Saturday, October 20, 2012

Arumugam and Subbu play hosts to Julia Maitland

Julia Charlotte (Barrett) Maitland, a young lady who had accompanied her husband to Madras, wrote a series of letters in the years 1836-9, which were later compiled and published in book form. 

In one her letters in 1836, she writes about a dinner (and entertainment) she was invited to by two rich natives by the names of Armoogam and Sooboo. ( Source, pages 26-30)

The other day a very rich native, an old protege of A 's, came to say that he and his son wished to make a feast for me, if I would come to their house.
I was extremely glad, for I was longing to get into one of their native houses; so last night we all went to him by appointment—Mr. and Mrs. Staunton, A , and I.
 It was a most curious entertainment; but I was surprised to find that the Stauntons, who have been so long in the country, had never seen anything of the kind before. It is wonderful how little interested most of the English ladies seem by all the strange habits and ways of the natives ; and it is not merely that they have grown used to it all, but that, by their own accounts, they never cared more about what goes on around them than they do now. I can only suppose they have forgotten their first impressions. But this makes me wish to try and see everything that I can while the bloom of my Orientalism is fresh upon me, and before this apathy and listlessness have laid hold on me, as no doubt they will.
I asked one lady what she had seen of the country and the natives since she had been in India. " Oh, nothing ! " said she : " thank goodness, I know nothing at all about them, nor I don't wish to : really I think the less one sees and knows of them the better!"

Armogum and Sooboo, our two entertainers, met us at their garden-gate, with numbers of lanterns, and rows of natives, some of them friends and some servants, all the way up to the house. The whole house was lighted up like a show, with chandeliers, lamps, and lustres in every possible corner, and hung from the ceiling and festooned to the walls besides: it looked very bright and pretty. 
The house consisted of one very large verandah, in which stood the native company; that opened into a large drawing-room, with a smaller room at each end, and sleeping-rooms beyond; and on the other side of the drawing-room another verandah leading into another garden. The house was furnished very much like a French lodging-house, only with more comfortable ottomans and sofas; but the general effect was very French: quantities of French nicknacks set out upon different tables, and the walls quite covered with looking glasses.
We were led into the great drawing-room, and placed upon sofas, and servants stationed at our side to fan us: then Armagum and Sooboo brought us each a nosegay of roses, and poured rose-water over them and over our hands ; and they gave me a queer kind of sprig made of rice and beads, like a twelfth-cake ornament: then they gave us each a garland of scented flowers, so powerful that even now, at the end of the next day, I cannot get rid of the perfume on my hands and arms. 
Then the entertainment began : they had procured the musicians, dancers, and cooks belonging to the Nabob, in order that I might see all the Mussulman amusements, as well as those of the Hindoos. First, then, came in an old man with a long white beard, to play and sing to the vina, an instrument like a large mandoline, very pretty and antique to look at, but not much to hear. His music was miserable, just a mixture of twang and whine, and quite monotonous, without even a pretence to a tune.
When we were quite tired of him, he was dismissed, and the Nabob's dancinggirls came in: most graceful creatures, walking, or rather sailing about, like queens, with long muslin robes from their throats to their feet. They were covered with gold and jewels, earrings, nose-rings, bracelets, armlets, anklets, bands round their heads, aevignes, and rings on all their fingers and all their toes. Their dancing- consisted of sailing about, waving their hands, turning slowly round and round, and bending from side to side: there were neither steps nor figure, as far as I could make out. The prettiest of their performances was their beautiful swan-like march. Then they sang, bawling like bad street-singers—a most fearful noise, and no tune. 
Then we had a concert of orchestra music, with different-looking instruments, but in tone like every modification of bagpipes—every variety of drone and squeak: you can form no idea of such sounds under the name of music: the chimney-sweepers' clatter on May-day would be harmonious in comparison. Imagine a succession of unresolved discords, selected at random, and played on twenty or thirty loud instruments, all out of tune in themselves and with each other, and you will have a fair idea of Hindoo music and its effect on the nerves.
When my teeth had been set on edge till I could really bear it no longer, I was obliged to beg A to give the musicians a hint to stop. Then there came in a man to imitate the notes of various birds : this sounded promising, but unfortunately the Madras birds are screaming, and not singing, birds; and my ears were assailed by screech-owls, crows, parrots, peacocks, so well imitated that I was again obliged to beg relief from such torture. 

