Disclaimer:I shall not apologize for entering into minute particulars, as trifles on a long voyage are often of greater consequence than they appear” – A Lady Resident, 1864.

Abstract: The purpose of this paper is to examine the reception of the “Indian” in the British Nabob mind in the early days of the British Raj, the inculcation of the ‘desired’ and the avoidance of the ‘disfavored’, as well as the logic behind the conduct.  A clear demarcation has been made of the merchant white nabobs and the latter day Anglo Indian administrators, and the ‘two’ groups have been juxtaposed to bring out the changing perceptions of the “Oriental” in the concerned period of the paper.

Keywords: Nabob; British Raj; merchant; administrator; Oriental.

The White Nabob.

The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there. (Hartley, 1953)

Once upon a time, the “Indian past” had been a “foreign country” to its British conquistadors, and so they did “things differently there”. They had to. They had crossed perilous dark waters to be in this exotic  yet mortal Tropic, willingly or grudgingly; some had embraced it as home – a conviction that was to last for generations to come; and others went back with less confident observations. They abhorred and admired India, and with a parliamentary decree to conquer, sat conquered in a harem. The lives they lived in India were nothing short of romantic myths, vested as these experiences were with strange paradoxes, radical understandings, and unparalleled conclusions. They went beyond the ‘explained’, and lived beyond the ‘expected’, in the process, creating a colonial legacy that would go on to constitute the lore of “British India” in scholarship, and popular culture. The purpose of this paper is to examine the reception of the “Indian” in the British Nabob mind[1], the inculcation of the ‘desired’ and the avoidance of the ‘disfavoured’, as well as the logic behind the conduct.  

As almost every particle relating to Hindoostan is become an object of popular curiosity, it can hardly be deemed superfluous to lay before the public an improved system of its geography” – Rennel, 1788. (Nayar, 2009, p.22)

The nabob life (a scene from the life of the infamous nabob, David Ochterlony).

Indeed, everything in India was of particular ‘interest’ to the British settlers, who came as traders and diplomats during the time of the Mughals in the late 16th century; and survived to metamorphose into de facto administrators in the 18th century[2]. From their inception, they had taken to the essence of “Indianess” as demonstrated by the likes of the fakir Thomas Coryate, the infamous thugs – Thomas Roch and Raben Simitt, and the kavi of Ranchol, Thomas Stephens; Harris in his 2015 book The First Firangis: Remarkable Stories of Heroes, Healers, Charlatans, Courtesans & Other Foreigners who Became Indian examines the gradual “Indianization” of the early British (and other Europeans); stating that these early migrants “came not to conquer and command, but with much humbler ambitions: to escape poverty and persecution” (Harris, 2015, p.4). Belonging to disadvantageous segments like economic refugees, criminals, slaves, servants, religious or sexual dissidents – they necessarily submitted to local masters, languages and customs. This brought a fragile ‘East – West’ fusion of mere significance, as opposed to the more complex embrace of Indian culture as implicated in the machinery of 19th century British colonialism. The early firangis[3] were oblivious of race, enthusiastic of an ‘Eastern’ orientation, and above all, a ‘crossing over’. The pattern was one of an ‘Indianess’ of absolute necessity, and not potlatch – a trend that would continue, unabated, in the hands of the White Mughals and British Nabobs[4]; but suffer a reverse with the “coming of age” of a racist Caesar class in the succeeding period, which “expressed  its joy by the roaring of the wide – mouthed cannon, and the sounding of the shriller trumpets” (Nayar, 2009, p.15), and scribbled the blueprint of the Raj, as it is popularly known today.

 “Then the natives of India to cast do so cling

You scarcely get two to perform the same thing…”

Quoted from The Life and Adventures of Shigram-Po. (Nevile, 2010, p.6)

The sahib’s quarters in a colonial household.

The foremost job that awaited a British as soon as she/he got off the ship was to blend in to the life in Indian soil. Vivid accounts exist of how the British enrolled themselves in a new and vastly different enterprise which rested on the shoulders of the “great plagues” – the natives of “low stature, their faces ugly, but good humoured”; with “their customs and prejudices inviolable” (Dalrymple, 2002). The journal of Fanny Parkes, the sketches of Francois Baltazar Solvyns, Captain Charles Gold, William Hodges, etc.; and the photographs of European firms like M/s Bourne & Shepherd, Johnston & Hoffman, T. A. Rust, John Burke, Nickholos & Co., Barton & Son, and alike bear the testimony of the foreign whereabouts (Nevile, 2004). Inconsistent as these were, in their approach to India, they had one single element in common – the reception of a ‘strange other’, and the grudging acknowledgement of the utility that accompanied the “almost native” lifestyle. What was meticulously taken note of was ‘everything’ – and at not all times, were charitable dispositions presented; for a certain verse from the 19th century classic Lays of Ind illustrated:

Mahlee, dhobie, cook, horsekeeper,

Each were to the choke sent,

Last of all the wretched sweeper –

Still the Colonel’s liquor went.

‘Devilish odd this!’ said the Colonel

‘What a land to soldier in!

Abboo, this is most infernal-

Who the blazes drinks my gin?’

For space in sircar service

Abboo did his wits employ

Never more will Colonel Jervis

Trust another native boy.”

(Nevile, 2010, pp.14-15)

Native servants: the domestic pillars.

