V & A Maharaja exhibition


by Rumbold
26th November, 2009 at 5:28 pm    

Recently I went to see the Maharaja: the Splendour of India’s Royal Courts exhibition at the Victoria and Albert museum, in South Kensington. The show, which runs until mid-January, features treasures, paintings and other artefacts from noted maharajas. The period covered is roughly from the late 18th to the early 20th centuries (though there is some material from before and after), and it is a good all round exhibition, with plenty of variety and history. I would recommend it, but allow plenty of time.

Gwalior

(The fort of the Maharaja of Gwalior, one of the princely houses featured in the exhibition)


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  1. pickles

    Blog post:: V & A Maharaja exhibition http://bit.ly/7wzP8B




  1. dalbir — on 26th November, 2009 at 12:40 pm  

    Rumbold

    I hope you got an idea of the kind of nation the Sikh community had managed to create before Anglos and their minions turned up.

  2. Rumbold — on 26th November, 2009 at 1:02 pm  

    Dalbir:

    Yes, although arguably the Sikh state was in decline before the second Anglo-Sikh war, as the death of Ranjit Singh caused instability and civil war.

    I read an interesting book the other week, 'Sicques, Tigers, or Thieves', looking at how the Europeans and British viewed Sikhs pre-1812, when Malcolm's 'History of the SIkhs' came out. It is basically a book of primary sources with some excellent editing and accompanying notes.

    (http://www.sikhphilosophy.net/books-on-sikhism/…)

    Well worth a read.

  3. Leon — on 26th November, 2009 at 3:25 pm  

    Got a couple free tickets to go see this, looking forward to it. :)

  4. Rumbold — on 27th November, 2009 at 3:15 am  

    Dalbir:

    I didn't say that the British were justified in conquering the Sikhs (they weren't, and shouldn't have accepted the invitation of one of the Sikh claimants to support them), I merely noted it. Ranjit Singh was by most accounts an excellent ruler, but arguably too much depended on his personal rule, which is why there was a crumbling state afterwards. That often happended with newish states that had just lost a great ruler (look at Alexander's empire).

    I do intend to buy the Persian sources book, and thanks for reminding me. What book do you think is the best for a history of the Sikhs? I found J. S. Grewal's Cambridge book to be the best, but K. Singh's was decent as well.

  5. Dalbir — on 27th November, 2009 at 2:31 am  

    Yes, although arguably the Sikh state was in decline before the second Anglo-Sikh war, as the death of Ranjit Singh caused instability and civil war.

    Yes, those English aren't known to make up exaggerated excuses to attack other lands for their resources. Like Sikhs weren't justified for being cautious with such inherently dishonest people at the door.

    Some things never change including white excuses. Anyway.

    I have that book. It's excellent. If you liked it, you must get Persian Sources Of Sikh History Eds. Grewal & Irfan to supplement it.

  6. Dalbir — on 27th November, 2009 at 7:38 am  

    Well, I think the WASPs coveted the wealth of the empire which by all accounts rivaled that of the Europeans. My point was that a leopard never changes its spots. That is especially poignant today with what has been going on globally in terms of bullshit invasions and being sly and greedy. Pretending and even creating threats in order to engage in freebooting seems to be an age old Anglo-Saxon creed? No doubt the feeling of having the devil at the door didn't help any successors to Ranjit Singh. Like it wasn't enough to have to pacify savage Afghans on one side (nice to see some poetic justice on that front today!), and deal with the most cunning and dishonest fuckers on the planet on the other border.

    Anyway…..

    If you could handle the Grewal book (the one published by Cambridge) then you have done well. That book usually requires a reasonable level of previous knowledge to grasp fully. It isn't a good starting point for most people. I thought it was very good but not without its own biases. It really contextualises Sikh history well in my opinion.

    K Singh's is a good read for a starting point but his personal affiliation with the Congress party and seeming adoration of the Gandhis (including Indira) makes him quite unacceptable to many Sikhs of mainline background for obvious reasons. Many feel he was an active instrument that helped justify the state supported brutality that took place in the Panjab of the 80s.

    Another must read in my opinion, is Jagjit Singh's Sikh Revolution. The book is from India so expect typos and perhaps some antiquated English grammar, but the book does well to outline the growth of the Sikh movement from an ideological perspective – something missing from most other accounts. I think this is an important angle to incorporate into any reconstruction of the past myself. Otherwise we just get drilled down, reductionalist accounts that fail to grasp any of the fervor, or spirit behind events.

  7. Rumbold — on 27th November, 2009 at 8:36 am  

    Dalbir:

    I hasd a reasonable level of knowledge before I read Grewal's work, but I wanted to read it because I had yet to come across a really good history of the Sikhs. My Mughal history is stronger, and there is so much overlap. I agree about Khuswant Singh's work, though until Grewal's came on the market, it was the only modern one around. I haven't heard of 'Sikh Revolution', so thank you.

  8. Andrew — on 27th November, 2009 at 8:38 am  

    Dalbir,

    Your stereotypical portrayal of the British is racist and you should withdraw it.

    Regards,
    Andrew

  9. mangles — on 27th November, 2009 at 9:07 am  

    Andrew it is not racist but accurate. How else would you describe an empire that kidnaps and forcefully converts the heir to an empire and ensurex the lineage of a royal family ends, just to ensure that it can squander his countries wealth and then cruelly rule over the states people?

    Rab rakha!

  10. Andrew — on 27th November, 2009 at 9:15 am  

    And how would that heir (and his family, they didn't immediately end) describe the historical narrative? Not in the way you have described.

    And was the state not “cruelly” ruled over before?

    And why do you say “squander”? How much was squandered, who did the squandering, and what was it squandered on?

