India though American Eyes: 100 Years Ago presents a rare collection of writings on India of the early twentieth century-a period that witnessed an upsurge in American consciousness of the Indian nation and it culture. Culled from ASIA: the American Magazine On the Orient (1901-46), the articles in this volume encompass a range of subjects from the nautch girls; snake charmers; issues of caste and class in Indian society; faith and folk lore; Christianity and Hinduism to the British Raj; Mahatma Gandhi and his strategies of non-violence and civil disobedience for the freedom struggle; and the personality of Tata, the industrial genius. Taken together, these writing of significant historical value, provide an insight into an India of a bygone era.
Not connected in any way with the British imperial network, the authors of these of these articles bring independent ideas and some fresh insight to bear upon their accounts and are intended inform and educated the American leaders of the time. The writers contributing to this volume, each one distinguished to his/her own field, include politicians, scholars, novelists, journalist, artists and Asia experts who visited India long before the first wave of American scholars descended on post-Independent India. India through American Eyes: 100 Years Ago, is the outcome of prolonged research by the editor and involves painstaking study of the forgotten volumes of the ASIA magazine preserved in the US Library of Congress.
A former diplomat and UNCTAD Adviser, Pran Nevile also served as India’s first Consul General at Chicago USA. He has been engaged in the study of the social and cultural history of India for several years. His particular fascination with the British Raj inspired him to export foreign accounts on India and visual records of the Indian scene in the libraries and museums of the UK and USA. Pran Nevile is the author of several books. Including Love Stories from the Raj (1995), Nautch Girls of India (1996), Beyond the Veil: Indian Women in the raj (2000), Marvels of Indian Painting: Raise and Demise of Company School (2007), Sahibs’ India: Vignettes from the Raj (2010) and, Raj Revisited (2012).
I was in 1993 While Researching in the US Library of Congress for the book Nautch Girls of India that I stumbled upon a fascinating eyewitness account of a nautch performance at Bombay by an American writer Lily Strickland Anderson, Published in the August 1925 issue of ASIA: The American Magazine on the Orient. I was struck by the tone and tenor of the account and the writer’s eloquent appreciation of Indian dance and music. This persuaded me to study American writing on India beginning from the twentieth century, the traveller’s accounts, and the observations and impressions of American soldiers in India during World War II. In the course of my research, I discovered in the bound volumes of ASIA, several feature articles on subjects covering political, economic, religious, social and cultural scene in India both from historical and current perspective. The authors included Asia experts, Politician, scholars in Asian studies, eminent journalists and artists.
ASIA: The American Magazine on the Orient, the official journal of the American Asiatic Association was founded in 1901, renamed as Asia and the Americas in 1942 and was closed down in 1946. The purpose of the Association was ‘to contribute to a satisfactory adjustment of relations between Asiatic counties and the rest of the world by removal of sources of misunderstanding and the dissipation of ignorant prejudices; and to cooperate with other agencies, religious, educational and philanthropic designed to remove existing obstacles to the peaceful progress of these countries’. ASIA was probably the first international magazine to publish a special ‘Indian Number’ as early as 1923 with a fascinating American focus on India, then still a British colony. The leading contributor n this issue was the former British Secretary of State for India E.S. Montague, famous for the Montague- Chelmsford Reforms, 1919. He wrote about ‘self-government for India’. The other notable writer was the renowned India expert of the time Gertrude Emerson, Associate Editor of ASIA, who met Mahatma Gandhi and recorded her observations on his personality and his strategies of non-violent non-cooperation for freedom movement. Her scholarly piece ‘This is India’ in the same issues highlights the antiquity of Indian civilization, her philosophic thought toward an identification of the self with spiritual forces and her quest for knowledge of the supreme truth.
In the course of my exploration in the Library of the Congress, I also discovered a vast collection photographs of practically all major historic monuments and also those depicting scenes of principal India cities with a bewildering diversity of people at the turn of the twentieth century. The fabulous collection of F.G. Carpenter, the noted American author and traveller underlined India’s overwhelming beauty, its sheer richness and diversity. Forgotten for nearly 50 years, I was the first to discover and study this pictorial treasure in the US Library, a deed duly acknowledged by the editor of SPAN, published by the American Embassy, New Delhi.
It was a difficult task to make a selection out of this wealth of published material on Indian culled from ASIA. The subjects covered are educative and informative, for both the general reader and scholar engaged in studies on India. As editor, I invite you to join me in this brief sojourn to the past and share with me the experience of observing an American focus on India.
