How to Look Backwards

Excerpt of quote from Lord Macaulay's address to the British Parliment, 2nd February 1835

I was supposed to write a post about Lord Macaulay a few weeks after starting this blog but another blog idea always seemed more urgent. Then I wanted to write something about Dr Shashi Tharoor’s speech at Oxford and I never found the time to write it. Last month a much loved ex-president of India, Dr Kalam, passed away. I had heard of this president but I didn’t realise how much he was revered and loved. After a bit of internet reading, I realised that he was loved for having loved, being proud and working hard for his country. I realised his philosophy was the perfect ending for what I wanted to say about MaCaulay and Tharoor and now it was going to be a post I wanted to research and write.

Lord Macaulay (1800-1959) held the position of Secretary of War and Paymaster-General during his life and is also infamous (infamous on the internet that is) for minutes he gave to Parliament, 2nd February 1835. Within the first few months of arriving in Mumbai, I was shown excerpt of these minutes (above photo).

How the colonial power operated, their hideous abuse of power has always made me angry and it was wasn’t any different when I read the above.

My father, who was born before the partition, taught me much about the British Raj, including how mercilessly we were taxed and the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. However, he also talked about how if the British had not conquered then we would have been conquered by another country because we were fragmented and militarily weak.

Going back to this excerpt, I did a little internet research and realised there were some anomalies. In 1835, Macaulay was out of the country and in India itself and the language apparently doesn’t fit in to the period it was supposed to be written in.

Me being me, my curiosity took me for a little ride and a few minutes later, I was looking through the historical Hansard records but couldn’t find anything (Hansard is a record of what was and is said in the British parliament). Searching through the Parliament website, the FAQ confirmed Macaulay was not in the UK, but in India at the time and if he did give the speech it was probably to the Supreme Council in India (http://bit.ly/1W9LPFE).

If the extract is a lie, such lies are not needed. There are many other reasons to be angry at how the colonial powers operated. This is orated perfectly by Dr Shaashi Tharoor in his speech at Oxford here (http://bit.ly/1KefWVR), the main point being the economic toll:

“India’s share of the world economy when Britain arrived on it shores was 23%. By the time the British left it was down to below 4%. Why? Simply because India had been governed for the benefit of Britain. Britain’s rise for 200 years was financed by its depredations in India.”

The conclusion was even if Britain can pay £100 a month but just apologise, then it would be more than enough.

His speech was an internet sensation because it was factual but also with a brilliant performance. Reading the reaction to this was a lot more interesting though.

A reaction/opinion piece in The Times of India by Aakar Patel, illustrates the other side of the coin and also made me think of my father when he told me about India being militarily weak, with each state warring with each other, ‘Mother India was weeping and wounded when she went into the arms of Victoria.’ (http://bit.ly/1gfBeZA)

Dr A.P.J Abdul Kalam then…

The outpour of grief and love for this ex-president did not match his presidential career. I could not understand for a while why he was so loved. What was the greatest thing he did in his career? Yes, he was The Missile Man but I heard people talk more about his love and reverence for his country and his work ethic.  A quote from him which I adore: ‘In a democracy, the well-being, individuality and happiness of every citizen is important for the overall prosperity, peace and happiness of the nation.’

He was also not the kind of man who held on to the abuse suffered by his ancestors. This I respect for personal reasons.

One of the fundamental truths of life is a simple one. It is up to the victim to learn from the abuse suffered, do their best to not give into their instinct and abuse other victims. The abused becomes the abuser because they think they have an entitlement to it or they think it is the only way to survive. And I’m not only referring to the severe abuse suffered but the everyday snippets of abuse given and taken.

So is this extract by Macaulay, full of nostalgia, idealism and anger, important or necessary when we have figures like Dr Kalam, who look to the future rather then dwell in the anger of the past? Moving forward is the key. The decisions we make and the actions we take today and tomorrow will sow seeds for societies growth tomorrow.

And with all of this in the pot, I want to add a different kind of spice to it. Throughout the years, my friends and colleagues, through conversations about The Raj, have apologised to me for what their ancestors did to my country. I was never sure how to respond to this except to smile, and it left me feeling uncomfortable because did that mean I should apologise for my ancestors abuse,even though I had nothing to do with it?  Therefore, is that solely the responsibility of the state rather than the individual?  I normally respond by saying I will pass the apology on to my father. It’s a piece of history of my forefathers and foremothers that I have only heard of and not experienced the counter-effect of in India. I have in the UK, but that’s for a different blog piece.