Edward Eastwick (1814–1883) joined the East India Company in 1836 as a cadet but was soon promoted because of his capacity for language acquisition. In 1845 the East India Company appointed him to the post of professor of Urdu at their officer-training school at Haileybury. He continued to serve the India Office in a number of diplomatic missions through the 60s until his election to House of Common. His translations of Sa’di’s Gulistan and Kashifi’s Anvar-i Suhaili were popular texts in the East India Company corpus. He also wrote several handbooks on various cities and edited or prefaced a number of books by the natives (published for English audiences).
In his 1859 Handbook for India: Being an Account of the Three Presidencies, and of The Overland Route; Intended as A Guide For Travellers, Officers, and Civilians; With Vocabularies and Dialogues of the Spoken Languages of India with Travelling Map and Plans of Towns, he lists the essential books one needs to know India before getting to India.
I assume that this list was exhaustive.
Biograhies and Letters.
Travels and Miscellaneous.
Now, admittedly, I am a medievalist but I was surprised at how many of these texts were familiar to me.1 Eastwick doesn’t provide dates of publications for these texts (I added the ones in the History section) but the overwhelming majority were produced after 1840 – so, within the last 20 years of his composing the list. The overwhelming majority of writers represented are also Company employees (as opposed to Her Majesty the Queen’s). There are only two women – Mrs. Spier’s history and the travelogues of Thomas Postans’ wife, Marianne Postans. The natives are absent. There are three texts that derive on local sources – Dow’s History of Hindustan, 3 vols., 1768 (based on Firishta’s Tarikh, 1606), Brigg’s Mohammadan Power in India, 1832 (based on Tabatabai’s Siyar ul Mutakherin, 1781) and Postans’ Sindh, 1841 (based on Tattavi’s Tuhfatul Kiram, 1727). The local histories are recent (historically speaking), dynastic and concerned mainly with the Mughal past. We get one cursory, secondary text on “Muhammadan Customs”, and one memoir of a “Native Gentleman Lutfullah”. Absolutely nothing from any puranic or vedic text.
Which brings me to the main reason I found this list so fascinating. I have been thinking lately about the profile of “Indian history” in the late colonial period after reading a recent article by Kumkum Chatterjee2. British Orientalists, the postcolonial claim goes, asserted that India lacked historical consciousness – either because it has remained unchanged and static or that Indians are themselves unreflective and incurious by nature. Evidence for both these claims is legion – the histories of India by James Mill (1773–1836) and Vincent Smith (1848-1920) are often cited, as are the works of administrators or thinkers from Robert Clive (1725–1774) to Warren Hastings (1732–1818) to Karl Marx (1818–1883) to Charles Napier (1786–1860) and everyone in between and after. Robert Orme (1728–1801) is an early exemplar of the view that Indian pasts – prior to the arrival of Islam – are mere fictions:
The Indians have lost all memory of the ages in which they began to believe in Vishnu, Ishwar, Brama, and a hundred thousand divinities subordinate to these. … The history of these gods is a heap of the greatest absurdities. Here are there a moral or metaphysical allegory, and sometimes a trace of the history of a first legislator, is discernible in these stories; but in general they are so very extravagant and incoherent, that we should be left to wonder how a people so reasonable in other respects should have adopted such a code of nonsense as a creed of religion, did we not find the same credulity in the histories of nations much more enlightened
– A Dissertation on the Establishments made by Mahomedan Conquerors in Indostan, 1775.
Later influential colonial historians of India such as Mountstuart Elphinstone (1779–1859) and Henry Miers Elliot (1808–1853) turned Orme’s observations into demonstrated truths by the mid-nineteenth century. Some nationalist historians, and in rare cases postcolonial historians, have continued to hold the view that “History” came into being in India with modernity.3. This is the view that Chatterjee criticizes.4 While Chatterjee’s correction is commendable, I cannot help, per habit, think that blanket dismissals of Orientalist historiography are in need of a corrective as well.
So, here is something else to chew on from Alexander Dow – one of the earliest historians in India:
Though our author has given the title of the History of Hindostan to his work, yet it is rather that of the Mahommedan empire in India, than a general account of the affairs of the Hindoos. What he says concerning India, prior to the first invasion of the Afgan Mussulmen, is very far from being satisfactory. He collected his accounts from Persian authors, being altogether unacquainted with the Shanscrita or learned language of the Brahmins, in which the internal history of India is comprehended. We must not therefore, with Ferishta, consider the Hindoos as destitute of genuine domestic annals, or that those voluminous records they possess are mere legends framed by the Brahmins.
The prejudices of the Mahommedans against the followers of the Brahmin religion, seldom permit them to speak with common candour of the Hindoos. It swayed very much with Ferishta, when he affirmed that there is no history among the Hindoos of better authority than the Mahabarit. That work is a poem, not a history: It was translated into Persian by the brother of the great Abul Fazil rather as a performance of fancy, than as an authentic account of the ancient dynasties of the Kings of India. But that there are many hundred volumes in prose in the Shanscrita language, which treat of the ancient Indians, the translator can, from his own knowledge, aver, and he has great reason to believe, that the Hindoos carry their authentic history farther back into antiquity than any other nation now existing.
– Preface to A History of Hindostan, 1768.
There is then the historiographical question of the tension between Dow and Orme and their vision of Indian past – balanced precariously within the Saidian framework, even – and the reasons that motivate Orme’s version to dominate. Next is the question of that list we started with. I hate making lists – but they are uniquely placed historical documents willing us to find the silences and the prejudices that may go beyond that of the list-maker. Eastwick, an “old India hand”, an Indologist, a teacher and a librarian (he managed the Haileybury library for many years) reflects both conventional wisdom and personal biases in this list. It is also instructive however to think of the list in the post-1857 moment – before the narrative of Muslim betrayal solidified and that is where all those travelogues listed become fascinating. What? No one made it west of Punjab, Mr. Eastwick?
ps. speaking of Indian pasts, I request comments on the proposed giant Shivaji’s statue from CM correspondent in Pune.———
- I chalk that up to my Orientaphilia (Love of the Orient and of the Orientalists). [↩]
- Chatterjee, Kumkum. “The Persianization of Itihasa: Performance Narratives and Mughal Political Culture in Eighteenth Century Bengal”. Journal of Asian Studies Vol. 67, No. 2. (May) pp. 513-543 [↩]
- This is different than the view that “History as a discipline” was introduced by the Europeans in colonial India. Dipesh Chakrabarty’s recent piece in Public Culture deals with that and I still want to discuss that separately [↩]
- She is not alone. See Rao, Shulman and Subrahmanyam, Textures of Time: Writing History in South India 1600-1800 [↩]