Monday, November 06, 2006

The "Gora" Mughal

Suddenly William Dalrymple author of "The White Mughals" and now, "The Last Mughal" is everywhere. I confess I haven't read any of them, but what caught my attention was several articles in today's newspapers (November 5, 2006) about his second book. He seems to be the flavor of the season, and for a talk he gave in Bombay even celebrities turned up to listen. ("Oh, here at last is the Englishman (or, Scotsman) who thinks like us and whom we always wanted to befriend, besides our own Mark Tully.") He himself is being treated as a White Mughal, which he has denied in an interview with DNA Sunday in which he was asked, "Are you in a sense a White Mughal writing about the natives?"

Dalrymple, a historian contends that the first wave of British colonizers came to India with honest intent and even lived like Indian Mughal rulers taking on Indian harems and assuming Indian ways and dresses. He avers that this would have continued hadn't the Neo-conservatives and the missionaries intervened. And that India would have been a country of White (British) Mughal harem-keepers. Oh, how inconsiderate of those missionaries!

Now Dalrymple bases these premises on a few freakish personalities of history. One is Sir David Ochterlony who is believed to have donned Indian clothes and travelled around Delhi with his thirteen wives in tow, all on elephant backs. What Dalrymple forgets is that the British colonizers who came to India had no other intention than to plunder the country and the Indian women they took as wives was because they had such a sexual cornucopia of a lifetime available, oh, so easily as rulers. Who wouldn't, given a chance, in an exotic country, have a harem of willing oriental women? Certainly not the British with their famous sexual appetites.

How do I know? I have worked in the Persian Gulf for a British multinational and know this from experience. Most of the British managers of the company had married Asian women and given half a chance they would have had harems too. And they weren't friends of the "Natives" (poor, us!) who toiled for them at less than standard wages. In fact, plunder was their main objective, and if an Asian woman was willing then, why not? These women were Indian and Asian nurses who were invited to their parties where they formed their liasons. We poor sods, even our senior managers weren't invited. (I have devoted a book in my novel "The Love Song of Luke Varkey," to the vulgar corporate greed of the British managers, a chapter of the novel can be read here).

Sir Ochterlony was a creature of circumstance, probably with a big sexual appetite and took advantage of the situation of sexual plenty in an impoverished land of which he was a Mughal master. So were his compatriots who too went completely native with harems and palaces they could ill-afford back in England. There wasn't any holistic intent here, neither had our British managers in the British multinational for which I worked. They were after money and the fulfilment of their carnal desires for which Dalrymple is raising them on a new and exalted pedestal. May be, the Indian intelligentsia lapped it all up and put up Dalrymple's mugs in the press before considering these aspects.

Now another specious argument from his book "The White Mughal" is that the missionaries with their evangelical fervor dissuaded the Englishmen from going native. I have read books that speak of how the British ruling class were dismissive of the missionaries and their attempts to educate the heathen. William Carey the British missionary who set up the first Indian printing press in Serampore and established the first college for training priests was actually dissuaded from travelling to India as an excerpt from this article would show:

"En route they were delayed at the Isle of Wight, at which time the captain of the ship received word that he endangered his command if he conveyed the missionaries to Calcutta, as their unauthorized journey violated the trade monopoly of the British East India Company."

Obviously since an educated Indian would be a threat to their "White Mughal-hood." Then they would have competition from educated Indian men who would want to court their harem members. Not only that, a Christian India would have been an embarassment for the British colonists as they would have to share a church and a religion with the native Christians. So then how would missionaries, zealous as they are known to be, dissuade Englishmen from going native and owning harems? Many accounts I have read have given the distinct impression that missionaries - with their belief in Christian charity - were at cross purposes with their administering countrymen.

Dalrymple's theory, even if it has substance portrays a somehow dystopic scenario of what India would have been if the White Mughals had persisted in their ways and the missionaries hadn't come. We would have had a legion of "White Mughal" sahibs, and their brown offsprings inhabiting and ruling over an India that would have been still entrenched in the supersitions of those times. And Indian men would have had a slim chance with their women, pitted as they were against the "gora" sahib's alluring offer of a comfortable life for their women, not to mention elephant-back rides through Connaught Place.

Thank god for missionaries, in that case!

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