Archive for the 'South Asia' Category

Defeat in the west

March 21 2015

The Achaemenian Rāj in South-Western Asia was no more seriously shaken by the disastrous failure of the Persian invasion of European Greece in 480-479 B.C. than the British Rāj in India was by the even more disastrous failure of the British invasion of Afghanistan in A.D. 1838-42.

A Study of History, Vol VI, OUP, 1939 (footnote)

Lee Kuan Yew and the nation-builders

March 19 2015

Lee Kuan Yew is the last great living twentieth-century nation builder, if he is alive.

Who were the others? What defines them? They have to have created a nation where none before existed – and yet one can’t leave out Mandela.

They must have done it through a personal struggle. They must have a certain stature. Their achievement must be solid. One can’t leave out Herzl, although he died forty-four years before the birth of Israel.

At one level, Lee was a reluctant builder. He did not, at least as it appears, wish to leave the Malaysian Federation in 1965.

Norway, Finland, Iceland, the Baltic states, Poland, Belarus, Moldova, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Albania, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, the central Asian “stans”, Mongolia were, before the twentieth century, merged or submerged nations, but when they became independent did not have famous fathers, unless you count Piłsudski. They already, in a sense, existed, especially Poland. But, then, so did the Czech nation. (One can’t exactly call Haakon VII a nation-builder, even if he was a father-figure.)

Ukraine is a half-formed nation. Why am I implying less formed than the other Ruthenia, Belarus? At any rate, no builders.

Hungary achieved nationhood in the nineteenth century. Masaryk was a nation-builder even though the nation he founded was later divided into two.

The Philippines’ founders did their work before, not after, American colonisation. Aung San died before Burmese independence, and his legacy is unclear. So are Ho Chi Minh’s and Sihanouk’s. Burma, Vietnam and Cambodia had once contained powerful states. Burma is the most ethnically fragmented. Thailand was never colonised, so the question of nation-building does not arise.

The Republic of China was declared in 1912, but Taiwan became its last stronghold long after Sun’s death. Sun was the father of a nation that, as a geographical entity, doesn’t even recognise itself, and as a wider entity is China – not a new nation.

So I include him uneasily – or do we believe in the permanence of Taiwan? I can’t leave out Sukarno even if I want to.

Not everyone who led a colony into independence qualifies. In fact, not a single leader from the main years of decolonisation is in my list. I can’t bring myself to include Bourguiba, for example. Or, in a short list, Nkrumah or Kenyatta or Nyerere or Kaunda. Is that because black African countries are, or were, not nations, but tribal or ethnic hegemonies and coalitions? But so are others. So is Burma. So was nineteenth-century Hungary.

Mahathir is a smaller figure than Lee. He did not become prime minister until 1981.

In theory Singapore is a coalition of three ethnic groups, like its one-time role-model Switzerland.

Here is my list, in chronological order of the nation’s birth or the builder’s accession to power if later:

Sun Yat-sen 1912

Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk 1918

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk 1923

Ibn Saud 1932

Sukarno 1945

Mahatma Gandhi 1947

Muhammad Ali Jinnah 1947

Theodor Herzl 1948

Lee Kuan Yew 1965

Nelson Mandela 1994

Lee’s funeral or public memorial will be as big as Mandela’s and deservedly. [Postscript: I was wrong on that.] You don’t need to have loved someone to feel grief.

The Blairs will be there, collecting cards.

IMG_9663

1946, Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge

Picture source: Lee Kuan Yew, Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going via mustsharenews.com

India’s Daughter

March 5 2015

[Postscript: this is being taken off YouTube as fast as it is put on, but I’ll take its presence there, if and when it lasts, as endorsed by the BBC. It can be seen, by UK viewers, on BBC iPlayer.]

Leslee Udwin’s film, shown on BBC television yesterday and banned in India.

Delhi Noir.

How a corporation replaced the Mughal Empire

March 4 2015

William Dalrymple in the Guardian. Foretaste of his forthcoming The Anarchy: How a Corporation Replaced the Mughal Empire, 1756-1803.

Old post on Dalrymple.

Bitter Lake

February 16 2015

Adam Curtis’s extraordinary documentary is here on the BBC website. It was produced for iPlayer because of the “rigid formats and schedules of network television”. In other words, it was deemed too long or demanding. Here on YouTube.

The jury is out for me on this: I need to watch it more carefully. An introduction on Curtis’s blog is here. Extract (edited):

“Journalism – that used to tell a grand, unfurling narrative – now […] just relays disjointed and often wildly contradictory fragments of information. Events come and go like waves of a fever. We […] live in a state of continual delirium, constantly waiting for the next news event to loom out of the fog – and then disappear again, unexplained. And the formats – in news and documentaries – have become so rigid and repetitive that the audiences never really look at them. In the face of this people retreat from journalism and politics. They turn away into their own worlds, and the stories they and their friends tell each other. I think this is wrong, sad, and bad for democracy – because it means the politicians become more and more unaccountable.

“I have made a film that tries to respond to this in two ways. It tells a big story about why the stories we are told today have stopped making sense. But it is also an experiment in a new way of reporting the world. To do this I’ve used techniques that you wouldn’t normally associate with TV journalism. My aim is to make something more emotional and involving […].

“The film is called Bitter Lake. […] It tells a big historical narrative that interweaves America, Britain, Russia and Saudi Arabia. It shows how politicians in the west lost confidence – and began to simplify the stories they told. It explains why this happened – because they increasingly gave their power away to other forces, above all global finance.

“But there is one other country at the centre of the film. Afghanistan. This is because Afghanistan is the place that has repeatedly confronted politicians, as their power declines, with the terrible truth – that they cannot understand what is going on any longer. Let alone control it. The film shows in detail how all the foreigners who went to Afghanistan created an almost totally fictional version of the country in their minds. They couldn’t see the complex reality that was in front of them – because the stories they had been told about the world had become so simplified that they lacked the perceptual apparatus to see reality any longer. And this blindness led to a terrible disaster – support for a blatantly undemocratic government, wholesale financial corruption and thousands of needless deaths. A horrific scandal that we, […] here in Britain, seem hardly aware of. And even if we are – it is dismissed as being just too complex to understand.

“I have got hold of the unedited rushes of almost everything the BBC has ever shot in Afghanistan. It is thousands of hours – some of it is very dull, but large parts of it are extraordinary. Shots that record amazing moments, but also others that are touching, funny and sometimes very odd. These complicated, fragmentary and emotional images evoke the chaos of real experience. And out of them I have tried to build a different and more emotional way of depicting what really happened in Afghanistan.”

His statements about politicians may explain why they all (certainly in Britain, except for Farage) wear such puzzled expressions on their faces now. They are no longer sure what to say to us.

The Bitter Lake is a saltwater lake through which the Suez Canal flows. On Valentine’s Day 1945, after Yalta, President Roosevelt met King Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia on board a warship there. A remarkable photograph was taken, which I saw consciously for the first time last year in the King Abdulaziz Memorial Hall in Riyad. The kneeling figure is the ambassador to the Kingdom, William Eddy. It’s hardly less historically important than the Yalta photograph.

Charlie Beckett presented a programme on our bad news diet (Good News Is No News) on BBC Radio 4 recently (producer Simon Hollis), asking, intelligently, what sort of reality modern journalism is presenting. It plays into Curtis’s points. Listen here. (BBC iPlayer Radio must be the worst-designed site on the web.)

Great Bitter Lake

Picture: fdrlibrary.tumblr.com

Mongols of the sea

January 19 2015

Rambling piece by Paul Krugman on the “gunpowder empires” and the Atlantic seaboard. And what European sailors had in common with Asian nomads. The New York Times, January 18.

William Dalrymple

December 31 2014

One of Dalrymple’s heroes is Leigh Fermor. WD’s a fine historian, but not PLF’s literary equal. Books:

In Xanadu (1989), following the path taken by Marco Polo from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem to the site of Shangdu, Xanadu, in Inner Mongolia, the summer seat of Kublai Khan. Posts here: Xanadu and JeholThe Silk Road and Summer capitals, summer palaces.

City of Djinns (1994), about Delhi, where he lives.

From the Holy Mountain: A Journey in the Shadow of Byzantium (1997), about eastern Christianity. Posts here: Indian churches, Christians and Yazidi, and work back from links in latter.

The Age of Kali (1998), about trouble in modern India. Kali Yuga is the fourth age in Hindu cosmology.

Editor, Lonely Planet Sacred India (1999).

White Mughals (2002), about a love affair in early-nineteenth-century Hyderabad between James Achilles Kirkpatrick and a Muslim noblewoman, Khair-un-Nissa Begum.

Begums, Thugs and White Mughals – The Journals of Fanny Parkes (2002), an edition of the travel journals of Fanny Parkes, who travelled in India from 1822 to ’46 and wrote Wanderings of a Pilgrim in Search of the Picturesque.

The Last Mughal, The Fall of a Dynasty, Delhi 1857 (2006).

Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India (2009).

Return of a King – The Battle for Afghanistan (2012), about the first Anglo-Afghan War, 1839-42.

Editor, with Yuthika Sharma, Princes and Painters in Mughal Delhi, 1707-1857 (2012). After Aurangzeb.

TV, radio, journalism.

___

Links to podcasts this year in the BBC Radio 4 Point of View series, with my comments:

A Lenten reflection, April 4. About the discovery, by a British hunting party in 1819, of the painted caves at Ajanta, in the western Ghats in central Maharashtra. “Along with the frescoes of Pompeii, […] the greatest picture gallery to survive from the ancient world.” The caves were inhabited by Buddhist monks, but show the sensual life of the court in which the Buddha grew up, not the austerities of the religious life. They were probably painted in the 2nd century BC, with a later group from the 5th century CE. There was no conflict between the sacred and the sensual in the Buddhist and Hindu traditions, says Dalrymple; he does not dwell on Hindu traditions of mortifying the flesh.

Later: Buddhist, Jain and Hindu carvings and fragments of paintings in caves at Ellora in Maharashtra. Buddhist and Hindu carvings in caves on Elephanta Island in Mumbai harbour. Erotic Jain and Hindu carvings at temples in Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh.

The puritanical break in India, he suggests, came not with Islam, but with the British, with effects still felt today in a false reinterpretation of their history by Hindus. Africans and Muslims are doing the same thing with theirs. What is rejected as unMuslim and unAfrican is often nineteenth-century unWestern.

The locus classicus in modern Western art of wild eroticism united with religious sensibility is Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie. Its original inspiration wasn’t Indian, but its title is a composite of two Sanskrit words, turanga and lîla, which, apparently, roughly mean “love song and hymn of joy, time, movement, rhythm, life, and death”. (How odd that Bernstein, who conducted the Boston premiere, never returned to it or recorded it.)

A tale of two elections, April 11. About the 2014 elections in India and Afghanistan.

Travel-writing giants, April 18. About Peter Matthieson, who had just died, and Patrick Leigh Fermor.

Last year in the same series, we had Islamo-Christian heritage, December 20 2013, about the old sharing of sacred space in Egpyt, Palestine, Syria, Iraq, India by Christians, Muslims and Jews. I quoted from it here.

Islam did not tolerate Christianity: it showed great tenderness towards it. Dalrymple quotes examples from Akbar’s abortive capital at Fatehpur Sikri. Mary is mentioned more often in the Quran than in the Gospels. Many apocryphal sayings of Jesus were and are current in Islam.

Contested sites and the failure to share: Jerusalem and Ayodhya, the Temple Mount and Ram Janmabhoomi. Though the Israeli occupiers of the Temple Mount do enforce a ban on prayer by non-Muslims at its Umayyad structures, a ban which some orthodox Zionists would like to defy and nearly all Muslims demand.

Dalrymple on Akbar and Christianity, New Statesman, December 19 2005. Post here mentioning Akbar’s attempt to start a new syncretic religion, the Dīn IIāhī.

The crucible of the Mahayana

December 28 2014

I  Alexander

Gautama Buddha and the founder of Jainism, Mahavira, both lived in a period of wars between local states in northern India in the 6th century BC. Gautama was born in what is now Nepal, Mahavira in Bihar.

What was the extent of Buddhism’s early influence in the Afghan or other domains of Achaemenid Persia?

In 326 BC Alexander the Great crossed the Indus (which the Persians had never done) and then the Jhelum or Hydaspes, the most western of the five rivers of the Punjab. At the Hydaspes Alexander defeated King Porus of Pauravas, an ancient country that soon afterwards fell to the Mauryans.

Another ruler, King Ambhi of Taxila, surrendered his city, already a Buddhist centre.

Alexander’s troops refused to advance further than the Beas, a tributary of the Sutlej, the easternmost of the five rivers.

II  Chandragupta

A Buddhist great power, the Mauryan Empire, emerged in India as the Achaemenid Empire fell.

After Alexander’s death in 323, Chandragupta Maurya (ruled 322-298) conquered Alexander’s briefly-held east-of-Indus satrapies with the help of a largely Persian army. Bactria, between the Hindu Kush and the Oxus, and Transoxiana, remained Greek. Both had belonged to the Achaemenids.

Chandragupta’s capital: Pataliputra (Patna).

III  Seleucus

Seleucus I Nicator, a Macedonian satrap of Alexander, established his authority as far as Bactria and the Indus and in 305 BC he fought Chandragupta. Seleucus appears to have fared poorly, ceding large territories west of the Indus to Chandragupta: Arachosia (Kandahar), Gedrosia (Baluchistan), the Paropamisadae (Hindu Kush), but not Bactria or Transoxiana. Post here on the Paropamisadae.

Chandragupta then sold Seleucus 500 war-elephants (who used them to fight Antigonus I) and married Seleucus’s daughter to formalise an alliance. Seleucus sent an ambassador, Megasthenes, to Chandragupta’s court. Relations continued between their successors.

Chandragupta was Jain. His successor Bindusara belonged to the Ajivika sect.

