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Table of Contents

Title Page

Acknowledgments

Thanks are due in considerable measure to numerous people who have helped in varying capacities in this project:

My parents and parents-in-law for their affectionate support, and their prayers, which they sustain through my busy writing schedules (and for not giving up on me)
Indefatigable Nandini and Intrepid Pranav for their consistent good cheer, necessary “time outs” from work, affection, and support at home, all laced with reminders about food and rest (Nandini) or school work (Pranav) and deliciously interrupted by debates over Transformers or superheroes (Pranav)
Rajarshi Mitra, Neeraja S., Varun Sathees, S. Vimala, and, above all, Saradindu Bhattacharya, The Incredibly Efficient Research Assistant, for supplying essays and materials
Nandana Dutta for generous insights into my work, her supply of colonial texts and other materials, and her affection
My senior colleague Narayana Chandran for his continued interest in my work and for offering, even unintentionally, crucial bibliographic information
Jayne Fargnoli my exemplary editor at Wiley-Blackwell—supportive right from the proposal stage, insightful and cautious without being restrictive through the writing process, it has been a privilege to work with her on this book
The reviewers of the manuscript for incisive comments and helpful suggestions, most of which I have taken on board
My First Reader, loyal interlocutor, and affectionate friend Anna Kurian, whose (regular) enthusiastic encouragement and (rare) gentle admonitions through the months of conversations that helped the writing of this book, and all the others.

Parts of some chapters have appeared, or are due to appear, in other places: sections of Chapter 1 will appear as “From Imagination to Inquiry: The Discourse of ‘Discovery’ in Early English Writings on India” in Journeys; the sections on imperial spectacles in India and England in Chapters 4 and 6 appear in “Empire Communications, Inc.: Nineteenth-Century Imperial Pageantry and the Politics of Display” in Journal of Creative Communications. I am grateful to the referees of these journals for their comments and suggestions. Parts of Chapter 1 were also delivered as talks at the Department of English, Guwahati University, Guwahati, in March 2011. I am grateful to Nandana Dutta, Chair of English, Guwahati University, for inviting me as Visiting Fellow and for her warm hospitality.

And to Jacqueline Harvey for such a meticulous job editing the manuscript: many thanks.

Chapter 1

Introducing Colonial Discourse

Considering those travelers before me had few of them been in those parts where I had been, or at least not dwelt so long there, I venture to offer some novelties, either passed over by them, or else not so thoroughly observed.

(Fryer 1698)

It was impossible to contemplate the ruins of this grand and venerable city, without feeling the deepest impressions of melancholy. I am, indeed, well informed, that the ruins extend, along the banks of the river, not less than fourteen English miles.

(Hodges 1990 [1793]: 117)

What the learned world demands of us in India is to be quite certain of our data, to place the monumental record before them exactly as it now exists, and to interpret it faithfully and literally.

(Prinsep 1838: 227)

The Bengalis seemed infinitely to prefer literature, law, and politics to anything that required some physical as well as mental exertion … When I introduced gymnastics, riding, and physical training in the colleges, they heartily accepted these things, and seemed quite ready to emulate Europeans in that respect.

(G. Campbell 1893: 273–274)

The Indian servant is a child in everything save age, and should be treated as a child: that is to say, kindly, but with great firmness.

(Steel and Gardiner 1909: 2–3)

John Fryer, writing in the seventeenth century when the English East India Company was still a trading company seeking rights and routes, seemed desirous of conveying to his fellow countrymen the uniqueness and “novelties” of India. Fryer was writing when much of India had not quite been “discovered” by the English, and hence his anxiety to unravel the vast territory's mysteries. By the time William Hodges wrote his account, the English had settled into both trade and local politics, and their attitudes toward all things Indian were beginning to ossify. Hodges rejects India as just another ruined civilization. If Fryer sought to convey awe, Hodges hopes to invoke pity for the wonder that was India. James Prinsep, writing a few decades after Hodges, saw his role as a faithful historian-archaeologist, who would offer authoritative interpretations of the country through a compilation of data that mapped India's difference from other places. George Campbell announces to his countrymen that the moral and physical improvement of the indolent and effeminate race of Indians is possible through sport and discipline, while Flora Annie Steel and Gardiner caution the English on how best to deal with the Indian—as somebody childlike, weak, vulnerable, gullible.

