In 1839, Afghans regarded the British as terrorists

Discussion in 'Subcontinent & Central Asia' started by Yusuf, Dec 7, 2012.

  1. Yusuf

    Yusuf GUARDIAN Administrator

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    William Dalrymple's book Return of A King explores the First Anglo-Afghan War. Speaking with Srijana Mitra Das , Dalrymple — who's at the ToI Literary Carnival in Mumbai, December 7-9 — discussed history reloaded, the British in an inverted role — and how Indians aren't writing enough narrative history:

    From 1857 Delhi to 1839 Kabul — why this interest in disastrous wars?

    When i'm thinking what sort of narrative history to write, there are some things to keep in mind. One is contemporary resonance and the parallels between the first British attempt to take Afghanistan in 1839 and the current conflict are too close to be ignored. Secondly, i'm always looking for a story which has a novelistic arc — a small group of interesting characters undergoing some cathartic experience. The basic legend of this book — 18,000 troops march into Afghanistan and one man comes out — is a fantastic starting point. Thirdly, you're looking for a subject where there's been very little research. The serious scholarly study of modern Afghanistan is still in its infancy. This book, weirdly enough, is the first one in English to use Afghan sources describing the war.

    Most thrillingly, many were printed in India, on Persian presses in Lucknow, Agra and Kanpur in the run-up to 1857, clearly read by Indian audiences with a view to getting rid of the British. The Mutiny broke out in Indian regiments of Afghan veterans deserted by their officers in the Hindu Kush in 1841. So, this book is also about India and Indians. The people who fought the Afghan war were Bengali and Bihari sepoys, the war was run from Calcutta, the intelligence agents were the first Indians used by the British. It`s as much about Indian history as Afghan history.

    How did you find history repeating itself?

    In 2006 it seemed that this war was following the rough trajectory of the First Afghan War. The British in the first case, NATO now, could walk into a country thinking they'd effect regime change and walk out — but they get sucked into a bloody conflict that exhausts their resources and they leave, tails between their legs, having achieved none of their aims. There was this spooky echo down to the finest details — whether this ends in the same catastrophe remains to be seen.

    You say the Afghan sources show the British in a surprising light?

    The Afghans regarded the British as women-abusing terrorists! They were disgusted by the British turning Kabul into a brothel, hugely shocking for Afghan notions of honour. The Afghan sources actually transform this undifferentiated war of fanatics, which you get from British sources, into individuals with their own motivations. You understand that behind the rhetoric of jehad and public war statements, there are individuals struggling with their needs, consciences, desires and problems. You get this complex, nuanced picture — previously, you had only a generalised image of bearded fanatics opposed to Victoria's civilising mission.

    Despite Indian publishing booming, why aren't more Indians writing narrative history?

    I've no idea. While we've seen wonderful long-form journalism, the only other guy really writing narrative non-fiction is Ramachandra Guha. He's working brilliantly with modern political history but despite universities chock-a-block with brilliant historians here, none of them seems to be writing for a general audience. There's no Indian equivalent of say, Simon Schama. Where are the Indian versions of Niall Ferguson, Linda Colley or Maya Jassanof? Meanwhile though, it`s lovely to have the field to myself — i've no complaints.

    William Dalrymple: In 1839, Afghans regarded the British as terrorists - The Times of India on Mobile
     
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  3. datguy79

    datguy79 Regular Member

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    It always boggles my mind that the British controlled India for as long as they did. No offense intended, of course; but you always wonder what might have been....
     
  4. BangersAndMash

    BangersAndMash Regular Member

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    I blame the sell outs that licked the invaders boots!
     
  5. civfanatic

    civfanatic Retired Moderator

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    It does not become so mind-boggling when you consider how divided Indian society was, and how incapable it was of mass action. I respect Gandhi solely for being the first man in history - that we know of - to unite India's masses and lead a mass movement.
     
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  6. blank_quest

    blank_quest Senior Member Senior Member

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    It was the division of Bengal that excited masses way before Gandhi came into Indian Politics.That created a passion that mobilized Congress "Hardliners" to replicate that Model of unifying masses by using protest as a means. It was 1905 and that has also been seen as the reason for the formation Muslim League by Nawab of Dhaka.
     
  7. civfanatic

    civfanatic Retired Moderator

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    The masses may have become "excited" but was there an organized, nation-wide mass protest against British rule, until Gandhi arrived on the scene?
     
  8. blank_quest

    blank_quest Senior Member Senior Member

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    Yaa there was.. It was very much mass protest.just read about Bengal Movement of 1905-06 that culminated into reunification of Bengal.
     
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