IV  Ashoka

Bindusara’s successor, Ashoka (reigned 269-32), embraced Buddhism and became a proselytiser of the traditional Theravada Pali canon.

His edicts, carved on pillars and rocks in various places in his empire, in the Kharoshti, Greek, Aramaic (Achaemenid) and Brahmi scripts, record the missions which he sent to Greeks and others.

V  Greek Bactrians

Meanwhile, the Seleucids were losing control of Bactria. It became the centre of an independent Greco-Bactrian kingdom c 256 BC, which extended into Transoxiana.

Capitals: Bactra (Balkh), Alexandria-on-the-Oxus (possibly Ai-Khanoum).

After the Brahmanical Sunga dynasty overthrew the Mauryans in 185 BC, the Greco-Bactrians invaded and conquered northwestern India with an army led by Demetrius.

VI  Indo-Greeks

The resulting Indo-Greek Kingdom lasted until AD 10 and was opposed in the east for its first century by the Sunga. Buddhism prospered, and it has been suggested that the Greek invasion of India was intended to protect the Buddhist faith from the persecutions of the Sunga.

Capitals: Alexandria-in-the-Caucasus (Kapisa or Bagram, Hindu Kush, north of Kabul), Sirkap (Taxila, Punjab), Sagala (Sialkot, Punjab), Pushkalavati (Charsadda, NWFP).

King Menander (reigned c 160-130 BC) became a student and patron of Buddhism. Were any Greco-Bactrian or Indo-Greek kings before him personally sympathetic to Buddhism?

VII  Greeks and Buddhism

The philosophers Pyrrho, Anaxarchus and Onesicritus are said to have accompanied Alexander. During the eighteen months they were in India, they were able to interact with Indian ascetics, described as Gymnosophists, naked philosophers.

At Sirkap, Buddhist stupas stand side-by-side with Hindu and Greek temples, suggesting religious tolerance and syncretism.

Early Mahayana theories of reality and knowledge may be related to Greek philosophical schools of thought.

The Milinda Panha is a Buddhist discourse in the platonic style, held between Menander and the Buddhist sage Nagasena.

The Mahavamsa records that during Menander’s reign, a Greek Buddhist abbot named Mahadharmaraksita led 30,000 monks from Alexandria (possibly in-the-Caucasus) to Sri Lanka for the dedication of a stupa.

There are Buddhist inscriptions by Greeks in India, such as that of the provincial governor Theodorus, describing in the Kharoshti script (and Pali language?) how he enshrined relics of the Buddha.

Coins of Menander and some of his successors show Buddhist symbols.

Buddhist tradition recognises Menander as one of the benefactors of the faith, together with Ashoka and Kanishka (below).

The first anthropomorphic representations of the Buddha are often considered a result of Greco-Buddhist interaction. The earliest Buddhist art was aniconic: the Buddha was only represented through his symbols (an empty throne, the Bodhi tree, his footprints, the Dharma wheel, the triratna).

It was natural for the Greeks also to create a single common divinity by combining the image of a Greek God-King (Apollo, or possibly the deified founder of the Indo-Greek Kingdom, Demetrius) with the attributes of the Buddha.

Stylistic elements in these representations point to Greek influence: the Greco-Roman toga-like wavy robe covering both shoulders (more exactly, its lighter version, the Greek himation), the contrapposto stance of the upright figures, the stylised curly hair and topknot (ushnisha) apparently derived from the Apollo of the Belvedere (c 335 BC), the measured quality of the faces.

During the following centuries, this anthropomorphic representation of the Buddha evolved to incorporate more Indian and Asian elements.

Several Buddhist deities may have been influenced by Greek gods. There are links between Greco-Persian and Buddhist cosmology.

The Buddha was known to the Church fathers. Buddhist gravestones from the Ptolemaic period have been found in Alexandria in Egypt, decorated with depictions of the Dharma wheel. The presence of Buddhists in Alexandria at this time is important, since it was to be an intellectual centre of Christianity.

VIII  Successors of the Indo-Greeks

Greek rule in Bactria was extinguished c 125 BC by southward-migrating Sakas or Scythians and Yuezhi, both Indo-European speaking. The Yuezhi are later called Kushan.

At the beginning of the first century, the Yuezhi invaded the northern parts of Pakistan and India and founded the Kushan Empire, a contemporary of the Roman Empire.

The Kushan rulers (30-375) displaced the Indo-Greek kings, but their culture was Greek-influenced. They used the Greek script to write their Indo-European language. Their absorption of Greek historical and mythological culture is suggested by Kushan sculptures representing Dionysiac scenes and even the story of the Trojan horse and it is likely that Greek communities remained in India under Kushan rule. Capitals: Purushpura (Peshawar, main capital), Bagram, Taxila, Mathura.

The Greek-influenced Indo-European-speaking successors of the Indo-Greeks:

Indo-Scythian/Saka kingdoms, 110 BC-400 (final extinction)

Indo-Parthian Kingdom, 12 BC-before 100

Yuezhi/Kushan Empire, 30-375

Indo-Sasanians, 3rd century-410

Ephthalite or White Hun Empire, 5th-7th century; they belonged to the Central Asian Xionite hordes and were enemies of the Gupta and of the Sasanians

The Ephthalites controlled present-day Afghanistan, Pakistan and territories to the north and are probably the ancestors of modern Pashtuns. Their power was broken by the Sasanians (Khosrau I) in and after 557 and by the Turkic steppe-dwellers.

The full religious mix before Islam has to take account of Buddhism, Greek paganism, Hinduism, Jainism, Manichaeism, Shamanism, Zoroastrianism. Even Judaism and Nestorianism.

IX  The Mahayana

The Kushan king Kanishka was famous for his religious syncretism and honoured Zoroastrian, Greek and Brahmanic deities as well as the Buddha. He convened the Fourth Buddhist Council c AD 100 in Kashmir. His reign sees the earliest representations of the Buddha on a coin (c AD 120), and in a Hellenistic style. Kanishka also had the earliest Gandhari vernacular, or Prakrit, Mahayana Buddhist texts translated into the literary language of Sanskrit.

The sacred texts of Theravada Buddhism are written in Pali, a Prakrit or vernacular which is closely related to Sanskrit and to the language the Buddha spoke. The sacred texts of the Mahayana were translated from Sanskrit into local languages.

Buddhism expanded into East Asia soon after this. The Kushan monk Lokaksema visited the Han Chinese court at Luoyang in AD 178, and worked there for ten years to make the first known translations of Mahayana texts into Chinese. This was also the great age of Gandharan art (area around Taxila, northern Pakistan): subjects Buddhist, motifs Hellenistic. (Gandhara was originally the name of an ancient Vedic kingdom.)

Buddhism probably reached China from the Kushan Empire in the first century CE: from north India via the Punjab, Gandhara, the Hindu Kush, Bactria, Transoxiana/Sogdiana, and the Fergana valley (Kokand, Anijan). Then across the Tien Shan and into the Tarim basin (Kashgar, Khotan, Turfan). In other words, by linking to the Silk Road. A minority view is that it came to China by sea, entering by the Yellow and Huai rivers.

It entered by land via a region which had been partly hellenised. The interaction of Greek culture with Buddhism may have helped to determine the forms which Buddhism took in China. The Mahayana was eventually adopted in China, Siberia, Korea, Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam.

The Mahayana goes beyond (or does it retreat from?) the ideal of the release from suffering, and the Nirvaṇa of the arhats, to elevate the Buddha to a God-like status and to create a pantheon of quasi-divine bodhisattvas devoting themselves to the salvation of their fellow human beings.

X  Decline of Buddhism

The interaction of Greek and Buddhist cultures operated over several centuries until it ended in the 5th century with the invasions of the anti-Buddhist Ephthalite or White Huns and later the expansion of Islam. In the Ephthalite empire Buddhism and Hinduism were still widespread, over a layer of Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism.

In India proper, the decline of Buddhism is usually attributed to a steady Brahmanical reaction, which gathered pace late in the Gupta era. Invasions by Ephthalites and later by Muslims must have hastened it.

Has the Greek influence been exaggerated by western historians? Have they shown undue interest in it because it is easier for them to understand than complicated autochthonous Buddhist movements and schools?

XI  Arrival of Islam

The Arabs completed their conquest of Persia in 651. In Persia and up to the Indus, the Caliphs’ power was gradually lost to local rulers, mainly Sunni, who distantly acknowledged the Caliphate until the fall of Baghdad.

In 661-71 the Arab armies conquered Bactria (by now called Tokharistan), which had passed from the Greeks to the Scythians, Yuezhi (Kushans), Sasanians, Ephthalite Huns and Sasanians again (or had the post-Ephthalite settlement there been Turkish rather than Persian?). 

Transoxiana, where the post-Ephthalite settlement had been Turkish, followed in 706-15; here they suffered a setback, but in 739-41 they conquered Transoxiana definitively.

This put the Islamic state astride the overland route between India and China via the Oxus-Jaxartes basin.

The Arabs conquered, further

Baluchistan after Persia

Sindh and the Indus valley in 711 (Muhammad bin Qasim); capital: Mansura; Sindh later came under local dynasties (Habbari, then Soomro)

Southern Punjab from a base in Sindh, occupying Multan in 712.

They failed to occupy the Kandahar-Ghazni-Kabul route to the Khyber Pass. Two small Hindu states in southern Afghanistan, mentioned below, stubbornly defended the approach to the Hindu Kush.

Their foothold even in the Punjab was precarious. A number of Hindu powers resisted them there. The area was eventually controlled by the Turkic Mamluk Ghaznavids and Persian Ghorids.

They tried to invade India, but were defeated by a coalition of post-Gupta Rajput dynasties in 738.

At the Talas River in 751 the newly-installed Abbasids came head to head with the Tang Chinese. If the Chinese had won the battle, they might have captured the Oxus-Jaxartes basin and reclaimed it from Islam or Zoroastrianism for Buddhism. But they lost, and their influence this far west subsided. They did not return to the Tarim basin until the Qing or Manchu; not even the Yuan governed it.

Before the Islamic conquest, Afghanistan was a religious mixture of Zoroastrianism, paganism, Buddhism, Hinduism (near Kabul) and others. There is no reliable information on when Hinduism began in Afghanistan, but the territory south of the Hindu Kush was probably culturally connected with the Indus Valley civilisation in ancient times.

Herat province, near Persia, was Islamised early on, but the Arabs dealt with a number of post-Sasanian, post-Ephthalite rulers who resisted them. South of the Hindu Kush were the Hindu Zunbil and Buddhist (later Hindu) Kabul Shahi dynasties.

We don’t know how much of the Afghan population accepted Islam immediately, but the Shahi rulers remained non-Muslim until they lost Kabul in 870 to the Persianate (old post) Saffarid Muslims of Sistan, capital: Zaranj. Later, the Persian Samanids (old post) from Bukhara in Transoxiana extended their Islamic influence into Afghanistan. Muslims and non-Muslims still lived side by side in Kabul before the arrival of Ghaznavids from Ghazni in the late 10th century.

The Persian Samanids (819-999) presided over a revival of Persian civilisation in Samarkand and later Bukhara. They sponsored the first complete translation of the Quran into Persian.

The Persian Saffarids ruled in Persia and Afghanistan from 891 to 1003. Capital: Zaranj in Sistan, Persia/Afghanistan. They were eventually reduced to vassals of the Samanids.

By the 11th century, the entire population of Afghanistan was Muslim, except in Kafiristan, or Nuristan, in the east, whose inhabitants continued to practise an ancient form of Hinduism until Nuristan was conquered by the Emirate of Afghanistan in 1895.

The Turkic Ghaznavids controlled large parts of Persia, much of Transoxania, and the northern parts of India from 977 to 1186. Capitals: Ghazni in Afghanistan, Lahore in Pakistan. Their most famous ruler, Mahmud of Ghazni (reigned 998-1002), invaded and plundered India east of the Indus seventeen times. Capitals: Ghazni in Afghanistan, then Lahore.

The Tajik Ghorids (before 879-1215), originally central Afghanistan pagan, Sunni from 1011, were later the first Muslim power in Delhi and further east as far as Bengal: Muhammad of Ghor invaded the Indo-Gangetic plain in 1194, conquering in succession Ghazni, Multan, Sindh, Lahore, Delhi. Ghorid capitals: Firozkoh, Herat, Ghazni, those three now in Afghanistan, Lahore as winter capital.

In 1206 a former slave of Muhammad established the Sultanate of Delhi. His Mamluk (slave) dynasty was the first there. The Sultanate ended with the accession of the Timurid Babur, the first Mughal, in 1526. When the Mughals first arrived in India, they spoke a Turkic language. In adopting Persian, they inherited the language of the Perso-Turkic Delhi Sultanate.

Genghis Khan invaded Transoxiana and Bactria in 1219-20. Before his death in 1227, he assigned the lands of western central Asia to his second son Chagatai, and this region became known as the Chagatai Khanate. In 1369 Timur, of the Barlas tribe, became the effective ruler while continuing the ceremonial authority of Chagatai Khan’s dynasty, and made Samarkand the capital of his empire (1370-1507).

The first independent Islamic Kingdom in South India was the Bahmanid Sultanate (1347-1527). It broke up into five states known as the Deccan Sultanates.

The Arab conquests brought the demise of Buddhism in eastern Persia and greater Afghanistan, but in some places in Afghanistan, such as Bamiyan (Bamiyan province) and Hadda (site near Jalalabad), it survived until the 8th or 9th century. The Taliban dynamited two monumental Buddhas carved into the side of a cliff in the Bamiyan valley (6th and 7th centuries) in March 2001.

