“Evolution” and racism in a twentieth century reference book

Over the past few decades there has been a concerted effort among creationists to produce reference books which “tell their side of the story”. Most creationists also spend an appreciable amount of time discussing perceived lapses in evolutionary theory. Although I have seen misrepresentations in these accounts, I have yet to come across any reference that ignores known facts and logic on the scale of a book published in 1926 as the first volume of the legitimate-sounding New Outline of Knowledge reference series. I picked up The Romance of Evolution written by Frederick H. Martens from a library sale because I was interested in how evolution was presented in the early 20th century. Inside the book, I saw a sketch of the Piltdown Man, which was regarded at the time to be an early human species found in the United Kingdom. Later, in 1953, it was discovered to be a hoax. I wanted to see how our knowledge has changed in the last few decades. I was not prepared for what I saw inside.

The book is not a scientific text at all, and evolutionary theory does not even figure anywhere in the book! The book is a pseudoscientific polemic written for a very specific agenda – to tell the reader that the white race is superior to all others from an evolutionary standpoint. Facts to don’t stand a chance and the gross misrepresentations are quite appalling.

Take for example the following passage:

“.. If Evolution’s story is read as it really runs, cleared of the technical jargon and confusing detail which breaks the thread of the greatest narrative ever told by Nature, the master story teller of the all time, it will make clear to you a hundred and one facts about yourself you never have suspected. It will prove to you nothing that lives and breathes on earth, whether it walk, swim, or fly, was born by chance.”

The first odd thing about this passage is that “Evolution” is capitalized. This is intentional, and a awkward attempt to deify the process and attribute it to a specific purpose. Note also the bizarre statement that chance plays no part and everything is preordained. It is all very clear: evolution is biological process, while the fictitious concept of Evolution which the author propagates is simply a vehicle for Intelligent Design.

But these are not the most shocking parts in the so-called reference book. Those sections are reserved for passages of an overtly racist nature not backed up by an iota of scientific evidence:

Some people like to “kid themselves along” that all the races of man have sprung from one common stock, are gifted alike, and equal in mind and brain, if not in body and stature. They like to think – for religious, sentimental, or humanitarian reasons – that there are no inferior races of mankind!

There are the black tribes of Africa today… No amount of sentiment can make them the equals of the white races… Nor do the yellow races, the Mongolian races, stand on a level with the white race…

There are also comparisons of various races to simians, which I do not deign to reproduce here. What infuriates me the most is that racist wolves were donning the sheep’s clothing of science to perpetuate these lies.

And it all boils down to what I feel is the most widely misinterpreted phrase in science  – “the survival of the fittest”. Few knew what it meant back then. Not many know what it means now. Biological fitness is made into a caricature by those who do not care to understand it and those who choose to deliberately misrepresent it. Take for example the central thesis behind the racist agenda in the book:

…only the fittest survive among beasts or men, for that is the ancient law of life on earth, the law that has come from the first day. We were hunted down, killed, and destroyed by a stronger, taller, handsomer, and less hairy race, which swept down on us… and the fittest are the superior not the inferior race.

Usually a misunderstanding of biological fitness goes hand in hand with a failure to appreciate the concept of natural selection. The brilliant American scientist Dr. John William Draper delivered a lecture which was published in Popular Science lamenting the situation:

It is to be regretted that this phrase “natural selection” has been introduced… It implies a personification of Nature. It is anthropomorphic. But Nature never selects, never accepts or rejects, knows nothing about duties, nothing about fitness or unfitness. Nature simply obeys laws.

Those words (written in 1877) have rarely been heeded in the public discourse of evolution.

On Hindus who eat beef

Far be it for me to judge anyone’s right to eat or not eat something. There is a vast list of things I find unpalatable, and I too have apologies as to why I eat what I eat. For example, as much as I love most varieties of fish, I feel guilty when I devour any species threatened due to unsustainable fishing. On a much broader scale, I have deep issues with the ethics of killing any animal, even for food, which I have not been able to been come to terms with yet.