More so, as the extravagant Nabob appeared in the Indian picture, the vignettes of English life resembled one of “grand bungalows surrounded by the luxuries of oriental splendour” (ibid., 2010, p.1). Armies of servants[5] were employed for the comfort of the household[6], to establish prestige and status in society, and to take to a life of ease and lavishness[7], in tune with the ostentatious lifestyle of the native aristocracy (ibid.) .i.e., the “richest dogs in Calcutta” (Dalrymple, 2002, p.93). The servants represented the sense of hierarchy and feudal relationship that both India and England held so dear; in fact, within the microcosm of the household, they were symbolic of the dynamics of the “Empire” evident in the macrocosm: the Indian enslaved to the European, the Black bound to the White, the inferior subordinated to the superior. However favourable was the verdict, the native was an inferior and a possible scapegoat in any inconvenience in the colonial paradise – whether he be a lowly ‘nigger’ or an aristocratic ‘baboo’; for instance, even the ‘unorthodox’ Fanny Parkes attributed the indebtedness of Englishmen in Calcutta to the native barons and lamented the loss of white lives which escaped neither poverty nor the miserable environs of the “damp, low, swampy country of Bengal Proper” (ibid.). Praised though they were for loyalty and devotion, aggression, racial or otherwise was rife – the accompanied cruelty for the serving Indian shocked many an English. Nonetheless, on the brighter side, the natives of the household provided the White patriarch the much needed link to the Indian World, its means and ways. But what provided a more handsome and gratifying orientation of the oriental were the “sleeping dictionaries” in the boudoir!

“A lass and a lakh a day”. (Nevile, 2004, p.15)

The maids of the zenana.

If an English woman like Parkes found Indian men “remarkably handsome”, the men weren’t far behind in their appreciation for this was a place “where nature seems to have showered beauty on the fairer sex with a more lavish hand than in most other countries” (ibid., 2004, p.75). After all, the budding Raj was a masculine affair (Nevile, 2009, p.23). The early ‘trading’ days formed a peculiar and somewhat scandalous juncture against the later ‘administrative’ times – the English rejected their own womenfolk, for the “hoories of the East” and their gorgeous costumes and glittering jewels (ibid., p.76). The native womenfolk available for scrutiny included the bibis (unofficial wives) of the servants of the East India Company, the inhabitants of the zenana[8], the nautch girls, the female servant, and rural women who were unconfined in purdah. It is a matter of debate what fired the imagination of the cultural bards – the graceful drapes, the deep bronze tint, the rounded flesh, the openness of apparel or the classical beauty – but the consequent portrayals not only endeared the women concerned but also the institutions attached to them. Liaison with a native woman was a matter of pride and prestige, and as an Indian mistress became a regular feature of British military life, the households of Company servants with a bibikhana (lady’s house) came in vogue, dotting the length and breadth of the country. The bibi was a token of erotic expediency, who “answered all the purposes of a wife without giving any bother” (ibid., p.12) and posed a striking contrast to the European creatures of the “Fishing Fleet”[9] who “adopted a mercenary attitude to the whole matrimonial procedure”[10] (ibid., p.30).

The Fishermen and the Fishing Fleet.

Their keepers were doting and generously indulgent, the classic examples being William Hickey’s relationship with his Bengali bibi, Jemdanee or Sir James Kirkpatrick’s love for the niece of the Nizam’s diwan, Khair un-Nissa.

An Indian bibi.

Interestingly, the bazaar harlots and refined courtesans of the day came across as equally laudable, despite the ‘difference’. The wooing of native women, however romantic, was rooted in ‘utility’ in itself: the experiment of importing women into India had been an unhappy affair, and despite the trouble borne, the number proved inadequate for the Indian ‘marriage mart’ – around 1790, there were only 250 European women in Calcutta but 4,000 men (Nevile, 2010, p.18). The native sweethearts were of low maintenance[11], and freed of the dramatic inhibitions that suffocated their British counterparts. An English editor of a local paper ventured to an extreme when advised sahibs in 1783 to sleep with Indian women to keep themselves cool in the beastly summer of Calcutta (Nevile, 2004).  Physically and mentally, the native woman provided a ‘home away from home’ for the Englishman in exile; and coupled with the oriental charms of the subcontinent, India became more than the elevated “Jewel in the Crown”. It became the idiosyncratic personal.

Now drink Madeira and in scorn of knaves

Leave continental wines to conquered slaves.”

(Nevile, 2010, p.85)

A hookah session.

The favourable countenance preserved for the bibi was only a fragment of the larger “chutnification”[12] the colonist found himself in. Soon, he was drawn to the hookah, chewing of paan (beetle leaf), arrack and locally produced beer, rum, gin, and whiskey, and Persian poetry. Pleasure in shikar, pig-sticking, and brutal animal combats wasn’t far off. These pastimes had been sometimes condemned on grounds of being ‘savage’, rooted as they were in the traditions of the rotten land that was yet to see the light of modernity.

A cock – fight.

But if these were disgusting, they were nothing considered to the most sinful of British leisure – the nautch parties,

The Reverend McPherson believed that a nautch

Was a most diabolical sort of debauch;

He thought that the dance’s voluptuous mazes

Would turn a man’s brain and allure him to blazes!

A verse from the Lays of Ind. (Nevile, 2009, p.45)

A nautch performance.