XII  Old posts:

Persian capitals before Islam

Transoxiana and Bactria

Indic and Hindu

Buddhism and Persia

Persia, 651-present

Toynbee and Ikeda 3

The Old World’s eastern roundabout

The Silk Road

NWFP, 1901-2010

Category:

Maps of Central Asia

Near Jalalabad

Picture credit: AfghaniDan; near Jalalabad

Silk Road

Picture credit: Luciana Di Floriano; Silk Road, probably Tien Shan mountains

Osmanli, Safavi, Timurid

December 27 2014

In 1555 [conclusion of the Ottoman-Safavid war] the Islamic World was larger than it had been in 1291 [siege of Acre and expulsion by the Mamluks of the last Crusaders from the Levant], and the greater part of it was now embraced politically in three large empires: the Osmanli (Ottoman) Turkish Empire in the Levant, the Safavi Empire in Iran, and the Timurid (mis-named Mughal) Empire in India. This was a remarkable sequel to the tribulations that the Islamic World had suffered between the year 1220 (the date of Genghis Khan’s invasion of Transoxania) and 1405 (the date of Timur Lenk’s death).

Mankind and Mother Earth, A Narrative History of the World, OUP, 1976, posthumous

Summer capitals, summer palaces

December 10 2014

The Sarawat mountains run down the Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia. Sarat al-Hejaz, Sarat Asir, Sarat al-Yemen.

Taʿif is in the Hejaz section, 100 km southeast of Mecca. The ruling family and much of the government are said to go there during the summer to escape the heat of Riyad. Taʿif is cool. Coastal Jeddah, on nearly the same latitude, hot and humid. Inland Riyad is hot and dry.

Taʿif is known for grapes, pomegranates, figs, roses, honey. The family of Hani Hanjour, the 9/11 hijacker-pilot who crashed into the Pentagon, ran a lemon and date farm there.

There are more grapes at Hofuf in the Eastern Province.

Taʿif, like Mecca and like Al-Qullays, was a religious centre which attracted pilgrims before the Prophet: it housed the idol of Allat, the lady of Taʿif, who was also one of the trinity of goddesses worshipped in Mecca.

It was near the site of Muhammad’s victory at the battle of Hunayn in 630. The Sharif of Mecca capitulated to Selim I at Taʿif in 1517, a surrender undone by the British four hundred years later.

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Ecbatana. The Achaemenids had the old Median capital as their summer capital. Their real capital was Susa, their ceremonial capital Persepolis. (Seleucia-on-Tigris was the first capital of the Seleucid Empire, though it was officially superseded by Antioch. Ctesiphon-on-Tigris, opposite Seleucia, and Susa were the joint capitals of Parthia. Susa was briefly taken by Trajan and was the easternmost point reached by the Romans. Ctesiphon was also the Sasanian capital, and fell to the Arabs.)

Xanadu. The summer capital (1271-94) of Kublai Khan, the Mongol founder of the Yuan dynasty in China, after he moved his permanent capital from Xanadu (Shangdu) to Khanbaliq (Dadu), present Beijing. Destroyed by the Hongwu Emperor, the founder of the Ming, in 1369. Old posts: Xanadu and Jehol and Foreigners in Cathay.

Simla. The summer capital (1864-1939), in the Himalayan foothills, of the British in India. Over a thousand miles away from Calcutta. (Much nearer to Delhi.) Old post. Wikipedia says that before 1864 the summer capital was even further away, at Murree, a pleasant, often snowy, spot in the Margalla Hills, near Rawalpindi, and now in Pakistan. But wasn’t it the regional government of the Punjab province that moved there in the summer? A cool retreat much closer to Calcutta would have been Darjeeling. Was that too inaccessible?

In the middle of the 19th century, San Sebastián, near Biarritz, became a summer capital for the Spanish monarchy. Franco spent his summers there.

The hill station of Baguio in the northern mountains of Luzon was the summer capital of the Philippines during the American occupation (1898-1946).

Srinagar in the Kashmir Valley is still the summer capital of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The winter capital is Jammu.

Sochi, on the Black Sea, is described as the summer capital of Russia. Before 1991, resorts in the Crimea could play that role. Now they can presumably play it again.

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Murree beer was made in Murree when the Murree Brewery was founded in 1860. In (I believe) 1910, the plant was moved to Rawalpindi. There is also one in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (NWFP), which I thought was too strict nowadays to allow this kind of thing. It was Bhutto, in 1977, not Zia, who made Pakistan dry. The Christian, Hindu, and Parsi communities were not large enough to support the Murree enterprise, and production had to be cut back.

But the laws are not very strictly enforced. The last few times I was in Pakistan (2004-06), I had to sign a declaration in hotels that I required the beer (or the local whisky, also made by Murree Brewery) for medicinal purposes. It was then handed over in a black bag. I don’t recall the form requiring me to state that I was a non-Muslim. The medical ruse, I suppose, allowed it to be sold to anyone, irrespective of religion.

Of course, part of the moneyed middle class, especially in Karachi, and of the military class and the “feudal” class, drinks quite a lot and gets its hands on foreign liquor. Musharraf’s two loves, it has been said, are dogs and whisky.

I am convinced that Murree is how beer used to taste. At least the Murree that I remember (there has been some product diversification). It’s the subaltern’s beer, still being made. But one bottle could (it must be said) taste and look disconcertingly different from another.

It isn’t exported, which doesn’t stop them from producing an Export Pils, but in 2013, Murree Brewery opened a franchise, run by a Bangalore-based entrepreneur, which allows its brewing, bottling and marketing in India.

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A family and a few courtiers might go to a summer palace. A large part of a civil service might migrate to a summer capital. This is what I understand happened with Simla and Baguio and happens with Srinagar. What about Sochi? Does it really still happen with Taʿif? Why migrate when there is air conditioning?

Roman and Byzantine emperors had summer palaces. The pope has Castel Gandolfo.

Peter the Great built one in St Petersburg, and Elizabeth of Russia another – and the Winter Palace.

There were two summer palaces at Tsarskoye Selo. Catherine I built the Catherine Palace, Catherine the Great the Alexander Palace.

Frederick the Great built Sanssouci in Potsdam. Maria Theresa was given Schönbrunn.

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Construction of the complex of gardens and palaces in Beijing known as the Old Summer Palace began in 1707 under the Kangxi Emperor (Qing). He intended it as a gift for his fourth son, the future Yongzheng Emperor, who would expand it in 1725. The Qianlong Emperor (same generation as Elizabeth and Frederick) did further work.

The Old Summer Palace, with its many ancient books and works of art, was destroyed by the British and French in the Second Opium War, causing the Imperial Court to relocate to the Forbidden City.

The vast nearby Summer Palace, also in Beijing, had its origin in a palace built by the Jurchen (Jin dynasty) emperor Wanyan Liang in the 12th century. It remained in use under the Yuan. (What did the Ming do with it?) The Qianlong Emperor built much of what we see now. The Old Summer Palace had been built by his grandfather the Kangxi Emperor (hence, I suppose, “Old”). The Summer Palace was badly damaged by the British and French, but not completely destroyed.

Both of these were outside the walls of the Inner City. Did Summer Palace connote “without the walls”? The Forbidden City was within the walls.

On the history of Peking, its walls, the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, see posts here and here.

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Essences from damask roses grown in Taʿif can cost thousands of pounds a bottle. I was with a friend in a perfumery in Jeddah in summer 2009. I couldn’t understand the Arabic courtesies and chatter exchanged between him and the owner, his friend, and not since childhood have I felt so trapped in a conversation that I could neither follow, nor contribute to, nor end. The light turned rosy as the evening approached, and a few miles away my friend’s plane waited for us on the tarmac at the airport like a patient camel.

A perfect Taʿif rose (image).

The high meadows of Hunza

December 8 2014

Guardian and Telegraph obituaries of Raleigh Trevelyan.

Born in the Andaman Islands, grew up under the Raj, descendant of Walter Raleigh, of whom he wrote a biography, and of Macaulay. And of Macaulay’s nephew George Otto Trevelyan of The Competition Wallah, and many other Trevelyans, and related to GM Trevelyan.

Guardian, by a relative, James Trevelyan:

“Raleigh’s yearning to revisit his childhood home at Gilgit, in Pakistan took him back to the country in the last years of his life, following his father’s footsteps to the high polo meadows of Hunza, a trek considered too dangerous for him when he was there as a boy.”

A few weeks ago, I was given his The Golden Oriole, which looks like a very rich social history of the Raj, not only based on family papers. I’ll be reading it at Christmas.

He also wrote two books about his experiences in Italy during the war, The Fortress: A Diary of Anzio and After and Rome ’44.

An immersion in clear, cool and still waters (old post).

Redemptions

November 12 2014

Augustus and his successors had made good civil servants out of predatory Roman business men of the “equestrian” class; Han Liu Pang [the first Han emperor] and his successors had made them out of predatory feudal gentry bred by the contending Sinic parochial states; Cornwallis and his successors had made them out of predatory commercial agents of the British East India Company.

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954

Tales from the India Office

November 1 2014

As well as India, the East India Company (1600-1858, dissolution 1874) and then the India Office (1858-1947) administered the Gulf as far west as Aden.

The Qatar Foundation paid the British Library £8.7m to digitise nearly half a million documents relating to the Gulf. Many of them have now gone online at the Qatar National Library’s digital portal.

What about north of Aden? The Foreign Office administered the Hejaz during and after the First World War, where it promoted the Hashemites, Sharifs of the Holy Places of Mecca and Medina, who had sided with the British against the Hejazis’ Turkish masters. It placed junior members of the family on thrones in Transjordan and Iraq. The Kingdom of Hejaz lasted from 1916 to 1925.

The India Office looked to the Sultanate of Nejd and its ruler, Ibn Saud. Here the family was aligned to a puritanical Islamic sect, the Wahhabis. The India Office won the contest. Ibn Saud ousted the Hashemites from Mecca and Medina in 1925 and formed the Kingdom of Nejd and Hejaz, which became the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932.

The officials of the India Office, had they been driven into a corner by infuriated British tax-payers, might have represented with some plausibility that in purchasing Ibn Saʿud’s benevolent neutrality at £5,000 sterling a month they had made a better bargain than their colleagues at the Foreign Office who had contracted to pay £200,000 a month of the tax-payers’ money for Husayn’s military co-operation.

Survey of International Affairs, 1925, Vol I of III, OUP, Under the auspices of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, 1927

Indian churches

August 10 2014

There is no direct contemporary evidence for St Thomas the Apostle coming to Kerala, but such a trip would have been possible for a Roman Jew in the first century. Jews lived in India then. The earliest text connecting him to India is the Acts of Thomas, one of the New Testament Apocrypha, written in Edessa early in the third century.

The word Malankara in the name of several south Indian churches derives from the name of the island of Maliankara near Muziris, where Thomas first landed.

According to tradition, he established Seven Churches, the Ezharapallikal: Cranganore (Malayalam: കൊടുങ്ങല്ലൂര്‍), Paravur (Kottakavu) (കോട്ടക്കാവ്), Palayoor (പാലയൂര്‍), Kokkamangalam (കൊക്കമംഗലം), Niranam (നിരണം), Chayal (Nilackal) (നിലക്കല്‍), Kollam (Quilon) (കൊല്ലം).

Thomas of Cana, a Syrian, arrived in Kerala in the fourth century or later. The subgroup of Thomas Christians known as the Southists trace their lineage to him and his followers. The Northists claim descent from Thomas the Apostle’s converts.

Settlers and missionaries from Persia, members of the Church of the East (East Syrian rite), or Nestorian Church (last post), which was centred in the Sasanian capital of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, started to establish themselves in Kerala.

Nestorianism, which insists on the dual nature of Christ, had been condemned at the Council of Ephesus in 431. Many of Nestorius’s supporters moved to Sasanid Persia, from where they spread into Central Asia and China.

Circa 650 Patriarch Ishoyahb III solidified the Church of the East’s jurisdiction over the Thomas Christians. In the late eighth century Patriarch Timothy I organised the community as the Ecclesiastical Province of India, one of the Nestorian church’s illustrious Provinces of the Exterior.

After this point the Province of India was headed by a metropolitan bishop provided by Persia, the Metropolitan-Bishop of the Seat of St Thomas and the Whole Christian Church of India. His metropolitan see was probably in Cranganore, or (perhaps nominally) in Mylapore, the original burial site of St Thomas, before his body was moved to Edessa. Under him were bishops, and a native Archdeacon, who had authority over the clergy and who wielded a great amount of secular power.

For a time the archidiaconate was hereditary in the Pakalomattam family, who claimed a connection with Thomas the Apostle. In the broader Church of the East, each bishop was attended by an archdeacon, but in India, there was only ever one archdeacon, even when the province had several bishops serving it.

The blame for the destruction of the Nestorian communities east of Iraq has often been thrown upon the Turco-Mongol leader Timur, whose campaigns during the 1390s spread havoc in Persia and Central Asia. But in many parts of Central Asia Christianity had died out decades before Timur’s campaigns. The evidence from Central Asia, including a large number of dated graves, indicates that the crisis for the Church of the East occurred in the 1340s rather than the 1390s.

In China, the last references to Nestorian and Latin Christians date from the 1350s. It is likely that all foreign Christians were expelled from China soon after the revolution of 1368, which replaced the Mongol Yuan dynasty with the xenophobic Ming.

India was cut off from the Church’s new heartland in northern Mesopotamia. Nestorian Christianity was now mainly confined to the triangle formed by Mosul and Lakes Van and Urmia. There were small Nestorian communities further west, notably in Jerusalem and Cyprus, but the Malabar Christians of India represented the only significant survival of the once-thriving exterior provinces of the Church of the East.

By the late fifteenth century India had had no metropolitan for several generations, and the authority traditionally associated with him had been vested in the Archdeacon.

In 1491 the Archdeacon sent envoys to the Patriarch of the Church of the East, as well as to the Oriental Orthodox Coptic Pope of Alexandria and the Syriac Oriental Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, requesting a new bishop for India.

The Patriarch of the Church of the East Shemʿon IV Basidi responded by consecrating two bishops and dispatching them to India. These bishops helped to reestablish fraternal ties with the patriarchate, but the years of separation had changed the structure of the Indian church. The Archdeacon was firmly established as the real power in the Malankara community.