But I will leave that discussion for another day, for today I wish to dwell upon Hinduism and the consumption of beef.  In my travels in North America and Europe, I have come across many fellow travellers who identify as Hindus and are uncomfortable with the fact that they eat beef, which of course, according to prevailing custom is verboten. In India at least, they are less likely to get judged for eating venison than for eating beef, even though deer are about the same size as cattle with similar reactions to pain and misery. The difference is of course that cows are holy, while deer are not. Ironically, in India there is hardly any creature that treated as poorly as we treat our bovine beasts of burden!

Relishing flesh that is taboo (and yet enjoyable) with religious expectations can lead to an uneasy reconciliation. Fortunately, the indefatigable human psyche excels at rationalization and I have been told that the sin of eating beef in foreign lands is minimal for various reasons. One person told me that it was fine to eat beef, since he didn’t kill the cow. He did not explain why he felt compelled to provide this apologetic logic for only cows. Another commented that only Indian cows were holy and because American cows weren’t they could be eaten without loss of piety. To accentuate the point, this person pointed out “that the skinny Indian cow with the sensitive large eyes gave him a religious experience, while the American breed of Angus cattle made him crave a juicy cheeseburger.”

We all have our own explanations, but it takes a hero with courage of conviction to stand up for what he or she believes is morally just. One of my favorite books,  Ramtanu Lahiri o Tatkalin Bongosomaj (English translation: Ramtanu Lahiri, Brahman and reformer : a history of the renaissance in Bengal) , tells the story of Ramtanu Lahiri, a stalwart who lived during the Bengal Renaissance of the early eighteen century. The book written by Pandit Shivnath Shastri, which I read during college, recounts the social upheavals of the time such as the abolition of sati (bride burning), the legalization of Hindu widow-marriage, and the reform of familial and educational rights accorded to women. It is perhaps, one of the finest historical biographies ever written in Bangla, and if I may be permitted to use a cliché, a true labor of love on the part of the author. I recently came across a splendid translation of Shastri’s magnum opus by Sir Roper Lethbridge of Oxford University which was published in 1907.

Here is my favorite passage from the entire book. The passage describes the zeal for reform of a section of students of Hindu College (pp 82-83):

War was thus declared between the orthodox and the reformers among the students of the Hindu College; and the question of religion was threshed out, not only in the college, but also within their own homes. Old grandmothers were shocked to hear their grandsons vilifying the gods; and fathers were dismayed to find that their sons, expected to offer cakes and balls of over-boiled rice to their ancestors’ manes, had turned traitors to their ancient faith. There are many instances on record in which guardians, failing to gain their wards over by argument or persuasion, had recourse to bitter persecution; and the latter had often to leave their homes and seek shelter elsewhere. In these family dissensions the young Bengali never lost his temper, but had often recourse to tricks showing how sprightly and humorous he was. Peari Chand Mitra, in his Life of David Hare refers to the many shifts to which some of the students were put. He says: “Many a Brahman lad who had lost faith in the idols, and refused to worship them, was often thrust into the room of the tutelary god of the family, and left there with the hope that his obstinacy would soon yield to the august and awe-inspiring presence of the deity.  “But far from that being the case, the young student would utilize the period of his incarceration by reciting selected portions from Homer’s Iliad. Some there were again whose aversion to the orthodox Hindu was so great, and whose desire to make themselves merry at his expense so strong, that, whenever they met a snanshuddh Brahmin with the sacerdotal mark on his forehead, they danced round him, bawling in his ears, “We eat beef. Listen, we eat beef.”

I will admit that when I first read the passage, the audacity appealed to my rebellious nature. Now, what appeals to me most is that even in 1829 there were a select group of Hindus who were not willing to accept religious customs because it had been passed down to them. Many of these Hindus were ostracized by their families and faced grievous bodily injury.

