Indian History Carnival–72: Linguistics, Yaadhum,Soubise, Ahmed Khan, Robert Smith

  1. Geo Currents has a post on the Vexatious History of Indo-European Studies. Part II of this post looks at how Indo-European linguistics was misused by various ideologues

    As “race science” gained strength in late 19th century Europe, it faced a major obstacle in Indo-European philology. European racial theorists maintained a stark separation between the so-called Caucasian[1] peoples of Europe and environs and the darker-skinned inhabitants of South Asia, yet the philologists argued that Europeans and northern Indians stemmed from the same stock. Some of the early efforts to mesh the new racial ideas with linguistic findings were rather strained. The popular American writer Charles Morris, for example, argued in 1888 that races are divided on the basis of both language and physical type, which generally but not always coincide; he further contended that “the Aryan is one of these linguistic races” (p. 5) that had lost its original physical essence. The general tendency was to emphasize ever more strongly this supposed loss of “purity,” and thus for physical type to trump linguistic commonality

  2. Baradwaj Rangan writes about Yaadhum, a documentary on the identity of Tamil Muslims.

    Yaadhum is some sort of road movie, and Anwar’s stops along the way illuminate various aspects of Islam in the South and even Goa. He goes to Chola country, establishing the presences of Muslims through an inscription that refers to “Ahmed the Turk.” He goes to Kayalpattinam, which belonged to the Pandyas, and finds an almost 1000-year-old mosque to which additions have been made at different times. He narrates the history of the Tamil Muslims of Pulicat, most of whom are boat builders. He goes to Calicut, home of the Mapilla Muslims. Prof. MGS Narayanan, Director General, Centre for Heritage Studies, Dept. of Cultural Affairs, Govt. of Kerala, talks about a law which is supposed to have been passed by the Zamorin that at least one member of the fishermen families in Calicut must get converted to Islam so that there will be enough people to support naval warfare against the Portuguese who wanted to conquer Malabar in the 16th century. (Hindus were generally reluctant to go to sea.)

  3. How does a slave from West Indies end up in West Bengal in 1777?  Carnival contributor Fëanor has that story

    He racked up large debts which the Duchess continued to pay off. He maintained a house in town, was a favourite of Garrick, and appeared at theatre vastly perfumed. ‘I smell Soubise!’ would go the cry amongst the punters when he appeared. He was caricatured in the popular press (one print by Austin showed him squaring off against the Duchess in a public fencing match), and even had portraits sketched by Gainsborough. In 1777, following an accusation of rape, he either escaped or was exiled to Bengal. As a skilled equestrian, he was able to found a riding school in Old Calcutta. He also taught fencing, and for a time sold books, possibly the first reported African British bookseller.

  4. Blake Smith writes about Ahmed Khan who was stuck in Marseilles on his way to London in 1792. He was off to London to sue British traders in Bombay for not paying back the loans.

    Ahmed did not speak French—yet—but he did speak Persian, then the language of diplomacy, poetry, and prestige throughout the Subcontinent. So did Pierre Ruffin, the French government’s official translator of ‘Oriental’ languages, which, at the time, meant Arabic and Persian. Ruffin, who had survived the fall of his former employers, had been in office for over a decade. His moment of glory had come in 1788, when an embassy from Tipu Sultan, ruler of the southern Indian state of Mysore, arrived in Paris to seal an alliance against Britain.

  5. Malini Roy has a post on Robert Smith, who was one of the British soldier artists who lived in India in the 19th century

    Smith’s view of Allahabad, for instance, focuses on a strange looking hybrid of a building, which is referred to by Lord Moira in his journal entry for 27 September 1814: ‘A mosque of rather elegant structure stands on the esplanade beyond the glacis. When we obtained possession of Allahabad, the proprietary right in the mosque was considered as transferred by the former Government to ours; and from some temporary exigency, the building was filled with stores. These being subsequently removed, much injury, through wantonness or neglect, was suffered by the edifice; and upon some crude suggestion, our Government had directed it to be pulled down. … The Moslems now implored that the building might be regarded as a monument of piety, and be spared. I have ordered that it shall be cleansed and repaired, and then delivered over to the petitioners’

The next carnival will be up on Jan 15th. Please leave your links as comments to this post or via e-mail.