The significance of nautch parties in the early days of the Raj should be examined in some detail. Carrying popular appellations such as baijis, tawaifs, devadasis, nartakis, naikins, etc., these Indian courtesans were the iconography of princely courts and khandani (aristocratic) households, sitting well with the associated pageantry, glamour and glitter of the Age. They –

“… belonged to a class of professional artists who were accomplished singers and dancers, well versed in literature and adept in the art of love – making. They provided stimulating company and the elite usually sent their sons to their salons to learn refined manners, and social etiquette … the nautch girl – delicate in her person, soft in her features, perfect in form – and captivated the hearts of the English sahibs by her song and dance and enthralled the more sophisticated among them by her conversation and wit.” (Nevile, 2009, p.5)

Nautch parties were symbolic of affluence, and decent hospitality, no entertainment was complete without them. Festivals were compulsorily accompanied by nautch performance, and the upper echelons of the society maintained their own nautch troops. But, it was also with the coming of the Raj, that the institution degraded into open prostitution. The erotic burnt could be justified from the artistic view point – nautch audience was a male dominated one; and her art, full of sexual innuendoes and symbolism, focused primarily on the evocation of strong élans .i.e., joy, excitement, and sexual pleasure. Speaking sociologically (and logically) the nautch girl was a courtesan, for whom sex was a ritualistic activity[13], and its gratification as imperative as any other social and religious duty (ibid., 2009). They stood outside the circle of staunch Victorian ethical rubric, and captivated the men bred in such morality, with their seductive charms, and flamboyant sensuality. No wonder, they did not sit well with the memsahibs[14], the missionaries, and the social reformers; thereby suffering a silent death in the end of the 19th century.

Their tricks and deceptions in short are so amazing, that I confess I have not the courage to relate what I have myself been eye – witness to, or been credibly assured…” – John Henry Grose in his 1757 memoir A Voyage to the East Indies. (Nayar, 2009, p. 165)

The nautch girls were the foremost of an unending string of Indian denizens who held sway over the foreign mind. Learned Brahmins, Hindu ascetics (gurus, sadhus, sanyasis, yogis, bairagis) and Muslim saints (dervishes, Sufis, fakirs, and pirs), and men of low craft such as the snake charmer, the ayah, the pankha puller, the bawarchi and khansama of the Dakbungalows, the tricksters[15] who defied physical law, etc.

The Egg Dance.

The first two categories lay in the realm of oriental mysticism, and superstition that runneth over from the Indian cup into the fantasies of the English. What was normal for the native became an eye – itch for the foreigner; an interesting instance includes:

“There is a menagerie in the park at Barrackpore, in which are some remarkably fine tigers and cheetahs. My ayah requested to be allowed to go with me, particularly wishing to see an hyena. While she was looking at the beast I said, ‘Why did you wish to see an hyena?’ Laughing and crying hysterically, she answered, ‘My husband and I were asleep, our child was between us, an hyena stole the child, and ran off with it to the jungle; we roused the villagers, who pursued the beast; when they returned, they brought me half the mangled body of my infant daughter – that is why I wished to see an hyena’.” (Dalrymple, 2002, pp. 96-97)

To a considerable extent, fiction written during the period, by authors like Alice Perrin, Rudyard Kipling, Sir Henry Cunningham, Flora Steel, and Maud Driver, featured the marvels of the East.

“Hasan! Husain! Hasan! Husain!

The cry rose perpetually from hundreds of Mohammedan throats, hoarse with violent reiteration, yet ever strengthened by excitement and religious fervour.”An Eastern Echo. (Perrin, 2016, p.78)

The British in attendance in an Indian festival.

Religion in India faced the greatest paradoxical reaction from the British. There are accounts of the White Mughals and Nabobs consoling themselves with Islam and Hinduism, under the influence of the native gentry, of “how much God [was] dishonoured, his name blasphemed, religion reproached amongst the Gentiles, by the vicious lives of many young servants” (Nayar, 2009, p.80). But the pagan horizon that looked the British in the eye was one that invited contempt, and therefore in need of the ‘redemption’ that only Christ could command[16]. Pattanaik states one such instance –

When the Europeans came to India in the 16th century, they could not appreciate Kali’s image, especially her nakedness and violence, so far removed from the images of the docile, virginal Mary and her son, Jesus, which they associated with God… Her Tantric image of decapitating herself while she copulates with Shiva shocked the sensibilities of Europeans who were unfamiliar with the occult symbolism and eager to believe the worst … In fact, Kali terrified them, endorsed their presumptions about the natives being savages. They became convinced Hindus were worshippers of the Devil, and indulged in human sacrifice. This was reinforced by medieval Sanskrit stories and plays where sorcerers sacrifice men, even women to Kali in order to get magical powers. In the 19th century, army reports spoke of a band of highway robbers known as Thugees in north India, who worshipped Kali and offered her their victims as sacrifice in exchange for protection. Novels such as Around the World in Eighty Days reinforced this image of Kali, savage goddess of savage natives. It justified colonisation as the White Man’s Burden to civilize. (Pattanaik, 2014, pp.72-73)

Attitudes like this ‘compelled’ many to be “anxiously desirous that the light and blessings of the Christianity should be gradually diffused over the immense empire of Great Britain in the East, which instead of being thereby endangered, would, as they believed on the ground of fact, and experience, derive additional strength and stability from the spread of Christian religion[17]” (Nayar, 2009, p.82). The earliest of the sincere attempts toward the realization of this dream included:

“A padre was distributing Bibles among the people. A catechist was standing close by, dressed like a suburban chowkidar: he was wearing a pantaloon, a short chapkan and a black top hat. He was speaking and gesticulating like a pleader and explaining the glory of the Christian faith to the crowd. At first glance, one would mistake him for a puppeteer! A few porters, pedlars and schoolboys were listening to the catechist with rapt attention, but they couldn’t make head or tail of what he said! Earlier, wayward boys used to quarrel with their parents and run away to the north of the country, or become Christians. But now, with the coming of the railways, running away from home has become a hazardous job!  What’s more, having seen the wretched conditions of the converts, people are now terrified of becoming Christians!” (Sinha, 2008, pp.17-18)

