In other parts of the world the blame on the West for colonialism is diluted in current affairs: in India, every daily contradiction condemns Europe to its historical shame
Colonialism in India
In other parts of the world such as neighboring Southeast Asia or the poorer Africa, the blame on the West for colonialism is diluted in current affairs. In India, the flow of traffic that evidently violates all highway regulations condemns Europe to its historical shame.
Udaipur. Walking along the lake that runs from the castle to the jungle, one understands the height of the dam overlooking the forest below. In Rajasthan, European troops once made alliances with local maharajas who guaranteed privilege in exchange for wealth from their lands. Over a morning stroll, Lucio Bonaccorsi points out how one would have ended up in the colonies: either been on the run or the younger children of noble families in order to leave their family heritage intact in the hands of the firstborn son. Amongst them were the first real self-made men in the history of export-based businesses. Bonaccorsi — the second-born prince of a family from Sicily — remembers when he had read the chronicles of Belgian colonialism: for historical standards, Belgian conquerors were considered amongst the worst, counting poor respect for local resources as well as exploitation of indigenous populations (all the while, the Italians in Ethiopia and Eritrea did the opposite: historically free of any sense of nationalism, they invested in infrastructure and facilities optimistic for returns that we now know never came through). The lakes of Udaipur are connected to one another via a strait crossed by two bridges. The city is a miniature Istanbul. Artificial lakes dating back to 1362 when they were first built to collect monsoon water and groundwater. Today, Udaipur lakes provide labor to sixty percent of the population.
Gandhi When I am arrested
On February 27th, 1930, Gandhi published an article entitled When I am Arrested on the national Young India, explaining the evil of the law that the British government in India imposed on salt. The production of Indian salt was prohibited in favor of salt imported from England, a monopolized item on sale at a cost disproportionate to people’s means, at about 2,400 percent higher than market price. He announced a march to the village of Dandi, on the coast of Gujarat, to blatantly break that English law. The peaceful march would have gained consensus so that the gesture could resonate with the public along with involvement from the international press. In a letter he sent out on March 2nd, 1930 to Lord Irwin, Gandhi wrote that the British government had «impoverished the dumb millions by a system of progressive exploitation. You are getting 11,200 annas per day against India’s average income of nearly two annas per day. Thus you are getting much over 5,000 times India’s average income. I know that you do not need the salary that you get, but a system that provides such an arrangement deserves to be summerly scrapped». Lord Irwin left Gandhi unanswered and sent out a warning to not march. «On bended knees I asked for bread and I received stone instead» replied Gandhi. That morning, on February 27th, 1930, Ba Gandhi prepared a flower paste — vermilion-colored, pulverized petals —and with a finger placed a mark on the foreheads of her husband. She did the same for all the men ready to march. Gandhi had said it clearly: «you must be prepared to die. The British may use guns but you must not fight back». The marchers left; the youngest was sixteen years old, the oldest sixty-one, he was Gandhi. Two hundred forty miles in twenty-four days. Along the way, children and women ran down the streets, flowers scattered out of windows. Kilometers after kilometers, men joined in.
End of British rule in India
The count of marchers multiplied and journalists began to publish, stirring public opinion. On April 9th in Dandi, Gandhi entered the sea, then stopped on the shoreline where salt was deposited by the tide, took a handful, and with that single gesture, symbolically broke English law. From there the march continued to Dharasana, twenty miles from Dandi where the English depots were located. The army and police, armed, were ready to protect the warehouses. In groups of twenty-five, each embraced and chained onto one other, Gandhi’s men walked towards the depots as though the British soldiers were not there. «In eighteen years of reporting twenty-two countries, I have never witnessed such harrowing scenes», wrote Webb Miller, the correspondent for United Press who penned the most accurate narrative of Dandi’s march. Soldiers did not open fire but struck civilians with rifles, breaking shoulders and skulls and stepping on calves and testicles. Many fell to the ground. All were stopped. More than three hundred were wounded. Those images circulated globally and marked the beginning of the end of the British Raj. The British Empire in India would soon disappear.