After Visiting India In 1896, Mark Twain, the celebrated American literary figure wrote: ‘So far as I am able to judge, nothing has been left undone, either by man or nature, to make India the most extraordinary country that the sun visits on his round. Perhaps it will be simplest to throw away the tags and generalize her with one all- comprehensive name, as the Land of Wonders” – India is the only foreign land I ever daydream about or deeply long to see again.’
Fifty years later, an American soldier John W. Wohlfarth, after his brief tenure in Indian, was so much captivated by the country and its people that he recorded in his diary: ‘The world needs India intact! Tear down Roman ruins if you will, level Cyclopean walls, build bridges with stones of gothic abbeys and feudal fortresses but lay no hand on the glory and grandeur of India.’
India and America were linked right from 1492 when Christopher Columbus discovered America in search for sea route to India. The wealth and riches of India as reported by Marco Polo, the Italian globetrotter of thirteenth century, had fired the aspirations of many adventurers and explorers to visit India. A pioneer adventurer in the age of sailing ships, Columbus was incidentally responsible for causing confusion by calling the natives of America as Indians. Columbus thought that he had landed on the eastern shores of India. On his return to Spain, Columbus was showered with grand praise and honour for his discovery of a sea route to India. Columbus’ later voyages did nothing to disillusion the great explorer and until his dying day he never realized that he had discovered a new world and continued to insist that the lands discovered by him were an extension of Asia mainland. He had brought with him six local inhabitants as slaves and called them ‘Indians’ hence the name stuck and generations of original inhabitants of America, due to Columbus’ error, are termed as ‘America Indians’. Other explores soon disproved the theory that Columbus had reached India. In 1497, just five years, the Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama embarked on another voyage and found the new sea route to India.
During the first half of the eighteenth century both America and India shared a common colonial master, i.e. Great Britain. During this colonial period the Americans had little knowledge of India and its people with their rich old civilization and culture. Some contact had started through English soldiers and seamen who had lived both in America and India. Americans were fed with stories of the East India Company’s exploits their highly profitable trade, and fabulous wealth amassed by Company officials through private trade and other means, be they fair or foul. This had tempted some American youths to go to India via London, the headquarters of the Company. Elehu Yale, born in Boston (1649-1723), had moved to England with his family. Through contacts, Yale managed to join the East India Company at Calcutta as a written in 1671. Clever and resourceful, Yale rose through the ranks to attain the position of Governor of Madras. He amassed a vast fortune and earned the status of a British Nabob and merchant prince. On his return to England he settled down in his country house which was proclaimed as ‘one of the seven wonders of Wales’. It is after him that Yale University in New Haven is named on account of his generous donations, Yale’s connection with India contributed in its own way in stimulating American interest in Knowledge of India. There was a fascinating account published in the Virginia Gazette bout a Mughal Emissary’s visit to Governor Yale. The Emissary was reported as ‘of majestic Form and the Magnificance of his Pearls and Diamonds is beyond description’. This was a picture of India that was enshrined in American minds for nearly two centuries.
Even with the scarcity of information on India, there were some intellectuals who strove hard to learn about the teachings and beliefs of the Hindus. Charles Thompson (1729-1824) a member of the cultured Philadelphia Society along with Benjamin Franklin shared their pursuit of knowledge of Hinduism. In the face of this paucity of information about India culture and heritage, there was wide publicity about East Indian Company’s dubious activities and its exploitation of Indians as recorded by the Virginia Gazette in 1767: ‘It is said that the great riches acquired in the East Indies are not obtained by mere trade, but chiefly by rapine, and plundering of the poor innocent natives.’ In later years as American relation with the mother country became more and more strained, American newspapers were more forthcoming in criticizing Britain and were sympathetic towards Indians.
Apart from sharing the common heritage of British colonialism, it is a little known fact that the history of the two countries, America and India. is also joined by an Englishman, Lord Cornwallis. His defeat by American coming to India as Governor General in 1786, ostensibly bound by Pitt’s India Act led to a brazen defiance of the policy to refrain from warfare. This defiance set Britain on a new path of forceful conquest that would ultimately lead to the establishment of Raj in India.