When the Portuguese arrived in 1498, the Thomas Christians were in a difficult position. Though prosperous owing to their large stake in the spice trade and protected by a formidable militia, the small community had come under pressure from the forces of the powerful rajas of Calicut, Cochin and various smaller kingdoms. When the Vasco da Gama arrived on the Malabar coast, the leaders of the St Thomas community proffered a formal alliance to their fellow Christians. The Portuguese, keen to implant themselves in the spice trade and to expand Latin Christianity, jumped at the opportunity.

Facilitating the objective, the Padroado Real: the treaties and decrees in which the Pope conferred authority in ecclesiastical matters on the Portuguese secular authorities in territories they conquered. The Portuguese organised themselves in Goa, established a church hierarchy, and set themselves to bringing the native Christians into conformity with Latin church customs and subjecting them to the authority of the Archbishop of Goa.

After the death of Metropolitan Mar Jacob in 1552, the Portuguese became more aggressive in their efforts to subjugate the Thomas Christians. Protests on the part of the natives were frustrated by events in the Church of the East’s Mesopotamian heartland, which left them devoid of consistent leadership. In 1552, a schism there resulted in there being two rival patriarchates, one of which entered into communion with the Catholic Church (was that the Chaldean Catholic Church?) and the other of which remained independent. At different times both patriarchs sent bishops to India, but the Portuguese were able to outmanœuvre the newcomers or convert them to Latin rite Catholicism outright. In 1575 the Padroado declared that neither patriarch could appoint prelates to the community without Portuguese consent, thereby cutting the Thomas Christians off from their own hierarchy.

In 1599 the last Metropolitan, Abraham, died. The Archbishop of Goa, Aleixo de Menezes, secured the submission of the young Archdeacon George, the highest remaining representative of the native church hierarchy. Menezes convened the Synod of Diamper, which instituted a number of structural and liturgical reforms to the Indian church. The parishes were brought directly under the Archbishop’s authority, certain “superstitious” customs were anathematised, and the indigenous liturgy, the East Syrian Malabar rite, was purged of elements unacceptable by the Latin standards. Though the Thomas Christians were now formally part of the Catholic Church, the conduct of the Portuguese over the next decades fuelled resentment in parts of the community, ultimately leading to open resistance.

Matters came to a head in 1641 with the appointments of Francis Garcia as Archbishop of Kodungalloor (pro-Portuguese) and of Archdeacon Thomas, the nephew and successor of Archdeacon George. In 1652, the situation was further complicated by the arrival in India of a mysterious figure named Ahatallah.

Ahatallah arrived in Mylapore in 1652, claiming to be the rightful Patriarch of Antioch who had been sent by the pope to serve as Patriarch of the Whole of India and of China. He appears to have been a Syriac Orthodox (Oriental Orthodox) Bishop of Damascus who was converted to Catholicism and travelled to Rome in 1632. He then returned to Syria in order to bring the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Hidayat Allah into communion with Rome. He had not accomplished this by the time Hidayat Allah died in 1639, after which point Ahatallah began claiming he was Hidayat Allah’s rightful successor. In 1646 he was in Egypt at the court of the Coptic Pope Mark VI, who dispatched him to India in 1652, evidently in response to a request for aid from Archdeacon Thomas. Reckoning him an impostor, the Portuguese arrested him, but allowed him to meet members of the St Thomas Christian clergy, whom he impressed. The Portuguese put him on a ship bound for Cochin and Goa. Archdeacon Thomas led a militia to Cochin demanding to meet him. The Portuguese refused, asserting that he was a dangerous invader and that his ship had already sailed on to Goa.

Ahatallah was never heard from again in India, and rumours spread that Archbishop Garcia had had him drowned in Cochin harbour before he reached Goa, or burned at the stake. In reality, it appears that Ahatallah did reach Goa, was sent on to Europe and died in Paris before reaching Rome, where his case was to be heard. In any event, Garcia’s dismissiveness towards the Thomas Christians’ appeals only embittered the community further.

The dismissal of Ahatallah was the last straw for the Thomas Christians, and in 1653 Thomas and representatives of the community met at the Church of Our Lady in Mattancherry. In a ceremony in the churchyard, before a crucifix and lighted candles, they swore an oath that they would never obey Garcia or the Portuguese or Jesuit missionaries again, and that they accepted only the Archdeacon as their shepherd. The Malankara Church and all its successor churches regard this declaration, known as the Coonan Cross Oath (Malayalam: Koonan Kurishu Satyam), as the moment when their church regained its independence.

In the same year, in Alangad, Archdeacon Thomas was ordained, by the laying on of hands of twelve priests, as the first known indigenous Metropolitan of Kerala, under the name Mar Thoma I. Pope Alexander VII sent a Syrian bishop, Joseph Sebastiani, at the head of a Carmelite delegation, to convince a majority of the Thomas Christians that the consecration of the Archdeacon as metropolitan was illegitimate. Palliveettil Chandy Kathanar was consecrated as bishop for the East Syrian rite Catholics with the title The Metropolitan and the Gate of all India, denoting a quasi-patriarchal status with all-India jurisdiction, in communion with Rome.

This led to the first permanent split in the St Thomas Christian community. Thereafter, the faction affiliated with the Catholic Church was designated the Pazhayakuttukar or Old Party, while the branch affiliated with Mar Thoma was called the Puthankuttukar or New Party. These appellations were controversial, as both groups considered themselves the heirs to the St Thomas tradition, and saw the other as heretical.

Initially the terms Malankara Christians or Malankara Nasranis were applied to all Thomas Christians, but following the split the term was usually restricted to the faction loyal to Mar Thoma, distinguishing them from the Syrian Catholic faction.

Out of 116 churches, the Catholics claimed eighty-four and the Archdeacon Mar Thoma I thirty-two. The eighty-four churches and their congregations were the body from which the Syro-Malabar (East Syrian rite) Catholic Church descended. The thirty-two churches and their congregations were the body from which the Malankara Jacobite Syrian Christian Church and its offshoots have descended.

An Oriental Orthodox affiliation now replaced the old Nestorian one. In 1665, Mar Gregorios Abdul Jaleel, a Bishop sent by the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, arrived in India and the Thomas Christians under the leadership of the Archdeacon welcomed him. This visit resulted in the Mar Thoma party claiming the spiritual authority of the Antiochean Patriarchate and gradually introducing the West Syrian liturgy, customs and script to the Malabar Coast.

Jacobites or Syrian Jacobites is a reference to the Syriac Orthodox Church’s connections with a sixth-century bishop of Edessa, Jacob Baradaeus.

Over the next centuries this relationship strengthened, and the Malankara Church adopted a variant of the West Syrian rite known as the Malankara rite (as distinct from the previous East Syrian usage) and entered into full communion with the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch. These affiliations seem to have been more matters of liturgy and hierarchy than Christology.

In 1912 a dispute over authority between supporters of the Metropolitan and supporters of the Patriarch divided the Malankara church, with the former group becoming the essentially independent Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church or Indian Orthodox Church under an autonomous Catholicos of the East, and the latter maintaining ties with the Patriarch as the Jacobite Syrian Christian Church.

Other groups that split from the main body of the Malankara Jacobite church:

The Thozhiyur Sabha, or Malabar Independent Syrian Church (1772). Independent. West Syrian rite.

The Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church (1835). Follows a variant of the West Syrian tradition.

The Syro-Malankara Catholic Church (1930). Re-entered into communion with the Catholic Church as an Eastern Catholic Church following the West Syrian liturgy. It and the larger Syro-Malabar Catholic Church (East Syrian rite) are among the 22 Eastern Catholic churches mentioned in the last post.

The St Thomas Evangelical Church of India (1961). Derives from a schism in the Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church.

The Nestorian connection survives in the Chaldean Syrian Church, an Indian archbishopric in the Nestorian Assyrian Church of the East (last post).

Kanjirappally Bishop Mathew Arackal and Prasant Palakkappillil

Syro-Malabar Catholic bishop Mar Mathew Arackal, Bishop of Kanjirappally Eparchy, holding the Mar Thoma Cross, which symbolises the heritage of St Thomas Christians even for Catholics, and other priests, at the tomb of the beatified Varghese Payyappilly Palakkappilly, St John Nepumsian Syrian Catholic Church, Konthuruthy, via Wikimedia Commons

A few years ago, I was taken into the San Thome Basilica in Chennai by a Hindu friend who crossed himself as he entered. India has been notoriously slow at adopting positions on anything in international diplomacy, which is perhaps a legacy of its standing in the Non-Aligned Movement. If it is seeking a global role now, it should be as the most complex partially-successful multicultural society on earth.

Anyone who has read the last two posts and followed their few links should now be able to answer the trivia questions:

What are the differences between the

Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch
Assyrian Church of the East
Greek Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East and
Jacobite Syrian Christian Church?

and

What two churches are Chaldaean?

Islamic dynasties: 2, Umayyad Caliphs

July 12 2014

The Umayyad Caliphs, 661-750

Capital: Damascus

The dynasty starts with Muawiya (ruled 661-80), who had been governor of Syria. Uthman had also been an Umayyad, but is classed as one of the four Rightly-Guided caliphs. Shia Muslims believe that the succession should have gone through Ali.

Muawiya had fought against Byzantium and had a well-trained army to set against the anarchic Bedouin who had followed Ali.

The Shia vilify Muawiya. They believe that his conversion to Islam was superficial, that he was motivated by lust for power and that he secured it by force. They point out that he is the only Sahaba Caliph (companion of the Prophet) who was not regarded as righteously guided by the Sunni. (He was related to the Prophet, like the others.)

His son and heir Yazid I is hated for his actions towards the house of Ali, in particular for sending forces against Ali’s son Husayn ibn Ali at the Battle of Karbala in 680.

The great administrators of the dynasty, Muawiya I, Abd al-Malik (ruled 685-705) and Hisham (ruled 724-43) took over many of the systems of the Greeks and Persians.

In 661-71 the Arabs conquered Tokharistan (Bactria), which the Persian Empire had won from the Ephthalite Hun Empire. This put the Islamic state astride the overland route between India and China via the Oxus-Jaxartes basin.

They had completed the conquest of North Africa by 698.

In 706-15 they conquered Transoxiana and Khwarezm, which had been the Turkish steppe-dwellers’ share of the Ephthalite Empire. They consolidated their position there in subsequent decades.

In 710-12 they extinguished the Visigothic Kingdom in Spain.

In 711 they conquered Sind and the southern Punjab, up to and including Multan.

On four fronts, they were defeated.

In order to conquer Asia Minor and take Constantinople, they needed naval command of the Mediterranean. In 669 Muawiya built a fleet. In 674-8 and in 717-18 the Arabs besieged Constantinople by sea and land and were defeated.

In 677 they gained a temporary foothold in the Lebanon. In 741 they were brought to a halt along the line of the Amanus range in southern Turkey. They did eventually carry their frontier beyond the Amanus to the Taurus.

In 732 they failed to conquer Carolingian France. Before reaching the Loire, they were checked at Poitiers.

In 737-38 they failed to conquer the empire of the Khazar nomads, between the Volga (which flows into the Caspian) and the Don (which flows into the Sea of Azov).

The Umayyad caliphs faced the opposition of Shiite Arab tribesmen of Iraq and that of pious elements in Medina who favoured the claims of Ali’s descendants, the Imams of the Shia (Shiʿat Ali or party of Ali).

The masses of non-Arab peoples in the conquered territories, the Mawali, began to stir and to resent their position as second-class citizens.

In 750 the Umayyads were overthrown by a revolution which began in Khurasan in eastern Persia, led by Abu Muslim Khorasani. One of the few members of the Umayyad family to survive was Hisham’s grandson, Abd al-Rahman, who escaped to North Africa and continued the Umayyad line in Spain.

See Clifford Edmund BosworthThe Islamic Dynasties, A Chronological and Genealogical Handbook, Edinburgh University Press, 1967, revised 1980. There have been subsequent revisions. It contains complete lists of rulers. I am partly following it in this series, but leaving out most diacritics used in romanisations of Arabic.

gm

Umayyad Moque, Damascus, picture: studyblue.com

Caliphates

July 11 2014

Some posts on the Caliphates in order of posting:

Ashura

Sunni and Shia

The Indian merchant

Ghosts of universal states

A tea-party in Delhi

Roads to Mecca

Hashish 2

The end of the Abbasid Caliphate

The Arab Kingdom of Syria

The Indian summer of the Caliphate

The resilience of the Caliphate

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) declared a new Caliphate in Mosul on June 29 2014 (the first day of Ramadan) with its Sunni leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the new Caliph.

Wikipedia article.

Austronesia: Madagascar to Hawaii

April 24 2014

The widest term for the languages and cultures (rather than racial identities) of Malaya and the islands from Madagascar to Sumatra, Java, Taiwan (before China), the Philippines, Borneo, Micronesia, Melanesia, New Zealand, Polynesia, Hawaii is Austronesian.

Austronesian languages are not to be confused with the much older Papuan and Australian languages. (New Guinea is outside the Austronesian space.)

It used to be thought that they had originated in Taiwan, from where large-scale migrations began after 5000 BC. The first Austronesian-speaking settlers were said to have landed in northern Luzon, where they intermingled with an older population.

Recently (2009) their origin has been placed further south, in Sundaland, the peninsula, before the end of the last Ice Age, that had extended the Asian landmass as far as Borneo and Java. Under this scenario, refugees from the rising seas migrated north to Taiwan.

Austronesian-speakers spread eastward to the islands of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia and westward to Madagascar. Sailing from Melanesia and Micronesia, they had discovered Polynesia by 1000 BC, Easter Island by AD 300, Hawaii by AD 400 and New Zealand by AD 1280. They reached South America and traded with Native Americans.