    But my “racist” analysis was based on the use of:

    a leopard never changes its spots.
    bullshit invasions and being sly and greedy.
    freebooting seems to be an age old Anglo-Saxon creed?
    the most cunning and dishonest fuckers on the planet

  11. Esa — on 27th November, 2009 at 9:46 am  

    The Maharajas were mostly semi-literate clowns who vied to impress their British masters. Lord Curzon described them in his despatches to Queen Vcitoria as “half-Anglicised, European-women-hunting, pseudo-sporting, and alcoholic native chiefs … frivolous and sometimes vicious spendthrifts and idlers“. The Rana of Dholpur was “fast sinking into an inebriate and a sot”; the Maharaja of Patiala was “little better than a jockey”; and Maharaja Holkar was “half mad and addicted to horrible vices“.
    They had inherited no social graces, no innate charm or wit. In a vain attempt to impress their white masters, they just paraded their shallow and garish extravagance and cultural inferiority by importing European artefacts rather than employing native artesans.
    Rejinds me of Bollywood today.

  12. Dalbir — on 27th November, 2009 at 11:12 am  

    Yes, I'm sure that is completely unbiased Esa. Have you heard of orientalism? Look it up.

  13. esa — on 27th November, 2009 at 12:17 pm  

    Dear Dalbir,
    I am very familar with orientalism and if somebody starts a thread, I'll join with gusto.
    Anyway, you can't challenge the views of Viceroy Lord Curzon. Surely he should know the mind (or lack of it) of the Maharajas.
    It was British historian William Dalrymple who wrote a fine piece in the Guardian (03 OCt 2009) on the exhibition. Here is an extract:
    “The Indian princes betrayed their cultural inferiority by mindlessly copying European architecture, instead of using local Indian craftsmen. The Gwalior palace stands as a monument to the fabulously wasteful extravagance of the maharajas . It is also a haunting symbol of how the naive princes fell to the machinations of the British who schooled them in western tastes for their own ends. The British may have indulged the princes but deep they despised them as shallow and superficial.”

    Here is a commentary fromIrfan Husain (Dawn.com, 21 Oct, 2009)
    “Wielding little power excepting the authority to squeeze their subjects, these princes and potentates used their wealth to lead decadent lives. Aping the British, many of them tried to adopt the lifestyle of their overlords, provoking snide comments and barely-concealed contempt from the officials appointed by the East India Company. Simultaneously, those who resisted the British encroachment were crushed, and their properties distributed to sycophants willing to toe the line.
    “This master-slave relationship is revealed in many of the paintings and prints on display at the V&A exhibition. As I progressed from one display area to another, I found myself getting angry without being able to put my finger on the cause. In one painting, a British officer in uniform, hat rakishly and insultingly in place, lounges at the dinner table while a prince in full regalia stares pointedly ahead. Various members of the princely retinue are decked out in western attire. By the 19th century, this system of pomp and patronage was well established. Princes vied with each other to import crystal chandeliers and expensive new inventions from Europe. And to impress their subjects, they rode elephants in ceremonial processions, clad in regal kit. “

    The tragedy is that Indian natives had no scholarship or cultural refinement before the British came – something that Babur the first Mughal Emperor recorded in his famous Memoirs. Nehru himself would have been a country bumpkin if he had remained in India but the British graciously let him study in England where he encountered the wonders of knowledge – history, literature, governance. He candidly acknowledged that England made him.
    Dr Manmohan Singh too acknowledged that it was Britain that had civilised India – introducing her to education, language, democracy, parliament etc Al that India had was temples, gods and gurus.

  14. Desi Expat — on 27th November, 2009 at 4:57 pm  

    Esa,

    I think you may need to review your knowledge of Indian history if you believe that there was no scholarship or cultural refinement before the British came..

    Some of the princely states were also pioneers in establishing educational institutions for their subjects, ahead of what was going on in British India, so it's inaccurate to stereotype all of them negatively.

  15. Binky — on 27th November, 2009 at 10:29 pm  

    Esa's point is a good one and illustrates the dreadful evils of having an unemployed aristocracy hanging around as useless and vicious idlers rather than being busy and useful Lords-Lieutenant, Governors of Provinces or Admirals of the Fleet.

    Anyway, if these degenerate aristocrats were “European-woman-hunting” – which sounds like the sort of hunting in which the hunter does not need to try terribly hard – where are the hordes of Eurasian offspring? They can't ALL have settled in Australia!

    It is now a while since I was in India, but I once came across an English-language newspaper in whichg an academic savant of the Hindoo-nationalist kind was busily blaming all India's woes on the Mughal invaders, the Portuguese and the British. The Dutch, Danes and French were somehow overlooked.

    Of course, the very notion of a politically-unified India was a reality imposed by European foreigners; one can say the same of Indonesia, Vietnam, Laos, the Philippines and – of course – that creation of what Ahmed Soekarno called “neocolonialism” – Malaysia.

    Orientalism is rot and Edward Said is now widely regarded as a discredited chip-on-the-shoulder untrustworthy propaganda-historian.

    Dalrymple is immeasurably better and will even reply to e-mails [not that Edward Said could do so these days.]

    I e-mailed him about a character in MY SECRET LIFE, 'Edith the Frisky,' having been treated to cunnilingus by her Ayah while still a youngster in India. Since several of Walter's schoolfellows “found graves in the Crimea,” one can assume that Edith's experience – which had certainly NOT “scarred her for life” – was before the Mutiny. The scene would make a fine piece of Mughal erotica.

  16. Binky — on 27th November, 2009 at 10:53 pm  

    The reference to Edith's experience as a girl “not fourteen years old” in India:

    http://www.my-secret-life.com/sex-diary-1101.php

  17. Rumbold — on 28th November, 2009 at 2:41 am  

    The British helped to turn the Maharajas into what Esa quotes, and most ended up with pomp without power. But it wasn't always so.

  18. dalbir — on 28th November, 2009 at 3:10 am  

    Esa

    You are so far off the mark if you think that all people on the subcontinent were roaming around in bearskins grunting at each other prior to being 'enlightened' by the British.

    Go and get that book Rumbold mentioned (Sicques, Tigers or Thieves) and read John Griffith's account (pg. 157) to get an idea of how society was run prior to white colonialism. It challenges the supremacist notions that white people often hold, consciously and subconsciously.

    I agree that during the British occupation most rajahs were simply sycophants but seeing as those that weren't were quickly deposed (a policy still favoured by some whites in the face of independent nonwhite powers), those examples aren't exactly representative of the character of people. The only thing they do concretely demonstrate is the type of people colonial Brits liked to elevate and surround themselves with. Nothing else.