Nonetheless, European travelogues like that of Fanny Parkes, and accounts of the contemporary natives noted with admiration the English humoring of native celebrations[18]

“We went to a nāch at the house of a wealthy baboo during the festival of the Doorga Pooja or Dasera, held in honour of the goddess Doorga. The house was a four-sided building, leaving an area in the middle; on one side of the area was the image of the goddess raised on a throne, and some Brahmins were in attendance on the steps of the platform. This image has ten arms, in one of her right hands is a spear with which she pierced a giant, with one of the left she holds the tail of a serpent and the hair of the giant, whose breast the serpent is biting; her other hands are all stretched behind her head, and are filled with different instruments of war. Against her right leg leans a lion, and against her left leg the above giant. In the rooms on one side the area a handsome supper was laid out, in the European style, supplied by Messrs Gunter and Hooper, where ices and French wines were in plenty for the European guests. In the rooms on the other sides of the square, and in the area, were groups of nāch women dancing and singing, and crowds of European and native gentlemen sitting on sofas or on chairs listening to Hindustani airs.” (Dalrymple, 2002, pp.91-92)

The cultural gatherings of nativity were a thing of intrigue and mirth for the firangi. The melas and happenings on carnivals attracted much interest, for these were the times of “universal merriment and joy and license of all kinds” (Nevile, 2004, p.114), thereby becoming a ‘habit’. The sahib and the memsahib were soon to be ingrained in the local experience, and bring about the lavish East – West fusion that was to contribute to the cultivated front of the enslaved country, denied or acknowledged. However, the religiosity of the land that so fascinated them also gave them cause for hatred, when it compulsorily advocated uneasy ceremonies like sati[19].

A typical colonial dakbungalow.

The above factors mentioned comprised the actual scenario of the Raj; but it was dominantly European juxtaposed against the prevalent ‘Indianess’. In order to procure a picture where the British and Indian elements were equal benefactors, one needs to look at the construct called the Dakbungalow[20]. It’s the reluctant whole of the ultimate Anglo – Indian conjunction, in its institutional apparatus, architecture, cuisine, and the legends it embodied – it stands as the “tribute to a bygone and genteel era of white tablecloths, and fine china, of gracious wood and rattan colonial furniture” (Bhandari, 2012, p.xii). It was also the scribe to a story of ‘reverse’ Indian appropriation – the Mughal serai and the choultry became westernized into the dakbungalow to “relay the post or ‘dak’ in stages” (ibid., p.7). The ravaging Indian climate dictated year – long travel in the colonist’s calendar, compelling them to become traveller’s security of stability, offering respectable accommodation and edible meals. Built in accordance to “PWD architecture”, the abodes under its solicitous patriarch, the khansama whipped up a hybrid Anglo – Indian cuisine[21], and delivered the perfect native hospitality to the British guest. It provided access to the far – flung interiors, developing upon the already acquired image of the land. Far removed from the vibrant nuclei where British power weld the whip, the dakbunglows preyed upon Western sophistication, and lay the groundwork for heralding the time when Lady Canning would honour a delicacy with her name, and legendarily import an army of Indian cooks to England, to quench her oriental cravings.

The nabob, the bibi, and their children: Scene of an ideal “chutnification”.

The above tedious descriptions speak of an India, where the British considered themselves traders first and administrators second; and of times when the age was considered receptive to rampant intercultural hybridity. It was a world of the people within whom ideas of racial and ethnic hierarchy were yet to take root (Dalrymple, 2004) – “the British [who] generally sought to impose rule that was more regular and more defined than the perceived inferiority of “native” rule” (Patterson, 2009, p.18). Surprising though, the commercial founders of the British Empire were condescendingly regarded by their administrative heirs, “caricatured for their obscene wealth and nouveau riche manners” (ibid., p.106)  –

… the nabobs could never have retained the empire for England, since their degenerate lifestyles led them to oriental debauchery and decadence, since these men had become overly familiar with India and its customs. In the mid-to-late Victorian era, India would instead be ruled by men like Richards and, much less so, Oakfield, who were ready to provide correction and comfort as needed—one holding the whip hand of empire and the other the shepherd’s staff. (ibid., p.38)

The nabobs were considered experts at treachery and double-dealing, yet even though “they conquered India, they did not despise it.” After 1858, the British who lived in the subcontinent were not conquerors, but many despised it, for when Indians had supposedly turned their back on progress, a heightened race consciousness emerged and feelings of solidarity were strengthened to counter this continual threat of revolt. Like a true aristocracy, they were unconcerned with being liked, instead demanding that they be obeyed and respected, and they “were only further convinced of this by how little they enjoyed doing it and how little they were appreciated for doing it.” (ibid., p.103)

The “indolent” nabobs pictured reclining while smoking hookahs died out, to be replaced by upright Englishmen bent on moral and physical improvement. These “new men” thus established new protocols and methods of government in India, modifying imperial ideology to match their perceived talents. This “steel frame” was built and maintained by men determined to establish themselves as the fittest group ever to rule India, and they were determined not to sink into “Oriental decadence,” the perceived affliction that eventually ground down all of India’s previous conquerors from the Aryans to the Muslims (and almost claiming the British as well during the Mutiny). As much as possible, the “new men” in India walled themselves off from Indian society, to protect both themselves and India, justifying this distance because of the degeneration that India seemed to instil in all her conquerors. These sorts of beliefs would eventually harden into caricature in the twentieth century, but like all ideologies, they had coherence and meaning at the time, especially when such beliefs actively helped a tiny minority keep 300 million Indians under the rule of the Raj (a fact that Anglo-Indians rarely tired of proclaiming). (ibid., p.113-114)