By the beginning of the first millennium CE, the Austronesian inhabitants of maritime Southeast Asia had begun trading with India and China. Hinduism and Buddhism were introduced and Indianised kingdoms established. By the tenth century Muslim traders had brought Islam, which gradually displaced the older religions. The Austronesian inhabitants of Polynesia were unaffected by these cultural migrations and diffusions and retained their indigenous culture.

Map of the Austronesian migrations, Wikimedia Commons, opens in a new window; a couple of the dates differ slightly from ones I have given:

Migraciones_austronesias

New Delhi and Simla

April 6 2014

It is significant that the Indian regime that has now succeeded the British regime in India has abandoned the British practice of transferring the seat of government from Delhi to Simla in the hot season. One motive for this change from migratoriness to stationariness has been financial. The present Indian Government of India has, reasonably, cut out of its budget a debit item which can be dispensed with now that the personnel of the Government of India consists of native inhabitants of the country who have been inured from birth to enduring the Indian summer heat. A more cogent reason, however, is that the functions of the Government of India have now become the multiple functions of a present-day “welfare state”, and the physical scale of the apparatus of administration has expanded proportionately. Visit New Delhi today; measure the area now covered there by the Government of India’s administrative buildings; calculate the total figure of their cubic content; watch the locust-like hordes of civil servants bicycling slowly, twice a day, between those administrative buildings in the centre of New Delhi and the new governmental housing-estates on the outskirts in which they and their families live; note the building-activities in these housing-estates that are providing ever more living-space for an ever-increasing host of government employees. When you have completed this reconnaissance of present-day New Delhi, you will realize that, even if the Government of India were to be endowed miraculously with the revenue of the Government of the United States, no amount of money would avail to carry New Delhi to Simla and to fetch it back. Even if the move could be financed, it would not be able to get under way. The quantity of conveyances required would choke all the roads and railways on the route, and magic carpets are not available in the prosaic present-day world. The twice-a-day flow of bicyclist commuters between the centre of New Delhi and its suburbs is already almost overwhelming.

Cities on the Move, OUP, 1970

High Baedeker and other matters

February 20 2014

“Singapore is the meeting place of many races. The Malays, though natives of the soil, dwell uneasily in towns, and are few; and it is the Chinese, supple, alert and industrious, who throng the streets; the dark-skinned Tamils walk on their silent, naked feet, as though they were but brief sojourners in a strange land, but the Bengalis, sleek and prosperous, are easy in their surroundings, and self-assured; the sly and obsequious Japanese seem busy with pressing and secret affairs; and the English in their topees and white ducks, speeding past in motor-cars or at leisure in their rickshaws, wear a nonchalant and careless air.”

W Somerset Maugham, P&O, story in The Casuarina Tree, William Heinemann, 1926.

The first sentence there is in what could be called High Baedeker.

EM Forster (who brings Baedekers into A Room with a View) uses it in the first sentence of A Passage to India, Edward Arnold, 1924:

“Except for the Marabar Caves – and they are twenty miles off – the city of Chandrapore presents nothing extraordinary.”

___

Another story, The Letter, in the same Maugham collection, has a similar passage to the one in P&O:

“Outside on the quay the sun beat fiercely. A stream of motors, lorries and buses, private cars and hirelings, sped up and down the crowded thoroughfare, and every chauffeur blew his horn; rickshaws threaded their nimble path amid the throng, and the panting coolies found breath to yell at one another; coolies, carrying heavy bales, sidled along with their quick jog-trot and shouted to the passer-by to make way; itinerant vendors proclaimed their wares. Singapore is the meeting-place of a hundred peoples; and men of all colours, black Tamils, yellow Chinks, brown Malays, Armenians, Jews and Bengalis, called to one another in raucous tones.”

He is enjoying the mixture of black, yellow, brown and white. That isn’t racist.

“Chinks” is still used sometimes in India. It is one of a dwindling number of verbal survivals from the Raj. “Peg”, as in “a peg of whisky”, is another. An Indian man in Delhi – who is married to a Tibetan (Tibetans are a significant minority there) – referred to “chinkies” when talking to me in 2010 and did not in the least mean to be offensive. I am not sure whether he meant to include Tibetans.

Mussoorie, a mere 170 miles away, has the training centre for the Indo-Tibetan Border Police.

In 1984, when I first visited Singapore, people would still ask where one was “putting up”, to mean where was one staying.

Singaporeans like the phrase “cock and bull story”.

Jews? They were and are an important, though small, minority, mainly Iraqi Jews, whose modern diaspora got under way in the nineteenth century. They settled in Bombay and moved east. I knew one very well in Singapore. See Wikipedia articles on David Sassoon of Bombay and Edward Isaac Ezra of Shanghai, especially. There are Sassoons in Singapore. David Marshall, one of Singapore’s modern founding fathers, was an Iraqi, or Baghdadi, Jew.

Armenians? They were a parallel movement. The Raffles Hotel was founded by Armenians, the Sarkies Brothers. The Straits Times was co-founded by an Armenian, Catchick Moses. Was he also Jewish? I suppose both groups were attracted by a growing trade between South Asia and the West and found little room for their energy in a declining Ottoman Empire.

___

Raffles, despite its recent sugar-coating and fakifying, is a fine building, especially from the side. Its architect was Regent Alfred John Bidwell (1869-1918) of a local firm, Swan and Maclaren. He also designed the Victoria Memorial Hall and deserves to be remembered.

You immediately feel that Raffles has taken something from Malay architecture. But what? Compare the Wikipedia picture of Raffles with the main Wikipedia image of the Rumah Melayu, the traditional Malay house. Here are both.

Rumah Kedah

Raffles Hotel

It is hard to pinpoint the architectural feature which defines a hybrid style, but the windows are similar. The Rumah Melayu tradition is indigenous. In its origin, it owes nothing to colonial influences. But does that house in Kedah owe nothing or is it itself done in a local hybrid style which in turn influenced the design of Raffles?

The Singapore shophouse style was a hybrid of Chinese and Portuguese vernaculars, with Malay decorative elements. The Baker-Lutyens style in New Delhi is a hybrid of European and Mughal.

Baker’s and Lutyens’s buildings did not come out of a local hybrid vernacular, but were products of individual genius. That is why New Delhi feels unreal to some people. Not to me. Its architects were too talented. If you want unreal stage sets, go to Putrajaya in Malaysia.

The great indigenous vernacular architectures of East Asia are Japanese and Malay. Some primitive Chinese vernacular is also moving.

Old posts:

Loggia, arcade and shophouse (Singapore architecture)

Anglo-India (P&Os)

Baedeker, Britannica and others

Baedekers.

The cohesion of the Hindu world

February 6 2014

There seemed to be little sign [in A.D. 1952] of any tendency for a polyglot Hindu Society’s sense of oecumenical solidarity to disrupt itself into parochial national movements animated by the perverse ideal of manufacturing so many political fatherlands out of the areas in which the divers living vernacular languages of the Hindu World happened respectively to be current. If it were indeed true that the Hindus had not reacted in this unfortunate Western way to the literary cultivation of local living vernaculars under the stimulus of a classical language and literature derived from an antecedent civilization, the Hindus’ happier record in this respect was perhaps the consequence of external pressure rather than the fruit of innate virtue. Whereas the Modern Western World had been virtually free from external pressure from A.D. 1683, when the ʿOsmanlis had met with their second, and decisive, reverse before the walls of Vienna, down to A.D. 1917, when the Bolsheviks had entered into the heritage of a Petrine Russian Empire, the Hindu World had been under Muslim pressure since the tenth century of the Christian Era, and under Western pressure since the eighteenth.

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954 (footnote)

The Hindu forest

January 27 2014

“Hinduism has often and justly been compared to a jungle. As in the jungle every particle of soil seems to put forth its spirit in vegetable life and plants grow on plants, creepers and parasites on their more stalwart brethren, so in India art, commerce, warfare, and crime, every human interest and aspiration seek for a manifestation in religion, and since men and women of all classes and occupations, all stages of education and civilization, have contributed to Hinduism, much of it seems low, foolish and even immoral. The jungle is not a park or garden. Whatever can grow in it, does grow. The Brahmans are not gardeners but forest officers. To attempt a history or description of Indian creeds seems an enterprise as vast, hopeless and pathless as a general account of European politics. As for many centuries the life of Europe has expressed itself in politics, so for even longer ages the life of India, which has more inhabitants than Western Europe, [footnote: The population of India (about 315 millions) is larger than that of Europe without Russia.] [This would now be true even if you included all of Russia.] has found expression in religion, speculation, and philosophy, and has left of all this thought a voluminous record, mighty in bulk if wanting in dates and events. And why should it chronicle them? The truly religious mind does not care for the history of religion, just as among us the scientific mind does not dwell on the history of science.” [Footnote: Eliot, Sir Charles: op. cit. […].] [Referring to Eliot, Sir Charles: Hinduism and Buddhism (London 1921, Arnold, 3 vols.) […].]

A Study of History, Vol III, OUP, 1934

Centre of South Asian Studies

December 12 2013

Films of the Raj at the Centre of South Asian Studies, Cambridge, England.

Interesting, but why does an academic institution grudgingly make them available in ultra-low resolution form?

On this blog:

Karachi at the end of the Raj

Durbar

Colonial Film

Panorama of Calcutta (1899).

Parliaments and alcohol and that kind of thing

November 17 2013

A conversation […] took place in the nineteen-twenties between the Zaydi Imam Yahya of Sanʿa and a British envoy whose mission was to persuade the Imam to restore peacefully a portion of the British Aden Protectorate which he had occupied during the general War of 1914-18 and had refused to evacuate thereafter, notwithstanding the defeat of his Ottoman overlords. In a final interview with the Imam, after it had become apparent that the mission would not attain its object, the British envoy, wishing to give the conversation another turn, complimented the Imam upon the soldierly appearance of his new-model army. Seeing that the Imam took the compliment in good part, he went on:

“And I suppose you will be adopting other Western institutions as well?”

“I think not,” said the Imam with a smile.

“Oh, really? That interests me. And may I venture to ask your reasons?”

“Well, I don’t think I should like other Western institutions,” said the Imam.

“Indeed? And what institutions, for example?”

“Well, there are parliaments,” said the Imam. “I like to be the Government myself. I might find a parliament tiresome.”

“Why, as for that,” said the Englishman, “I can assure you that responsible parliamentary representative government is not an indispensable part of the apparatus of Western civilization. Look at Italy. She has given that up, and she is one of the great Western powers.”

“Well, then there is alcohol,” said the Imam, “I don’t want to see that introduced into my country, where at present it is happily almost unknown.”

“Very natural,” said the Englishman; “but, if it comes to that, I can assure you that alcohol is not an indispensable adjunct of Western civilization either. Look at America. She has given up that, and she too is one of the great Western powers.”

“Well, anyhow,” said the Imam, with another smile which seemed to intimate that the conversation was at an end, “I don’t like parliaments and alcohol and that kind of thing.”

The Englishman could not make out whether there was any suggestion of humour in the parting smile with which the last five words were uttered; but, however that might be, those words went to the heart of the matter and showed that the inquiry about possible further Western innovations at Sanʿa had been more pertinent than the Imam might have cared to admit. Those words indicated, in fact, that the Imam, viewing Western civilization from a great way off, saw it, in that distant perspective, as something one and indivisible and recognized certain features of it, which to a Westerner’s eye would appear to have nothing whatever to do with one another, as being organically related parts of that indivisible whole. Thus, on his own tacit admission, the Imam, in adopting the rudiments of the Western military technique, had introduced into the life of his people the thin end of a wedge which in time would inexorably cleave their close-compacted traditional Islamic civilization asunder. He had started a cultural revolution which would leave the Yamanites, in the end, with no alternative but to cover their nakedness with a complete ready-made outfit of Western clothes. If the Imam had met his Hindu contemporary Mr. Gandhi, that is what he would have been told, and such a prophecy would have been supported by what had happened already to other Islamic peoples who had exposed themselves to the insidious process of “Westernization” several generations earlier.

Toynbee’s distant perspectives are as dangerous as the Imam’s. The modern cultural interaction of the West with other societies was a subtler process than he acknowledges. He rarely examines its nuances. He had a rather superficial conception of what constituted modernity.

The Imam is, in Toynbeean terminology, a Zealot rather than a Herodian.

Britain in Yemen (old post).

List of British residents in Aden.

Civilization on Trial, OUP, 1948

Parting sentiments

November 8 2013

“But whether it is to-morrow, or a day a little more remote, there will be one sense in which the British will never quit India, and that is a spiritual sense. With all our faults of omission and commission, our occasional outbursts of temper, our frequent lack of imagination, we gave India peace, and it was not the peace of the desert; we gave India law, and it was not the law of the strong; and in the final judgment, we gave India liberty, for it was the ideals of Milton, of Locke, of Wilberforce, Mill, Bright and Gladstone that first kindled the Indian mind to an understanding of what liberty really is. Long after we have left, the students of the future will be opening the golden pages of the Areopagitica, and thrilling, as all young men should thrill, to the revolutionary music of Shelley. The ghost of Byron will brood in the quadrangles of universities yet unbuilt, and in the council chambers there will be heard the echo of the distant cadences of Burke. These things we gave to India, as we gave them to the rest of the world, and maybe it is in India that they will have their finest flowering. In the fulfilment of such a hope lies much of the future happiness of mankind.

Bombay
Spring, 1944”

___

Beverley Nichols, Verdict on India, conclusion, Jonathan Cape, 1944.

Many English people thought like this, and so did some Indians, such as Nirad C Chaudhuri. The book is available on Kindle.

Nichols (who once lost his cat in my mother’s garden) spent a year in India, from 1943 to ’44. “I came to India, originally, as a correspondent of Allied Newspapers; a long and serious illness interrupted this connection; I stayed on as an independent observer; and when I felt that I had observed enough, I wrote this book.”