In each of these extracts we find a particular image of the colony and the natives being produced: the undiscovered, mysterious India; the ruined civilization; a vast and varied Indian culture; the morally degenerate Indian and the childlike Indian. This is not an exhaustive sampling of the ideas, attitudes, and approaches that the English internalized and exhibited toward its greatest colony, India, nor does it hope to cover the enormously diverse and diffuse set of representations of Britain's other colonies, or other European colonies. But even this short inventory indicates the sheer plenitude of such representations about India. This variety of representations, in which India is projected, presented, analyzed, and evaluated, constitutes the subject of the present book—representations that are found in a corpus of colonial texts dating back to the 1550s. These texts were produced even as colonial discoveries, battles, conquests, administration, domination, and renovation proceeded from the 1580s till roughly the mid-twentieth century. It is within these texts and representations that we can find embedded and expressed the attitudes that informed and influenced the practices of colonial rule.

Colonialism was a process by which European nations found routes to Asian, African, and South American regions; conquered them; undertook trade relations with some of the countries and kingdoms; settled for a few centuries in these places; developed administrative, political, and social institutions; exploited the resources of these regions; and dominated the subject races. Colonialism was characterized by military conquest; economic exploitation; the imposition of Western education, languages, Christianity, forms of law and order; the development of infrastructure for a more efficient administration of the Empire—railways, roadways, telegraphy; and the documentation of the subject races' cultures (history, ethnography, archaeology, the census). While military, economic, and political processes are central to the colonial process, the last item in the catalogue above—documentation of the subject races—has perhaps been the subject of the greatest volume of postcolonial studies since Edward Said's Orientalism (1978).

How the Europeans thought and wrote about their empires was the focus of Said's epoch-making work. Arguing from the premise that to represent the non-European culture was a form of colonial thinking, Said showed how literary, historical, anthropological, and other texts carried within them the same politics as those that inspired military and economic conquests. “Colonial discourse” is the study of these texts and representations. “Discourse” is here simply the conversations, representations, and ideas about any topic, people, or race. It is the context of speech, representation, knowledge, and understanding. It determines what can be said and studied and the processes of doing so. It is, in short, the context in which meaning itself is produced. Discourse is produced about an object by an authority possessing the power to make pronouncements on this object. The Asian nation or people or culture was the object about which the Europeans produced information, documentation, representations—discourses. Asians became the object of analysis, examined, categorized, studied, and judged by European writings about them. Asia became, thus, a field of study. In such a situation, the Asian need not have a say in how s/he might be studied. That is, the colonial discourse that constructed the Asian as an object of study did not account for the Asian's views or resistance, pleasure, or displeasure in the matter. Discourse thus flows one way: by the European about the Asian. It is in this one-sided flow of discourse that we can discern the power relations that mark colonialism. Colonial discourse masks the power relations between races, cultures, and nations. It makes the relations seem natural, scientific, and objective. Colonial discourse therefore produces stereotypes from within European prejudices, beliefs, and myths. Thus the myth of the effeminate Bengali male was a centerpiece of European discourses from the mid-eighteenth century. Over a period of time, this unprovable, prejudiced, and seriously questionable stereotype was treated as an objective description even by natives. Masquerading as philanthropy, the civilizing mission or scientific observations, these stereotypes and representations, enabled the Europeans to attain and retain power over the natives. As we can see, discourses of the effeminate native naturalized a myth, a stereotype, so that it passes as true knowledge or authentic observation. The power relations of colonialism do not allow for dissenting discourses (though they did exist, as we now know from the work of the Subaltern Studies Group). It rejected alternative opinions, views, and representations as inauthentic, inaccurate, or irrelevant. Thus only one discourse, that of the European, was allowed to dominate. Colonial discourse, therefore, plays a major role in the management of racialized imperial relations.