Then we had a Hindoo dancing-girl, with the most magnificent jewellery I ever saw : her dancing was very much like that of the Mahometans, only a little more difficult. There was a good deal of running backwards and forwards upon her heels, and shaking her silver bangles or armlets, which jingled like bells: then glissading up to me, waving her pretty little hands, and making a number of graceful, unmeaning antics, with her eyes fixed on mine in a strange unnatural stare, like animal magnetism. I think those magnetic actings and starings must first have been imitated from some Indian dancing-girl, and in fact the effect is much the same; for I defy any one to have watched this girl's dull, unvarying dance long, without going to sleep. The natives I believe can sit quite contented for hours without any more enlivening amusement; but then they are always half asleep by nature, and like to be quite asleep by choice at any opportunity.
After her performance was ended we had a conjuror, some of whose tricks were quite marvellous. He had on a turban and cummerbund (or piece of muslin wrapped round him), but no jacket, so that one could not imagine a possibility of his concealing any of his apparatus about him ; but, among other tricks, he took a small twig of a tree, ran his fingers down it to strip the leaves off—small leaves, like those of a sensitive-plant —and showered down among us, with the leaves, five or six great live scorpions ; not little things like Italian scorpions, but formidable animals, almost as long as my hand : I did not admire their company, creeping about the room, so he crumpled them up in his hand, and they disappeared ; then he waved his bare arms in the air, and threw a live cobra into the midst of us. Most of his other tricks were juggling with cups and balls like any English conjuror; but the scorpions and cobra were quite beyond my comprehension.
Our gentlemen were surprised at seeing the string which is always worn by Brahmins round this man's neck, and said that twenty years ago no Brahmin could possibly have so degraded himself as to show off before us as a common juggler. After he was dismissed we had another gold and silver girl, to dance upon sharp swords, to music as sharp; then a fire-eater ; and last of all a great supper laid out in the back verandah. The first course consisted of all the nabob's favourite dishes of meat, and curries and pillaws set out in China plates; the second course, all Hindoo cookery, set out in cups and saucers. A whispered to me that I must eat as mHch as I could, to please poor old Artnagum ; so I did my best, till I was almost choked with cayenne-pepper. The Moorman pillaws were very good; but among the Hindoo messes I at last came to something so queer, slimy, and oily, that I was obliged to stop.
After supper Armagum made me a speech, to inform me that he was aware that the Hindoos did not know how to treat ladies : that he had therefore been that morning to consult an English friend of his, Mr. Tracey, concerning the proper mode of showing me the respect that was my due; and that Mr. Tracey had informed him that English ladies were accustomed to exactly the same respect as if they were gentlemen, and that he had better behave to me accordingly. He begged I would consider that, if there had been any deficiency, it was owing to ignorance, and not to want of affection ; for that he looked upon me as his mother ! Then he perfumed us all with attar of roses, and we came away after thanking him very cordially for his hospitality and all the amusement he had given us. I was very curious to see the ladies of the family, but they could not appear before English gentlemen. I peeped about in hopes of catching a glimpse of them, and I did descry some black eyes and white dresses through one of the half-open doors, but I could not see them distinctly.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The dignified but firm protest.

In April 1845, a Memorandum (they called it a Memorial, those days) was presented to the British Govt by a highly respectable group of “Hindoo Gentlemen”, convened by the Sheriff of Madras, at the Hindoo Literary Society's Rooms. About two hundred persons were present. The chair was taken by G. Latchmenarasu Chetty, Esq., a distinguished Hindoo.

The memorandum was to protest the introduction of a proposal, in the shape of a Draft Act by the Law Commission of India, declaring English Law as the substantive law of the land  and that the Courts would cease to respect the laws, usages and customs of the Hindoos.  

Latchmenarasu Chetty then made the following introductory speech, a very impressive one.
Gentlemen,—For several centuries prior to the English assuming any authority in India, the country was subject to various kinds of Governments, and under the baneful influence of continual discords and aggressions. Among foreign European nations, the Portuguese, Dutch and French, first came to India for commercial purposes, and evinced at the outset a very friendly behaviour towards us; but after being allowed to acquire a settlement in the country, they soon discovered a wish for dominion and authority over the people. Feeling, after a time, the irksomeness of their conduct, particularly in the innovations they endeavoured to introduce into our religious creed and usages, the people became averse to those visitors, and alienated in their feelings towards them.

At this period, the English, following the example of their European neighbours, turned their attention to India, also in a trading capacity at first; but finding the views they secretly entertained towards the new found country very seriously impeded by the rivalry of those who had preceded them, they volunteered a negotiation of reciprocal friendship with certain of the Native Princes, to the effect that they (the English) would co-operate with them in relieving the country of those other Europeans whose conduct had rendered them obnoxious to the people of India, and restore peace and tranquility to the country.

