And so goodbye…except for Bengali

So it’s been two years, 90 posts and 25 thousand hits since I started this blog on 9 September 2011.

I’ve loved interacting with other bloggers but there are various reasons why I know that now is the time to stop.

One, the Blogland we created has shrunk as Facebook has taken over and the bloggers have had the chance to meet in a milieu closer to real life  where they can at least reveal their true identities. Many blogs have accordingly been accordingly been abandoned or even deleted and that is sad because the quality of what was written is likely to have been of superior to that what is written on Facebook – or is it? Perhaps the bloggers really wanted to make contacts with others all along and they achieved their aim of creating a pardesi community so it could be argued the communication between bloggers is actually ‘better’ now as it is more direct and, in a sense, honest.  However, it’s also less reflective.  Nevertheless some of us have met up and become real life friends such as me and Sparkly Date Palm.  A real achievement. Anyhow, the death of the little sub genre of the blog may be approaching so I’m glad I wrote that little bit of literary criticism about the pardesi blog which you can read here.

Two, the concerns of the genre are ones you tend to have in your 20s and 30s. It doesn’t mean you can’t write one of these before your 20th birthday or you have to stop the day you turn 40 but nevertheless at 39 I feel I’ve been lucky enough to resolve many of the issues we have talked through sometimes with help.

Three, over the last year I’ve been fortunate enough to meet in real life those who in themselves have resolved for me some of the issues I had with being Anglo-Indian as they have displayed an extraordinary capacity to go outside their own culture and I feel truly affirmed because I share part of my ethnicity with them, and the other part of me is something which fascinates them. So I don’t have to deny part of myself. They’ve given me what I needed to finally accept myself.

Four, I have several new projects on the go, one in connection to Bengali. And of course, I’m continuing with my Bengali blog: My Bangla Diary. Check it out!

So if you want to talk about anything to do with learning Bengali, do get in touch with me either at masalabou@gmail.com or mybangladiary@hotmail.com

Goodbye and take care.

And maybe see you again, somewhere in the ether!

Love

Masala Bou

True feminism is pro-life

As a young feminist, I tried to keep my pro-life views secret as being pro-choice was a tenet of the majority of feminists I knew to the extent that it was thought you could not be a proper feminist if you were pro-life.

To some extent they are correct.  Your views on life are intimately bound up with your feminism or lack thereof. To the extent that I would argue you that you cannot be a feminist if you are not pro-life. Because, as women, our views on abortion reveal whether we accept and celebrate who we are as women – or whether we instead aspire to be like men.

Abortion is fundamentally an attempt for women to be like men, to have the same control over their bodies as men. To have the freedoms and material assets which society more readily gives to men.  Common to disadvantaged groups it reveals an emulation of the oppressor and a scapegoating onto a more vulnerable group.

In the case of terrible outrages against women such as rape, the child is an innocent and bringing about the death of this child is obviously inflicting suffering on it and further suffering on its mother. It’s also accepting the idea that a child in some way belongs to its father, which is only a patriarchal notion, like the convention of giving the father’s name to a child and the mother too taking the child’s father’s name.

This is an intellectual piece not a comment on individuals’ situations or decisions. Being pro-life is not about being judgemental – quite the reverse. After the child the mother will suffer most from abortion – though clearly she will or fears she will suffer from having a child. In my experience, women who have had abortions continue to be affected by them many years later or engage in a denial of of their true feelings.   American academic Professor Coleman’s research found that women who had had abortions had a 81% higher risk of mental health problems including suicide. (Ironically, under British law abortion is not available on demand, though in practice is it, via the loophole that a women’s mental health will suffer if she continues with the pregnancy. Given research showing the psychological harm caused by abortion this is probably a false position. )   Society, such as British society, has no problem with abortion as it gains in terms of eugenics from the removal of children with abnormalities from the gene pool. Abortion also alleviates the need to assist poorer mothers with social security and from needing to seek and find adoptive parents. I was glad to find that an organisation called Feminists for Life exists in America, working to remove the reasons which lead women to seek abortions. (I quote) Refuse to choose – between a woman and her child. Because women deserve better than abortion.

A new term “Eurasian”, The Fishing Fleet and the year 1786 – when the tide turned against the Anglo-Indians

I was quite excited to discover a new term ‘Eurasian’ which was quite novel to me in this context.  I came across the term Eurasian while reading The Fishing Fleet by Anne de Courcy which tells the story of British women sailing to India in the time of the Raj in search of a husband.  ‘But isn’t that from George Orwell’s 1984?’ said my husband, referring to the terms Eurasia.  Well, he is thinking of Eurasia – the combined landmass of Europe and Asia.