“Discourses” are not innocent reportage or fictions of the mind. They do not simply reflect an event or a person in the form of an image or a description. Discourses define and constitute the reality of that person or event for the viewer, listener, and reader. That is, it is impossible to know a person or event outside the representations of the person or event. Discourse is not reality, but it is the only means of accessing that reality. For example, to understand the magnitude of a disaster, we should have a definition, a frame in which disaster is measured. With this frame in our mind we perceive the events, and categorize them as a “major” disaster or a catastrophe. Discourse studies analyzes these frames through which we see the world, experience and understand it. Colonial discourse studies is therefore the study of the various kinds of representation through which the Europeans described, catalogued, categorized, imagined, and talked about Asians or Africans. It believes, after Said, that representations represent a form of textual knowledge of the non-European. Such a knowledge is a preliminary moment to colonial military or economic conquest.

Let us take an example here. When the British were planning an intervention in India's succession politics (in various kingdoms, notably Arcot in southern India and Awadh in the north) from the 1760s through to the 1850s, they began not with military conquest. Over a period of time the colonial statesmen and commentators built up a textual archive in which they demonstrated:

Together, these representations became a set of justifications for military and political intervention into the affairs of those kingdoms. Thus the representations, produced by the colonials themselves, became the cause to invade. In what was a circular but insidious move, the colonial commentator offered as step 1 a hypothesis: the local king was a tyrant and his subjects were an oppressed lot. Then, in step 2, the later commentators would quote these predecessor texts as evidence that the king was a tyrant. As Edward Said notes, both hypothesis and evidence came from the same group of people. “Discourse” in this case, cuts across genres (fiction, poetry, drama, travelogue, history texts, anthropological tracts, treatises in law, etc.) and media (visual, print, speeches). Colonial discourse studies therefore examines common themes, ideas, stereotypes, and such constructions of the non-Europeans in European texts.

What emerges from this discussion is that colonial discourse produced for the European's consumption the Asian, African, or South American in particular ways. El Dorado (South America), the “dark continent” (Africa), the decadent (India), and the empty (Australia, Canada) were textual creations, in history books, geographical primers, travel narratives, literary texts, etc. But these textual creations were real in the sense that they informed the imagination of the Europeans. “Much have I traveled in the realms of gold,” wrote the English Romantic poet John Keats in “On First Looking into Chapman's Homer,” thus telling us how powerful a text can be in enabling a man to explore distant and ancient realms. In similar fashion accounts of distant places made them come alive to the European mind, tempting them, inspiring them, inducing anxiety, but above all getting them interested in these geographically distant and culturally unfamiliar areas. These regions became real places with supposed and specific qualities (gold, primitiveness, decadence, and emptiness respectively) for the Europeans. They constituted the cultural imaginary of the Europeans right from the fifteenth century. By cultural imaginary I mean the textual (visual as well as written) archive that became a collective unconscious for the Europeans. The cultural imaginary is the shared ideas, prejudices, and beliefs about the non-European world produced as an effect of the discourses. The cultural imaginary is not just a collection of myths—it has a very powerful material, emotional, and social energizing effect upon the people. The Europeans, having internalized this cultural imaginary, began to:

Discourses therefore framed the non-European nations and cultures in particular ways, leading to the emergence of a cultural imaginary which in turn facilitated and justified a collective thinking about the non-European regions as possible colonies. Colonialism, to phrase it differently, was the consequence and manifestation of a set of representations (discourses) and beliefs (cultural imaginary). This formulation does not at any point suggest that the Europeans were either deluded into conquest (though it was said that the British Empire was achieved in a “fit of absence of mind”!) or that colonization was merely a textual phenomenon. Rather, it suggests that there is a close connection between the discursive apparatus (as we can think of the textual archive produced about the non-Europeans by the Europeans) and the political, economic, and social structures and processes of empire. This book examines the discursive apparatus of the Empire, with specific reference to India, but also treats the colonial discourses that produced India as a colony as symptomatic of the larger imperial discourses that constructed Africa or Southeast Asia.

Colonial discourse studies, of which this book is an example, demonstrates how:

Colonial discourse studies is a scrutiny of the history of European ideas that pays attention to social forces, institutional mechanisms, and power structures that influence thought, ideas, and knowledge formations.

