Posts Tagged ‘India’

Spam and Curry

Posted in General on January 22nd, 2010 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

First, my RDA of Spam:

Dear Sir/Madam,  (Alas, I am at the age when the difference is becoming negligible.)

We have visited your website (www.finermanworks.com) and discovered that your product has amazing business potential through the website.  (Yes, it isn’t amazing how many MBAs act Byzantine without the least idea who the Byzantines were.  But, now with Finermanworks, major corporations can justify their incompetence and malfeasance with historical precedence.  John Mack of Morgue Stagnant can compare himself to King John II at the battle of Poitiers:  “I had no idea that the English knew archery.”)

But we found that your website is not registered in most of the leading search engines and directories, which is a great disadvantage.  (Unfortunately, when potential customers do a computer search for “hot Swedish teenagers”, they rarely want discussions of Charles XII.)

We at Opal Infotech offer professional services to market your website.  (Both my mother-in-law and my Rabbi tells everyone that I was on  Jeopardy.  I don’t see how you can do better than that.) 

Thanking you
Ms. Madhu Jaggi

Madhu, by a remarkable coincidence, today’s RDA of Irony explains why your letter was not in French:  http://finermanworks.com/your_rda_of_irony/2009/01/22/etiquette-and-empire/

Pyromantic

Posted in General, On This Day on December 4th, 2009 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

December 4, 1829: Britain Waives the Rules

In the good old days, one of the few pleasures of being in an airport was being accosted by Hare Krishnas. If I had the spare time–and the airlines always guaranteed that I did–I would ever so innocently ask my would-be missionary about the practice of “suttee.”

Western literature has its macabre romance of a widow dying of a broken heart. In India, suttee ensured it. The widow was expected to hurl herself on her late husband’s funeral pyre. The practice was limited to the upper castes; after all, who else could afford the pyrotechnics.  The dutiful kindling was promised a higher reincarnation–probably as a man. 

Although suttee is now being espoused by University of Chicago economists as a way to “reform” social security, the British were appalled by it.  Using Imperialism in a rare instance of benevolence, the British Governor General outlawed suttee on this day in 1829.  (Whitehall debated his decision but finally concurred.)

Even today there are still reports of suttee in India, but it is no longer officially sanctioned or included in tourist itineraries.

p.s. Of course, widowers were never expected to throw themselves on a funeral pyre. They were free to remarry a future piece of kindling.

p.p.s. The Taj Mahal was built by a Moslem.

June 23, 1757

Posted in General, On This Day on June 24th, 2009 by Eugene Finerman – 2 Comments

The Seven Years War could more accurately be called the Nine Years War; les Canadiens and His Majesty’s Virginia Militia were fighting for control of the Ohio Valley some two years before they had the formal permission of Paris and London.  In addition to its disputable length, the conflict could really be called the First World War.  While it might be a rebuff to our North American ego, our front was minor.  In fact, the French were reconciled to losing l’Amerique on the battlefield.  The French colonists in North America were outnumbered 20 to 1 by the British, and with Britain’s mastery of the sea, there was no hope of sending reinforcements to the embattled Canadiens.   Nonetheless, the French had a strategy.

The British navy did not control the Rhine, and so a hundred thousand French soldiers were ordered to march into Germany and seize Hanover from the British royal family.   Then, at the eventual peace negotiations, the French would exchange Hanover for the return of Canada.  Unfortunately for this French strategy, Hanover was protected by the nephew of George II, and he happened to be a military genius.  The man really was entitled to be called Frederick the Great.   Of course, the Prussian King was facing French generals who were chosen by their ability to flatter Madame de Pompadour.

Nonetheless, there was a third front–where the natives really were Indians–and the French had overwhelming odds in their favor.  Suraj ud Daulah, the Nawab (Viceroy) of Bengal, was not a genuine Francophile; he was not drinking his chai from Limoges teacups and none of his wives were wearing the latest from Paris.  Yet, he did have one trait that endeared him to France:  he hated the English.  Although the chosen successor of his grandfather, Suraj did have envious cousins (Well, who doesn’t?)  and there were inevitable conspiracies and attempted rebellions.  The East India Company, British imperialism’s corporate front on the subcontinent, had supported a losing claimant to Bengali rule, and the victorious Suraj was a vindictive winner. 

Within two months of ascending to the Bengali throne, the 23 year-old Suraj attacked the British fort at Calcutta.  According to folklore and British propaganda, on June 20, 1756 146 British prisoners were placed in a cell, 14 feet by 18 feet.  The next morning, only 23 prisoners were still alive.  This prototype and inspiration for airline seating is remembered as “The Black Hole of Calcutta”. 

The British navy was ever at the service of its corporate friend, and Calcutta was soon back in the portfolio of the East India Company.  But a chastened Suraj was still an enemy, and the Company was resolved to be rid of him.  As befits an empire, the Company had its own army.  Led by Robert Clive, a force of 3000 men–1000 Britons and 2000 native troops–marched into Bengal with the goal of overthrowing the Nawab.  Suraj probably did not feel too threatened; he had 50,000 men as well as fifty cannons from his new French friends. 