Chatterjee in Representations of India, 1740-1840: The Creation of India in the Colonial Imagination questions Homi Bhaba’s statement that “Colonial power produces the colonized as a fixed reality which is at once an “other” and yet entirely knowable and visible’; for the permanence of the ‘fixed’ reality in colonial representation varies. It is always the ‘other’ and ‘knowable and visible’ but the ‘otherness’ and that which is ‘known’ or ‘seen’ changes according to the colonists themselves. Colonial ideology, while always colonial, justifies itself differently at different times. So, though the end remains much the same, the justification of time demands different ‘others’ and ‘facts’ (the ‘known’ and ‘seen’) (Chatterjee, 1998, p.5). The trader sought to justify existence, the administrator dominance – true, that the latter was the ‘consequence of morphosis’ of the former – the acquiring of political power made the entity reject their mercantile roots and “administer a self – corrective … all such self-correctives were simply efforts at making the necessary ideological adjustments, whereby the British public could justify colonial rule, without directly confronting the social and economic displacements caused by the influx of colonial/mercantile capital into Britain (ibid., p.7).

 “Kiss a lover,

Dance a measure,

Find your name

And buried treasure …”

(Gaiman, 2009, p.20)

The mercantile British laid the foundation of rule in India, consolidating their existence with the empathy of tolerance, and seeking to subtly root legitimacy, if not completely, into Indian soil. This is demonstrated by the fact that British military activity[22] in India during this period involved “the desire by Indian rulers for military assistance as they pursued their own political ambitions, and the intensity of Anglo – French rivalry” (Peers, 2006, p.25) – a picture far removed from the post 1857 use of arms to subjugate the ‘Indian subjects’. Wealth was the drive and the means of ‘sedentary acceptance’, and trade was the source of this wealth – it’s not a wonder that the issue of attacking trade had not reared its ugly head in the early colonial days. Deliberately or unconsciously they feared that snobbery and imposition of an ‘alien (superior?) culture’ might arouse dissatisfaction among the Indians and lead to the rapid demise of any ambition by the Indian Ocean (Chatterjee, 1998). Such a possibility would sincerely dispute the dream (albeit, utopian) of an intercultural friendship and the successful polymerization of the British into the ever turning tides of integration, that the country was a witness to, with every passing invasion. In fact, the picture was of one undefined by the contours of complex ideologies like Oriental Contamination, Imperial Paternalism, the Cult of Imperial Honour[23] or flamboyant racism – there was “no absolute contradiction between the advance of formality and the deployment of useful friendship” (Robb, 2014, p.14). The merchant went with the process of “chutnification” – wore the Indian dhoti, and kept his harem; before the monogame administrator came in a shirt from the Manchester Mills with his jolie espouse anglaise to reinstate his western purity. The nabob was forced to acknowledge the superiority[24] he was born with, and detached himself from his ‘toxic’ fascination for the ‘parvenu’ Oriental.

The Anglo – Indian administrator.

After all, India wasn’t new and exotic anymore!


[1] The period roughly covered in the paper is 1770 – 1857, and the paper  chooses to not mention the Europeans of other nations who took to Indian customs, for the sake of convenience.

[2] The nabobs belonged to the earliest period of British rule, witnessing its consolidation and trapped in the transition from merchant to administrator. From the 1757 Battle of Plassey to the 1857 Rebellion, upon which the British Crown took control over the East India Company administered Indian territories – they were predominant in the scene. They were, in some sense, the ‘merchant – supervisors’, and found themselves in a precarious condition in a strange land, where they were perceived as mere merchants of a nation with an ‘incipient’ power statement, eclipsed  by the glittering networks of Asian Empires .i.e., of the Ottoman Turks, the Persian Safavids, the Indian Mughals, the Chinese Mings, etc. As Vasco da Gama’s 1498 ‘discovery’ of the passage to India via the Cape of Good Hope became frequented, heavily armed ships and state sponsors of the East India Company poured in, and worked together to design a well – established colonial system, that would be more than economic. Far successful than their French/ Dutch/ Portuguese counterparts and other non – European rivals, the British State and the Company constructed a “formidable commercial and military machine in the subcontinent, morphing from a mere joint – stock company into a global imperial power” (Harris, 2015, p.5) that spread the tentacles of globalization from Europe.

[3] The term “firangi” is the corruption of the Arabic “farenji”, a further corruption of the “Frank” (Frenchmen); and the term was used to elude the inhabitants of Firangistan (“Europe”) during the Crusades. In pre – British Raj India, the firangi was not always a foreigner, and the term didn’t exclusively apply to Christians; the indeterminate term stood for simply “a foreign emigrant”. During the Raj, the term, already vested with a foreign essence, came to mean the Christian European ruling class. (Harris, 2015)

[4] The term is derived from Hindustani nawab (“Mughal viceroy”), perhaps revealing an over-familiarity with Indian customs (Patterson, 2009, p.6) or indirectly via its Portuguese corruption nababo; and it denoted a conspicuously wealthy man who made his fortune in the Orient, especially in the Indian subcontinent. It also refers to an East India Company servant who had become wealthy through corrupt trade and other practices (Wikipedia, 1 October 2016), appropriated the Indian way of life, particularly in an extravagant manner, and on his return home, used the wealth to purchase seats in the British Parliament. The term can be used synonymously with “White Mughal” .i.e., Europeans who adopted the Mughal mannerism.