One can argue that their energy could have been used for other enterprises, or that they failed in their attempt to change the general view of the populace. But through their simple acts of defiance, they made it a lot easier for many of us to get away with questioning the prevailing customs of our own generation.

Text: © 2010-2012, Anirban

A gruesome firsthand account of the Bengal Famine of 1770-1772

Continuing my rapid reading of choice texts from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, I came across what was purported to be an excerpt of a letter from Bengal by someone present in the Doab at the time. The excerpt was published in the New-York Literary Magazine Or Literary Repository in the newly-independent United States of America in 1791. It is a rather gruesome account not suitable for those with weak constitutions, unverifiable, and almost certainly afflicted by hyperbole.

“Great dearth has desolated the upper provinces of this beautiful country. Hardly any rain has fallen during four years. In consequence the crops have failed, and the poor starved. The scarcity was also in Bengal; but it being under better government, preserved it from monopolists and ruin. Thanks to the Almighty! a plentiful crop promises this year, plenty of rain having fallen. From my enquiries, I find half of the inhabitants of the Duab and Rohileund have perished. Every ditch, road, brook, pond, and street, of these countries, were strewed with dead bodies of men, women, and children. As there is no police in this country, where the wretch expires, there he lies, till his flesh is stripped off by the dogs, which is generally done in two days. No one buries him; for who are friends to a starved wretch? Besides, the Hindoos do not bury their dead, but burn, them if they have money to buy fuel. We have been often obliged to shift our camp on account of the stench, arising from the putrefaction of so many bodies. When you reflect, that the people of Hindostan are the most abstemious in the world; that their daily food is never stern; hardly any thing else than about a seer (not quite two pounds weight) of wheat or barley made into cakes, and baked over a few lighted sticks: when you understand, that such is their food, and simple water their drink, you may form some judgment of the rage of this famine, which could deprive them of even this little.

“Men and women, with their children in their hands, flocked to camp, offering themselves for sale for a quart of corn. Mothers sold their children for four annas each, (or the fourth part of a rupee or half-crown.) I could have purchased a thousand children at this price from four to ten years of age. I actually did purchase three very fine children, between seven and eight years of age, for three rupees, or half-crowns. I might have had them for a third of the sum, together with their mothers. I have them now. I had writings delivered with them, properly attested by the cutwal (or magistrate.) But as I shudder at the thought of one human creature being slave to another; and fearing, should any accident happen to me, my executors might fell them, I have destroyed the writings, and declared them free. My sole motive for purchasing them was to preserve them from death.

But the most shocking instance of the effect of famine ever recorded is what I am going to relate, and which happened half a quarter of a mile from me. A poor woman at this place had not tasted food for five days. In this extremity she was delivered of a live child. Hunger was so extreme, that she cut off the head of the infant, and threw it away; the body she put into an oven of hot sand, in which the people of this country parch their corn: when it was something roasted, she drew it forth, and had actually eaten the arm and shoulder before it was discovered. I understand she perished next day.

History informs us of a mother devouring her child during the siege of Jerusalem; but then the whole city was starving. This poor wretch was reduced to this hard alternative in a British camp, where many, I am sorry to say,—oh the partial distribution of fortune —were sick with repletion. You, in England, who are so accustomed to cherish dogs, and receive the fondest submission from them, are astonished, no doubt, to hear of these creatures devouring dead bodies of men in India. But I must set you right, by informing you, that dogs are not private property in this country as in England; they are common to all: a native would no more call a parriar (dog) his than he would the jackal of the field. Wise nature has so ordered, that this hot country, in which flesh putrefies almost as soon as the life leaves it, abounds with these dogs, called parriars; they are in shape like a fog-dog in England, but longer legged. Every village and town has many of them; they go up and down the streets seeking dead carcasses, which they devour, whether of horses, bullocks, sheep, or men. Nothing comes amiss to them; no one offends them: they are considered of essential service; and they are really so, preserving the land from pestilence, which animal corruption would certainly bring on without them. The sagacity of these animals is astonishing; they have been seen to walk by a famished wretch, in expectation of sinking with weakness, every now and then looking in his face, as if to enquire how long he would be kept from his prey. So soon as the unhappy man falls, the dog seizes the part next him, which is generally the bowels, and then tears them out before the wretch’s face. It is observable, that although the poor victim is unable to defend himself long before he falls, yet the dog never attacks him while he walks or stands. I have seen hundreds of bodies with two or three dogs tugging the limbs to pieces.”

