White Mughals, the True Carriers of “White Men’s” Burden

Topics: British Empire, Hindu, Mughal Empire Pages: 7 (2699 words) Published: February 15, 2012
White Mughals, the true carriers of “white men’s” burden

Take up the White Man's burden--
Send forth the best ye breed--
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives' need;
To wait in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild--
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half-devil and half-child.
-Rudyard Kipling
Although the British directly ruled India for only 90 years, British imperialism in India had tremendous impact on many levels of the society. The British brought with them Western customs and culture. Many Indians sought to imitate them by speaking English, playing cricket and having afternoon tea. Yet the effects the British brought were deeper and more complicated than just this. British presence introduced into India western values and social dynamics. This process of colonialism and imperialism is often depicted in a derogatory manner. Kipling’s poem, the White Man’s Burden captured the imperial and racist attitude of that age. It was the white man’s burden to colonize and rule other less developed nations for the benefit of not only the mother country but also the indigenous people. It was the white man’s obligation to educate and foster the cultural development of colored people until they have fully assimilated to the ‘civilized society’ of the West. Because of its theme and title, Kipling’s poem became the emblem for Eurocentric racism and reinforced the idea of cultural backwardness of people from non-white ethnic and cultural backgrounds. It is not very surprising to find that the British Imperialists are reviled in popular media for their conceited notion of superiority. It is also understandable that historians have written extensively over the exploitations of imperialistic policies. Yet, under all the “narrow-minded, ramrod-backed sahib in a sola topee and bristling moustache, dressing for dinner despite the heat, while raising a disdainful nose at both the people and the culture of India,” there were great many Englishmen, in the early period of British India, that crossed over from the Anglo-Saxon world to embrace the great culture of Mughal India. In the novel White Mughals, author William Dalrymple explores the cultural assimilation and hybridity of East Indian officials during the period of 1770 to 1830. With a sensibility attuned to multiculturalism of modern day, these British officials “turned native” by embracing wholeheartedly the rich heritage of India. Aside from the all familiar story European imperial conquest and rule of the rest of the world, there existed another more exquisite and unknown story - the indigenous conquest of the European imagination. James Achilles Kirkpatrick, the British Resident of Hyderabad, was born in Madras, educated in England, and returned to India to work for the East India Company. Fluent in both Persian and Hindustani, he fell in love with the Mughal Indian court culture of Nizam of Hyderabad. His love for the new adoptive home was so great that he abandoned his English manner of dressing in exchange for Indian costumes. “Some of the stories circulating about Kirkpatrick though perhaps enough to raise an eyebrow or two in Calcutta, were harmless enough. It was said that he had given up wearing English clothes for all but the most formal occasions, and now habitually swanned around the British Residency in what one surprised visitor had described as ‘a Musselman’s dress of the finest texture’. Another noted that Kirkpatrick had hennaed his hand in the manner of a Mughal nobleman, and wore ‘mustachios… though in most other respect he is like an Englishman’.”

James smoked hookah on a frequent basis. Taking his assimilation very seriously, James even adapted the Eastern habit of belching after meals. This sometimes upset the English visitors to his Residency, as he had a tendency to “make all sort of odd noises, possibly a reference to him clearing his throat (or even nostrils) in the enthusiastic and voluble Indian manner.” The English are...

Bibliography: Dalrymple, William. White Mughals Love & Betrayal in Eighteenth-Century India. London: Flamingo, 2002.
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