During the colonial period, American knowledge of India was fed by some casual news reports published in local newspaper like the Virginia Gazette received from the English press. Apart from some reports of the East India Company, the Indians did not figure as being of any great interest. It was only after American Independence that we observe the emergence of a desire to learn about the countries of the Orient. India was usually depicted as a land of Maharajas with their harems and marble palaces, faqirs, snake charmers, tigers, and elephants, where famines and hurricanes brought great human suffering. There were also some fascinating reports of enormous opulence and the glamourous lifestyles of the Indian ruling nawabs and Rajas. One such report about a nawab’s wife, which was published in 1743 described her glittering costume, her elaborate sophisticated make-up, and her exotic jewellery studded with diamonds and pearls, which adorned her body from head to toe. There was also mention of the lavish hospitality where refreshments were served on gold plates and guests were entertained with 60 dishes. This picture of luxury must have confounded the readers the colonial America.
During the colonial period Indian goods like cotton and silk textiles, spices, indigo, saltpetre’, sugar, etc., had reached American markets indirectly through re-exports from London – the destination of the East Indian Company’s exports from India. Direct trade with India started only after American Independence when the Indian Ocean was opened to American vessels. The first American ship to reach India was the S.S. United States in December 1785. The ship carried a mixed cargo of lead, copper, iron, tobacco, twine, and cordage. The entry of American ships into Indian Waters was facilitated by navigational charts published in Britain and Europe as well as by crew members with past experience of working n British ships. During the first decade of Indo-Us trade, the British, though reluctant to allow any competition from American newcomers, tolerated them since American ships could be useful in handling the private trade of East Indian Company employees. By 1789, there were 40 American ships trading in Asian waters and the British got concerned about American competition, even though they brought much needed silver dollars with them.
In the famous Joy Treaty of 1794, American ships were permitted to trade only at British controlled ports and they were to return directly to the US without carrying any cargo for Europe. They were also excluded from the ‘country trade’ in India. Some American shippers however chose to defy these restrictions and continued to engage in trade between ports in the Indian Ocean. Indo – US trade continued to thrive through the early years of the nineteenth century. During the European wars of 1793-1815, American neutrality promoted the global expansion of its merchant navy and Indian trade was an important element of American commercial expansion. During this period, American merchants used the services of Indian commercial agents in Calcutta and Bombay to operate in the local markets which fetched greater profits than dealing through British mercantile houses. By the turn of the nineteenth century, a large variety of Indian hand - woven cotton and silk piece goods were much in demand as such materials could not be found anywhere else. Indian cotton and silk textiles with a variety of patterns and colours were extremely popular for making dresses. The quality ranged coarse cloth to fine muslins. Kashmiri woollen shawls, soft and warm, were also in demand for the rich. These highly valued trade goods fostered a high regard for India and generated a wider interest in learning more about its history and culture. American traders brought back a variety of curies and handicrafts along with the staple cargo. The most spectacular import from India was an elephant in 1797 which was sold for the princely sum of $10,000. However, the buyer made it a profitable venture by taking it on tour around leading American cities and charging 25 cents per head for viewing it.
In 1799, wealthy American merchants and captains of ships joined hands to set up the Salem East India Marine Society which built a museum to display a variety of curious and other unusual objects never seen before in America. These included traditional weapons, musical instruments hookahs, and even a silver-trimmed palanquin to show the mode of travelling in India. Other notable exhibits included prints and lithographs based on paintings by British and Indian artists depicting Indian scenes, its landscape and monuments, native people and their colourful costumes. British lifestyle, and pictures of events of imperial interest.
With the end of war in Europe in 1815, there was a decline in Indo-US trade due to various factors, which included the new competition of British private merchants who were permitted to enter the India trade by the 1813 East India Company Charter. There were other factors too which led to the drop in Indo-US trade exchanges. With the cessation of hostilities and the introduction of peace, the Americans were deprived of their special position as neutrals in war.
Wartime had brought about notable developments in transportations and manufacturing sectors. New York emerged as a leading port and centre of foreign trade, thereby affection the fortunes of Boston merchant specialists in the India trade. The 1820s and 1830s presented a notable change in trade patterns: the growth of American industrial production and introduction of high tariffs on the import of manufactures. It hit the Indian textiles and other manufacture goods markets, replacing them with raw materials – indigo saltpetre, and hides. This new trend in trade was part of a global shift which saw the rapid industrialization of America and Europe. The demand for other raw materials including shellac, gum, copal, and camphor increased with the expansion of America industry. American merchants continued to find more to import from India than to export, with the balance of trade in favour of India. It was in this period that most unlikely export cargo to India appeared: American ice. This memorable phenomenon in the history of Indo-Us trade thus deserves special mention.
Your email address will not be published *
Send as free online greeting card
Email a Friend