Early accounts claim that nearly 10 million inhabitants of Bengal died in the famine which roughly corresponded to one-third of the total population of the province. However, these numbers have come into question in recent years. What is known from accounts of British administrators such as Sir William Wilson Hunter (who described the famine in great detail in Annals of Rural Bengal) is that the social upheavals were enormous.

The famine also influenced over two centuries of economic theory and policy. In 1776, Adam Smith, the patron-saint of free-trade wrote in the Wealth of Nations (v2. p 110):

In rice countries, where the crop not only requires a very moist soil, but where in a certain period of its growing it must be laid under water, the effects of a drought are much more dismal. Even in such countries, however, the drought is, perhaps, scarce ever so universal as necessarily to occasion a famine, if the government would allow a free trade. The drought in Bengal, a few years ago, might probably have occasioned a very great dearth. Some improper regulations, some injudicious restraints imposed by the servants of the East India Company upon the rice trade, contributed, perhaps, to turn that dearth into a famine.

Substitute democracy for free-market and you have, in essence, Amartya Sen’s explanation for why India hasn’t had a single major famine since Independence:

Famines are easy to prevent if there is a serious effort to do so, and a democratic government, facing elections and criticisms from opposition parties and independent newspapers, cannot help but make such an effort. Not surprisingly, while India continued to have famines under British rule right up to independence …they disappeared suddenly with the establishment of a multiparty democracy and a free press. (from: “Democracy as a Universal Value” in Journal of Democracy, 1999 )

Next time you hear someone complain about the price of onions in independent India, ponder on this. I’d rather be alive and not eat onions for a week than die of hunger under a foreign rule.

A “common Hindoo legend” and a religious conversation in India in 1842

A small temple in Midnapore town (circa 1863)

In my last piece, I introduced readers to the journal of Charles Acland, a clergyman who wrote extensively about his tenure as chaplain at “Poree, Cuttack, and Midnapore” from 1842-1845 in Manners and Customs of India. Acland provided some very colorful anecdotes pertaining to the natives of eastern India who were under the administration of the East India Company. One of Acland’s goals in India was proselytization and a translated passage described a very lively conversation between a native recently converted to Christianity and a Hindu “inquirer” who was considering converting to Christianity (p 58-59).

Inquirer: “You say God gave you the Bible, I say God gave us the Shasters. The religion that is good for the white man is not good for the black. God is good, and has given us each a religion proper to ourselves. I say your religion is good and comes from God; why will you not say the same of our Shasters?”

Convert: “God gave white men the Bible because he is very good, and he told them to go and teach it to everyone, because he wishes everyone to be good and happy, and to go to the happy country of heaven when they die; but the Shasters do not come from God.”

Inquirer: “How do you know that?”

Convert: “Listen, brother, Brummah (God) is good, is he not?”

Inquirer: “Yes.”

Convert: “Should not you like to go to Brummah?”

Inquirer: “Yes.”

Convert: “Do not the Shasters of your religion teach you so?”

Inquirer: “Ha! You are very sly. No, but our religion is good for us now. By and by, Vishnoo will come again, and then he will perhaps give us a Bible.”

Convert: “Why not take the Christian Bible and Christian Brummah now?”

Inquirer: “Then I should lose my caste, my wife will leave me, my children will go away, my brother will not smoke with me, my hut will be empty, and the Brahmins will curse me.”

