“I hear you have turned a great native and a great nautcher. It is also important to get acquainted with the natives and to know their manners and character. But I must caution you against pushing it too far, for I never saw a European who adopted the dress of the natives and gave much into their pleasures who ever perfectly recovered his place among Europeans. I hope you will like the natives and acquire their language, but do not sink to their level.”
This is Mountstuart Elphinstone ticking off one of his senior officers for getting too close to “natives”, and adopting their dress and manners. This was in 1820 when Elphinstone was the first governor of Bombay presidency, after having defeated the Last Peshwa and annexed his kingdom. Elphinstone was a renowned educationist and founded the famous Elphinstone College of Bombay and the equally famous Royal Asiatic Society. He was what Lord Curzon became a hundred years later, minus his arrogance.
This is how it all began, the contempt of the whites for the blacks and browns, and the great racial divide between them, whose results you now see in Australia, as the Australian whites beat up the Indian browns for no fault of the latter except that they are brown and they are Indian. The racial divide owes its origin to the Elphinstones and the Curzons who ruled over India and other countries. The divide is also between the ruled and the rulers, between the victors, who happened to be white, and the vanquished, who were Asians and Africans. It is the contempt of the rulers for the ruled, of those who fancy themselves as the superior race because they defeated those who lost. And the divide still continues like a line on a black stone.
Mark the last words: Do not sink to their level. Indians are not referred to as Indians, but as natives. The term occurs four times in less than a hundred words. By all means, be friendly to the “natives”, but don’t get too close. They are after all inferior to the whites, and therefore a race apart. If they are not inferior, how did we defeat them? And this thought, that Indians are inferior to the Westerners, has been at the back of minds of Indians as well as Westerners, and haunts the relations between the two.
It is understandable that a man like Elphinstone had contempt for Indians; after all, it was he who put the Peshwa to flight and hoisted the Union Jack on his palace. Now, we have the tricolour in its place, but for nearly 200 years it was the Union Jack. I know, because, I now live very close to the palace as well as Elphinstone’s old residency in Pune. He was the British resident in Pune before he went to Bombay as governor.
Since then we have always nursed an inferiority complex vis-à-vis foreigner, particularly white foreigners. In fact, the more educated we are, the more inferior we tend to be. Thousands, if not millions, of Indians, many of them graduates, prefer to work as taxi drivers and cooks in London and New York, than as teachers and doctors in India. They say they get more money, but money is only an excuse. They also prefer to work for the white man, for in India, it has always been more prestigious to work for the Sahibs than for the natives.
A Chauffeur working for a foreign company or a foreign embassy is rated higher than working for an Indian firm or Indian government. Bridegroom’s family always makes the point that its son is working for an MNC, as if it was a badge of distinction. And going abroad, even for couple of days of holiday, is considered a mark of distinction.
Jayaprakash Narain once told Jawaharlal Nehru that he, that is, Nehru, was too anxious to receive good chits from foreigners. Nehru was almost a foreigner himself.
He actually described himself as the last Englishman in India, and there was no sense of shame in him when he said that. He was actually proud to say it. In fact, Nehru actually made it a point to ensure that, after the British left, his officers, and most other officers in the government belonged to the old steel frame of Indian officers picked up and trained by the British.
I worked for a while in the Indian High Commission in London as Krishna Menon’s private secretary, immediately after Menon was appointed our first high commissioner. The one before him, Sir somebody, was an Indian only in name, a member of the old British steelframe. But Menon was no different. He too had the old Britisher working for him, most of them superannuitated officers of the old type, some of whom probably had not even noted that the Union Jack did not fly anymore in Delhi. Menon let them go on, and so did Nehru.
One day, the secretary-general of the External Affairs ministry, arrived in London for some work. He was an old man called Bajpai, Sir Girija Shankar Bajpai, who had worked in British intelligence, which means, he was spying for the British, and had been knighted by his bosses for his work. He was now working for his new boss, Nehru. Can anyone really do that, I wondered. I raised the issue with Menon during one of our private meetings, but for some reason, Menon just laughed it off. “You are a romantic idealist ,” Menon told me, more as a rebuke, hinting that I should be more realistic in my approach, and stop being an idealist!
Sixty years after the British departed these shores, we are still mourning their “loss”. Most families want their children to go to “convent” schools and avoid being taught by “Desi” teachers. A foreigner, who can barely manage few words of Hindi, presides over the Indian National Congress, though the person is neither Indian nor much of a national.
Almost all the correspondence in the upper echelons of the Central Government is carried on in Queen’s English, though many ministers cannot spell their own names in that language. Almost all leading newspapers are in English, and so are most TV channels.
It is wrong to lay the blame for all this at the feet of Mount Stuart Elphinston or Lord Curzon, for they were after all Englishmen and it was their duty to further the interests of their country and its language. They were very “superior” people and they looked down on us, as conqueror always do on those they have vanquished. But our own people now look down on those whom they deem to be inferior to them, simply because they do not know the lingo of their former masters, or have not mastered the convent accent, or do not know how to use knife and fork. We are still, or some of us are in any case, foreigners in our own country, a pitiable state of affairs that even Mountstuart Elphinstone may not have anticipated.
Things are getting worse, not better with globalisation, even the sense of guilt that occasionally pricked our conscience has vanished. What is wrong in using foreign things and speaking in foreign tongue if that is what globalisation demands? At this rate, there will be nothing Indian in this India of ours. When even political parties are led by foreigners, what about foreign businesses, foreign goods, foreign magazines, foreign foods and foreign clothes? India will soon be a foreign country, even for Indians, who will continue to be attacked everywhere, for we shall be refugees in our own county!