Several writings of the colonial period reveal anxieties, and while imperial anxieties are not the subject of this study—which focuses only on the more confident colonial discourses—it is salutary to keep them in mind when reading English writings on India and the tropics. In other words, one must be alert to the anxiety that marks colonial discourse, and not see it only as a strident, monolithic, and supremely arrogant one.

The process of colonial conquest and domination was uneven across Asia, Australia, South America, and Africa. The European nations differed in their approaches, and colonial processes were very often adjusted to local and regional requirements and societies. Thus, Australia was treated as an “empty” space into which the white settler arrived. India, on the other hand, was already a renowned civilization by the time the first Englishmen arrived in the sixteenth century—and hence could not be treated as terra nullius (“empty land”). Africa was treated as a savage, “dark” country with its mysterious tribals and gorgeous, if untamed, wilds. Any study of colonialism, therefore, needs to account for these differences across the three major continents or else risk homogenizing colonial domination as similar and uniform the world over. Frederick Cooper criticizes this tendency in postcolonial studies:


One can pluck a text or a narrative from Spanish America in the sixteenth century, or from the slave colonies of the West Indies in the eighteenth century, or from a moderately prosperous twentieth-century cocoa planter in the Gold Coast, and derive a lesson that conveys a generalizable meaning.(2007: 405)


Colonial powers used local and regional resources, resistance to colonialism was also localized, and hence such a homogenizing critique of colonialism erases specificities.

Such a comparative approach is beyond the scope of the present book, however. Instead it takes as its locus of examination the largest empire of the modern world, the British, and restricts itself to the subcontinent, portrayed as the “Jewel in the [British] Crown.” Understandably, this means ignoring some crucial aspects of colonial discourse. For instance, there are no accounts of the savage cannibal that Peter Hulme (1992) notes of European writings on South America. Instead we get European commentaries on the magnificence of India's ancient temples and the decadence of the Indian kings. There are no accounts of the empty or unexplored spaces of India's landscape (as was the case in Africa, in the writings, say, of Mungo Park). Instead what we see are descriptions of a frightening illimitable, borderless Indian landscape. Despite these lacunae, this book suggests, it is possible to see the discourses in English writings on India as iconic of colonial discourse in general.

The book studies the ways in which the British in their various non-fictional writings presented India to readers. It demonstrates how the cultural imaginary of the Empire, with its constituents of racial superiority, the civilizing mission, aesthetic elements, law and order imperatives, and the scientific organization of the topography, fauna, flora, and people was embodied in a diverse variety of texts. Its textual material is therefore deliberately uneven and varied: travelogues, administrative reports, memoirs, letters, diaries, medical advice, exhibition catalogues, anthropological tracts, and parliamentary debates. It also cuts across, again deliberately, texts produced by different kinds of Englishmen and women: traders, physicians, wives of colonial administrators, priests, soldiers, politicians, archaeologists, ethnographers, and artists. The book uses hundreds of samples of textual representations to prove rather than merely illustrate. This enables a study of the discourses as manifest across texts and individuals, thereby demonstrating the extent, expanse, and tenacity of these representations.

The book follows a chronology of the British Empire in India, starting with the period of trade and initial contact in the sixteenth century, to the early twentieth. It examines in individual chapters several kinds of discourses through which India was viewed, explored, ruled, and negotiated in the 400 years of the British–Indian encounter.

Chapter 2 examines the theme of Indian “discovery” in British writings of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. “Discovery” was a key discourse that constructed India in particular ways in European writings of travel and exploration of this period. The chapter argues that these writings of Indian “discovery” reveal a shift in the discourse from imagination to inquiry. The colonizing discourse of discovery had three related components:

The Englishman (whether trader, ambassador, sailor, cook, or just adventurer) traveling to India was prepared in his imagination for India through the cultural imaginary of already circulating fables and narratives of wealth, excessive eroticism, pleasure, danger, and profit. As he traveled through India he recorded his experience of the actual “discovery” of the East and compiled it into a readable personal account. Then he proceeded to inquire about, explain, and document what he observed. The chapter argues that we can discern a move in these writings from the imagining of what could be discovered in the East to the ordering of what was discovered. The discourse of discovery, the chapter proposes, organized India into a knowable, manageable entity in and through narrative forms such as the inquiry, bringing this “distant” space into the realm of the known. The discourse of discovery brought the otherwise incomprehensible, completely different Mughal Empire into the fold of known objects, setting it up for examination and scrutiny.