Convert: “If the Brahmins curse you, God is stronger than they are, and he will bless you; if your wife and children run away, Jesus will make you happy in heaven; if your brother will not smoke with you, the great God will give you his peace.”

Inquirer: “Well, I will see. Lend me the book; I will read it and show it to the Brahmins…”

Acland then goes on to describe the demeanor of the local clergymen, who sat quiet for the most part, but got quite excited and whenever the recent convert made a valid point. It is a humorous account.

But perhaps the most humorous account is Acland’s reiteration of a local legend regarding how the hills of Balasore came about. It is worth reading the passage in entirety (p 83).

“Many, many years ago there lived a giant in Ceylon, and this giant fell in love with the daughter of another giant at Lucknow, in Bengal, so he asked her father to let him marry her. But he said No, as the other lived in a little island, and was no real gentleman at all. Upon this Master Ceylon determined that, as her father said No, he would take her without leave, and off he started, seized the young lady, put her on his shoulders, and carried her across to Ceylon. But when the papa found that his daughter was gone, he got into a tremendous rage, and determined to go and punish the Ceyloney. So off he hurried, until he came to the straits which separate the island from the mainland. But when he tried to cross over, he found that he was not quite so tall as the Ceylonese gentleman by a few hundred yards, and that the water was too deep for him. So he stood still, and he scratched his head and wiped his forehead with his handkerchief, and thought and pondered what he should do to get across and punish the wicked thief. At last an idea struck him, and he trotted back all up India until he reached the Himalaya mountains, and, snatching up two of the largest of them, one in each hand, threw them into the straits, and thus made them shallow enough for him to pass over. But as he went along some of the rocks and earth slipped through his fingers, for you may suppose his hands were rather full; and the chains of hills which extend from Balasore for nearly three hundred miles are the pieces which he dropped as he went along.”

The tale does not inform us whether the giant’s daughter was restored to him.

Acland is obviously recounting the gist of the Ramayana. However, due to his lack of knowledge of Oriya, the translation is fatally flawed and Sita’s father (instead of husband Rama) attempts to cross the Palk Strait. Acland perhaps heard pati in Oriya and used his knowledge of Latin (pater for father) in translating. Also, the literal translation of “giant” is another hilarious misinterpretation. In Oriya, as in many other Indian languages a “big person” indicates a person who is rich or famous and not necessarily physically large.

On the travels of Charles Acland in Hindoostan (1842-1845)

Out of the hundreds of books I’ve read in 2010, I would be hard pressed to find a more intriguing one than A Popular Account of the Manners and Customs of India written by the Rev. Charles Acland between 1842 and 1845. The slim volume published in the form of a journal describes the time Rev. Acland spent as the chaplain at Puri, Cuttack, and Midnapore. I was drawn to it to learn more about interactions between Europeans and natives in the 1800s in Midnapore, the mofussil town in West Bengal, India where I spent a greater part of my youth. The English were renowned for putting their vast bureaucratic resources to the preparation of statistical accounts. Thus, there are quite a few volumes dealing with agrarian and administrative minutiae of Midnapore District. There are also quite a few historical books dealing with the arrival of the English in Bengal which mention the secession of Midnapore, Burdwan and Chittagong by Mir Qasim. However, very few of the journals, maintained mostly by soliders, administrators, and clergymen are extant. Fewer still retain a freshness that renders them worth reading over 150 years later. Charles Acland’s account is a notable exception.

Calcutta bazaar, early 1800s (watercolor)

 

Not much is known about the early life of the author. The Reverend Charles Acland set sail for India in early 1842, leaving behind several young children in England. Acland was first posted in Assam, but later became chaplain of a considerable region of what is now part of West Bengal and Orissa. After spending three years in his broad constituency, Acland succumbed to illness in Puri, Orissa, leaving behind a large body of correspondence which he had diligently sent to his children. The letters which contained invaluable anecdotes detailing common life in rural nineteenth-century Bengal were scrubbed of personal exhortations and published by John Murray of Albemarle Street, London in 1847.

