It reminded MMM of a scholar and historian at the Music Academy who always floated tall tales on music and claimed the proof was in a loft at his house. He never revealed any of it as long as he was a member of the Experts Committee of that august body. But such is the gullibility of people that they were willing to buy everything he said. The same goes for this sengol. It may well be a gold brick. 

This article appeared in Madras Musings in its issue dated June 16, 2023 –