    Maharaja Daleep Singh is good example of someone who didn't follow the sycophantic norm. When he found out about his stolen kingdom, he did try and lead a rebellion against the British. When we factor in that he was operating from Britain and was being watched at all times, it is no surprise that this failed. But seeing as he was pretty much isolated and singlehandedly trying to deal with a nation with some of the most duplicitous people around, I don't judge him to harshly for that myself.

    Binky, I love the way you revert to the standard white “they got a chip on dere shouldas” position in the face of information you don't like from nonwhites. Orientalism as outlined by Said is real and understanding it is as important today as it ever has been.

  19. Binky — on 28th November, 2009 at 3:31 am  

    Dalbir is not as observant as he believes himself to be.

    Debunking Edward Said is practically a growth industry in its own right.

    http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com/articleprin

    To take one area in which I have some knowledge, Said refers in 'Orientalism' to an incident in which Japanese converts to Christianity fought Iberians. This was spotted as a nonsensical howler at the time the book was first published yet it reappeared in edition after edition. 'Orientalism' contains one grotesque error after another but it retains its authority as a sacred text like the thrown-together farrago of 'facts' to be encountered in the works of Marx and Engels.

    As for “dem wogs is have plenty big chips on dere shoulders” it was part of Said's appeal [his 'unique sales proposition' in Adspeak] and his long career at Columbia that he was able to be a non-threatening Third Worlder – even being an Anglican/Episcopalian Christian, no less – and, as a US Citizen, enjoyed the happy best of all possible worlds: being an oppressed Third Worlder despite his tweed jacket and a [purely nominal] member of the Palestinian power elite while clinging resolutely to pelf and place in New York City rather than illuminating a bloody awful dump of a university like Bir Zeit with his radiant presence.

    Considered rationally, he was totally right to do so, of course. Those who – on principle – have thrown up cushy numbers in the First World to accept academic positions in shabby and underfunded Third World universities are generally inclined to bitterly regret the decision before very long [please accept my assurance on this.]

  20. Binky — on 28th November, 2009 at 3:38 am  

    And yet more …

    http://www.washington.edu/uwpress/search/books/

    This may not be the last word but it might well prove to be the longest one.

  21. Binky — on 28th November, 2009 at 3:52 am  

    However, Buruma's sharp words are probably the besr read:

    http://www.nytimes.com/1999/10/03/books/misplac

    Buruma is a brilliant writer, even if he does have the nerve to call Ayaan Ali 'An Enligtenment Fundamentalist' just as though there were something wrong about so fine a bestowed title.

  22. Dalbir — on 28th November, 2009 at 5:24 am  

    Binky

    The supporters of the structures which emanate the cultural hegemony outlined by Said, are obviously going to deny his work.

  23. Binky — on 28th November, 2009 at 5:46 am  

    If Dalbir tells us that London buses are yellow and we all yell that they are red, this is a contradiction based on observed fact.

    That said, all sensible people have a deep hatred of people who are professional victims; Edward Said the pitiable refugee and Jesse Jackson the Oppressed Negro and Anjem Choudary, the upright and incorruptible Muslim living on welfare benefits in a Kuffar society he despises.

  24. Dalbir — on 28th November, 2009 at 6:13 am  

    Okay, so to your mind Edward Said, Jesse Jackson and Anjem Choudary are all the same………I think that says it all.

  25. Binky — on 28th November, 2009 at 6:49 am  

    Gerry Adams, Edward Said, Jesse Jackson and Anjem Choudary are/were the same in that for all four claiming to be a victim is/was an essential part of their respective stage acts.

    Not the same ideologically, of course.

  26. The Queen of Fiddlesticks — on 28th November, 2009 at 6:49 am  

    This looks like an increadably beautiful and educational exhibit. Wish I could see it, thank you for pointing it out, the link itself was interesting to read. As an art major I can't tell you how much I have learned about the world, its history, its people through this means. I wish more people would open up to it in this way … it sould reflect how connected we all are … and include literature and folk lore. ( maybe even personal experiences, as Edward Said is mentioned above .. I just finished an essay from Orwell describing a similar story of his own life)

    I'm sorry, but I agree with Andrew regaurding those comments . The British empire was no different than any other “empire” in history!
    and there have been many!To give it a label of “anglo saxon” – “white” – “English” – traits is indeed racist!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_largest_em

    Though I do think the British are cheating with canada :P (going by total land mass only)

    I love to spend days at the musem alone exploring, it sparked an interest in this time of world events …The Byzantine Empire

    http://www.questia.com/library/byzantine-empire

  27. The Queen of Fiddlesticks — on 28th November, 2009 at 8:43 am  

    Ok, so I have been thinking … I do love this post and the exhibit and everything about it.
    but from the comments I have ask if you are gonna study the history of anything or anyone …why focus on just one period?
    Just a quick search -

    http://history.howstuffworks.com/asian-history/

    in more modern times …

    http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/asiapcf/10/29/ind

    and though I have not read any of the books mentioned and I am no athourithy on anything but I don't understand how in the history of India, Sikhs seem to be honored above other beleifs by some commenters here? .. and to me in accordenece with “Indian” history … they don't always seem to be the “saviors”
    … my only point is that in EVERYTHING there is / was good and bad, so if someone wants to look at the past and only focus on the negitives and horrors and oppression and slaughter etc of “the British Empire” and its history with India … then you have to do the same for everyone involved … and honestly what is the point in doing that? If not to build up resentments that have no place in our future history except to lead down a negitive path.
    arent there any books of positive British influence at the time? and how it has improved modern India?

  28. Dalbir — on 28th November, 2009 at 9:26 am  

    Okay, so some communities do not try and dominate others…..ever……and anyone who tries to resist or highlight this is making it up? (This isn't defending Anjem btw).

  29. Esa — on 28th November, 2009 at 9:48 am  

    I don't think we are having a coherent and satisfying discussion on Orientalism. Binky and to a lesser extent Dalbir are tossing one-liners in a vain attempt to score cheap points but no one has as yet defined what he means by Orientalism. Is it the same as E Said?