Acland had never set foot outside of England and was understandably in for a shock upon arrival in Madras in early 1842. He writes (p. 5):

The people here are nearly all black, and wear very little clothing. The population is extensive. At dinner we have generally eight or ten men to wait upon us, but they are slow in their movements, and very lazy. The Arabian Nights mentions the fakirs. I have seen some here that have let their feet grow in one position until they cannot move them.

Some of the inhabitants of Madras are afflicted with a curious kind of disease, in which one leg swells to the size of a man’s body, while the other is no thicker than the limb of an infant…

Some English persons, on going out for a walk, may be seen to carry a whip, with which, if the natives are at all troublesome, they lash them; but this is a cruel practice.

Acland, is of course, talking about elephantiasis caused by parasitic infection, but this short passage underscores the pestilence which Acland observed in India, and the cruelty of the European masters which he never grew fully accustomed to.

As “padre sahib” for a large constituency, Acland traveled extensively, usually on palanquin. He was a keen observer of the traits of palanquin-bearers, though his translations of their songs are almost-certainly error-laden. By most accounts, thuggery was a common nuisance faced by travelers in Bengal, but Acland faced no such perils and was generally dismissive of the “cowardly” Bengalees and Oriyas (pp 43-44).

Throughout the journey not a single European is to be met with, but the traveller is entirely in the power of the natives, excepting such assistance as he can derive from his pistols and a thick stick. The danger however is not great. The Ooriahs, as well as the Bengalese, are a small and cowardly race; so much so, indeed, that the East India Company will not allow them to be enlisted as soldiers. A Bengalee of five feet six is quite a tall man, and in shape he is as delicate and effeminate as a European lady.

Acland also wrote down precise details of his own itinerant household. Since he had not been a particularly wealthy man in England, he was amazed at the vast coterie of servants required by each household in Bengal. Of his own, he writes (p. 16):

The greatest expenses here are servants and house-rent. I pay for my house, which is one of the cheapest in Midnapore, forty rupees a-month; a rupee is two shillings. I keep as few domestics as I can; but am obliged to have eleven men and one woman.

The men are:

  1. 1 consummar, or headman.
  2. 1 kitmajar, or waiter at table.
  3. 1 sirdar, who attends to lamps, furniture, &c.
  4. 1 bearer, who works the punkah and helps the sirdar.
  5. 1 dirgee, or tailor, who mends stockings, and makes gowns, coats, shirts, &c.
  6. 2 maistrees, or carpenters.
  7. 2 mollees, or gardeners.
  8. 1 motee, who sweeps the rooms and keeps them in order.
  9. 1 beastee, or water-carrier.

We neither feed nor clothe them: indeed their food consists of nothing but rice, except the consummar and kitmajar, who are Mussulmans. Their pay varies from three to ten rupees a-month. Many people keep forty or fifty men. The sirdar, or bearer, sleeps on a mat in the verandah; the others in houses in the compound. They are all forbidden by their religion to do the work of any other; their fathers and grandfathers performed the same duties, and so will their sons and grandsons also. They are a thievish set, and we dare not leave anything in their way that they can steal…

It is curious to observe how the different castes or ranks here keep distinct, and it is this which renders so many servants necessary.

His loathing of cruelty towards those not bestowed a favorable position in life is also telling (p 83. 84)

I think I have told you how cruelly some of the people here beat their servants. I was standing with an officer in the porch of his house when I was last at Midnapore, when his syce, or groom, brought his horse to the door. Captain L. turned to me, and said, “I have not given that fellow a thrashing for a long time, and he’ll forget what it feels like, and grow lazy.” Now the fact was, the man was so attentive and industrious that Captain L. could not possibly find any fault with him. However, he went down the steps, and, on the pretense that the man did not hold his horse properly, gave him several violent blows on the face and head, kicked him three or four times with all his force, and struck him on the back with a two-foot rule with such violence that the man was obliged to have his back plastered and bandaged up: and all this without the slightest fault on the part of the servant.