The City Palace, Udaipur
«I want to wander the world with you, all the days of my life». Udaipur and limestone inlays; glass fragments of a large radius sphere with their convex part placed below are arranged according to a sketch on a piece of newspaper. Liquid lime is poured onto the surface and left to slide over the drawing, submerging the glass, which being curved, stays deburred. A frame defines the dimensions of the panel. Once the lime solidifies, the panel is turned and the craftsman cleans the convex glass by removing the wet newspaper, revealing the drawing below: a sparkling, colored stencil, mirrored in its deformation of reality. These original inlays are in the inner courtyard of the Lake Palace and decorate the palace’s garden where the maharaja would spend his summers and his days of royal pleasure. The more ancient pieces have a pastier and a denser lime, and the glass smaller and sunken in. The motifs that appear are a tree of life and a vase with floral embellishments and cascading branches and leaves. The fountain in the center of the patio presents the same element — the leaf — reproduced into flower beds: petals are thrown into the water, fresh every morning. A man in military uniform drives out the pigeons with a white flag which snaps when turned with force like a soft cannon shot — a sound that sticks — and the pigeons leave. The garden that was once reserved for women remains a jungle — trees and flowers for shade and rest — once upon a time an orchard to distract the princesses. The Maharani Suite is not very bright as the windows are still colored and the windows small. It makes no sense to visit Udaipur without staying overnight.
The City Palace: two hotels under constant footfall. The King’s residence is somewhat reminiscent of Montecarlo — except with a sort of easiness from the East. Wandering around the lake by boat and entering Lake Pichola from a bridge, one can see how the palace was born from the top of a hill marked by ancient trees, now blending with the palace, with romantic, pictorial tones from the early nineteenth century. The botanical garden, the Royal Palms: the trunk looks like that of a concrete pillar, with trees that do not bear fruit — «it takes from the ground and it gives anything — this is why we call it royal» a passerby replies, amused and concentrated in an Indian manner. The pigeon cage is built out of honey- comb-woven straw, like a piece of modern design. Everything is built in marble. During the Holi festival in March, the fountain was filled to the brim with flowers, colors and petals, all floral colors, largely pinks and reds; the powder blue of lapis lazuli stone was excluded. In Rajasthan’s glory days each of its cities had its own painting school. Here in Udaipur, portraiture was preceded using fur from squirrel tails to paint facial features; the fineness of the rodent allowed a resolution that almost mimics photography. A square pool — about two meters on each side — was carved out from a single piece of marble, filled with silver coins at the coronation of a new maharaja. The king used to throw the coins out of a small window towards the poor, a tradition last practiced in 1930 by the grandfather of the current ruler, interrupted as it became too expensive for modern pockets however majestic it may be. Portals in real ivory, in wood, and camel bones. The colored glass from Belgium. A reproduction of a painting depicts the maharaja and his court cross the lake under the monsoon: the rain falls incessantly, lightning is drawn as though a yellow snake across the sky. In 2011, Udaipur’s lakes dried out completely. The monsoon was almost non-existent and the water disappeared. The royal palaces built on the islands appeared at least ten meters high and could be reached on foot on the bare, muddy lake bottom.
Paan chewing in India
The road gets easier on the drive towards Jaipur. Young trees are shielded with nets so as to not be munched on by sheep. The gutter is at a level lower than the asphalt. The lane divider is bush-lined, but regardless, the road does not appear to be so confined and on its edge, a young girl pushes her grandmother in a wheelchair. The overpasses are under construction to connect the different residential areas, advertisements featuring tech products are hung in the place of the road symbols — but there is no asphalt on the streets. Plastic — there is a need to invest in new chemical technologies for decomposition and reuse of plastic. Statistically-speaking, with such a large population, a percentage of geniuses is expected by numerical variation. A question still stands: why is the population density in India so high? The red spit: the Indians chew paan, a chewable betel paste, areca nut, and tobacco combination that is as widespread as cigarette smoking is in Europe and which increases salivation. Across South and Southeast Asia that red is a plague; streets, walls — even those of apartment complexes — are all veiled with spots of saliva. Outside the forts and in the town squares and public spaces are signs that prohibit or regulate the red spit.