It is, on the whole, not bombastic about Britain. Its main angle is acute distrust of the Hindus and of the Congress Party, where he finds not only fascist sympathisers but fascists; and sympathy with the idea of Pakistan. Some of the criticism of Hindu culture is crude polemic. Descriptions of Hindu politics prefigure the coming third world. He interviews Jinnah.

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Chinatown

August 15 2013

Chinatowns

Chinatowns in Africa

Chinatowns in Asia

Chinatowns in Australia

Chinatowns in Canada

Chinatowns in Europe

Chinatowns in Latin America

Chinatowns in the Middle East, but are any real?

Chinatowns in Oceania

Chinatowns in the United States

Oldest. Anywhere: Manila. In Japan: Nagasaki. In Americas: Mexico City. In US: San Francisco. In Canada: Victoria. In Australia: Melbourne. In Europe: Liverpool. The oldest are never the largest.

Largest. In US: New York, followed by San Francisco. In Canada: Vancouver, followed by Toronto. In Japan: Yokohama, followed by Kobe, followed by Nagasaki (the three official Chinatowns). In Australia: Sydney, followed by Melbourne. In Britain: London, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Newcastle.

In the Netherlands: Amsterdam, followed by The Hague, followed by Rotterdam. In Belgium: Antwerp (the only official one). In France: Paris, the main one in the 13th arrondissement.

The only official Chinatown in Korea is in Incheon. There are Chinatowns in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. Jakarta’s is in a district called Glodok. The only real Chinatown in India is in Kolkata.

It is odd, in the case of Singapore, to have a Chinatown in a country that is ethnically Chinese. The word at least pays lip service to Singapore’s multiculturalism. There is no Chinatown in Tokyo.

Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo do not have well-defined areas. Buenos Aires has a small Chinatown. Moscow and Berlin do not have historic Chinatowns.

Many Chinatowns are in decline or are being replaced by China-themed malls. Flight of upwardly-mobile Chinese in US to the suburbs.

Chinese laundries in North America.

See chinatownology.com.

Chinatown cooks

Manhattan, Wikimedia Commons

A tea-party in Delhi

June 20 2013

When the news [of the abolition of the Caliphate] reached Delhi – where […] the Caliphate had been revered for seven hundred years [since the formation of the Delhi Sultanate] with a naïveté seldom corrected by first-hand acquaintance – the shock declared itself in a dramatic incident at a Red Crescent tea-party which offers a burlesque counterpart to the tragic scene in Saint Jerome’s cell at Bethlehem when the Christian scholar received the news of the fall of Rome.

“A mission from the Turkish Red Crescent Society, which was collecting funds in India at the moment when the news of the abolition of the Ottoman Caliphate arrived, found it advisable to cut short its activities and return home. (The Times, 5th March, 1924; Oriente Moderno, IV, 3, p. 181). The news was actually received during a tea-party at Delhi, where the members of the Turkish mission were being entertained by their Indian co-religionists. Upon the recital of the telegram containing the text of the Turkish Law of the 3rd March, [1924,] [his bracket] all but two of the Indians present immediately left the room.”

A footnote gives the source of this as the previously cited

Toynbee, A. J.: Survey of International Affairs, 1925, vol. i (Oxford 1927, University Press), “The Islamic World since the Peace Settlement” […].

Jerome died near Bethlehem in 420. What is the source for the scene in his cell?

The shock felt by those hearing of the destruction of the Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad in 1258 is also compared with the shock of hearing of the fall of Rome in 410.

The Indian telegram service will close on July 15.

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954 (footnote)

The resilience of the Caliphate

June 19 2013

The main line of Sunni Caliphs – Rightly Guided, then Umayyad, then Abbasid – came to an end when the Mongols conquered Baghdad in 1258.

A surviving member of the Abbasid house was installed at Cairo under the patronage of the newly formed Mamluk Sultanate three years later.

In 1517 the Ottoman Turks took the last nominal Abbasid Caliph at Cairo into custody and transported him to Constantinople.

When he died, the Caliphate was virtually in abeyance. The first time Caliph was used as a political instead of symbolic religious title by the Ottoman Sultans was in the peace treaty with Russia at the end of the war of 1768-74, as a way of allowing the Turks to retain moral authority in territory they had ceded, notably the Crimea.

Around 1880 Sultan Abdul Hamid II reasserted the title as Russia expanded into Central Asia. His claim was fervently accepted by the Muslims of British India.

The Khilafat movement (1919-24) was a vain pan-Islamic protest campaign launched by Muslims in India to persuade the British government to protect the Ottoman Empire and the Caliphate. The Ottoman Sultanate was abolished in 1922, the Caliphate in 1924.

At the time when the present chapter was being written, it looked as if this had really been the end of the Caliphate, for an immediate attempt on the part of the Hāshimī King Husayn of the Hijāz to assume the office (on the eve, as it turned out, of his own ejection from his ancestral patrimony by Ibn Saʿūd) was – in spite of the Sharīf’s unimpeachable Qurayshī lineage and his sovereignty, at the moment, over the two Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina – as dismal a failure as most of his other enterprises. Nor did any practical action result from a Caliphate Congress held at Cairo on the 13th-19th May, 1926.

Yet, even if this forecast were to prove correct – though, in the light of previous history, it would not be safe to sign a death certificate for so resilient an institution as the Caliphate until it had been in abeyance for at least a quarter of a millennium [footnote: Its latest interregnum had lasted from the death of the last Cairene ʿAbbasid Caliph Mutawakkil in A.D. 1543 to the drafting of the Russo-Turkish Treaty of Küchuk Qaynārja in A.D. 1774.] – the marvel would be, not that the Caliphate should have petered out at last, but that, on the strength of having been an effective sovereignty over a span of less than two hundred years, [footnote: From the death of the Prophet Muhammad in A.D. 632 to the death of the ʿAbbasid Caliph Amīn (imperabat A.D. 809-13), in a civil war with his brother and supplanter Ma’mūn (imperabat A.D. 813-33) over the heritage of their father Hārūn-ar-Rashīd (imperabat A.D. 786-809).] it should have been able within that time to acquire a prestige sufficient to keep it alive, and twice revive it, [footnote: i.e. at Cairo in A.D. 1261 and at Constantinople in A.D. 1774.] for another eleven hundred years [footnote: Reckoning from the death of the Baghdādi ʿAbbasid Caliph Amīn in A.D. 813 to the deposition of the Constantinopolitan ʿOsmanli Caliph ʿAbd-al-Mejīd in A.D. 1924.] during which it never emerged from the state of political impotence into which it had begun to decline in the reign of Hārūn-ar-Rashīd’s son Ma’mūn (imperabat A.D. 813-33).

The revival of the Caliphate is often predicted today, in Brummie, Indonesian and other accents.

Ma’mūn is written thus in the OUP text, not as Maʿmūn.

At times in Muslim history there have been rival caliphs, notably those of the Ismaili Shia Fatimid Caliphate in North Africa, 909-1171.

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

Thalassocracies

June 18 2013

The sea-faring empire-builders of a thalassocracy control their overseas dominions from the sea-ports linking them with the metropolitan territory across the water. [Footnote: The typical structure of a thalassocracy is illustrated on the Aegean scale by “the thalassocracy of Minos” and by the Athenian Empire that grew out of the Delian League, and on the Oceanic scale by the British Empire. The British conquered India from three maritime bases: the river-port of Calcutta, the sea-port of Madras, and the inshore island of Bombay. The transfer of the political capital of the British Indian Empire from Calcutta to New Delhi in A.D. 1912 was a step towards the renunciation of British rule over India […].]

“Thalassocracy of Minos” seems to be an allusion to Thucydides, Book 1, Chapter 4.

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

The coalescence of the Oikoumenê

June 12 2013

By the year A.D. 1952 the initiative and skill of Western Man had been engaged for some four and a half centuries in knitting together the whole habitable and traversable surface of the planet by a system of communications that was unprecedented in the two features of being literally world-wide and being operated by a technique which was constantly surpassing itself at a perpetually accelerating pace. The wooden caravels and galleons, rigged for sailing in the eye of the wind, which had sufficed to enable the pioneer mariners of Modern Western Europe to make themselves masters of all the oceans, had given way [in the 1840s] to mechanically propelled iron-built ships of relatively gigantic size [some smaller steamships had wooden hulls]; “dirt-tracks” travelled by six-horse coaches had been replaced by macadamized and concrete-floored roads travelled by automobiles; railways had been invented to compete with roads, and aircraft to compete with all land-borne or water-borne conveyances. Concurrently, means of [instantaneous] communication which did not require the physical transportation of human bodies had been conjured up, and put into operation on a world-wide scale, in the shape of telegraphs, telephones, and wireless transmission – visual as well as auditory – by radio. The movement of sea-borne and airborne traffic had been made detectable at long range by radar. There had been no period in the history of any other civilization in which so large an area had been made so highly conductive for every form of human intercourse.

From this perspective, the creation of an electronic World Wide Web (for non-privileged users) in 1994 was the latest stage of a process that had begun with the discovery of Madeira by the Portuguese in 1419.

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

The ship

June 11 2013

The key-notes of the fifteenth-century acceleration in the shipwright’s and the navigator’s art were its suddenness and its speed.

“In the fifteenth century … there was a swift and momentous change in the building of ships. It was a great era of architecture. In the space of fifty years the sea-going sailing-ship developed from a single-master into a three-master carrying five or six sails.” [Footnote: Bassett-Lowke, J. W. [that should be W. J.], and Holland, G.: Ships and Men (London 1946, Harrap), p. 46. […]]

The revolution in navigation was the development of the sea astrolabe.

And this technological revolution in the West not only gave its authors access to all quarters of the Globe by making them masters of Oceanic navigation; it also gave them an ascendancy over all non-Western mariners whom they encountered in any seas.

“At the beginning of the fifteenth century the seaborne trade of Europe was carried in ships markedly inferior in design and workmanship to the vessels used in many parts of the East; but at the end of the sixteenth century the West European ships were the best in the World. They were, perhaps, less handy and less weatherly than the junks of the China seas, but in general, in their combination of seaworthiness, endurance, carrying capacity, and fighting power, they proved superior to anything else afloat.” [Footnote: Parry, J. H.: Europe and a Wider World, 1415-1715 (London 1949, Hutchinson), p. 21.]

This new-fangled Western type of vessel is the most characteristic emblem of a Modern Age of Western history (currebat circa A.D. 1475-1875) during which its unchallenged supremacy was proclaimed in its monopoly of the title “ship”, by which it came to be known par excellence. The “ship’s” distinctive virtue, in which it surpassed its successors as conspicuously as its predecessors, was its power to keep the sea for an almost unlimited length of time on end; and this virtue has been divined and lauded by a nineteenth-century Western man of letters who lived to see the “ship” reach its peak of technical perfection, and all but lived on to see it disappear from the seas as suddenly as it had invaded them some four hundred years earlier.

“L’ancien navire de Christophe Colomb et de Ruyter est un des grands chefs-d’œuvre de l’homme. Il est inépuisable en force comme l’infini en souffles, il emmagasine le vent dans sa voile, il est précis dans l’immense diffusion des vagues, il flotte et il règne.” [Footnote: Hugo, Victor: Les Misérables, Part II, Book II, chap. 3.]

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954

The last days of sail

June 9 2013

The writer of this Study had the good fortune, as a child, to catch a last glimpse of the sailing-ship before she vanished from the seas, and to be initiated into the lore of her divers rigs by the former master of an East Indiaman, his great-uncle Captain Henry Toynbee (vivebat A.D. 1819-1909), who had retired from the sea in A.D. 1866 without ever having seen service on a steamship or indeed on any build of sailing-vessel other than a full ship since his first voyage at a tender age on a barque [which is a “full ship”]. On summer holidays in the eighteen-nineties at St. Margaret’s Bay on the English shore of the Straits of Dover, under the eye of the South Foreland lighthouse, the small boy learnt the rigs from the old sailor as the ships came gliding past: schooners and three-masted schooners and top-sail schooners (very common); brigantines and brigs (rather rare); barquentines and barques; and full-rigged ships ranging from classic three-masters to the four-masters and five-masters that were a nineteenth-century revival of a sixteenth-century fashion. He learnt to know and love them all, without ever suspecting that he would live to see the disappearance of this divine work of Man’s hands which, in his uncle’s confident eyes, was as much a part of the eternal order of Nature as the chalk cliff on which they were standing, or as the water which gave the measure of the distance from the shore to the passing ship. In the eighteen-nineties the sailing-ships plying through the Straits were still far more numerous than the steamships (though doubtless steam had by then long since outstripped sail in aggregate tonnage). As late as the summer of 1910, there used always to be several four-masted sailing-ships at anchor in Falmouth harbour, and in the summer of 1911 the wreck of one huge sailing-ship was lying huddled against the cliffs between the South Foreland and Dover. Yet, already, forty years back, sail was being driven by steam off one sea-route after another. The China tea clippers had been put out of business by the opening of the Suez Canal in A.D. 1869, which had deprived them of their advantage over steamships trying to compete with them on the long voyage round the Cape; by A.D. 1875 all routes except the Australian had been captured by steamships; and in A.D. 1881 the Australian route itself was conquered for steam by the S.S. Aberdeen with her triple expansion engines, though the wool clippers went on fighting their losing battle till the end of the decade. The interval between the first two world wars saw the process of extinguishing the sailing-ship completed.

Clippers were very fast sailing-ships that appeared in their classic form at the same time as steamships and competed with them for a generation.

Footnotes refer to three works previously cited:

Clowes, G. S. L.: Sailing Ships, their History and Development: Part I: Historical Notes (London 1932, H.M. Stationery Office) […].

Abell, W.: The Shipwright’s Trade (Cambridge 1948, University Press) […].

Bassett-Lowke, J. W. [that should be W. J.], and Holland, G.: Ships and Men (London 1946, Harrap) […].

