India is a land of hurt substance and of antique opulence but her full time arrived and now she seeks serenity through the reinvention of her past.
I wrote those words when I first arrived in India, and to understand her, summarized her changes in thought. My opinion have moderated through my Indian experience.
To large for one post, here is part one, from Akbar to Derozio, revealing my thinking of the past.
Dynasties rather than nations had ruled ancient India, although Ashoka, Samudragupa and Harsha held the loyalty of vast areas.
The Moghul emperor Akbar (1542- 1605) established a durable administrative system, and seventy five years after Vasco de Gama landed on the Malabar Coast, Akhbar enquired of the wonders, manners and customs of Europe. A font of spiritual and physical knowledge claims his biographer, AbulFazl,he “wished that these inquiries might be the means of civilizing (istinis, familiarity or sociability) this savage [unsocial] race”. He met with missionaries from Goa but was happier with his 300 wives that Christian monogamy.
The degenerating Mughul empire collapsed internally and following the passing of Aurangzeb was subject to Persian and Afghan attack. Each Hindu and Muslim prince sought a piece of the former empire but the British would emerge a dominant European ruler after supplanting the French.
There is an old false stereotype that a dynamic Christian world conquered a near vacuum of pagan illiterates with no history worth mentioning.
Rather, “Western European peoples struggled to emerge from feudalism, the merchants and manufacturers won the support of the state as a way of making the various nations stronger” claimed Gilberto Freyre.
Resulting technological innovation led to “European ships with their square-rigged mainmast sailed closer to the wind,” whereas ““Muslim and indigenous ships on the Indian Ocean sailed only with the monsoons” wrote Lucille Brockway.
“Muslim ships could not carry guns and still relied on boarding parties in naval battles. After centuries of borrowing from the East, European science was being translated into superior technology—better charts, navigational instruments, ships, and cannon.”
“Exchanging oarsmen for sails and warriors for guns meant essentially the exchange of human energy for inanimate power. By turning wholeheartedly to the gun-carrying sailing ship the Atlantic peoples broke down a bottleneck inherent in the use of human energy and harnessed, to their advantage, far larger quantities of power. It was then that European sails appeared aggressively on the most distant seas [Cipolla 1965:81].
Europe had no luxury items to trade with the East, except firearms, resulting in a drain of gold and silver throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Of India, Braudel (1966:569) quotes a Venetian merchant: “Silver goes where the pepper is.”
Nevertheless, “Hindu princes who were resisting Moslem invaders were eager to buy European guns and Arabian horses transported to India on Portuguese ships” wrote Brockway.
One of the supporters of the French was the Hindu agent Ananda Rangi Pillai (1709 – 1761) who shows a total absence of national consciousness. Rather he identifies with French interests. Although he strongly rejects the impropriety of a feast where each religious group and caste was represented together simultaneously as a corruption although each groups requirements and beliefs were respected. The Muslim trader, Mirza Abu Taleb Khan (1752- ?) recognizes errors that have kept into many Muslims life and criticized the pride and indolence of the British. Blind faith causes the British to wait until misfortune strikes rather than prepare and prevent it.
He criticizes the worldliness, irreligion and love of luxury of the British but admits that since land ownership is so well protected in Britain it encourages people to work hard to live later years off the fruits of their labour.
In particularly he notes the ‘peculiar idea’ of the British that perfection is ‘merely an ideal quality, and depends entirely on comparison.’ In future ages the ‘exalted dignity’ of Newton will be looked back ‘as we now do on the rude arts of savages.’
Henry Derozio (1809- 1831) argued that if it is wrong to discuss the existence of God it is wrong to debate against the non existence of God. The theistic Derozio was dismissed from a Hindu school for presenting arguments for and against God – and criticized the Hindu ‘clamour’ over logical debate.
Yet in his poetry he portrays a romantic picture if Indian former glories, while lamenting its then present state calling for an Indian nationalism – as in his poem The Harp of India– and calling for the day when educated youth will overcome the forces of orthodoxy.
The Harp Of India
Unstrung for ever, must thou there remain;
Thy music once was sweet — who hears it now?
Why doth the breeze sigh over thee in vain?
Silence hath bound thee with her fatal chain;
Neglected, mute, and desolate art thou,
Like ruined monument on desert plain:
O! many a hand more worthy far than mine
Once thy harmonious chords to sweetness gave,
And many a wreath for them did Fame entwine
Of flowers still blooming on the minstrel’s grave:
Those hands are cold — but if thy notes divine
May be by mortal wakened once again,
Harp of my country, let me strike the strain!
2002 (1979) Brockway, Lucille H., ‘Science and Colonial Expansion – The Role of the British Royal Botanical Gardens’ Yale University Press. London
Reprinted from “The rise and future demise of the world capitalist system: Concepts of comparative analysis,” by Immanuel Wallerstein, Cambridge University Press. 1974.