    In Orientalism (1978, first edition), Said defined it thus “Orientalism is a system or style of thought, mode of discourse; a system of representations (concepts, images) framed by political forces that brought the Orient into Western learning, consciousness and empire. The discourse of the Orient has been constructed by the West, as a mirror image of what is inferior and alien (“Other”) to the West.

    The Orient has come to embody what the West isn't. The West prides ourselves on its notions of progress, rationality, democracy, freedom. The same West prefers to imagine the Orient as stunted, degenerate, despotic.. With the advent of secularised thought in the 18th and 19th centuries in Europe, the Muslim, a historical enemy since the Crusades, was assigned the modern image of the Oriental. By the end of the 19th century, the key Orientalists had become imperial agents – like DG Hogarth, Gertrude Bell and TE Lawrence.
    Today Orientalism has dispensed with the scholarship of its forerunners. It has been transformed into a state-driven economic ideology that seeks a hospitable investment climate for western corporations and is prepared to intervene militarily to secure it.

    In 1994, Said wrote an Afterword for Orientalism to clarify what he had said and not said. Then in August 2003 in Al-Ahram, Said wrote another Introduction.
    Here are excerpts:
    “'Orientalism' is very much a book tied to the tumultuous dynamics of contemporary history. Its first page opens with a 1975 description of the Lebanese Civil War that ended in 1990, but the violence and the ugly shedding of human blood continues up to this minute. We have had the failure of the Oslo peace process, the outbreak of the second Intifada, and the awful suffering of the Palestinians in the reinvaded West Bank and Gaza. The suicide bombing phenomenon has appeared with all its hideous damage, none more lurid and apocalyptic of course than the events of 11 September, 2001 and their aftermath in the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq. As I write these lines the illegal imperial occupation of Iraq by Britain and the United States proceeds. Its aftermath is truly awful to contemplate. This is all part of what is supposed to be a clash of civilisations, unending, implacable, irremediable. I think not.

    I wish I could say that general understanding of the Middle East, the Arabs and Islam in the United States has improved somewhat, but alas, it really hasn't. For all kinds of reasons the situation in Europe seems to be considerably better. There is a profound difference between the will to understand for purposes of co-existence and mutual enrichment, and the will to dominate and control. An imperialist war confected by a small group of unelected US officials was waged against a devastated Third World dictatorship in the quest for world dominance, security and control of scarce resources, but disguised for its true intent by Orientalists.
    There is lots more.
    Said died in October 2003, a few months after writing his second Introduction.

  30. The Queen of Fiddlesticks — on 28th November, 2009 at 11:53 am  

    Dalbir, some communities DO sometimes try and dominate others … usually most often inside their own communities. and people try to dominate other people ..and so on and so on and so on …….
    But what exactly are you personally here on 28 Nov 09 …trying to resist and highlight with your comments? Thats the part I don't get of what you are meaning to say? Especially when I used what you have offered to learn about some history ………. I understand all ideologies are perfect in their idealistic state … and sikhism may be just like many other trains of thought seeking peace and blah blah .. but some with that identity attached to them have been the community oppressing another- so I know you must have good intentions, but to me, I think its well past time to stop automatically placing people on teams according to what should be acient history!

    Esa,
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orientalism
    (sorry I do like wiki for a begining)
    I'm not sure it has a definition or that it can. The original meaning was diffrent than what the book with that title. I haven't read the book but there are some things I wouldn't like about it already … He may have changed the introduction, and I read, the ending conclusion as well … but the book was published in 1978 – I'ts not laws written in stone … and also from wiki as a refference to more …
    Strong criticism of Said's critique of Orientalism has come from academic Orientalists, including some of Eastern backgrounds. Albert Hourani, Robert Graham Irwin, Nikki Keddie, Bernard Lewis,[30] and Kanan Makiya address what Keddie retrospectively calls “some unfortunate consequences” of Said's Orientalism on the perception and status of their scholarship.[note 2] Bernard Lewis in particular was often at odds with Said following the publication of Orientalism, in which Said singled out Lewis as a “perfect exemplification” of an “Establishment Orientalist” whose work “purports to be objective liberal scholarship but is in reality very close to being propaganda against his subject material”.[31] Lewis answered with several essays in response, and was joined by other scholars, such as Maxime Rodinson, Jacques Berque, Malcolm Kerr, Aijaz Ahmad, and William Montgomery Watt, who also regarded Orientalism as a deeply flawed account of Western scholarship.[32]

    So to be fair I say if one reads one theory they have to read opposing ones as well.
    But if you like I would like to know your thoughts on it not just what the book says …

  31. Dalbir — on 29th November, 2009 at 8:16 am  

    Dalbir, some communities DO sometimes try and dominate others … usually most often inside their own communities. and people try to dominate other people ..and so on and so on and so on …….

    Fiddlesticks

    You're conflating separate phenomena here. Attempts at cultural hegemony between two clear communities are a different beast to individual attempts to dominate other people.

    But what exactly are you personally here on 28 Nov 09 …trying to resist and highlight with your comments? Thats the part I don't get of what you are meaning to say? Especially when I used what you have offered to learn about some history

    I was just trying to make a point that some people were doing just fine before certain people turned up on their doorstep and that good things have been destroyed. I wish I never bothered now…..

    There is an important lesson in that, especially as I see Britain foolishly engaging in similar activity today.

    I understand all ideologies are perfect in their idealistic state … and sikhism may be just like many other trains of thought seeking peace and blah blah .. but some with that identity attached to them have been the community oppressing another-

    I wasn't trying to plug Sikhism. Out of interest what oppression are you referring to?

    so I know you must have good intentions, but to me, I think its well past time to stop automatically placing people on teams according to what should be acient history!

    I just think that there should be some reflection on the past, not least of all to draw lessons from it. It is a fact that actions of the past can have profound consequences on a people's state. I mean look at native Americans for an example.