Footnote on Uncle Harry:

“Captain Henry Toynbee was one of the most scientific navigators of his day. … ‘He was always sure of his longitude within five miles,’ writes one of his officers. And his wonderful landfalls were the admiration of his passengers.

“Toynbee … went to sea in 1833 at the age of fourteen as a midshipman in the East Indiaman Dunvegan Castle. … Toynbee’s first command was the Ellenborough; and he had also commanded the Gloriana and Marlborough before he took over the Hotspur, the command of which he resigned in 1866 in order to succeed Admiral Fitzroy as Marine Superintendent of the Meteorological Office. He retired in 1888, and lived to be over ninety years of age, an example of all that an officer in our mercantile marine should be” (Lubbock, Basil: The Blackwall Frigates, 2nd edition (Glasgow 1950, Brown, Son, & Ferguson), pp. 145-6).

Additional footnote:

In The Times of the 25th January, 1951, a photograph will be found of “the Pamir and Passat, the last two sailing barques to take part in the traditional grain race from Australia to England, lying at Penarth Docks. They will be taken in tow to Antwerp for breaking up.”

Petschili in the English Channel

The four-masted barque Petschili in the English Channel between 1903 and 1918; the Petschili was built in Hamburg in 1903 and beached in 1919 in Valparaiso and was a sister ship of the Pamir and Passat just mentioned; Wikimedia Commons

HS Tuke, Four-Masted Barque, 1914

One of those four-masted sailing-ships at anchor in Falmouth harbour, watercolour, Henry Scott Tuke, 1914

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954 (footnotes)

Foreign fields

June 3 2013

Anglican and partly-Anglican cemeteries in non-English-speaking countries:

Bangkok Protestant Cemetery

Bilbao British Cemetery

Bornova Anglican Cemetery, Izmir

British Cemetery, Callao

British Cemetery, Madrid

Cementerio Británico, Buenos Aires

Cheras Christian Cemetery, Kuala Lumpur

Christian Cemetery, Dhaka

English Cemetery, Florence

English Cemetery, Malaga

English Cemetery, Naples

First Cemetery of Athens

Gora Kabristan, Lahore

Feriköy Protestant Cemetery, Istanbul

Mount Zion Cemetery, Jerusalem

Old English Cemetery, Livorno

Old Protestant Cemetery, George Town

Old Protestant Cemetery, Macau

Protestant Cemetery, Rome

Protestant Cemetery, São Paulo

Yarborough Cemetery, Belize City

This, of course not complete, is everything relevant in a Wikipedia list of Anglican cemeteries generally. Apart from Lahore and Dhaka, it has nothing from British India, but it mentions the British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia.

The rather user-unfriendly BACSA site says: “People sometimes think that the Commonwealth War Graves Commission [my link] cares for all graves in Britain’s former Empire, but in fact the Commission only deals with the graves of soldiers [of all Commonwealth countries] killed in World War One and World War Two. The graves of European civilians, and soldiers who died before World War One, and between the two World Wars, generally have no-one to protect them, or to record their inscriptions, which is where BACSA comes in.

“BACSA – the British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia – was set up in 1977 to bring together people with a concern for the many thousands of British and other European cemeteries, isolated graves and monuments in South Asia. There is no one body or agency responsible for looking after these last resting places in the area from the Red Sea to the China Coast – wherever the East India Company and its rivals from France, the Netherlands and Denmark set foot. An estimated two million Europeans and Anglo-Indians – mainly British administrators, soldiers, merchants and their families – are buried in the Indian sub-continent alone. Without our support many of their graves and monuments – witnesses to centuries of European residence in the area – would disappear.

“We record the locations of cemeteries and monuments, and the inscriptions on headstones. We publish cemetery and church records containing names, inscriptions and biographical notes on individual tombs and gravestones. We support local people active in the restoration and conservation of European graveyards.”

It is run by volunteers and has a membership of 1,400 in the UK and elsewhere.

Another site, indian-cemeteries.org, “is attempting to preserve the images of graves and monuments before they disappear. It covers the area which used to be British India and includes present-day India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Entries are not limited to British citizens. Monuments cover many nationalities. All information comes ad hoc from volunteers, therefore it is not an exhaustive and accurate survey.

“When I [John, site owner] started looking around cemeteries, I was shocked by the state of neglect of most of them. Monuments of British men, women and children, who had sometimes died in the most tragic ways, were crumbling into the dust. Some of the local people had a genuine interest in these cemeteries and were trying to get something done, but much of the money which is awarded for renovation work does not reach the people doing the work.

“The British Government, I was told, contributes nothing. [It does only in so far as it is a member of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.] If this is true, then it is indeed a disgrace.

“This site is a photographic record of those cemeteries and churches which I visited, along with transcriptions of the memorials and gravestones. They are not an exhaustive survey, as time did not permit. Since this site started it has continued to grow as contributions are sent in by other people.”

Quotations edited.

Old English Cemetery overview

The overgrown Old English Cemetery at Livorno

Last Chukker

May 24 2013

There was no North-East Frontier Province so-called, but the Burma-Yunnan border was the Raj’s northeast frontier from the fall of Mandalay in 1886 to Burma’s separation from India in 1937. In the north, on the Burma side, were the Kachin Tracts. In the south were the Shan States. Those British names do not do justice to the complex ethnographic map of Burma.

Now India’s northeast frontier is Arunachal Pradesh, which is claimed by China. If you take Arunachal away, it is Assam. Arunachal borders Tibet and Burma. So would Assam but for Arunachal: the buffer was established by the McMahon line in 1914. Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram, to the south of Arunachal, border Burma.

I saw a novella in a real bookshop recently about life in the Kachin country: Last Chukker by JK Stanford (the Wikipedia entry needs an editor), Faber and Faber (no less), mcmli. 1951.

“Few writers have attempted to describe the north-eastern frontier of Burma, where it marches with Yunnan, in all its loveliness and savagery. Fewer still have woven a real knowledge of this land, little known even before the Japanese War, into a tale of smuggling and polo, of mystery and murder, of wild beasts, and even more dangerous men.

“The author of The Twelfth, who knew Burma well for over eighteen years, has crowned the vivid story of Jeremy Gayner (naturalist and ex-policeman and the bankrupt outcast of the European community) with a climax which will thrill even those who have never seen polo played.

Last Chukker is an unforgettable vignette of the Burma which came to an end so abruptly in 1941.”

How can one resist an invitation to a lost world? I bought, read and enjoyed it.

Stanford saw active service in both wars, and between the wars was a civil servant in Burma, including in the Police Department.

M.F.M.M., Obituary, Lt.-Col. J.K. Stanford, O.B.E., M.C., Scottish Birds, Vol 7, No 1, spring 1972:

“He was one of that admirable band of servants of the British Empire who passed the few hours of leisure they had in enriching, or even founding, the ornithology of the remote areas where they were stationed, and it is as an authority on Burmese fauna that J.K.’s name will largely survive.”

Until twenty years ago, one read obituaries of these Empire naturalists in the Telegraph.

He wrote many books, mainly in his retirement in England. The first, The Twelfth (1944, revised 1964), written in the North African desert, was a comic fantasy of English sporting life about a character called George Hysteron-Proteron. Later came Ladies in the Sun: The Memsahibs’ India, 1790-1860 (1962). His bird knowledge is evident in Last Chukker.

The nineteen year-old Orwell joined the Indian Imperial Police in Burma in 1922 and stayed until ’27. Perhaps Stanford met him. Perhaps Orwell reported to Stanford. Orwell’s maternal grandmother lived at Moulmein. He was posted in various places, ending in Katha, which became the setting for Burmese Days (1934). That was furthest north he got. He arrived in Burma during a crime wave which had turned it into the most violent corner of the Empire.

Emma Larkin quotes a memoir by Stanford (Reverie of a Qu’hai, and Other Stories, 1951, apparently a memoir) in her book about Orwell in Burma, Secret Histories, John Murray, 2004:

“‘Everyone had realised what an astounding assortment of malefactors – murderers, dacoits, thieves, robbers, house-breakers, forgers, coiners, blackmailers, and so on – each district possessed. They seemed to spring up like dragon’s teeth, till there were scarcely enough columns in the criminal game-book.’”

We meet them in Last Chukker. One wonders how much of that savagery was a result of British interference with Burmese life.

Last Chukker has illustrations (drawings by Maurice Tulloch). I wish more books did, but publishers are too lazy and mean to commission them. “What is the use of a book without pictures or conversation?”

Beyond the Raj, to the north and east, were desert, ice and green: Sinkiang (Xinjiang, Chinese Turkestan), Tibet and Yunnan. Which, come to think of it, are the colours of the Indian flag, not that that is its official symbolism.

Afghanistan, Pakistan and India border Xinjiang.

India, Nepal, Bhutan and Burma border Tibet.

Burma, Laos and Vietnam border Yunnan.

eBay:

JK Stanford

Trade through war

May 23 2013

It was the armed forces of the East India Company and the Crown that opened up the sub-continent of India to British trade through the wars of 1799-1849, and it was the Royal Navy that opened up the sub-continent of China to British trade through the War of 1840-2.

1799, as every Victorian schoolboy knew, saw the defeat of Tipu Sultan in the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War. 1849 saw the end of the Second Anglo-Sikh War and the annexation of the Punjab. Could one put the first India date earlier, at the start of the First Anglo-Mysore War?

The Mysore Wars broke the power of the Muslim Kings of Mysore. The Maratha Wars broke the resistance of the Hindu Maratha Confederacy in the Deccan. The Sikh Wars, after the conquest of Sindh, broke the power of the Sikh Empire.

First Anglo-Mysore War (1767-69)

First Anglo-Maratha War (1777-83)

Second Anglo-Mysore War (1780-84)

Third Anglo-Mysore War (1789-92)

Fourth Anglo-Mysore War (1798-99)

Second Anglo-Maratha War (1803-05)

Third Anglo-Maratha War, or Pindari War (1817-18)

First Anglo-Sikh War (1845-46)

Second Anglo-Sikh War (1848-49)

Indian Rebellion of 1857

Wellesleys and Lawrences (old post)

In China:

First Opium War (1839-42)

Second Opium War (1856-60)

Tipu Sultan

Tipu Sultan confronts his opponent during the Siege of Srirangapatna (1792) in the Third Anglo-Mysore War; Wikimedia Commons, unidentified 1909 source

A Study of History, Vol IV, OUP, 1939 (footnote)

Optimism about Karachi 4

May 19 2013

“The optimistic view is that Karachi has seen worse periods of violence only to bounce back, even to thrive.” BBC correspondent Shahzeb Jillani, who is returning there after twelve years in London. I would be doing the same in his position.

Optimism about Karachi

Optimism about Karachi 2

Optimism about Karachi 3

The Swahili coast 2

April 4 2013

This is from Basil Davidson’s 1984 sweeping Channel 4 television series Africa: A Voyage of Discovery (from the third of its eight one-hour parts).

Davidson put African history on the map for laymen, including Africans. Is he still regarded highly? If not, is that because he has been superseded or because he was self-taught and a journalist and lacked any academic qualifications? Or is it a residue from a time when he must have seemed unsettlingly left-wing and when African history was not considered a real subject?

This blog should have recorded his death in 2010 at the age of ninety-five. Guardian obituary. Telegraph. Independent.

The Channel 4 series is all on YouTube, but not in one place and not in good recordings. There is no decent bibliography of him online. Many people will know his Lost Cities of Africa (1959), African Slave Trade (1961), Africa: History of a Continent (1966) and Time-Life book African Kingdoms (1966).

Swahili, or Kiswahili, is a Bantu language of the East African coast. It became the tongue of the urban class in the Great Lakes region and went on to serve as a post-colonial lingua franca in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Romans visited the coast in the first century. Arab traders had contact with the black coastal peoples from the sixth century CE or earlier. Islam reached the coast in the ninth century or earlier. There is cultural evidence of early Persian (or Arabo-Persian) settlement on Zanzibar from Shiraz. Swahili contains many Arabic and Persian loan words.

City-states – Muslim, cosmopolitan, and politically independent of each other – began to flourish along the coast and on the islands: Kilwa, Malindi, Gedi, Pate, Comoros, Zanzibar. They depended on trade from the Indian Ocean.

The Swahili acted as middlemen between Africa and the outside world. Slaves, ebony, gold, ivory and sandalwood were brought to the coasts and sold to Arab, Indian and Portuguese traders, who carried them to Arabia, Persia, Madagascar, India, China, Europe. Many slaves sold in Zanzibar ended up in Brazil.

Zanzibar grew spices: cinnamon and cardamom were introduced from Asia (when?), chilli and cacao were brought by the Portuguese from South America. When were cloves introduced? Were spices sent mainly to Europe or also to Asia?

How Arab were the ruling classes? How much of the Indian Ocean sailing was done by black Africans? Is there evidence for the arrival of black traders in China? Wikipedia on Chinese in the Indian Ocean and in Africa.

The sultanates began to decline in the sixteenth century, as Portuguese influence grew. The Portuguese in turn were threatened by Omanis, who controlled Zanzibar from 1698 until the middle of the nineteenth century, when the British started to interfere. They were in turn followed by Germans.

Commerce between Africa and Asia via the Indian Ocean declined, but some of the dhow trade survived when Davidson made his film. Swahili fishermen still sell fish to their inland neighbours in exchange for products of the interior.

The earliest known documents written in Swahili are letters written in Kilwa in 1711 in the Arabic script. They were sent to the Portuguese of Mozambique and their local allies. They are preserved in the Historical Archives of Goa. Another document in Arabic script is Utendi wa Tambuka (The History of Tambuka), an epic poem from 1728, written in Pate, about wars between Byzantium and Muslims from 628 to 1453. The Latin script was used later, under the influence of European colonial powers.

