East India Companyis the first company in the world to issue shares – started a reign of evil in India.
- Louis Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India, came to ensure a smooth transfer of power from the crown to India.
- His predecessor gave him a job that was dubbed ‘
The history of the British Raj in India is so vast and so full of life that no film – be it the action-packed RRR, a gamified Lagaan or even the many passionate films of Bhagat Singh – could scratch the surface of it. .
But an American and a Frenchman have teamed up to achieve this in their book “Freedom at Midnight”. It is the history of India that many Indians know little about. For years, I’ve regaled with many incredible anecdotes from the book, which will soon be turned into a web series.
As we complete 75 years of independence, I believe a brief summary of this epic is necessary because we all need to know the story of how we arrived here today, breathing freely in a country that we can call ours.
A century and a half after Vasco da Gama discovered India, most of Europe had given up on bland meals, and now pepper mills are on every table. But India only remained a free country until the 1600s. It was then that Dutch traders decided to raise the rates of one pound of pepper by five shillings – a move that meant that a cartel of Englishmen received official sanction from Queen Elizabeth I to trade exclusively in all countries beyond the Cape of Good Hope.
The company, called the East India Company (EIC), also the first company in the world to issue shares, launched a reign of evil, by a race who believed they were “destined to rule and subjugate”, according to the classic Freedom by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre. at midnight.
Liberty at Midnight by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre
The wolf of this yet-to-be-formed Wall Street was Captain William Hawkins, a sailor who was more pirate than explorer. He soon found himself at the court of Jahangir, in an empire so vast and wealthy that his own queen would have seemed to be the ruler of a provincial hamlet by contrast.
Queen, Kipling and memsahibs
EIC’s coffers filled up but India, with its many territories and feuds, did not let it cling to its ‘trade not territory’ policy. But white supremacy must prevail among the “lawless lesser races,” as Jungle Book writer Rudyard Kipling put it. Even the British-born writer believed that the right to rule the Indians was granted to British soldiers by “the impenetrable decree of providence.”
The British backed him up and region after region were lured by treasure if not betrayal, weak and mighty kings won with weak enemies. The great Maratha Shivaji himself was known to have admired the British who fought for their honor as he besieged Surat.
Crowds of young English men have arrived in this strange land – with sagging men
dhotis and bare-armed women in saris, and traveled up and down the country in the villages with rations and letters that proclaimed their rights. And, they all learned one principle – The English ruled the country but they lived apart.
Memsahibs in India began running a very large version of Downton Abbey – with dinner parties that boasted one servant per guest. They also set the tone for the social isolation of the Victorian era – probably to keep their men away from the exotic temptations of the state. But it has also made the British very different from many leaders who call India home. In addition, they sent back to the crown the taxes they collected, because the Indians were starving.
The British in India celebrated, served by
coolies, and none were “better than Gunga Din”, a poetic character who saves an Englishman. They hunted tigers and killed “almost all” the cheetahs, the smallest of the big cats – now extinct in India, thanks to the
Raj. They drank champagne from silver buckets and played golf, in style – golf arrived in India 30 years before New York. They also built the world’s tallest golf course at 11,000 feet in the Himalayas.
Almost a century after India became a British colony directly under the Queen’s rule, following the devastating Second World War, the country’s parliament voted to ‘leave the country’. George VI was sad to have abandoned a country he had always wanted to visit but could not.
To ensure a smooth transfer of power without anarchy, he chooses his handsome cousin, known as much for his charm as for his military prowess. The first line would serve
The Buddha and the Christ of the New Age
Elsewhere on another continent and in another British colony, a young lawyer in total failure in Bombay lands in South Africa and, to his surprise, finds success. He read Henry Thoreau and Leo Tolstoy extensively and Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s Gujarati brain worked wonderfully.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
BCCLWhen the British government angered him by closing the Transvaal borders with India, he led a civil disobedience movement of Thoreau with over 2,000 people, including women and children. He added his own touch – non-violence and he brought it back to India.
Now called Gandhigiri, his principles continue to inspire generations across continents. The man who took a vow of poverty had kept his Ingersoll watch for years until it was stolen while traveling on a train. He was moved to tears as he told this story with childlike pain to Lord Mountbatten, but his loss was short-lived. The man who stole it, returned it and asked for his forgiveness – which was given with a hug and a chuckle.
Gandhigiri had taken control of India by the time Mountbatten arrived. Mountbatten knew that this man whom Winston Churchill mocked, “like a half-naked fakir”, was not to be taken lightly. After all, Gandhi had already fired Sir Richard Cripps without a deal, refusing Britain’s wartime offer to rule India as a British dominion.
Goat curd and surgical precision
Mountbatten called it Operation Seduction and as he forged a great friendship with Jawaharlal Nehru, Gandhi was another soul. He insisted on eating his own goat curd at the Viceroy House, took prayer breaks and insisted that India stay one – keep the baby alive instead of cutting it in half.
Jinnah, however, was nothing but vanity, who was deeply hurt when he received fewer seats in the 1937 provincial elections. He demanded a Muslim state. India would be divided with surgical precision, he promised Mountbatten.
The king’s cousin, the book says, treated him as a sailor rather than a statesman, but Mountbatten knew he could not move the indifferent, and most members of Congress favored two nations.
Chambers full of rubies and a pistol pen
But it took India’s iron man, Vallabhai Patel, to keep the rest of India intact and convince more than 500 rajas, princes, nawabs and nizams as they called themselves to change their crown allegiance to the nation. Louder than the statue of unity built in his honor, Patel continued to sum up a case for the jury even after receiving a note saying his wife had died.
The Statue of Unity
BCCLPatel and career bureaucrat VP Menon executed their seduction operation to take control of men already seduced into sex, sports and the worst of all diseases – boredom.
Most of them toyed with solid gold Lancaster pistols, rubies the size of pigeon’s eggs, and train sets running on silver rails. The Jeff Bezos of that time, known to be the richest in the world, was the Nizam of Hyderabad, who had rooms full of gems gnawed by rats as the miser spent nothing and resorted to smoking the remains of cigarette butts of his deceased guests!
Most of the eccentric rajas sided with India – even Kashmir’s Hari Singh, who wanted independence, was worn down by the logic that a landlocked state would forever remain in a state of war. But the young Maharaja of Jodhpur, certain that his lavish life would not be approved by the socialists of the Congress, tried to join Jinnah. But Menon’s vigilant spies caught wind of it, cornered him, and the Maharaja pointed a pen-pistol at the bureaucrat’s forehead until Mountbatten confiscated it – and later used it to entertain parties. his home.
Cursed by the stars
Mountbatten was warned by the most popular astrologer of the day that August 15, 1947 was a “star cursed day”. However, he chose sentiment over astrology – the date was the anniversary of the day Burma won against Japan, a war in which it was a part.
It wasn’t just the Viceroy, even Nehru and Jinnah didn’t see the bloodshed that followed. What kept them from seeing what was to come was their own tolerance and atheism. Communal passions were so strong and deep that just after the Union Jack emerged from the viceroy’s house, Punjab and Bengal fell into a tumultuous rage – something a cunning Gandhi always knew. That’s why the 78-year-old spent the night away from celebrations, spinning and lamenting the night India gained independence 75 years ago.