Colonial discourse between the 1760s and 1850s is the subject of Chapter 3. The chapter explores the construction of the tropics as a space of difference, or otherness, arguing that this construction emerges from the need to point to India's irreducible difference which would reinforce English identity. It further argues that the construction of the space of difference then entails attempts to contain and regulate this otherness in forms that could be less threatening and thereby underscore British possession of the space of difference. Difference was encoded primarily as two forms of the exotic in colonial writing. The sentimental exotic mapped sights of difference in a rhetoric given primarily to the aesthetic-emotional and the scientific exotic was the investigative mode, seeking precision, accuracy, and realism in a rhetoric of disinterested inquiry. The chapter demonstrates how, in the domains of natural history, the human sciences and medicine, the survey and the artistic representation, the historical account and the exotic painting, contribute to the mapping of Indian difference. The discourses of difference in the 1760s–1850s period exhibit a shift, the chapter shows, from the Indian exotic to the colonial exotic. The colonial exotic distinguished and distanced India from England and sought to preserve the boundaries of us/them and Indian difference. But it also brings the distant colony that emerged into visibility through exoticization into the European fold of “known” spaces.

Chapter 4 focuses on “empire management” in the Victorian age. Yet again a discourse of control and dominance, the discourse of empire management is examined in specific domains: law and order, landscape (including the imperial hunt), and domestication. The discourse of administration and control kept the subjects under surveillance. It imposed in visible ways—architecture, regulation of roads and railways, the organization of space—the imperial presence on the colony. The discourse classified, categorized, and ordered diversity and the unknowns of colonial spaces and peoples. The chapter examines the discourse on native criminality, architecture and town planning, and domesticity (English domesticity in India). It argues that empire management was also achieved through grand spectacles. The discourse of imperial display and spectacle marks a process of “imperial improvisation” in the spectacle of empire. The spectacle of empire, embodied in the 1877 Delhi Durbar, served to transform governance, dominance, and political power into a grand spectacle for the natives to see and revere. Imperial structures “naturalized” themselves by becoming acceptable to the natives and by generating an aura around itself. This acceptability and aura were made possible by improvisation and the production of the spectacle of empire. It is this trajectory the chapter maps: from dominance and control to spectacles that naturalize the Empire. Empire management moves from domestication to spectacular visibility, where the former is evidenced by an organization of colonial space while the latter involves the creation of a whole new identity of the colonial ruler.

In Chapter 5 I turn to the civilizing mission of the Empire. The civilizing mission dovetailed into the one on dominance and control: a discourse of reform, rescue, and moral and material progress. The chapter examines colonial writings which argued a case for the rescue of allegedly subjugated native women, treated social reform of the barbaric races as a bounden duty of the ruling race, and saw the moral progress of the natives as intimately connected to their material progress under benevolent colonial rule. It takes the domains of discipline (including sports), upbringing (including education), salvation (religion), and rescue-reform (gender) for its study of colonial social regulation, treating it as a colonial project that was aimed at social transformation. Such a cultural conquest and renovation of the colony led to the self-legitimization of the colonizer. Through a reading of missionary texts, educational tracts, and reformist debates about female infanticide and widow-burning, the chapter demonstrates that the civilizing mission established the moral superiority of Britain and was a mode of self-fashioning and self-legitimization because it situated the British as the humanitarian leaders of the world.

In the final chapter, I turn to the aesthetics of the colonial encounter. I look at the ways in which India was incorporated through aesthetic representations and consumption into English culture in England. It shows how writings by archaeologists, ethnographers, art historians, administrators, and museologists worked to decode Indian aesthetics where the “decoding” continues the colonial project of interpretation and therefore the production of knowledge about India. The colonial administrator's monopoly over the interpretations of India's history, aesthetic traditions, and cultural forms leads to the self-fashioning of the colonial commentator as the scholar-colonial. It was manifest in the museumization and conservation campaigns for Indian antiquities, ruins, and artifacts.