IMG_1735Relevant to our discussion here, the word Eurasian refers to people of mixed Asian and European ancestry. It was originally coined in nineteenth-century British India to refer to Anglo-Indians of mixed British and Indian descent. The term has also seen some use in anthropological literature from the 1960s. For me it’s a real relief to finally have a word which describes those with this particular blended ethnicity in a clearer and simpler way than the way in which Anglo-Indian did.  You see Anglo-Indian refers more to a social/political identity than an ethnic/racial identity – the former is comprised of national terms, remember, well, Indian is a national term anyway. Moreover, Anglo-Indians form a group which no longer exists in the same way in which it did in pre-Independence with Anglo-Indians tending to have assimilated either into the new India or into the countries they entered after Independence. They have not married much within their own community or generally maintained a sense of their own culture. Whereas Eurasian – well, that it is more a statement of fact.  Compare, for example my husband’s identity as a British Asian. This term refers to both his nationality (in the first part) and his ethnicity (in the second). Clear. The same with African American. This refers to nationality and ethnicity. I’ve come to feel that because things changed around the small and unique community that made up the Anglo-Indian community, that they ended up internalising a sense that their ethnicity itself was not valid, the sun tanned look of “European something with just slightly different” about them. That’s certainly what I feel, the sense of being an imperfect version of a European. I am torn between trying to cling to my European roots given they account for most of me and reduce my right to consider myself Asian, but at the same time feeling that Europe is not ultimately where I belong.

The Fishing Fleet gives unique insights into the Eurasian community over time, even though it is primarily the story of the British in India. The book was also little rambling and repetitive so I have, for your benefit, worked through it carefully to establish a clear historical time frame for what happened when in terms of Europeans intermarrying with Indians and how their offspring were treated over time.

In the earlier times up to the late c.18th it was considered perfectly acceptable and natural for European men, likely to spend their whole lives in India, to marry or cohabit with Indian women. The East India company would offer christening presents of 5 rupees to such children of their soldiers and their wives.  Many offspring were later sent back to England to be educated and sometimes marry English women, again this was acceptable. Lord Liverpool, British Prime Minister 1812-1827 had an Indian grandmother. (It’s worth noting at this point, that the Indian government still defines Anglo-Indians as the offspring of European men and Indian women. Perhaps patriarchy accounts for why such people are Anglo-Indians rather than Indian-Anglos)

However, the first evidence of the attempt to get European wives lined up for these European men stationed in Asia came  as early as 1691 when 20 girls were sent out to Bombay.  They were maintained for a year in which time they were expected to find a husband. If they misbehaved they would be fed on a diet of bread and water and sent back, being termed ‘returned empties.’ These young women would receive £300 a year if they made a company approved match and this would continue even after the death of their spouse. This trend continued over the decades, eventually with the women being charged to go on the ships. Marriage would often be agreed rapidly, the women fearing being sent back unsuccessful and the men concerned that another would take his prospective bride if he did not step in fast. There are even accounts of widows being proposed to on the steps of a church after their husbands’ funerals.  Nevertheless, many European men continued to marry and settle with Indian women as the number of European men in India exceeded the number of European women.

From 1786 all that was suddenly to change.  Lord Cornwallis became Governor-General of Bengal, a post with administrative powers over the  whole of India. He immediately began a programme of diktats, which would eventually result in the impassable barrier between British and Indians during the Raj.  Almost at once the children of British men and Indian wives were banned from jobs with the East India company. At the same time, it was forbidden to send such mixed race children home to be educated.  Five years later, an order was issued that no one with an Indian parent could be employed in the civil, military or marine branches of the Company though the light-skinned still slipped through.  Finally, by seven years later all jobs paying more than £500 a year were reserved for British men born and hired in Britain.  In 1800 Lord Wellesley, Cornwallis’ successor, continued the creation of this apartheid by banning Indians and British born in India from all Government social functions in Calcutta.

As these laws hit home, Indian wives and mistresses began to disappear. No man wanted to see his children penalised because their mother was the wrong colour. At the same time despite the difficulties more women began to travel to India. By the time the Raj was installed in 1858, the ‘us and them’ attitude  was part of the British mindset together with an unquestioning acceptance of the need to maintain purity of blood and links with the motherland. The Suez canal opening in 1869 made travel to India easier and even though the Fishing Fleet was not company run anymore it was still referred to by that name.