In accordance with such pledge, the English waged war with, and eventually subdued, those whom we had become disposed to regard as unwelcome and oppressive. This point gained, the English openly evinced a desire of changing their position in the country, from the original one of merchants and traders to that of Sovereign. In order the more effectually to carry out their plans, they were aware that the cordial co-operation of the people was necessary ; they therefore set about securing our attachment, by providing clauses in the Charters granted to the Honourable East India Company, as well as in the Regulations and orders of the local Governments for the protection of our civil and religious rights from outrage.

It is with feelings of both regret and apprehension, however, that we now witness, on the part of the said Company in India, the disclosure of an attempt to withhold, in a most serious way, the protection which has been invariably shewn us for nearly two centuries, and to violate the good faith which we have hitherto implicitly relied on and respected. The apprehension alluded to is induced by a proposal, in the shape of a Draft Act by the Law Commission of India, published under the orders of the Governor in Council of this Presidency, in the official Gazette of the 11th February of the present year, and declaring in purport that the English Law shall be the Substantive Law of the land, as well at the several Presidencies as in the Mofussil of the respective settlements, and that the Courts of the Honourahle East India Company shall cease to respect the laws, usages and customs of the Hindoos, which are prejudicial to the conversion of Natives to the Christian religion. 
He concludes his speech by seeking an adoption of the Memorandum.
.. Under these circumstances the present meeting has been convened, for the purpose of drawing up a representation of the grievances contemplated by the Draft Act under reference, and it will rest with the meeting to decide, whether a Memorial is the best mode of proceeding; and if so, how far the Memorial, which is about to be read, will express the sentiments of our community, and whether it shall be adopted entire, or with any alterations which may be suggested by its perusal.

The  Memorandum to the Governor-General in Council was subsequently adopted.

( Read here the full text of his speech, and the full draft of the Memorandum)

Incredible that the native speakers could,  as early as 1845, come up with such stirring speeches in English.  The major Universities came into being only in 1857 and higher education picked up only after that.

Update 20/10/12 : G.A.Bushby, Secretary to the Govt of India, provides a point-wise response to the issues raised in the Memorandum (Link) 

All be of the same mind.

An incident in the year 1838, narrated by a Christian missionary. (source)

At a village in Southern India belonging to a respectable Brahmin, a small number of families applied to a catechist for instruction. The Brahmin, hearing of it, assembled the whole of the villagers, and addressed them as follows: "I hear that some of you have determined to learn the Christian Vedas. Now I do not want any divisions or quarrels in my village. There shall not be two parties here. Therefore, all of you remain in your old religion, or else all of you in a body join the new. If you like to embrace Christianity, do so: I will make no opposition. You may turn your temple into a prayer-house, if you like: only, all be of the same mind." All the inhabitants of the village, nearly two hundred in number, decided in favor of Christianity; placed themselves under instruction; demolished their idols, valued at two hundred rupees; and delivered up their devil temple to become a temple of the living God.

The village gossips...

“Lectures on India: also,descriptions of remarkable customs and personages” by Caleb Wright, John James Weitbrecht, Alexander Duff,  published in the year 1848, has this description of a typical case of ‘village gossip’ in India. (page 62)

"From time immemorial, in every clime and every country, the village gossips are all alike, more busy about the affairs of others than their own. The scandalous tattle of a village in India is perhaps unequalled in any other part of the globe. If reputation experiences a wound in other countries, there it is absolutely massacred, where malice and jealousy, supported by the most unblushing falsehood, plants a barb of the most cruel slur in the reputation of many an innocent neighbor. 

"It frequently happens that some tell-tale repeats the scandal to the parties injured, which generally occasions a great uproar in the village; the slandered person rushes like a fury from her hut and pours forth a volley of the most virulent and indecent railings that ever were heard, cracking her fingers and uttering horrible curses on the infamous slanderer.

This does not fail to bring out the guilty party, who will either deny the whole with the most barefaced falsehood, or openly maintain her scandal and throw back curses on her injured neighbor's head; this produces a most furious exchange of abuses, which continues for some time with the most wonderful rapidity and loquacity, uttered in screams, somewhat resembling the cries of a jackal, till they become exhausted; still eying each other, however, with looks of rage and defiance, and unable to separate, they sit themselves down a little distance opposite each other, when one begins, her eyes sparkling with rage, the muscles of her face displaying all the malice of her heart, while the smile of irony and contempt is seen playing on her lips: she exposes to the spectators, that crowd round to enjoy the quarrel, every failing, and every scandalous tale she has either invented herself or heard of against her antagonist, heightening them with coloring of the most malignant wit and cutting sarcasm, which generally causes laughter among the bystanders. 