India was also consumed in the form of its artifacts and commodities in Britain. This consumption in tourism was paralleled by the spectacles of empire staged for the benefit of the English at home. Analyzing the pageants and exhibitions of the late Victorian and Edwardian periods, the chapter argues that aesthetics was as much about English identity as it was about understanding India. In the widespread availability and use of India products during the Victorian period, the chapter argues, a cosmopolitan taste came to be identified with Englishness. Such a cosmopolitanism was seen as the ability to reform English aesthetic traditions by appropriating other traditions from around the world. Finally, this imperial cosmopolitanism was rooted in an insular Englishness, but one which looks out at the world. It takes pride in being an imperial England, where one takes pride in the English ability to widen the horizons of territory and culture, of taste and dominion.

Chapter 2

Travel, Exploration, and “Discovery”

From Imagination to Inquiry

Next unto Arui … are a nation of people whose heads appear not above their shoulders; which though it may be thought a mere fable, yet for mine own part I am resolved it is true, because every child in the provinces of Aromaia and Canuri affirm the same. They are called Ewaipanoma; they are reported to have their eyes in their shoulders, and their mouths in the middle of their breasts, and that a long train of hair groweth backward between their shoulders … Such a nation was written of by Mandeville, whose reports were holden for fables many years; and yet since the East Indies were discovered, we find his relations true of such things as heretofore were held incredible (Mandeville, or the author who assumed this name, placed his headless men in the East Indian Archipelago, the fable is borrowed from older writers, Herodotus & c). Whether it be true or no, the matter is not great, neither can there be any profit in the imagination; for mine own part I saw them not, but I am resolved that so many people did not all combine or forethink to make the report.

(Raleigh 1596)

This is Walter Raleigh's description in The Discovery of the Large, Rich, and Beautiful Empire of Guiana (1596) of a race of grotesque creatures, whose form, behavior, and habits shocked the “civilized,” clothed, shapely European. Using the language of surprise, awe, and revulsion, Raleigh also takes great care to assure incredulous readers that the account is perfectly true, and cites a predecessor narrative, the equally dubious one of John Mandeville, as evidence. Fantastic creatures, grotesque bodies, and horrific habits fill the pages of early modern narratives about Asia. By the seventeenth century these images were already a part of the cultural imagination of the European, who therefore expected to find monsters and bizarre animals in descriptions of Asia and Africa. This also means the traveler to India was prepared to experience the strange and the bizarre. The traveler's “discovery” of people with many heads, tribes who ate their enemies, and dog-people was in a way anticipated by the circulation of such images and narratives in his culture. Imaginations fired by descriptions of fabulous wealth and indescribable dangers influenced the way the English traveler saw India.

The traveler setting out for the distant world was often primed to expect and anticipate particular dangers, wonders, and consequences. This imaginative construction of India was organized mainly around pleasure (including erotic pleasure), profit, danger, and expansion. In other words, the cultural imaginary of strange lands, weird people, and immeasurable wealth played a significant role in the responses of the seventeenth-century English traveler to India by providing the lens through which he saw India even before he set out for the East. It is more than possible that the letters Francis Drake obtained from the captured Portuguese in 1587 revealed the dynamic East India trade which the British had not tapped into yet. The Dutch traveler Jan Huyghen van Linschoten's Itinerario, made available in English in 1598, may have been another such motivational text added to this. From Ralph Fitch, traveling in India in 1583, the London merchants obtained information about the wealth waiting for them in India, and thus may have inspired the London merchants to seek the Charter from Queen Elizabeth to trade with India (Prasad 1980: 25). Even the letters of a priest, and the first Englishman in India, Thomas Stevens, might have inspired the London merchants, according to a nineteenth-century commentator:


Many sage remarks are made in quite a mercantile spirit, of which he evidently desires that his countrymen should obtain a share. The reader is surprised to find a Roman ecclesiastic entering with such eagerness and penetration into commercial affairs. Probably Stephens' advices were the strongest inducements which London merchants had been offered to embark in Indian speculations. (Mascarenhas 1878)


That is, narratives, whether fables, fantasies, or travel accounts, were instrumental in producing the cultural imaginary (a set of images, discourses, and narratives that enable a community to share a fantasy, an anxiety, or a collective desire, and influence the ways in which the community would acquire knowledge or interpret the world—it is a social condition that influences the unconscious of an entire community). This cultural imaginary in turn spurred the quest for the East.