  32. Esa — on 29th November, 2009 at 10:04 am  

    Dear Queen Fiddlesticks (aka Latifah)
    Why bother to quote Bernard Lewis</> this rabid Zionist always frothing with hate and bigotry against the Muslims?
    Here's another view: by
    Rana Kabbani</> who wrote the delectable book Imperial Fictions: Europe’s Myths of the Orient (Pandora, London 1994)
    She writes that Islam was singled out for misrepresentation.
    Do Pickled Pols know how the British used the Orientalist legacy to subjugate the naive Indians? They sent professional British artists near the close of the 18th century. As they travelled and sketched their way around the country, they constructed an Orientalist vision of India as a land lost in antiquity, with people both backward and exotic. The artists favoured vast vistas, light skies, crumbling ruins and quaint people. But their paintings also reflected a sense of loss, of a longing for simpler, more natural life. Indians were a colourful and exotic people stuck in time, but were about to be transformed by the very people who were painting them.

    The professional artists observed the Indian land and people through the eyes of European artistic tastes and conventions. They were joined by the ranks of amateur artists already in the British East India Company. Company officials and army officers had received training in watercolour painting as part of their official education usually at the company’s college in Hileybury. As Britain’s empire expanded, more artists and also surveyors made their way into the interior. The artists were certainly part of the attempt to make the ‘Indian World’ visible and useful to British capitalism.
    The British like other Europeans have always displayed a level of intellectual sophistication that Indian natives, even now, can scarcely dream of. Look at vacuous Manmohan Singh on his recent Washington visit – he came as a supplicant. He made not a single memorable remark, just uttered banalities at which all India politicians excel, as Naipaul said decades ago.

  33. Dalbir — on 29th November, 2009 at 11:22 am  

    The British like other Europeans have always displayed a level of intellectual sophistication that Indian natives, even now, can scarcely dream of. Look at vacuous Manmohan Singh on his recent Washington visit – he came as a supplicant. He made not a single memorable remark, just uttered banalities at which all India politicians excel, as Naipaul said decades ago.

    Yes I know, he should be more like Tony Blair who resembled a magnificent unshakable mountain when in the presence of George W. Bush. Poodle.

    Anyway this is an interesting study of the English. Well worth a watch. Episode 1 is funny.

    http://www.channel4.com/programmes/white-tribe/

  34. andrew — on 29th November, 2009 at 11:45 am  

    Dalbir are you equating “the English” with white people? Is it possible that you might be unthinkingly racist in the way you look at the world? Or does the 20% non-white section of the population not rate in your analysis?

    Presumably if you are watching the reruns of this (ten year old) series you must at least be resident in the United Kingdom so there can be no excuse for your ignorance.

  35. Dalbir — on 29th November, 2009 at 12:04 pm  

    Andrew. Most of my life here, in all of my many interactions with the white people who claim to be indigenous, I have always been told I am British not English (we'll ignore the other less pleasant labels that have been used).

    Personally I have only ever met someone from a similar background to myself (Panjabi-Sikh) referring to themselves as English, very recently and on this very forum.

    I am now, for the first time, encountering the notion that I can be English. Previously I was under the impression that this was an ethnicity label. Is that changing now?

    Those programs are very relevant now by the way. Even if they are a decade old.

  36. andrew — on 29th November, 2009 at 12:45 pm  

    Very cleverly Dalbir, and in a slight of hand worthy of Mr Blair himself, you answer my questions with a question of your own.

    But why do you say “the white people who claim to be indigenous”?

    While I completely accept that ethnic nationalism is a bogus ideology, if it is bogus for English people it is also bogus for everyone else. Therefore if the indigenous status of “white people” in England is in doubt, it follows that it is in doubt for everyone else. Therefore your claim to be Panjabi-Sikh must be disallowed.

    And is it possible that the “less pleasant” experiences you obliquely refer to have influenced your outlook so that you feel the need to promulgate communal competitive prestige? Certainly I think Darcus Howe allowed himself to indulge in communal competitive prestige and that is why I would categorise his 1999 series as unthinkingly racist.

    Communal competitive prestige is an extremely corrosive indulgence, and can only lead to one inevitable conclusion, as you must know if you lived in the area formerly known as Punjab.

  37. Dalbir — on 29th November, 2009 at 2:13 pm  

    Look I'm not the one who has a problem with white people calling themselves indigenous here. Frankly I find the debate around the enigmatic definition of 'English' confusing. Having been told that I am most definitely not English for most of my life, I'm now encountering the opposite notion and I'm having to grasp that I may well be English now? I'm a tad bit confused by this. I don't know who to believe?

    The statement you quoted was made because I have met WWC aggressively English guys, who it turns out have fathers who are as Irish as a leprechaun drinking Guinness. Then other aggressively English guys have turned around and told me they are not English but 'paddies'. What is that about?

    BTW, I'm far from perfect but comparing me to Blair is going too low! I'm not that good at lying, nor am I personally responsible for the deaths of many people.

    You talk of Darcus's series as racist but do you see the whole 'unthinkingly' racist media in the UK that pumps it nonsense out unabated?

    Communal competitive prestige is an extremely corrosive indulgence, and can only lead to one inevitable conclusion, as you must know if you lived in the area formerly known as Punjab.

    From all the accounts I have read it was doing just fine before certain people turned up.

  38. The Queen of Fiddlesticks — on 29th November, 2009 at 6:02 pm  

    Dalbir,
    You're conflating separate phenomena here …

    I don't think it's any “different” at all really … a rose by any other name – type thing. The same phycological principles would apply.

    You shouldn't be sorry you brought anthing up … I too love to reflect on history and really enjoyed learning from this post and your comments … It is yout tone that confusses me though but it may be because you are indeed “English” lol
    I don't care if you were pluging sikhs ? .. thats fine …..
    but this is one of the things I read after you comments .. just random browsing .. http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/wa

    its kinda ironic … if you read it there are a few lines of exact quote from what you said … but from someone elses point of view ….

    < It is a fact that actions of the past can have profound consequences on a people's state. I mean look at native Americans for an example>

    from another side I think it is fact letting go of the past has a very profound consequense on a peoples state…. As I come from pennsylvaina – where all the the towns have names like Chippawa – Aliquippa – Blackhawk – Hopewell – monogahalia – etc …. I have seen the Indians, lived with them , danced with them ate with them … trust me they are doing fine.

