Jaipur Literary Festival at Adelaide — Musings
The outrage infection must be getting to me — either that or as a writer I feel that I have a need to tell people how I feel, and unlike India in the 17th century, when news of the shenanigans of the East India Company took 9 months to return to England, I have social media, so much to the chagrin of my companions I went onto to Facebook Live and grumbled about what turned out to be an interesting evening.
I’m at the Jaipur Literary Festival at Adelaide — a geographical anomaly, but hey this is writing, if fiction is truer than fact, Adelaide can be Jaipur. And the biggest English language literary festival can stem from Jaipur, and the ghosts of an outrageous Empire, that linger on only where there is the impulse of India.
The Anarchy that is Today
If the Victorians slapped a sanctimonious veneer of “saving the savages” of India with the wonders of western civilisation onto their rapacious loot of India, so is India the last bastion of a reading public large enough to sustain literature through the onslaught of the attention hyperwars? Where once the pen was mightier than the sword, is the stoppable scroll mightier than even the word?
William Dalrymple is launching his latest book, The Anarchy, as a time when the world at large looks dangerously like post Mughal India, with failing political institutions and increasingly powerful forces that are eeriely like the robber warlords that ravaged India, and made the East India Company look like the best of bad options.
The Reek of Coconuts
Shashi Tharoor, with debonair charm, and incongruous white privilege for a brown politician, hammers today’s Britain with the inconvenient truth of its inglorious Empire. He is probably the most erudite and persuasive politician across at least three parliaments, but can we take an Indian writer with a posh Indian accent seriously?
And if you are Indian perhaps Shashi is in fact a reverse coconut. You may want to google what the Indian diaspora calls coconuts.
This is a festival of ideas, of listening to the other. Yes and some ironies hit me. Talking about Ghosts of empire, were a panel of old white men ( Yes, you have to count Shashi Tharoor as an old white man, despite all his protestations to the contrary) to an audience mostly of older white women, with a cohort of young Indian men, students at Adelaide university, and completely ignored among these were the real ghosts of the Empire that no one spoke of until one member of the audience asked, the vanishing tribe of Anglo-Indians, the people deliberately engineered by the East India Company, and then rejected with horror by Victorian morality, and a caste dominated India.
Even someone as erudite as Shashi Tharoor, with a barely concealed shudder dismissed the contributions of the community, and the genocide of the community by both sides in the Indian Uprising of 1857. It is well documented that most of the women and children killed, had British names, but they were in fact, the Eurasian families of the British.
There was no mercy from the British side either, for the Eurasian drummer boys and musicians of the mutinous Indian regiments, who had refused to desert their regiments, and were massacred, not as collateral damage, but deliberately on order by the triumphant British regiments.
Let ideas flourish — and don’t be afraid to drag the ghosts out from under the forgotten unmarked graves of conflict and loot — that excellent Indian word now part of the English language.