[5] The servants in a house numbered to fifty – seven, or seventy – and the system of domestic service was well organized, and hierarchal, with different departments of the establishment, under the charge of professionals drawn mostly from the native population. The sarkar was in charge of the household, and he controlled the finance. The khansama was the butler, who controlled the under – kitchen servants, and the culinary engagement. Next in the hierarchy came the khidmatgar, the attendant who brought food to the table, and took care of the master’s wardrobe and apartment. Next was the bawarchi or cook, who was assisted by a mushalchee or ‘torch – bearer’. The sirdar and his under bearers served as valet de chamber. Next came the darwan or ‘gatekeeper’, and minor servants like the mali (gardener), coachman, stable grooms, ghaskot (grass cutter), bhisty (water – carrier), mehtar (sweeper), pankha-puller (he who worked the fan in chambers), majhi (steerman for the boat), goleeah (bowman) and his rowers, and others like the hookahburdar (in charge of the sahib’s hookah), the abdar (responsible for the drinks and beverages), the dhobi (washerman), darzi (tailor), hajaam (barber), and the ayah (maids and governesses) and the amah (wet nurses) of the female quarters. Each profession was stigmatized with a caste, and the salaries were moderate. (Nevile, 2010)

[6] The customs of Anglo-Indian society sprang from the venerable English aristocracy. If India was frozen in feudal customs, Anglo-Indians would rule them based on even older notions of honour, which were inextricably bound up with one’s servants. The British, moreover, tended to think of most Indians as servants dependent on the British for their livelihood. That Anglo-Indians bore this “burden” with continued good humour only confirmed their rightful place as rulers and by seeing servants as another encumbrance to be endured, Anglo-Indians strategically lessened the exploitation inherent in imperial relationships. Indian servants were an unfortunate burden to be suffered through, and Anglo-Indians tended to ignore how dependent their society was on Indian menials, whose labour eased the rigors of living in a subtropical climate for the British. Because of this dependence, the British were almost continually surrounded by servants, and in the bungalow the face-to-face exercise of power on a daily basis refracted the power relationships inherent in imperialism through notions of ideology, power, economics, and honour. In the bungalow, therefore, claims to power were translated into action for virtually all of Anglo-Indian society, and although legal codes ostensibly regulated contact between master and servant, these were often ignored, and the power nexus was much more informal and idiosyncratic. However, Anglo-Indians possessed strict ideas on the importance of creating hierarchical structures, and they sought to make their rule of India more regular and defined, which buttressed their perceived mission of bringing order out of the perceived chaos of India. This worthy task began in the bungalow, and the obsession with decorum and proper behaviour was largely self-imposed and demonstrative of the apparent British ability to rise above “backward” India. Ultimately, such hierarchies often rested on claims of honour—who had it and who lacked it—and, as in the rest of India, honour ensured that the effective and moral example of rule would begin in the Anglo-Indian household, for there were few other restraints on Anglo-Indians in this regard other than the opprobrium of the group. (Patterson, 2009, pp.170-171)

[7] During the late 1700s, this elevated lifestyle, which in many ways surpassed that of medieval Europe, allowed the English “to imagine themselves a chosen people, a nation of superior taste and ability, and to build up a colorful image of themselves in their imagination, which was further intensified as the victories of their armies carried their dominion steadily deeper into the heart of the Indian subcontinent.” Such Oriental display was only made possible by the obsequious manner of the Indian servants, who seemed destined to work for other men. (Patterson, 2009, p.174)

[8] The luxurious women’s quarters, derived from the Islamic concept of harem and its housing structure. To the British, “the state of moral degeneration of India’s women was visibly represented by the zenana and the veil. Confined to a life of languid idleness in closed rooms, hidden from view, Indian women were seen as suffused with ‘an unhealthy sexuality and a disabling passivity’; the locked doors of the zenana symbolised the barrier between British society and the unsettling mysteries of native life. (Keen, 2013, p.90)

[9] India’s reputation as a rich marriage mart for European women continued right up until the demise of the British Raj on 1947. During India’s cold weather season, women would sail from England to India to plunder its plentiful storehouse of bachelors, regardless of the dangers of the tropical climate and a culture that bore no resemblance at all to the one they had known at home. These women came out with such regularity, and with such transparent ambition that they were unkindly dubbed the ‘fishing fleet’. The failure to catch a husband was not viewed sympathetically, and the women, who returned to England, unwed, were rather brutally referred to as ‘returned Empties’ (Younger, 2003, pp.15-16). The young damsels were put out as ‘flesh cargos’ in an age of quick marriages and to keep them chaste for the marriage market, the maidens travelled under the care of a chaperon – usually an older married woman. The candidates for wifehood where thrown special parties or taken to regularly attend Church on Sunday where they were exhibited, and matches were arranged on spot.

[10] The women of the “Fishing Fleet” were considered to be not of particular physical beauty or education, a virgin, and proficient in the utilitarian, socially acceptable skills such as riding, shooting, sewing, music, and flower arranging; that aided the running of an elaborate household. They were not expected to make prudent marriage opportunities, and marriages occurred with a great age difference, the preference being older, high ranking military/civilian officers with amassed fortunes. Resultantly, adultery and scandal was rampant, the unsuitable husband being nothing more than the payer of bills for the upkeep.