    Esa,
    Latifah? haha, I will add that to the many names of me :P
    I think I mentioned I have a degree in art, and one of the things they always say is “art, is what you say it is” – so are you agreeing with said? or just going along? cause I can disagree.
    That is just his decscription, interpertation and theory. It seems to include the history of Europe at the time and what was trendy in art as most paintings were done in this style Im not sure how it was being used as a tool of British capitalism? Paintings of London and English country sides from the 18th century show places lost in antiquity, with people both backward and exotic. The artists favoured vast vistas, light skies, crumbling ruins and quaint people. But their paintings also reflected a sense of loss, of a longing for simpler, more natural life.

    Does this book say anything of people like Rudyard Kipling? I know there is is something about it else where?
    Another side of this story in art anyway, is that artists also took inspiration from asian art and brought it back into their own European cultures in ways many may not even realize … they say imataion is a compliment .. I just don't think it was all so hatefilled and backed with evil motivation in everything always…

  39. andrew — on 30th November, 2009 at 11:43 am  

    Dalbir, I have added my comments to your post:

    Frankly I find the debate around the enigmatic definition of 'English' confusing.

    The definition is not at all confusing and any anthropologist can define it. “English” is a cultural construct that has a linguistic identity, religious identity, geographical identity, political-institutional identity, historical-narrative identity and a sense of personal allegiance to a tribal chief. Anyone who can tick these boxes is English whether they acknowledge it or not.

    Having been told that I am most definitely not English for most of my life

    Who has made such definite statements to you? Perhaps you could give some names. Lord Tebbit in the series you recommend did tell Darcus Howe that he was not English, but Lord Tebbit has added a “cricket test” which most anthropologists would not recognise.

    I'm now encountering the opposite notion and I'm having to grasp that I may well be English now?

    You defined yourself as Panjabi-Sikh – no-one did this to you, this is how you defined yourself a few paragraphs above.

    I'm a tad bit confused by this. I don't know who to believe?

    Englishness is not a religion in itself (although it does have a religious identity) and so it is not a matter of belief.

    The statement you quoted was made because I have met WWC aggressively English guys, who it turns out have fathers who are as Irish as a leprechaun drinking Guinness. Then other aggressively English guys have turned around and told me they are not English but 'paddies'. What is that about?

    Racial biological identity and the sequential concept of ethnic nationalism was an invention of the 19th century and is entirely bogus. There are no “pure” races, and I am no more “pure English” than you are “pure Sikh”. However, the fact that something is bogus does not stop people believing it with complete sincerity.

    That said, most English families have been living on a small island for one and a half thousand years, and have intermarried several times over (statistically this must have happened every three centuries or so). Therefore there is a quasi-biological reality to your friends who claim that they are English and the “paddies” are not. On the wider scene we are all related of course. You and I are cousins at some point in the genealogical descent of mankind. But the point your “WWC” would no doubt make is that they can prove they are part of the English “family” via the parish registers held by the Public Record Office (which more or less list every family back to 1553 should they wish to go through the tedious task of tracing the line).

    Incidentally, Guinness was invented by an Anglo-Irish family (ie English protestants who had been living in Ireland for some generations).

    BTW, I'm far from perfect but comparing me to Blair is going too low! I'm not that good at lying, nor am I personally responsible for the deaths of many people.

    I withdraw the comparison and apologise for the gross insult.

    You talk of Darcus's series as racist but do you see the whole 'unthinkingly' racist media in the UK that pumps it nonsense out unabated?

    The media has no agenda other than to make money. They will say anything if it will sell newspapers, and then say the opposite the next day. The media does not lead society it merely holds up a mirror to it. The Daily Mail (to pick one example) would not publish the things it does if there was not a market for them. As the Daily Mail has a circulation of three million, and a readership of about five times that figure we must assume that at least a third of the population enjoys reading inflammatory and unthinkingly racist articles. This does not mean they are “bad” people, it just means that communal competitive prestige is an enjoyable indulgence. All communities in the United Kingdom seem to be indulging in this vice at the moment which is why I point out its corrosive effects and the disaster that will ensue if it remains in vogue.

    Communal competitive prestige is an extremely corrosive indulgence, and can only lead to one inevitable conclusion, as you must know if you lived in the area formerly known as Punjab.

    >From all the accounts I have read it was doing just fine before certain people turned up.

    My goodness Dalbir. I do not defend British imperial rule in India (which was a disaster for the British people) but surely you would not prefer Duleep Singh’s feudal dynasty to be still ruling the roost? Feudalism remained the model in Rajputana until 1947 and would have continued beyond that date given the choice. You surely can’t call that “doing just fine” (unless of course you are scion of a princely family yourself).

    Queen Fiddlesticks, your statement “trust me, they are doing fine” would be more convincing were it to come from the Indians/Native Americans themselves. Whatever the merits of European migration to North America, it has been a catastrophe for the indigenous population. Not that it is my place to intervene in USA internal affairs, but I cannot see their plight as being otherwise.

  40. Esa — on 30th November, 2009 at 12:35 pm  

    Dear Queen of F,
    I admire artists – [I used latifa in jest – hope it wasn't upsetting.
    You raise an important point: “… what was trendy in art as most paintings were done in this style Im not sure how it was being used as a tool of British capitalism?
    I can't quite answer that but let me quote Rose de Neve who wrote an excellent article in 1997.
    The professional artists observed the Indian land and people through the eyes of European artistic tastes and conventions. They were joined by the ranks of amateur artists already in the British East India Company. Company officials and army officers had received training in watercolour painting as part of their official education usually at the company’s college in Hileybury. As Britain’s empire expanded, more artists and also surveyors made their way into the interior. The artists were certainly part of the attempt to make the ‘Indian World’ visible and useful to British capitalism.

    William Hodges (1744-97) painted landscapes with often exaggerated proportions to enhance the emotional appeal of monuments and ruins. He was followed by the uncle & nephew team of Thomas & William Daniell (1769-1837) who spent 8 years in India, using a camera obscura to outline scenes accurately. They travelled with a large retinue, making drawings to be completed or turned into paintings later at leisure. The duo produced many oils during their stay, building a massive collection of drawings – which allowed them to ‘paint India’ for the rest for the rest of their lives. Once back in England, 144 of their views were published in a renowned collection of aquatints entitled Oriental Scenery. It is popular to this day.

