(isn’t brownface fun?)
I was led through the variegated paths of the interweb to Outside the Whale, Rushdie’s perfectly angry essay about sentimental (and racist) representations of the British Raj. Some highlights follow:
On David Lean’s proprietary dickishness:
Lest we begin to console ourselves that the painful experiences are coming to an end, we are reminded that David Lean’s film of A Passage to India is in the offing. I remember seeing an interview with Mr Lean in The Times, in which he explained his reasons for wishing to make a film of Forster’s novel. ‘I haven’t seen Dickie Attenborough’s Gandhi yet,’ he said, ‘but as far as I’m aware, nobody has yet succeeded in putting India on the screen.’ The Indian film industry, from Satyajit Ray to Mr N. T. Rama Rao, will no doubt feel suitably humbled by the great man’s opinion.
On preposterous casting:
True, Indian actors were allowed to play the villains…. Meanwhile, the good-guy roles were firmly commandeered by Ben Cross, Christopher Lee, Omar Sharif, and, most memorably, Amy Irving as the good princess, whose make-up person obviously believed that Indian princesses dip their eyes in black ink and get suntans on their lips.
On the hilarious result of this preposterous casting:
"The two central characters, both supposedly raised as Indians, have been lobotomized to the point of being incapable of pronouncing their own names. The man calls himself ‘A Shock’, and the woman ‘An Jooly’. Around and about them there is branding of human flesh and snakery and widow-burning by the natives. There are Pathans who cannot speak Pushto. And, to avoid offending the Christian market, we are asked to believe that the child ‘A Shock’, while being raised by Hindus and Muslims, somehow knew that neither ‘way’ was for him, and instinctively, when he wished to raise his voice in prayer, ‘prayed to the mountains’."
Go read the whole thing. There’s an excellent digression on Thatcher and Orwell.
Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.
It took Adolf Hitler and his Nazi cohorts 12 years to round up and murder 6 million Jews, but their Teutonic cousins, the British, managed to kill almost 4 million Indians in just over a year, with Prime Minister Winston Churchill cheering from the sidelines. Australian biochemist Dr Gideon Polya has called the Bengal Famine a “manmade holocaust” because Churchill’s policies were directly responsible for the disaster. Bengal had a bountiful harvest in 1942, but the British started diverting vast quantities of food grain from India to Britain, contributing to a massive food shortage in the areas comprising present-day West Bengal, Odisha, Bihar and Bangladesh. Author Madhusree Mukerjee tracked down some of the survivors and paints a chilling picture of the effects of hunger and deprivation. In Churchill’s Secret War, she writes: “Parents dumped their starving children into rivers and wells. Many took their lives by throwing themselves in front of trains. Starving people begged for the starchy water in which rice had been boiled. Children ate leaves and vines, yam stems and grass. People were too weak even to cremate their loved ones.”
Sarah Waheed notes: “One of the students in my modern South Asia history class a few years ago, was extremely upset that the book we were reading referred to the Bengal famine as a holocaust, calling the author ‘biased’. When I asked him to clarify and elaborate upon what he meant by ‘biased’, he exclaimed, inflamed, “There was only one holocaust!” The rest of the students were, however, more open to the idea of the 20th century being a century of multiple holocausts. The terms ‘holocaust’ and ‘genocide’, however, continue to elicit trauma envy.”
I first heard of British crimes like this in Mike Davis’ Late Victorian Holocausts which talks about how imperialism affected the Indian subcontinent’s food supply. The system which could feed everyone, even during hard times, was “centralized” to be “more efficient” by the British administration, leading to skyrocketing poverty and famine and a destroyed local ecology.
Yeah Churchill. What a hero.