By the late 1880s, Eurasian were expected to marry other Eurasians, considered as they were socially inferior by Europeans and casteless by Indians. The story of Grace Trotter, born in Calcutta in 1868, exemplifies where Eurasians found themselves at the end of the c.19th.  Grace was at least 1/8th Indian. Her great grandfather Alexander Trotter had had an Indian mistress who had been a princess and his son (Grace’s grandfather) married a woman who probably had some Indian blood, as Grace’s mother, Sarah probably did. De Coucy writes: ‘As a Eurasian she would have moved in a parallel world, alongside the English but never of them, alongside but despised by Indians.’ The sort of husband she could have married would never have risen to the top in the ICS or been an officer in the regular HEIC regiments.  Instead he would have held one of the vital but less eminent Anglo-Indian jobs – that of hospital steward, pilot on the Hooghly, non-commissioned personnel in the Army, on the railways, telegraphs or other jobs connected with the infrastructure.  Grace and her elder sister Mabel were light-skinned girls who could pass as English. Grace’s great grandson, Charles Arthur believes that Grace and Mabel teamed up to extricate themselves from the ghastly predicament into which the curse of mixed blood cast them in late-Victorian England. They cut themselves off from their other four sisters who presumably followed a Eurasian way of life.   When Grace was 19 she met William Vincent whom she married and from then her place in society was secure. William had a distinguished career, switching from the executive side of ICS to the judicial in 1900 and eventually becoming a judge in 1909.   Unusually then he switched back to the executive branch and joined the government of India in 1911. In 1916 he was selected by the new Viceroy for the Viceroy’s Executive Council and a year later promoted to the post of Home Member of the Government of India and President of the Viceroy’s Council: a position that was second in importance to that of the Viceroy. He was later Speaker in the Legislative Assembly. Age 56, he and Grace returned to England and the story had a painful ending. Grace left William and went to live in Cheltenham. De Courcy speculates that much of the marriage had been to escape what she refers to as the ‘curse’ of being Eurasian.

Move forward now from Grace’s youth to the early c.20th. where the book gives us another insight into how Anglo-Indians were viewed by the British.   By the early c.20th there were excellent boarding schools in India, but in English eyes they had one fatal flaw: the accent of their alumni.  Many of the pupils at these schools were Eurasian, the children of planters or of the railway community, who spoke with the sing-song Eurasian accent known derogatorily as ‘chi-chi’.  The fear that an English child might pick up the accent of – or become too friendly with – Eurasians was very real in the India of the Raj.  When Iris James attended All Saints College in India for a few months to complete her education, her mother was so anxious lest she ‘pick up the accent like some unpleasant disease’ that she was not allowed to join her schoolmates for curry lunches but had to sit on the hillside by herself eating hotel sandwiches.

So there we have it. My mother tends not to say she is Indian, sometimes she does, sometimes she does not.  Perhaps this is why; the Anglo-Indians were not properly British, nor properly Indian. But there again, given they suffered direct discrimination maybe, running the country as they did, they did possess power and therefore represented a threat to the British.   With concerns that India would some day gain its independence (as it eventually did) the fact that Anglo-Indians had been trained up in areas needed to run the country was a concern. For, as coloniser and colonised, foreigner and native they could have jumped ship and helped that struggle along if they had not been too busy trying to curry favour (pardon the pun) with the colonial power. Ultimately they represented a new future, a new tribe, proof that you cannot enter a country without it entering you (a truth which the British would not have liked).  You cannot be invaded without being altered (a truth which the Indians would not have liked).  Perhaps they do not need to feel lesser. The British mistrusted them – why?  Because they represented a weakening of British power, a symbol of change.  Indians mistrusted them – why? Their view of coming independence was not clear and their ethnicity was a living record of the presence of invading Europeans in their midst.  But who were they really? Where were they born?  I believe they were an ethnic minority who did not realise that they were Indian. And that is ultimately who I seek, my own community and the land where once upon a time, they belonged.

I want to be an Apothecary – but what if that no longer exists?

It’s a strange thing if you find that the job you would like to have no longer exists in the modern era. I would have liked to be an apothecary. Now the modern equivalent would be a chemist or pharmacist who dispenses mass produced drugs and doesn’t go out cloaked in the moonlight of the small hours to pick herbs to brew into home made remedies.  I guess a closer equivalent to an apothecary would be a naturopath or some sort, such as a homeopath. However, such a person would still rarely make up the medicines themselves but would order them from a company who obtained them from a factory.

If you examine what underlies what I have said you will see that it is really a comment on industrialisation and how we have lost a link to both what we create and the fruits of our labours. Before every house would have had its own cottage cheese. Now most of our food is mass produced. (Interestingly enough there seems to be an increase in my area of people running their own small baking businesses from home as we come to tire of mass produced, processed food.)  Some might say that we are entering a new, post industrial age where you might imagine we have more freedom due to more sophisticated technology.  However all the technology we have available to us actually has the effect of allowing us to get more done in the same time rather than to give us more free time. So for example, in the past we might have seen a room of 12 typists in a company. Because every time you made a mistake you had to retype the whole page.  You could not save documents as we do now.  But now, with all the software and hardware which make a typist’s work much easier, instead of seeing those 12 typists work ONE hour instead of EIGHT and then go and sit on the beach you will see 1 secretary doing the work of 12 and probably working longer hours than they did. Food is quicker to prepare because we obtain it at a further stage (e.g. bread rather than flour rather than sheaves of wheat), but we live in smaller family units and fail to achieve the time economies of scale (e.g. if you cook for 4 it is not half the time of cooking for 8 – better to cook for 8 every other day than 4 every day, but few of us do. I try to get around this by making more and freezing it). As many tasks are quicker to complete we try, instead of spending less time on them,  to get more tasks done – or are forced to do so by the boss –  instead of creating space for ourselves.  It’s actually akin to how life was in Red Queen’s country.