[11] The cost of landing a European wife in Calcutta worked out at Rs. 5000, against the expenses incurred for an Indian mistress – Rs. 40 per month. (Nevile, 2004, p.27)

[12] Salman Rushdie talked of the modern multiculturalism in 18th century India as “chutnification”, characterized by “wholesale interracial sexual exploration and surprisingly widespread cultural assimilation and hybridity. Virtually all Englishmen of the period ‘Indianised’ themselves to some extent, and made a dramatic journey across cultures. The problem of them confronted by two different worlds coming into intimate contact for the first time, and colliding disastrously was eased out. (Dalrymple, 2004, p.10)

[13] The initiation in the profession of a courtesan was marked by the garbhadhan ceremony or nath utarwai – her deflowering, signified by the removal of the nose-ring, the symbol of virginity. (Nevile, 2009)

[14] Though relegated to a secondary position in the empire’s scheme of things, the white woman remained superior to the natives and didn’t often socialize with Indian women in the early Raj, though they mixed with Indian men of higher class. It was in the mid-19th century that the memsahib was given access to the secluded realm of the Indian women, and admitted into the zenana. For example, Fanny Parkes speaks of the zenana at Baroda, and her acquaintance with the King’s many begums.

[15] Performers of the Indian Rope trick, the Mango trick, the basket trick involving the mysterious disappearance of a girl, the swallowing of a sword blade at the risk of one’s life and the Egg dance.

[16] Christianity in the Indian subcontinent was a failed affair – Islam was more successful. Against these stories of limited impact, the early commentators posed that of Hinduism – supposedly a uniform monolithic religion running across the length and breadth of the country.  They dubbed the “Indian” way of life as “Hindu”, and concluded that what was Hindu was also necessarily “Indian”. Two scholarly groups developed to define the perceptions of Hinduism which were necessarily inferior to Christianity: bearing strong resemblance to the ancient Roman religion, it was ‘primitive’ and ‘degenerate’ and consequently in the first half of the 18th century, Indian religion featured prominently as the immoral creed of moral or romantic tales, an aspect incompatible with accepted English morality. The appearance of the early Orientalists in the latter half of the century like Halhed, Sir William Jones, etc. put the ‘Indian religion’ in a favourable light (for it was superior to Islam, the traditional foe of European Christianity), but it remained incomprehensible, still; because it “was both too unfamiliar and too powerful” (Chatterjee, 1998, p.94). Also, these scholars were aware of the pro – Christian feeling and carefully avoided arguments over superiority, professing their loyalty to Christ. They abhorred the savage Hindu “despot that sew up inferiors in raw hides, on the supposition of offence”, and convicted him of the most heinous crimes; it thus alarmed them when their own countrymen took to the ways of the religion. The Orientalist’s study of religion coupled with the criticism of Hinduism that came from the Indian quarters enhanced the status of Christianity and of the men who practised it. A religion seeped in savagery was deemed unfit for the ‘new India’ that was being built by the benevolent conquerors for their native subjects. The ‘morally superiors’ must have temporal superiority, and hence the English State threw its weight upon the eradication of the ‘source of evil practices’ in the subcontinent, legislating and policing it into oblivion. (ibid.)

[17] The British missionaries, individual and state sponsored helped propagate Christianity through the building up of Churches setting up of educational institutions, charity houses, well established parish-like settlements, etc. but sometimes they clashed with the nabobs on morality and temporal dimensions. It’s interesting to note that the infant Raj emphasized on the trade, than of religion, when it came to reinforcing their power presence; and fell back on the same when it came to describing their priority in India. A comment in the Calcutta Review (1845) reads – “In every progressive step of this work [propagation of Christian religion] we shall also serve the original design with which we visited India, the design so important to this country – the extension of our commerce” (Nayar, 2009, p.82). Thus, despite all the talks of benevolent crusade in the land – “No – learn that Christians conquer/ To save and humanize Mankind” (Chatterjee, 1998, p.114) – the conquered country was, above all, a colony meant to be drained to fill British coffers. Another explanation could be that the reformist class of British administrators was yet to emerge – and ‘social welfare’ wasn’t an item in the official agenda. For now, the interests had to be satisfied with their ‘economic’ status.

[18] Especially Holi and Diwali.

[19] Other than thugee, sati came to be associated with the primitivism of Hinduism, though the nabobs refused to deal with it at the official level on grounds that the act was ‘voluntary’, and intervention .i.e., its abolition would make the widow an ‘involuntary’ survivor. This mentality has been popularly interpreted as the unwillingness on part of the Company officials to stir disturbance whilst on shaky foundation; but another probability was that the sense of superiority that came with the ‘imposition of civilized behaviour on the barbarian’ hadn’t emerge yet. It would be in 1829 that Lord William Bentinck, backed by the unhappy Christian missionaries, a distraught British public, and Hindu reformers would abolish the quandary and provide another instance of British superiority over the natives in history. Complementarily, the suppression of thugs (“devotees” of the savage Kali) was “represented as one of the greatest achievements of British administration in India. It was the triumph of moral courage, steel will and Christian faith over idolatrous, immoral Indian tradition, proof that British rule was right” (Chatterjee, 1998, p.141).