Akbar and the Hindus

January 14 2013

Akbar recognized that a Muslim regime in India could not survive for long if it failed to win the assent of its Hindu subjects. In 1564 he abolished the poll-tax on non-Muslims. He demonstrated his power to the Rajput descendants of the Huns and Gurjaras by taking Chitor in 1567-8 (this once impregnable rock was not proof against artillery), but, having intimidated the Rajputs, Akbar conciliated them, and this was wise, since they were the most martial of the Hindu peoples before the rise of the Marathas and the Sikhs, and Rajasthan, where the Rajputs had congregated since the Muslim conquest of the Jumna-Ganges basin in the twelfth century, was the nearest to Delhi of all the regions in India in which the Hindus had preserved their autonomy.

However, Akbar’s conciliatoriness to his Hindu subjects was not prompted solely by political considerations; it was partly inspired by an ambition to break down the traditional barriers between the historic higher religions. Akbar initiated a series of debates between representatives of Islam, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, and Roman Catholic Christianity, and in 1582 he promulgated a new religion of his own, the Din-i-Ilahi (“the Divine Religion”), which, so he hoped, would unite all the older religions by transcending each of them.

Mughal mnemonic

Mankind and Mother Earth, OUP, 1976, posthumous

Delhi Noir

January 9 2013

Akashic Books (New York) publishes the grim Delhi Noir, new stories by: Irwin Allan Sealy, Omair Ahmad, Radhika Jha, Ruchir Joshi, Nalinaksha Bhattacharya, Meera Nair, Siddharth Chowdhury, Mohan Sikka, Palash Krishna Mehrotra, Hartosh Singh Bal, Hirsh Sawhney, Tabish Khair, Uday Prakash, Manjula Padmanabhan. All, as far as I can see, written in English except the one by Uday Prakash, which is translated from Hindi.

Delhi Noir’s fifteen original stories are written by the best Indian writers alive today – the ones you haven’t yet heard of but should have. They are veteran authors who have appeared on the Booker Prize short list and budding geniuses who your grandchildren will read about in English class. Delhi Noir is a world of sex in parks, male prostitution, and vigilante rickshaw drivers. It is one plagued by religious riots, soulless corporate dons, and murderous servants. This is India uncut, the one you’re missing out on because mainstream publishing houses and glossy magazines can’t stomach it.”

The gang rape makes it topical. (What is this particular publisher unable to get right when it does it as an ebook? Every two or three pages, a word has a nonsensical hyphen in the middle.)

It is edited by Hirsh Sawhney, who writes the Introduction, which is dated May 2009. He came back in 2005 from New York to a Delhi where middle-class families who had once lived frugally were comparing plasma television prices. Nowadays those televisions are rigged up in slums. Sawhney doesn’t define his own family as middle-class, though their address in the 1950s, Connaught Place, perhaps suggests it. They had one bedroom, but they were refugees from the Punjab. (I can remember when the English middle class was, by modern English standards, poor. It was all it could do to keep a bottle of sherry in the larder.)

“International brands like the Wall Street Journal and Chanel were setting up shop. The city’s cruddy public transportation system was being revolutionized by an ultramodern metro. […] The educated elite […] bragged about the new malls and cinemas going up in Gurgaon.”

Reforms began under Manmohan Singh, who began to dismantle Nehruite socialism in 1991, when he was Finance Minister. This new India, and new Delhi, does not like to talk about its noir side.

“Every morning, papers abound with alarming stories: accounts of the unmitigated corruption and contract killing that make this city of more than fifteen million tick; indications of increasing divisions between rich and poor that lead servants to murder masters and foment Maoist movements in the country’s hinterland; synopses of so many rapes and sexual assaults that readers become numb to them. Yet the everyday depravity and anguish of Delhi life remains confined to news copy. Despite notable exceptions like Namita Gokhale and Arvind [sic] Adiga, authors of literature – particularly those who write in English – usually choose to ignore the capital’s stains.” Perhaps no more. What must the rape statistics be telling us about violence hidden in the home?

A servant murders his once-loved master in Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger, which won the Booker Prize in 2008. I enjoyed that book. Some thought it vastly overrated. It certainly had flaws.

“It’s only natural that Delhi’s book-buying-and-publishing citizens would avoid such writing. Any insight into their hometown’s ugly entrails would threaten their guilt-free gilded existence and the bubble of nationalistic euphoria in which their lives are contained. They are too dependent on the power structures and social systems intrinsic to the city – embassies, government offices, and corporations; rural poverty and illegal immigration – to risk looking critically at these things.

“[…] Delhi Noir’s contributors are diverse: They are Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Punjabis, Biharis, Bengalis, and Keralites; men and women; gay and straight. Many reside in the capital, but others have addresses in Uttarakhand or the U.S. Some have published critically acclaimed books, and a few are still working on their first manuscripts. What they have in common is the inclination to write delectable literature that doesn’t shy away from the city’s uncomfortable underside.”

The stories, as with others in the Noir series, are identified in the table of contents with areas of the city: Ashram, Bhalswa, Defence Colony, Delhi Ridge, Delhi University (North Campus), Green Park, Gyan Kunj, Inter-State Bus Terminal, Jantar Mantar, Lodhi Gardens, Nizamuddin West, Paharganj, RK Puram, Rohini.

“Irwin Allan Sealy’s tale about a vigilante autorickshaw driver who avenges sexual assault on the Ridge is defined by the wry, rhythmic prose that garnered him a place on the Booker Prize shortlist in 1998.” He is an Anglo-Indian who lives in Dehra Dun. At the top of the valley, in Mussoorie, resides an Anglo-Indian who must be the least noir writer in the subcontinent, Ruskin Bond.

I discovered Nizamuddin in 2010. If you want the address of a moderately upmarket bed and breakfast there, let me know. It’s a Muslim area, as the name suggests. Part of it is pleasant and expensive, with gates that are lifted before cars can drive in. Still, not repulsive, or a planned development, or too obviously part of the great middle-class secession into gated communities (to quote or paraphrase Arundhati Roy), and seductive and neighbourly in the early evening. This is Nizamuddin EastNizamuddin West, across Mathura Road, is rougher. Part of it feels medieval. Go there if you want to eat without alcohol at Karim’s.

I have read two stories in Delhi Noir: Mohan Sikka’s The Railway Aunty (Paharganj) and Palash Krishna Mehrotra’s Fit of Rage (Defence Colony). They aren’t masterpieces, but they do tempt me to read more. The Railway Aunty is about a young man who becomes a gigolo in a middle-class prostitution ring. Fit of Rage is about a servant’s murder of his master, or rather mistress. [Postscript, January 14: I have now read Irwin Allan Sealy’s Last in, First Out (Delhi Ridge). It is hard to imagine it in a shortlist. Is he one of the “best Indian writers alive today”?]

There’s a strong element of class warfare in Indian crime.

___

I was in New Delhi in early summer 1999. The person who was looking after me, R, from the Confederation of Indian Industry, invited me to a reception they were holding at the Taj Palace hotel (Diplomatic Enclave). We arrived there after some meetings an hour and a bit before it was due to start. R said she would go home (East of Kailash) to get ready. We would see each other later.

She never returned. I didn’t think much of it, but it was puzzling. I was staying not at the Taj but at the more modest and delectable (in those days) two-storey Claridge’s (“The Claridges”, Lutyens Bungalow Zone). You wouldn’t think, in the LBZ, that Delhi was a violent city. Though it’s a cliché in small talk that Delhiites are not the nicest people in India.

In the morning, The Times of India was brought into my room with my breakfast. High on the front page, a column was headed: “Mother of CII Director Murdered in South Delhi.” I could hardly believe that the daughter was the person I had been with the evening before.

“NEW DELHI, April 28 (PTI) — The 63-year-old mother of a top executive of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) was today found strangled to death at her flat in a South Delhi locality.

“H[_] K[_] N[_]’s body was discovered by her daughter R[_] N[_], who is Director (International) at CII, around 6.30 p.m. when she returned to her East of Kailash home, the police said.

“The house was bolted from outside and the victim’s body was lying in a pool of blood in an inside room of the flat with hands and legs tied with a rope and a sari tied around her neck, the police said, adding that there were strangulation marks on her body.

“The victim, a widow, was alone in the house when the incident occurred.

“The house was completely ransacked and it could not be immediately ascertained whether any valuables were missing as the victim’s family was under shock, the police said.

“Senior police officials and forensic experts examined the area and lifted some fingerprints as the body was sent for a post-mortem examination.

“The police suspects the absconding servant, a Nepali employed just four days back, in the murder and has detained for questioning a maid who had brought him to the house.”

I have the original newspaper somewhere. The text I have quoted is from The Tribune and is on the web. R was unmarried and lived with her mother. I blanked out their names. One report said that the servant had run into the main street and had been seen catching a bus.

South Delhi is prosperous. I assumed it was a robbery, and I remember wondering why it was necessary to kill an old woman for the sake of a few valuables.

Mehrotra asks that question in Fit of Rage:

“Servants murdered their masters all the time in Delhi. Every other week the newspapers carried stories of elderly couples being drugged and clobbered to death. I often wondered: If the motive was robbery, why kill? Why not steal and scoot? Anyway, this seemed to be how they did it in Delhi.”

I called R that day at home. “Now you know India,” she said to me bitterly. Had she gone back the night before, with so little time to spare, because she was afraid of something?

Are criminals sometimes referred to as “Nepalis” before anybody has checked (as Thais might refer to “Burmese” and Chinese Singaporeans to “Malays”)? In The Railway Aunty, we have:

“‘You’re not to open the door, Bibiji,’ she said sharply to the old woman. ‘What if some Nepali slashes our throats?’”

___

Akashic started the Noir series in 2004 with Brooklyn Noir. They have done several dozen cities since, not all in the US, but nothing on East Asia. No Tokyo Noir, no Shanghai Noir, no Hong Kong Noir, no Bangkok Noir. Macau might not have enough writers, but is certainly noir enough. But Manila, Seoul and Singapore are scheduled. Yes, Singapore, editor Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan. One had been told that crime was forbidden there. Lagos Noir is due, editor Chris Abani. So is Baghdad, editor Samuel Shimon. Tokyo is a strange omission.

There is a Venice Noir. Venice, Italy, but can a city that has absolutely no nightlife be noir? Of course there is a Moscow Noir, and a St Petersburg.

Paris Noir contains no Simenon, since most volumes allow stories only by living writers (a few, subtitled The Classics, have older ones), and how can a city be noir when Madame Maigret is preparing foie de veau à la bourgeoise for her husband’s lunch (Maigret et le marchand de vin)? But some of Simenon’s eleven “hard” novels set in the US (Les frères Rico and Feux rouges especially) are true, almost defining, examples of 1950s noir.

Akashic BooksBuy Delhi Noir.

To Delhi from Ferghana and Calcutta (old post).

Delhi Noir

Constantine and Ashoka

December 4 2012

Constantine’s motive for becoming a convert to Christianity was ethically much inferior to Ashoka’s motive for becoming a convert to Buddhism. Ashoka’s motive had been repentance for his crime of having waged an aggressive war, and he had never gone to war again. Constantine’s motive was gratitude for his victories in three successive civil wars.

Mankind and Mother Earth, OUP, 1976, posthumous

1952

November 30 2012

In A.D. 1952 it would, no doubt, have been folly for a Western World that had been thrown on the defensive by a Russo-Chinese entente under the banner of Communism to count upon any possibility of a future breach between the two titanic non-Western Powers that were now cooperating with one another in an anti-Western campaign.

But a breach occurred in 1961. The two powers had been diverging ideologically since 1956.

There was perhaps more legitimate ground for encouragement in the fact that a Western Community which had come into headlong collision with the Chinese in Korea and which was desperately embroiled with the Vietnamese in Indo-China had managed to come to terms with the Indonesians after having crossed swords with them on the morrow of the “liberation” of the East Indian archipelago from the Japanese, and had voluntarily abdicated its dominion over the Filipinos, Ceylonese, Burmans, Indians, and Pakistanis by amicable agreements that had not been sullied by any stain of bloodshed.

The voluntary liquidation of American rule in the Philippines was perhaps not so remarkable – though an English observer could hardly claim to be an impartial judge in this case – as the voluntary liquidation of a British Rāj in India that was not only a hundred years older than the American régime in a former dominion of the Spanish Crown but had also come to count for far more in the life of the ruling Western country. When, on the 18th July, 1947, [footnote: This was the date on which the Royal Assent was given, at Westminster, to an India Independence Act enacted by the Parliament of the United Kingdom. The formal assumption of authority by the Governments of the Indian Union and Pakistan followed on the 15th August, 1947.] Great Britain had completed the fulfilment of a pledge, first made on the 20th August, 1917, [footnote: In the House of Commons at Westminster by the Secretary of State for India, Mr. Edwin Montagu.] to grant full self-government to India by stages at the fastest practicable pace, the Western country that had carried out this transfer of political power on this scale without having been constrained by any immediate force majeure [he is flattering us] had performed an act that was perhaps unprecedented and was certainly auspicious for the future, not merely of the Western Civilization, but of the Human Race.

The Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms (Wikipedia). Successor of the Morley-Minto Reforms.

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954

Ray on Tagore

November 16 2012

Satyajit Ray’s documentary about Rabindranath Tagore (1961).

Panorama of Calcutta (1899)

November 16 2012

Film made by the Warwick Trading Company. Fascinating because of its age, but the title is wrong. These are ghats of Bernares or Varanasi, four hundred miles up the Ganges, not of Calcutta, where the Hooghly is a Ganges tributary. The mistake was presumably deliberate. The word Calcutta meant more to people at home than Bernares.

BD Garga, From Raj to Swaraj: The Non-fiction Film in India, New Delhi, Penguin/Viking, 2007, a book which, strangely enough, I have, mentions the Company, but not the film. Swaraj was Gandhi’s conception of governance in India after independence.

Ghats are steps leading down to water, often a holy river. The word can also refer to a mountain range, eg Western and Eastern Ghats. In Marathi and Gujarati it can mean a mountain pass.