This cultural imaginary in Europe had, for a very long time, been obsessed with India and the East. Works by Marco Polo and other Eastern travelers circulated in Europe, in many languages, from the early fifteenth century. During the Renaissance, Europe saw massive cross-cultural negotiations and transactions between Christian and Islamic, Oriental and Occidental artists and traders. Worlds were being “made,” peopled by strange and grotesque creatures and barbaric customs through such imaginative or travel accounts (which very often invented such regions, as in John Mandeville's case) which then entered into the imaginations of the early modern European. Added to this cultural imaginary of the fantastic East was the element of empire.

The English were, as a nation, seeking an empire of course. Looking eastward they saw the grand Ottoman Empire, and beyond that, the riches of India, enclosed within the great Mughal one. “Empire” was therefore also a part of the cultural imaginary from which the East India Company (EIC) and the early English traveler emerged, and much of the early writings on India may be seen as expressing a sense of “imperial envy” (MacLean 2001).

Despite “imperial envy” at the vastness, prosperity, and grandeur of the Mughal Empire, the seventeenth-century traveler was not a colonial, nor one who was trying to dominate the Indian landscape or people. He was usually a merchant seeking to make a profit, an official representative of the English EIC or the king (William Hawkins and Thomas Roe were ambassadors to India) seeking trading rights and privileges, a priest or physician with the EIC whose task was to ensure the spiritual and physical well-being of the Englishmen. Most were just out to make money, and did not intend to settle in India for long years or to cohabit with native women. However, many of these Englishmen (at this point in the seventeenth century there were no Englishwomen coming out to India) also took their wanderings in India very seriously. This meant documenting the sights they saw and the experiences they had so that their friends and families could obtain, second-hand, both information and knowledge about this new land.

Conveying this information about a strange place was not, however, quite so easy for the English traveler of the 1580–1700 period (the period when English travelers begin coming out to India fairly regularly and in substantial numbers). As Jonathan Sell points out, there is a “contextual disparity” between the traveler and the reader back in England, and the traveler had to bridge this disparity through his description—in other words, through language and rhetoric (2006: 3). The Englishman had to develop a mode of storytelling about India so that the readers back home would be awed, shocked, and impressed not only by what he saw “out there” but also acknowledge the difficulties faced by the English traveler and his courage, steadfastness, and resolve. Thus the seventeenth-century travel narrative on India mixed the information narrative with the autobiography, the “objective” and impersonal account with the personal and subjective. The narrative had to, then, work its magic by revealing the strange new country, documenting the sheer vastness and difference of the country and suggest the commitment of the individual Englishman. Future travelers would, it was assumed, read these narratives before setting out for India.

How best to organize this vast, powerful, marvelous, and radically different (Mughal) empire? How best was the diversity, the apparently implacable and incomprehensible wonder, of this exuberantly rich, densely populated nation to be captured and conveyed in a knowable fashion? What form of representation does a traveler—irrespective of class and purpose of travel—from a nation seeking an imperial destiny adopt in order to suggest the endless possibilities of a potential empire? Can the wonder of seeing this wealthy empire be negotiated to also suggest slow demise or decay? Can the very evident signs of wealth and prosperity, singular in their difference from other places they had encountered, and therefore arousing strong emotions of awe and wonder, be translated as objects of investigation and inquiry so that accurate information could be provided for future travelers? The goal of these early narrative inquiries and documentation was not, it might be emphasized, domination but “discovery.”

It is important to note that the early writings on India were not institutionally motivated, funded, or demanded. They were mostly individual efforts, written by people in the form of a personal narrative mixed with information. In the eighteenth century information gathering would become institutionalized, sponsored and funded by the Company and the colonial government (as Chapter 3 will demonstrate). However, even the individual narratives of seventeenth-century travelers were incorporated into the larger cultural imaginary–they influenced readers in English civil society but also people in the aristocracy, the mercantile class (which would further the imperial cause, of course), and Parliament. Individual texts and informational narratives were, it must be underscored, a part of the informal empire, a “civilian,” non-official process of preparing the grounds for colonial domination from the last decades of the eighteenth century. The role of the informal empire cannot be overemphasized, especially in the inspiration, influence, and imaginative image-making it played in the English public's cultural imaginary.