    Other artists followed them (like James Fraser, Charles Forrest, James Manson) and they were hugely influential in creating a popular understanding of India. Soon icons such as caparisoned elephants, turbaned peasants came to define India in the European imagination. Actual portraits of Indians, produced during the same period, were most often of nawabs, rajahs or courtesans. These paintings were popular among Britons: the colourful costumes appealed to the European/Orientalist taste. The princes themselves often paid the artist a handsome fee. Portraying Indian women of good families was a problem (most kept purdah), the Indian dancing girl came to stand for Indian womanhood, both exotic and available.
    Reference: Rose de Neve, Tourism & the Imperial Gaze (Seminar, issue 453, May 1997)

  41. The Queen of Fiddlesticks — on 30th November, 2009 at 8:10 pm  

    Esa,
    I knew Latifa was a joke :P
    I did find this link on Empire and art …
    more good history to think about
    http://www.britishempire.co.uk/art/artandempire
    The link to India gives some insight and tells how it did turn to exoctic images … the artists were in other parts of the Empire as well.
    It really made me think about art from the american west too, reflecting the same romantic style to pull people west ward …(intentionaly or unitentionally) I guess thats the real question …. Thank you for bringing up this topic
    :)

  42. Samsen Desai — on 1st December, 2009 at 9:29 am  

    Ahhhh, the denigration of Indian history is a project originally put into action by colonialist Britons and likes of some on these boards peddle and propogate, who identified, correctly, that by controlling the past they would be able to control the present as well. After Independence, a cabal of Marxists has dominated the official version of history in India, and they too want to control India's present and future. They have managed to brainwash entire generations of Indians into believing that everything that originated in India is worthless.

    Through the miracles of “truth by repeated assertion” and the patronage extended to them by the Nehru Dynasty and its retainers, these self-proclaimed “eminent historians”, many of them affiliated with the Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, have manufactured a history of India that is widely at odds with the evidence on the ground. They are completely unwilling to accept new archaeological and other discoveries. They are dogmatic fundamentalists who remind me of the Catholic Church forcing Galileo to recant heliocentrism despite scientific evidence.

    The Aryan Invasion Mythology, which Max Mueller created, was influenced by his Christian fundamentalist belief that the world was created in 4004 BCE, and therefore he arbitrarily assigned the date of 1500 BCE to the Indus-Sarasvati civilization (he allowed a millennium or two for Noah's floodwaters to recede and for Europeans to find their way to India!). This is utter idiocy. Mueller himself later disowned this date, but the “eminent historians” have yet to wake up, much like Galileo's tormenters took 400 years to accept his theory officially.

    India was a bastion of the Intellect, although the “eminent historians” are loath to admit it. Some of the greatest achievements in the sphere of pure thought came out of India. And it is not that it was all idle speculation: for, the invention of zero and the decimal system, of algebra and calculus, as well as the creation of accurate astronomical tables, all had practical uses in calculation and in navigation. To take just a few examples:

    The so-called Pythagoras Theorem is discussed in the Sulba-sutras circa 800 BCE by Baudhayana. He also showed how to square the circle
    Panini's Sanskrit grammar ca. 500 BCE is arguably the greatest achievement of a single human mind in all of history, for he was able to capture the infinity of expressions in language in a finite set of 4,000 rules. See also http://www.infinityfoundation.com/mandala/t_es/
    Aryabhata's astronomy ca. 499 CE is of the highest order, for he realized that the earth is a rotating sphere and quite accurately calculated the diameter; and he predicted eclipses, in addition to providing a value for pi accurate to six decimal places and producing an accurate table of sines
    Algebra was known to Aryabhata; and it is discussed in detail in Bhaskara II's “Lilavati” ca. 1150 CE
    Parameswara and Nilakantha of the Kerala School of mathematics and astronomy ca. 1400 CE proposed a heliocentric theory for the solar system, displacing the earth as the center of the Universe. Madhava, another member of the Kerala School, invented the theory of infinite series and the basis for calculus (it is now believed that Jesuit missionaries took this material back to Europe, and that Leibniz and Newton possibly got their ideas on the calculus therefrom). See Ian Pearce's website.
    In addition, there are astonishing facts about the prosperity of the advanced civilization:

    As late as 1750 CE, India accounted for 24.5 per cent of all manufactured good in the world. England accounted for 2%. (A century later, the numbers were reversed)
    The Thanjavur delta in Tamil Nadu and the Brahmaputra delta in Bengal were two of the world's four greatest centers of industry till 1750 CE (why do you think the British got their paws into Bengal and Tamil Nadu first?)
    India was the only source of diamonds in the world till the late 1800s, when diamond-bearing ore was discovered in South Africa and Australia
    Indian metallurgy was remarkable. The famous 'damascene' steel used to make the finest swords (Muslims in the Crusades had these: Saladin is known to have had one) came not from Damascus, but from India: it was called 'wootz' here. Similarly, the rust-free Iron Pillar in Delhi was an amazing feat
    India had some of the best textiles and designs in the world; a large number of terms used for textiles come from India, such as muslin, calico, seersucker, cashmere, gingham, madras, dungarees, the 'paisley' design, khaki, pyjamas,…
    India was a center for specialty services, such as medicine and surgery
    Sushruta practiced plastic surgery and did Caesarian sections; he invented 101 surgical instruments named after animals, some of which are still used
    Charaka wrote treatises on digestion, anatomy, metabolism and immunity
    Ayurveda and the related science of pressure points were taken to East Asia by the Buddhist monk Bodhidharma; East Asian martial arts, as well as quite possibly acupuncture, are derived from these
    According to the research done by Dharampal based on first-hand colonial reports in the British Museum (see his book The Beautiful Tree) there was a school in every village, and children of every caste were taught therein, before the British invasion of India. Illiteracy was a British gift, as in Burma (see Amitav Ghosh's Glass Palace)
    As late as 1750 CE, the average Indian agricultural or industrial worker was better off than his equivalent in England.

    Samsen Desai

  43. Esa — on 1st December, 2009 at 9:47 am  

    Queen of F
    Thanks for that excellent reference on ART & EMPIRE
    Very useful indeed.

