In the Blue Mountains of western Tamil Nadu lies Otacamund or Ooty as it has been known through the centuries. Around these mountains (known as Nilgris) fought the Tiger of Mysore against the Company. The territory came into Company’s dominion after his defeat in 1799. Founded during 1815-25 by John Sullivan, this little hill station became the recreation-training outpost for the Company elite. In 1829, St. Stephen’s Church was built with the main beam of the church taken from Tipu Sultan’s palace in Srirangapatnam.
Nowadays, Ooty is a great tourist attraction. Here are some amazing pictures taken by Mr. Vangal in 2002. One of the attractions in Ooty is the Fox Hunt. The Otacamund Hunt Club, pictured here, was established in 1835 and is the longest running Hunt club outside of Britain and Ireland. Except, since there are no foxes, so they hunt jackals. But the fox hounds are imported from England. The sight of all these proper Indian army wallas prancing around in their impeccable finery (dress code established from 1907) sounds really quaint and romantic. I would love to see it. Still, is it nostalgia that continues such traditions? And after 160 years, can we actually continue to call this a “colonial” tradition? When can the native lay claim to a practice or a custom as their own? I am not sure that I know the answer to that but I would like to think about it.
There are various hill-stations and clubs (gymkhanas) in Pakistan as well that continue the customs and practices of the Raj. Some have the same furniture, I swear. One can go there as witness to a bygone era or one can look at the affect of mimicry gone real. Cricket is often pointed as another Colonial game that persists as a legacy. I have always winced at that. Feeling slightly beholden to the Raj makes me uneasy. But then I remember, I don’t play for Queen Victoria.
Curio: My man, Richard F. Burton, visited Ooty in 1851 and wrote Goa, and the Blue Mountains Or Six Months of Sick Leave. He reports nothing about the hunt:
Is there a hunt? No, of course not!
A race-course? Ditto, ditto!
Odd. Maybe it started later than claimed by the Ooty people. Do read that Burton piece. It is a great peek into Company life.
update: BBC is also carrying the Hunt story with nicer quotes: “It’s bizarre seeing Indians behave and dress like Englishmen from a bygone, forgotten era in Ooty”. !.