On June 23, 1757, Suraj’s army surrounded Clive’s meager force at a mangrove swamp near the village of Plassey.  Ironically, Clive had to be constrained by his war council from attacking.  Such confidence was not simply British arrogance; the Company had taken the precaution of bribing most of the commanders in Suraj’s army.   Of the 50,000 soldiers Suraj thought he had, 45,000 actually were just spectators.  The Nawab definitely had a personnel problem.  His own uncle already had been hired by the Company as the next Nawab. 

Suraj had to be quite disconcerted to see most of his army ignoring him.  Although his loyal troops still outnumbered Clive’s force, the Nawab now had more to fear from his generals.  With the enemy before him and traitors around him, Suraj decided to retreat; at least, he tried.  He did succeed in escaping the rout, but nine days later he was captured by soldiers of the new Nawab.  I think that you can imagine the nature of Suraj’s retirement package: abrupt.

For all the royal trappings, the new Nawab really was just an employee of the East India Company.  In return for British support, he had ceded the control of Bengal to the Company.  When he was just an ambitious courtier, he had not minded promising to pay 2.5 million Sterling to his British sponsor; but when he was an alleged sovereign, he rather resented the looting of the Bengal treasury.  Ingratitude is a bad attitude in an employee; the Company replaced him after three years, hiring his son-in-law instead.  But he turned out to be capable and conscientious, so he had to be fired, too.

Out of a British sense of protocol and pageantry, Bengal would continue to have Nawabs for another century; but there was no question as to who really ruled.  And Bengal was only the first province.  The rest of India would soon be part of the Company.

p.s.  For more on this topic:  http://finermanworks.com/your_rda_of_irony/2009/01/22/etiquette-and-empire/

http://finermanworks.com/your_rda_of_irony/2008/03/22/how-to-run-an-empire/

Etiquette and Empire

Posted in On This Day on January 22nd, 2009 by Eugene Finerman – 3 Comments

Of course, you would expect an Orangeman and an Irishman to brawl whenever and wherever they met. But on this day in 1760, the brawl would determine the control of India. The Orangeman, the painfully named Eyre Coote, commanded the forces of the British East India Company. The obviously Irish Thomas Arthur O’Lally, in his lifelong war with Britain ended up in the French army and commanded its forces in Southern India.

Yes, there was another French and Indian War and, however deflating to our North American egos, at the time the control of India and its riches seemed more important than the muskrat trade in the Ohio valley. Unlike the North American conflict, where 2 million British subjects were pitted against 100,000 Frenchmen and any native tribes who had survived smallpox, the conflict in India was evenly matched. Both European armies had several thousand men as the core of their force, but their preferred strategy was to let their allied Indian princes slaughter each other. Since this was a traditional pastime among Indian princes, the British and French really were just spectators who lent cannons.

Fighting to the last rajah, this war could have lasted indefinitely. However, Thomas O’Lally was a decisive man; and the French commander decided that he didn’t like India. His idea of the caste system was to treat everyone like an Untouchable. While this egaliterian rudeness might have earned O’Lally the gratitude of India’s dung collectors, the lower castes were not leading the armies on which the French strategy depended. Insulted princes are not usually the most reliable allies. O’Lally learned that when he advanced upon a British fort at Wandiwash. His Indian allies forgot to show up.

British commander Eyre Coote was on excellent terms with his Indian allies and, with his conspicuously larger force, he routed the French. From that day–January 22, 1760–the French were in continual retreat until the remnants of their empire were confined and besieged in the town of Pondicherry. When Pondicherry surrendered, O’Lally was taken as a prisoner to Britain. Ironically, at least he was safe there.

The French government charged O’Lally with treason. Considering that the Seven Years War was a world atlas of French defeats, Versailles should have been accustomed to incompetent generals. But only O’Lally was condemned as a traitor. He had not merely lost a battle; he had sabotaged the underlying alliance on which French India was based. Perhaps for that very reason, the grateful British were willing to offer O’Lally political asylum. However, he insisted on returning to France to defend his career and honor. At worse, he would be executed; and for Thomas O’Lally that would still be preferable to living in England. He certainly got his wish; returning to France after war ended in 1763, he was immediately imprisoned and beheaded three years later.

Eyre Coote had a considerably more successful career, gaining a knighthood and a fortune. (The opportunities for graft in India were wondrous.) He died–of natural causes–in 1783, leaving a vast estate in Ireland where his heirs treated the Irish like Untouchables.

Pyromantic

Posted in General, On This Day on December 4th, 2008 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

December 4, 1829: 

In the good old days, one of the few pleasures of being in an airport was being accosted by Hare Krishnas. If I had the spare time–and the airlines always guaranteed that I did–I would ever so innocently ask my would-be missionary about the practice of “suttee.”

Western literature has its macabre romance of a widow dying of a broken heart. In India, suttee ensured it. The widow was expected to hurl herself on her late husband’s funeral pyre. The practice was limited to the upper castes; after all, who else could afford the pyrotechnics.  The dutiful kindling was promised a higher reincarnation–probably as a man. 

Although suttee is now being espoused by University of Chicago economists as a way to “reform” social security, the British were appalled by it.  Using Imperialism in a rare instance of benevolence, the British Governor General outlawed suttee on this day in 1829.  (Whitehall debated his decision but finally concurred.)

Even today there are still reports of suttee in India, but it is no longer officially sanctioned or included in tourist itineraries.

p.s. Of course, widowers were never expected to throw themselves on a funeral pyre. They were free to remarry a future piece of kindling.

p.p.s. The Taj Mahal was built by a Moslem.