The other, thus outraged, endeavors to keep her fury within bounds, and joining in the laugh with a demoniac look, she claps her hands and begins to sing a sort of wild air or chant, the words of which she extemporizes for the purpose; these are a combination of more abominable railings, similes, etc., etc., against her antagonist and her ancestors, than ever were heard of in any other part of the world. The other quickly replies in the same tune, and if her brain prove more fertile in malice and wickedness, and her sarcasms more acute, she is sure to bring her neighbor to such a pitch of fury that she springs from her seat within a few steps of her, when she proceeds to all the wild extravagancies of a maniac, using the most horrible language and the most shameless and indecent gestures, till the other, darting forward, grapples with her antagonist, and a most furious battle ensues, pulling of hair, scratching and blows: this continues with most wonderful obstinacy and courage, both sides preferring to die sooner than give ground, till they are forcibly separated by their husbands or friends. 

Sometimes these quarrels become almost general in the village, especially if there are several relatives of the party injured in the neighborhood."

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Raj's Random Ramblings- 3

Variable pricing

There was a time when we could only fly Indian Airlines or Air India. While the lack of choice caused misery in many ways, it made up partially by providing peace of mind on the price of tickets. There was only one fare for one sector and one class- whichever time of day or however early or late you booked your tickets. You or your neighbor or a relative would pay the same fare. 

Cut to the present. You’ll have to do some pretty exhaustive research on the fares offered by different airlines on different routes and different days. Then you’ll have to look up other online agencies who can offer you better deals than even what the airline can offer. You must check the fares for the previous or next 7 days (onward and return), as you could be saddled with  a higher weekend rate or whatever. All these precautions are necessary, as you’ll always bump into some smartass on the same flight who’ll tell you that he managed to get his ticket at a fare that is Rs 12000 cheaper than yours and ruin your entire trip. 

This article predicts that the idea of dynamic pricing that is prevalent in the airline industry could soon spread to the retail sector. Real-time, intrahourly pricing is already practiced on sites like Amazon, eBay, etc and can be applied to the rest of the retail space. So, you may spot a camera for $300 now and buy it, only to find an hour later that it has dropped to $250. One has to be alert and vigilant all the time. You can’t miss a good bargain when you spot one, nor can you rush in believing there’s a bargain when there isn’t one. It will not be enough to pick up something at a low price; you must pick it up at a price lower than what your neighbor managed to. I’ve decided that if this system comes into place, I’ll always claim that I purchased something at a price 25% lower than what I actually paid for it. I’ll have to be seen as a smart hunter of deals. 

The Hindu crossword

Over the decades, I’ve met several crossword aficionadas who would swear that the one published in The Hindu was the best. On many a train journey, I’ve seen many a passenger engrossed with the cryptic clues.

Only recently, through this fascinating article, I came to know that the first crossword-setter for The Hindu was Admiral Katari, retired Chief of Naval Staff. Hitherto, newspapers in India had merely copied and posted the crossword puzzles borrowed from publications abroad. Admiral Katari took on this labour of love and did it with such dedication to ensure that the Indianised crossword appeared every day – even when he was travelling. 

What I find amazing is that the man could do this so passionately even though his name did not appear once. Either it was due to the paper’s policy or because he desired anonymity. But day after day, readers awaited his puzzle and pounced on it, oblivious to the identity of its creator. What could have motivated him? 

Psychopaths and politicians.

I wasn’t surprised to hear this, but this article confirms that psychopaths and politicians have a lot in common. It says that “traits that are common among psychopathic serial killers—a grandiose sense of self-worth, persuasiveness, superficial charm, ruthlessness, lack of remorse and the manipulation of others—are also shared by politicians and world leaders. Individuals, in other words, running not from the police. But for office.  Such a profile allows those who present with these traits to do what they like when they like, completely unfazed by the social, moral or legal consequences of their actions."

Quite often, the set of skills required for constructive work and destructive work can be the same. Recall that Mandrake, the magician and his archrival the Cobra were trained in the same school of magic. One put it to good use, the other to spread evil.  The same qualities that go to make a good leader can end up creating a dictator or a tyrant who is consumed by his own sense of self-worth and power. All I can say is, watch out.