Much as has been said about slavery, I do not believe that any of the slaves in Jamaica were ever worse treated than are the servants of some of our officers here. The excuse is, that it is impossible to manage the Hindus without the whip; but I never use it, and I am certainly quite as well served by all, excepting two.

What I also found interesting about Acland’s narrative were his comments on agrarian commerce, and his mention of the diverse flora and fauna of Midnapore. Acland mentions the rupee and the pice, but also the cowrie from seashells, of which 120 made 1 pice. He also laments the ubiquitous dustoori, in which the servant of a buyer receives 2 pice for every rupee of merchandise purchased. Regarding the fauna, Acland mentions at various times in his book animals such as snakes, tigers, bears, monkeys, jackals, parrots, bats, hyenas, elephants, and spotted deer. I’m not sure when the last tiger was spotted in Midnapore, but even snakes were not as prevalent in the twentieth century as they were in Acland’s time. Acland mentions a few specific cases of death by snake bite and his recapitulation of the cures of the time reflects a comic sense of exasperation:

The only possible cure, and that is an uncertain one, is to swallow every few minutes a glass of brandy with some eau de luce, or smelling-salts, dissolved in it, while a man stands near beating you with a heavy whip. Or, instead of this, you may be fastened to a carriage and be compelled to run as fast as possible. The object is to keep you awake, for the danger of the bite consists in the heavy lethargy it produces. The remedies applied, however, are sure to bring on a violent fever, which frequently proves fatal. Few diseases in this country last longer than an hour or two. Fever, cholera, and inflammation of the liver, the three great scourges of India, commonly prove fatal within from two to twelve hours, so that no one can exist here without being constantly reminded of the uncertainty of human life. It is curious that I, who dreaded so greatly the reptiles of India, should have been at once sent to the station where they most abound, for there is probably no place in Bengal where serpents and lizards are so plentiful.

Acland was a man with a specific purpose in India – to spread the Christian faith. Therefore, he could see little of redeeming value in the idolatrous beliefs of the heathens. In this aspect, he was not unlike others of his time who dwelled heavily on grotesque Hindu rituals such as sutee (bride burning), human sacrifice, and stampedes of devotees during the Rathyatra festival of Jagannath in Puri. On the later, Acland expresses his bewilderment that the English continued to pay the princely sum of 6,000 rupees for the upkeep of the Jagannath Temple at Puri. But Acland’s fervent belief that the natives needed to be saved from their Satanism did not prevent him from displaying true feeling for their suffering (pp 96-97).

It is a common saying that the Hindus have no sense of gratitude, that they have not even a word to express that feeling in their language. I do not believe it…

They are said to be extremely dishonest—I mean the natives generally. This also I deny; although their treatment by individuals is enough to make them so; for on the part of Government the error—if any—lies in an excess of mildness and lenity. I would not hesitate, if it were necessary, to entrust a thousand rupees to a servant to take to Calcutta: that is for him a fifteen days’ journey. Yet, if he chose, he might easily get beyond my reach; and such a sum would be sufficient to purchase an estate which would render himself and his descendants landed proprietors and gentlemen. I doubt whether you could say more than that for English honesty although, of course, there may be exceptions here as well as there.

Despite his own deep-set beliefs, Acland was a remarkably sensitive man. In one moving passage in his journal, written after witnessing a near-fatal whipping of a native by a European, Acland displays the perspicacity to ponder over questions concerning the treatment of the occupied by the occupiers.

  1. Why did the men dread the whip, when they were equally well armed?
  2. Are they accustomed to feel it?
  3. Are they generally oppressed, and in what way; and would a native government be an advantage to them?
  4. In what does that superiority consist which makes one hundred Hindus afraid of one European?
  5. What is civilization? What is the difference between real civilization, and that knowledge of arts and sciences, of railroads and balloons, which is commonly dignified with the name? And also what is the connexion between real, true civilization and religion?