  44. Esa — on 1st December, 2009 at 11:04 am  

    Samen,
    You seem one of those patriotic Indians trying hard to restore what little honoour and respect remains after India's turbulent history. For a 1000 years (from about 1000 CE), foreigners controlled Hindustan – first the Muslims for some 700 years, then the British. So where were the natives? Why couldn't they resist the invaders? They just caved in and retreated into religion – never the intellectual route.
    India has no great intellectuals even today – name 3, Samsen.

    The net outcome of the long occupation has been a smouldering resentment and periodic violence against the Muslim minority (some 150 million, 15% of the population) but an attitude of subservience to the West on which it still depends for ideas, technology and security. The Indian elite have become victims of foreign thinking, as VS Naipaul and Mark Tully have noted and rely on western models rather than generating native strategies suited for native problems. Most Indian institutions are in decay or dysfunctional and thousands of richer students prefer to enroll for western qualifications rather demand an upgrade of their own institutions.

    This defeatist spirit continues to manifest itself when it comes to foreign threats. Indians fail to grasp a crisis situation and respond swiftly. They are always taken by surprise and seek help.
    Consider the Chinese invasion of 1962. Nehru became complacent and unresponsive over Chinese demands. Whereupon the Chinese crossed the border and were soon some 200 miles within Indian territory. Nehru was alarmed and begged the West for help. But the Chinese were gracious enough to withdraw unilaterally; they could have easily occupied Delhi or Calcutta.

    No use blaming the occupiers – thank them for civlising the natives – they gave them architecture, gardens, roads, rail, telegraph. All that the natives possessed was temples, gods and gurus and a vast poverty. Today 80% of Indians live on less than Rs 20 a day.
    The glacial pace of progress of India after 60 years of independence (compared to China or South Korea) suggests some sort of cognitivre block in the Indian psyche. Instead of just getting angry, let's investigate the crisis – starting with history.

  45. Dalbir — on 1st December, 2009 at 1:20 pm  

    The definition is not at all confusing and any anthropologist can define it. “English” is a cultural construct that has a linguistic identity, religious identity, geographical identity, political-institutional identity, historical-narrative identity and a sense of personal allegiance to a tribal chief. Anyone who can tick these boxes is English whether they acknowledge it or not.

    Andrew

    Whilst you should be applauded for your inclusive interpretation of the term under question. I think a few qualifications are required before we accept your postulation. Firstly your definition follows an anthropoligist approach and this field of study is something associated with the educated echelons of English society. I'm telling you the vast majority of WWC English wouldn't even know what an anthropologist or anthropology is, have you mixed with them at all? In anycase I have serious misgiving about your definition being accepted by large swathes of the general public in England. Identity is something infintely more complicated than the box ticking scenario you have presented above, although elements of what you have mentioned is true. Let's take myself against this criteria. On the first count I am bilingual (if not trylingual in that I'll try and speak any language I can). Although I can speak and write English (it is my first language), I am also generally fluent in Panjabi. As much I love English and try (with varying results) to develop my skills my relationship with Panjabi has some other qualities that I think may best bedescribed as 'ancestral'? That is not to deny your point that in the wider scheme we are probably all related in the genealogical sense, probably as inhabitants of Africa.

    Religionwise, the construct appears very weak as I am by faith a SiKh (even if not the most pious variety). I presume you refer to the Protestant creed when you alluded to the religious component of the English identity? Where does that leave people like myself? To compound things further, the Sikh label itself is not a straightforward one and has been interpreted as an ethnic identity as well as a religious one in UK courts (like Jews I am told). Geographically speaking, this one is a knotted issue as you touched apon earlier. Their are those people (no small amount) who are adamant that only those who have resided on this island for many generations and are white are English. I say this knowing that some of these people at some time in their family history may well have had ancestors who weren't white, whether they know or not or wish to deny for some strange reason I have never fully grasped. In the historical-narrative of theis island I am a very recent introduction to England, I think this plays a big part in things myself. What will happen to generations of my family here, we don't know. Two possibilities exist. Firstly the definition of Englishness changes to accept new variants to what I will call the traditional construct, otherwise the process of time will hammer and shape the blood into something identical or very close to the traditional 'identity' (I should use identities). As for aligning myself with a tribal leader? You have to explain that one a bit more?

    I also think you may be a tad bit naive about possible forces or groupthink that operate within the media. I disagree that the only agenda is to make money, even if this is the primary one. An underlying drive to shape opinion and society in a particular fashion also exists and this has a strong communal component in many widely patronised media instruments.

    All communities in the United Kingdom seem to be indulging in this vice at the moment which is why I point out its corrosive effects and the disaster that will ensue if it remains in vogue.

    This I think we can agree on. But also recognise that people get caught in the middle of such things, speaking to family involved, they felt that this was exactly the case at partition. Events forced their hands. Lets be really frank here, the disater you talk of is violence in varying forms. In the face of this you will naturally get retaliation and insane reactions – at least from some Panjabis. The other alternative, akin to teh Jewish experience in WW2 is equally if not more horrendous. So your damned if you do, and damned if you don't respond.

    My goodness Dalbir. I do not defend British imperial rule in India (which was a disaster for the British people) but surely you would not prefer Duleep Singh’s feudal dynasty to be still ruling the roost? Feudalism remained the model in Rajputana until 1947 and would have continued beyond that date given the choice. You surely can’t call that “doing just fine” (unless of course you are scion of a princely family yourself).

    No seriously. I am saying that the relative prosperity, definitely the security as well as the social cohesion in the region known as Panjab was infinitely better in the Past than now. I am not blaming you for it but you could say that the experience and legacy of colonialism has been disaterous for Sikh society in many ways, not least of all that many of their historical places of worship are across an unstable border. Thankfully, it isn't to the extreme that some people may feel Native Americans have endured/are enduring but I think that is mainly due to the pugnacious streak in people who have fought their ways out of tight corners.

    Thanks for the information on Guiness and I'll be damned if I am going to proof read this carefully!

  46. Dalbir — on 1st December, 2009 at 1:21 pm  

    F##k me that was a long post!

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