On Saturday, I have to present my latest masterpiece entitled Sindh, Imagined: Writing the History of Sindh from the Colonial to the Post-National. Not sure what it means, yet. I fly to Berkeley in a couple of days and am really looking forward to it. Not the paper-presentation part, though.

Thought I’d throw a snippet apropos of nothing out to the CM crowd. There is the apocryphal tale that after Charles Napier beat down the Emirs of Sindh, he send a one word telegram to Lord Ellenborough – Peccavī. Latin for I have sinned [from the verb peccāre – to sin – which also gives us “impeccable” and “peccadillo”]. Pun for I have Scinde [ Scinde being the spelling du jour for the present day province of Pakistan, Sindh]. Now, most people recognize that Napier never sent such a telegram and Dalhousie never answered, Vovī (I have owed [Oudh])”. Some hold that the Punch issue of 1843 put up a cartoon to that effect. I haven’t had a chance to go to the library and dig that up but as far as I remember, it wasn’t a cartoon but a small line-item. Regardless, peccavi appears to be a slang term in use at the time. I found this usage on the internets:“1843: Rowdy Bill was famous as a gouger, and so expert was he in his anti-optical vocation, that in a few minutes he usually bored out his adversary’s eyes, or made him cry ‘peccavi.’‚Ć R. Carlton, The New Purchase, p.158” . The OED says that Thackeray used it in 1862: “Though he roared out peccavi most frankly when charged with his sins, this criminal would fall to peccation very soon after promising amendment.” Maybe the incomparable Sharon Howard can help us.

Peccavi, more famously, was used by Salman Rushdie in his novel Shame. He sets his story about Pakistan in a multiverse (right, Anand?) which “is not Pakistan, or not quite. There are two countries, real and fictional, occupying the same space, or almost the same space. My story, my fictional country exist, like myself, at a slight angle to reality”. He called it Peccavistan.

related: Nathaniel has an amazing poem by Vynnette A. Frederick in Vincentian patois. Paging Benedict Anderson.

8 Replies to “Scinde”

  1. Pingback: Peccavistan
  2. elck: I do have a soft spot for Rushdie. Anyone who can parlay a death threat into dating models (and marrying one) gets my respect.
    Shame and Midnight’s Children are both amazing books but due to Rushdie’s over exposure, right now, we are in a backlash against Rushdie mode. So, wait 5 years for the adulation and eventual Nobel to follow.
    ps. thanks for setting up thegatesblog:

  3. This is a really excellent blog post, Sepoy. I enjoy reading such abstruse riffs.

    And why is it, more and more, that I feel Salman R. is being seriously underrated?

    The guy is so clever, yes a bit excessive sometimes, but he’s a consumate artist. Long may he live.

  4. Benedict isn’t in, but today’s communities are being imagined by me. ;)

    And the line from Napier was indeed a one-liner in Punch. I don’t recall the exact publication date, but I do remember running across the same anecdote when I was doing research for my poco/queer literature senior thesis.

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