The driver advances against the direction of traffic. Even the most trusted drivers would want to take tourists to places wherein they have a mutual agreement; at the restaurant, a free meal; at a shop, a percentage of the sale. Each stop is a point of accord with the local community. The cobras only cross the streets at night, all the while dogs wander as though the roads are their living rooms. For Europeans, that scene is fit for a heart attack, but ultimately, it is forbidden to hit the brakes if an animal were to appear which would otherwise lead to risks of rear-end collisions. The whole issue seems to be a video game in India. The one thing that tourists could do is to appear more able, declaring that the quality of life that they are witnessing is not sufficient, as though challenging the capabilities of the land at hand. It is then that Indian pride is stirred and the Indians go on to show how things are better done here than elsewhere, and in order to keep up the humble pride of their land, take you to places off the beaten track. Whilst crossing the city, the driver says that December 31st is not a holiday for the Indians, it is not a holiday for the poor. Monkeys can have a red face or a black face. The one with a red face is more aggressive. Oxen’s horns are different from one another: some are convex while others face backward. The humps can be disproportionate, calloused or cancerous. In the countryside, to turn the wheel of the oil pressing, the bull is blindfolded so as not to lose his balance. When the cows block the roads, crossing dangerous edges, the driver hits the horn but while advancing them, bows respectfully. Constant and rhythmic horns like rap music. In Jaipur, turning the roundabout, the residence of Edward VII and Mountbatten appears, a British imperial palace. At night it is illuminated to glory, in the daytime a mansion to pigeons.
Amber Fort in Jaipur
Climbing up Amber Fort, the young are in close contact; friends with one hand on the other’s shoulder, couples hand- in-hand, glaring with challenge and desire, some embraced in a familial manner. Physical contact between men is common. Hinduism provides for diversity. Pages of Kamasutra are dedicated to homosexual relationships, yet still, homophobia is widespread: the travel guide assumes that any gift would be for the girlfriend, for the wife. Man seeks virility; the pride of having many women, of conquering European females, of knowing their bodies — only to then marry an Indian woman whose purity remains intact. In the royal palaces, the rooms reserved for women have stained glass windows looking out to the courtyards so that they could look while men could not see back. The windows are still small — in the buildings built in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the colored glass came from Belgium. African elephants are aggressive. To go up to Amber Fort, tourists can only ride the female Indian elephant which takes on four laps a day and not more, only to then go and rest, eating bananas and sugar canes. Those who work with elephants spend more time with them than with their own families. Those elephants could be the most spoiled of their species in the world. It’s like Indian saffron — just the best around; from the top of the fortress, the garden island in the middle of the lake bears the spice’s name, Saffron Garden, despite the warning signs placed, the crocodiles are no longer there. The Crystal Gallery was built in 1623 — its convex mirrors and glass once again imported from Belgium — combined with lapis lazuli from Afghanistan.
Jaipur: gem capital of the world
Only the men of the royal family were allowed to enter Amber Fort. In addition to them, their wives, concubines and eunuchs —indeed, no testosterone that was not royal. In the sixteenth century, Ling Man Sij had wanted twelve wives, one per zodiac sign. The marble quarries. The mines and rivers of silver formed the goldsmith’s art of the area, and the culture of Rajasthan jewelry crossed by a single mountain range, a reserve of metals, stones and gems. Jaipur remains to be a capital for gems. Here, rough stones arrive from all over the world; there are cutters and stone sanders. Emeralds, rubies, and sapphires, all the way to onyx, turquoise and whatnot. It’s necessary to highlight the clarity of the stone; to see its quality of inclusions; its reflective capacities. Today, on Jaipur’s center stage is Samir Kasliwal who along with his two brothers owns The Gem Palace, jewelry with signature Indian design adorning customers from New York to Bangkok. Samir’s mother is from Bologna where he lived up until his twenties before moving to India. He maintains his Italian ways and knows how to use his kindness: he has been able to recreate a good society abroad, which across Europe, many refer to with nostalgia.