Here are a few out of numberless trains of thought and questions which might arise, and do naturally arise, from the little anecdote I have given.

It is indeed a shame that Charles Acland’s untimely death left the tome incomplete and without his thoughts on these pertinent issues.

(Continued)

Click here to read the second part.

A Lakhnavi walks into a bar…

Bartender: What would you like to drink?
Lakhnavi: Thank you for asking, sir. I’ll drink whatever you have yourself.
Bartender: Thanks, but I’m serving at the bar. I can’t drink while I’m working.
Lakhnavi: Then I’ll wait until you get done to have my first sip.
Bartender: My shift doesn’t end until after midnight!

So, the Lakhnavi waits patiently until after midnight for the bartender to get off duty to buy him his first drink. He finishes his drink, they have a few more together, and then he heads home. He has a hard time waking up the next morning and is late for work.

He enters the building where his office is located, nods with a flourish at the security guard and heads for the elevator (or what is known in the homeland as a lift). Since no one else is around when he arrives he pushes the “up” bottom and enters the elevator. Unfortunately, other employees start to enter the building at random intervals just after he enters it. The Lakhnavi patiently holds the door of the elevator open as one by one, other tardy employees enter. He asks the employees what floors they need and pushes the buttons graciously. Since no one asks for the floor he wants, the poor fellow goes to the top of the building where employees are waiting to go to the lower floors. He smiles again and pushes all the buttons for everyone.

On the bottom floor of the building another Lakhnavi enters and they both greet each other ostentatiously.

Lakhnavi 1: How do you do?
Lakhnavi 2: No, how do you do?
Lakhnavi 1: No, no… how do you do?
Lakhnavi 2: Your servant begs you respond: how do you do?

By this time, the elevator door has shut and neither has pushed any buttons so it goes back up to the top floor where another group of passengers embark. One of the passengers enters and pushes a button. Realizing that they are now horribly late for work, both Lakhnavis begin to panic. The elevator arrives at the fourth floor and everyone else disembarks.

Lakhnavi 1: After you sir…
Lakhnavi 2: No sir, I cannot exit before you.
Lakhnavi 1: You first, sir, your servant insists. Besides we are both late for work.
Lakhnavi 2: Sir, I cannot. But I do not wish this dark mark upon your flawless character. I will commit the grave offense of getting out of the elevator first, but only under the condition that you will grace your humble servant’s abode for a poor cup of brew which he has the impudence to call tea.
Lakhnavi 1: I acquiesce under the condition that you accept an audacious whim of your servant that you graciously leave the fragrance of your spirit in his dwelling too.

Both finally get out of the elevator and walk in opposite directions bowing to each other though neither actually works on the fourth floor.

That evening, the two Lakhnavis end up meeting again. After extended courtesies, the two men begin to discuss poetry, literature, and music. The topic of music strikes a proverbial chord among them and they soon find that both are accomplished musicians. Because neither will sing first, both start singing a jugalbandi.

Lakhnavi 1: Jhoom Barabar!
Lakhnavi 2: Jhoom..
Lakhnavi 1: Barabar
Lakhnavi 2: Jhoom

Both expert musicians continue their vocal calisthenics but neither is willing to break off the loop out of fear of insulting the other by ending the tarana abruptly. Dusk gives way to dawn. The two Lakhnavis can hardly speak but they continue to sing. Early in the morning the first Lakhnavi collapses out of sheer exhaustion and is whisked away to the hospital. Later the other Lakhnavi comes to meet his friend there.

Lakhnavi 2: I regret from the core of my being that this misfortune occurred in my lowly presence. Sir, how you do you feel now?
Lakhnavi 1: Barabar.

Text: © 2010-2012, Anirban