[20] The dakbungalow represented the clearing in the jungle that radiated strength and honour for a people who often imagined themselves surrounded by superstition and occult darkness. Ultimately, honour had to be maintained in the face of constant temptation for it to have any relevance, since in honour cultures “shame exists as a menacingly permanent threat.” The dakbungalow was also a useful training ground of the empire, as it seemed to have all the inherent problems of the subcontinent: squabbling Indians, arcane questions of caste, irrationality, superstition, and hierarchy, to name but a few. Yet being able to run the dakbungalow efficiently was characteristically thought to be the gift of Anglo-Indians. The methods of rule would be similar to those of the Raj as well, for Anglo-Indians often exploited the divisions of the servants (and by extension, India) to make the servants solely dependent on the master to sort out their problems. A well-run dakbungalow also staged for a vast audience the ideal version of empire and the moral authority of the Raj. As a microsite of imperial rule, the dakbungalow has received increasingly historical attention in the past twenty years. A recent historical emphasis has begun to examine sociological relations with servants, as well as the dakbungalow itself, as sites for establishing imperial power, and these cultural projects cannot be easily separated from the political realm. When run properly, however, the dakbungalow displayed for all of India the benefits of British rule. Because of this “noble” rule, obedience and affection were the most prized characteristics of the servant (as well as the proper response to British rule), while impudence was among the worst of sins. Ultimately, in domestic manuals like the Vade Mecum and Behind the Dakbungalow, the problems with servants were equated with the problems of empire. At the core of Dakbungalow lies the notion that the Indian lacked the ability to think rationally and raise himself to the level of an educated European, but perhaps even worse was the servants’ duplicity and obsequiousness that could mask his true desires, unless one understood the “Indian mind.” Ruling as an elite minority over hundreds of millions of Indians served to reinforce this stereotype. The Oriental was thought to be a hero worshipper who lacked sovereignty and the means to rule his own land; otherwise, the British would never have been able to conquer India and sustain their imperial rule in the first place. The British, continually on guard against the “Oriental laziness” of the people and their excessive flattery, as well as the effect of the climate, believed that they must cling to the prescriptions mentioned in these manuals to maintain their imperial rule. In both the empire and the dakbungalow, the wily natives should always be monitored for any signs of subversion, evidence of revolt, or moral backslide into their mystical, “Oriental” ways. Especially after 1858, failure to preserve one’s authority and provide the requisite moral example of the benefits of British laws and customs threatened not only peace in the dakbungalow, but peace in the empire as well, due to the importance of the moral example that the British were believed to maintain. If stability and honesty were two of the described virtues of Anglo-Indians and their institutions, this meant that the permanence of the Raj was reflected in the master’s dakbungalow, for it provided employment to large numbers of Indians, and fickle masters could never build and retain empires or inspire loyalty. Hence the particular genius of the British lay in their perceived ability to command Indians patiently and benignly in tasks that they would otherwise never perform on their own, both on an individual and a national scale, and dignity was therefore brought to both races by the effective rule of the sahib. This brand of paternalism, especially in regard to the treatment of servants, represents one of the clearest indications of the attitude of authoritarian benevolence that characterized much of Anglo-Indian society. Such displays, especially in front of so many Indians, clearly augmented the status and honour of the master, and the Raj was thought to be run on these very types of quotidian activities that became a relentless demonstration of prestige. Status could be enhanced by having menials who were willing to protect one’s sacred name, but since the servant usually lacked this ability to inspire others, he allied himself to someone nobler than himself. Though both master and servant could be made more honourable through each other’s actions, the servant could only bask in the reflected honour of the master that he helped to create and protect. Yet, even though servants’ honour was therefore somewhat limited by his race and occupation, he took part in the same system all the same, and Anglo-Indian narratives are replete with similar stories of “loyal” Indians defending the reputation of their masters, or defending the Raj itself, for even they realized its greater honour. (Patterson, 2009)

[21] Cuisine aimed to replicate authentic English dishes, with the native ingredients, and meagre facilities available at the disposal. i.e., chicken cutlet, Captain’s curry, Country Captain, baked rose custard, etc.

[22] Three objectives dominated British policy – making in India during the period: security, stability, and the quest for profitability or at least ensuring that there were adequate revenue to cover administrative costs of the East India Company. (Peers, 2006, p.38).

[23] The notion of Imperial honour should only be examined in the latter day administrative British; not the nabob. The codes that regulated the Raj therefore emphasized moral character, masculinity, and gentlemanly behaviour, all of which collectively sought to make Anglo-Indians into the honour group. Anglo-Indians thought of themselves as latter-day Romans, changing and shaping the world through patient but relentless action. Questions of dress, talk, language, speech, right conduct, and behaviour were never idle questions for a small community that ruled over three-hundred million people, and Anglo-Indians were inherently distrustful of philosophers, artists, or any other interlopers who could spread seditious ideas. A cult of congratulatory self-worship pervaded the rhetoric of Anglo- Indian society, and the men and women who lived by these codes and conceptions of duty were elevated and made sacred in the process, and their otherwise mundane work was infused with a special purpose. Honour thus became the ideological backbone of imperial society, connecting the cortex of imperial administration to the body and ultimately descending to the lower strata of Anglo-Indian culture, becoming less noble the further down it went. It also stiffened the resolve of the Anglo-Indian to rule justly, for the Oriental backbone (at least of the “toiling masses”) was ostensibly that of the contortionist, always bending and yielding and likely to double up upon itself. Honour, most simply, explains how imperial society operated and also distanced itself from those deemed to be inferior, for teaching honour to another race was an arduous and difficult process (when possible at all), for self-rule could not work in a land that lacked large numbers of honourable gentlemen to make it function. Without honour, the empire too closely resembled an all-out despotism with no redeeming features. With honour, Anglo-Indians could cloak themselves in a self-righteous moral aura that shielded them from criticism, especially from those who stood outside the sacred circle of honour such as Labour MPs visiting India during the cold weather, “degenerate” whites, Eurasians, babus, and most anyone who criticized the honourable intentions of the Raj. Honour conditioned the Anglo-Indian to think of himself as a benign ruler in whose hands power became an almost divine instrument that was employed primarily for the material, if not political, progress of India. Notions of honour therefore kept Anglo-Indians tethered to India and to their own society, which always had to remain strong, for the strength of the pack was the wolf, and the strength of the wolf was the pack. (Patterson, 2009)

[24] The nabobs were attacked for their material as well as moral corruption, which threatened the moral order of the English civilization. Hence, they needed to be replaced.


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