“Well, in our country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’d generally get to somewhere else — if you run very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.”
“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”

We live in Red Queen’s country. Do you not think?

(Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, 1871)

Grieving for the unknown

I take ages to get to sleep. When I do I sleep lightly and fitfully. Sometimes my dreams represent danger and being invaded. I wake up with my fists clenched. I feel a bit better during the daylight hours but my chest still feels tight, relaxing only if I allow myself to cry.

I never realised that when you are close to someone the death of someone close to them (even if you have barely met that person) rocks you as you could never imagine. Intellectually I still find this illogical to be perfectly honest which is partly why I suppress the feelings thinking they must be, to some extent, fabricated. I thought I had in the past been sympathetic to other friends who were going through bereavement – but I did not experience it with them. I looked at their situations compassionately but always from the outside. With close friends I’ve found I do share the grief. I’ve been blocking this grieving out and not admitting it to myself but it is only when I accept the reality of what I am experiencing do I get any relief from the extraordinary tension I am experiencing.

Three deaths in three months and another person gravely ill. One had been close to me personally but far away geographically so there has been the isolation of grieving alone. A close relative contacted me when the person was critically ill – knowing I guess that I would at once be there in spirit with them. But on the other hand I have a strange feeling that the person themselves is nearer me now than they were when they were the other side of the world when I might never have seem them again in this life. When you’ve been loved there is a small consolation – what would the person advise me to do now? Their goodness lives on. The second was the spouse of someone I knew well and the third was a relative of mine again in a far off land.

The fourth is critically ill – and here the emotion is quite different. The stress of what they endured in this life – bravely and courageously, now hits me and I collapse.

My grandfather always told me that life has rough patches and smooth patches and that death was part of life. I never understood that until now.

Wearied by living in the Spirit

Living in the Spirit is never dull. At the moment I see it with money – God always steps in and never fails me but I find it stressful living like this with money always coming in at the last minute in ways I could not have expected. Last month I prayed Dear God can I just have enough to be able to manage it myself and be frugal and plan and not need a dramatic stepping in just whenever things don’t look like they’ll work out? He answered my prayers, things have become manageable but yet I have realised that living in the Spirit is the only way for a Christian to live.

Matt 6:31-34 (RSV) “So do not start worrying: ‘Where will my food come from? or my drink? or my clothes?’ (These are the things the heathen are always concerned about.) Your Father in heaven knows that you need all these things. Instead, be concerned above everything else with his Kingdom and with what he requires, and he will provide you with all these other things. So do not worry about tomorrow; it will have enough worries of its own. There is no need to add to the troubles each day brings.”

In Chasing the Dragon, Jackie Pullinger’s story of her life in Hong Kong – where she lives in the Spirit being sent where God calls her to be – she lives in total trust of getting the practical things of life which always come.

It is true, God has provided for us in all practical ways. We still yearn for a home. He continues to give. We have a large house which would cost £2 million to buy in parts of London. But we do not own it, it does not belong to us. But I wonder whether this is the point. Matthew 8:20 (RSV)And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.” You are given what you need as a Christian, not what you want or ask for. You cannot own anything in this life anyway. Your home is not in this world. Perhaps I’m not so much weary of living in the Spirit but weary of dipping in and out of trusting, weary ultimately of not living fully in the Spirit.

masalabou:

Fascinating article entitled Anarchy in (muslim) India
Considered as the anarchists of Islam, fakirs are muslim (male) wanderers who live on charity and the love of Allah.

Originally posted on travelerreport:

Fakir. Ajmer, India.

Fakir. Ajmer, India.

Considered as the anarchists of Islam, fakirs are muslim ( male) wanderers who live on charity and the love of Allah.  They are not magicians who perform “miracles” such as lying on a bed of nails, eating fire, raising bodies,…even if some of them do mortifications.

Most of them are “ajlaf”. They are the descendants of low caste hindus who converted to Islam during the Muslim invasions and the Mughal era ( in the mediaeval times and the following centuries), compelled to do so by poverty or to win the protection of a new lord. They did it by entire castes… or they were seduced by the message of a sufi, a muslim mystic.

Located in the state of Rajasthan ( India), Ajmer is the fakir’s Mecca, the main muslim pilgrimage centre of the subcontinent. They come from all over India, sometimes on foot, to pay homage to Moinuddin Chishti…

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