The Rambagh Palace Hotel
The current maharaja of Jaipur is twenty-two years old. Padmanabh Singh lives between India, Rome and London. In Europe, those who know him call him Pacho. For years now he has been inviting European aristocracy to the gardens of his palace thus transforming Jaipur into a destination. He is a National polo champion. In Milan, he modeled on the catwalks and attended a Giorgio Armani show. The Rambagh Palace: at the hotel bookstore you can find a publication by Kanwar Dharmender: the biography of the third wife of the great-grandfather of the current maharaja, Maharani Gayatri Devi. Her life narrates India’s history through the chronicles of a princess. Today the royal family is highly regarded in an Indian city where disparities in the average quality of life exist — and in such a contingency, the questions to these figures and their possible responses are urgent. The Rambagh Palace Hotel is owned by the royal family, leased to the Taj Hotels group (as are all the Rajasthan hotels that open the rooms of the houses of the former sovereigns). The rooms have hosted the Queen of Denmark, actors and celebrities — snobbery and affirmation for a city that seeks to be relevant in the worldly journeys of the jet-set. Peacocks roam the park — the noise of cars subsides beyond the bushes while they run after one other, jumping on the nearest tree branch as soon as the vibration gets there. The historic indoor swimming pool, like a national piece of heritage, cannot be modified in any of its details — it cannot be heated. In the leisure area, water beds, hot tubs and massage pavilions. 19th-century French Empire gazebos, a shade between gold and chocolate, and in the morning the croissants with the scent and flavor of rose, the milky sky of India.
OCI – Overseas Citizenship of India
OCI, a term that identifies immigrants who have become Indian citizens. Once upon a time, immigrants embraced local culture and were able to integrate into Indian social life. Those that were actual local citizens were referred to as firangi, a word that is now derogatory and refers to a period of colonial suffering, that in previous times, celebrated European talent that came to the East; masterminds, who for the most part were making a run from the police. Vasco da Gama landed in India in 1490 where he gave life to the Portuguese Estado da Índia, the first European colonial avampósto. About fifty years later, in 1534, a doctor arrived on the island of Goa, led by one of the new governors. The doctor, Garcia de Orta, a Jew fleeing the Inquisition that came into force in Portugal that year (in India the Inquisition would start in 1560 following the missionary Francesco Saverio’s request, who despite it was later canonized saint). De Orta’s treatise on cures, based on Indian herbs and drugs, all cultivated in his garden, is amongst the foundations of tropical medicine. Augustine Hiriart, a native of the Basque lands escaping a sentence for counterfeit jewelry and scams, arrived in India at the turn of the seventeenth century. He set foot at the court of the great Jahangir who took to calling him ‘Hunarmand’, a Persian word that means ‘skillful’ and that would soon be recognized as Hiriart’s name. He designed and built more than a throne for the emperor, and between lion-shaped legs and embedded rubies, we know how to recognize the sculpted corsets of Swiss guards with their halberds who were stationed at the Louvre at the time. «If fantasy were a kingdom, this land was not and will never be subdued to it». At the airport on the way back, a father travels to Milan along with his two teenage children. All three have deep eyes, the girl with ruffled hair up. The father is sitting in a corner reading a book with many, many pages. On the flight, the three are seated not far from me: the girl, sixteen years old, appears to be solving an issue for her dad. I do not understand the issue at hand but see the attention that she provides him with. The tranquil faces of those who fly home carrying fresh powder between their lashes. The youngest boy falls asleep shortly after take-off. With the in-flight light on, the father continues to read that book with many pages. While he flips a page, I recognize the title, which anyone who wanted to read these very lines can guess.IMAGE GALLERY
Western colonialism, a political-economic phenomenon whereby various European nations explored, conquered, settled, and exploited large areas of the world. The age of modern colonialism began about 1500, following the European discoveries of a sea route around Africa’s southern coast (1488) and of America (1492). With these events sea power shifted from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic and to the emerging nation-states of Portugal, Spain, the Dutch Republic, France, and England. By discovery, conquest, and settlement, these nations expanded and colonized throughout the world, spreading European institutions and culture.