The “discovery” of India was the anticipation, experience, and organization into suitable narratives of an existing empire (the Mughals). The narratives had to present the Empire as a space that was (1) a potential market, (2) a supplier of resources, (3) in sharp contrast to English culture and society. The first two constitute the economic element of the travel narrative, the last the ethnographic component in the form of the “inquiry.” It was not an imagined space. India was not an “empty land” (as was the case in Australia: see Ryan 1994). It was a very real, economically flourishing, geopolitically defined, and aesthetically refined empire—that of the Mughals. This “discovery” of India was therefore not of an empty space in which travelers and commentators could fantasize about wild beasts and monsters. There might or might not be the strange creatures that Raleigh reported—but it was the Englishman's task to verify and authenticate such monsters for future use.

The Indian discovery required investigation rather than imagination. It required careful documentation of resources, people, wealth, landscape, and geography. What I am proposing, in short, is that the seventeenth-century English traveler set about exploring and mapping India's diversity, variety, and prosperity in various domains—mineral wealth, people, customs, attitudes, plant and animal life, and systems of governance. While there was no real colonization of India in this period, the English traveler was performing a narrative ordering and colonization of India, capturing India in the form of detailed descriptions, tables of data, pencil sketches, and histories. This means that, even though governance and domination was not their stated aim, the early English travelers were seeking to understand and know India. India was an object that had to be studied—and studying it required particular methods of analysis and “inquiry.”

This chapter examines the theme of the “discovery” of India in English writings of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. “Discovery” was a key discourse that constructed India in particular ways. European discourses of travel, exploration, and discovery that dominate the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries reveal a shift from imagination to inquiry. The Englishman's encounter with India often occurred as a three-part process. First, the traveler was prepared in his imagination for India through the cultural imaginary of already circulating fables and narratives (such as travel reports) of wealth, excessive eroticism, pleasure, danger, and profit. Second, as he traveled through India he recorded his experience of the actual “discovery” of the East and compiled it into a readable personal account. Third, he proceeded to inquire about, explain, and document what he observed. Thus the “proto-colonial” (to borrow Barbour's [2003] term) discourse of discovery moves from the imagining of what could be discovered in the East to the ordering of what was discovered. These writings therefore mark a narrative possession—we could think of it as “colonization”—of India.

In what follows, I set out the colonizing discourse of discovery in its three related components:

These components do not necessarily occur in sequential form in the discourse, but very often merge into each other. Imagination, documentation, and inquiry work alongside each other because the Englishman was not yet certain how best to represent India or to organize his experience into a readable narrative. Thus a traveler might refer to earlier texts which had influenced him and (imaginatively) prepared him for the discovery of India. He had, in other words, assimilated information, prejudices, or myths and therefore saw and recorded India in certain ways as a result of this information. But, within this same allusion to earlier texts, the narrator might introduce the register of inquiry whereby he explains (1) what was missing in the earlier text, and (2) what was erroneous in the earlier text. Thus, for instance, Thomas Roe in The Embassy of Sir Thomas Roe to India, 1615–1619 points to the “errors” of the Mercator maps before offering a detailed geographical and navigational mapping (1990: 91). What Roe does here is to:

Discovery as a discourse, clearly, includes both the imaginative and the inquiry modes through which the new country of India was examined and experienced.

This chapter argues that the discourse of discovery, which built upon earlier and existing fables, imaginative texts, and factual histories of the East and of India, narrated the experiences of the traveler in the East in particular ways. Having established the generally wondrous nature of the vast land and its variety of people and cultures through specific narrative modes, the seventeenth-century travel text then proceeded to explicate, organize, examine, and categorize the subcontinent. The discourse of discovery organized India into a knowable, manageable entity in and through narrative forms such as the inquiry, bringing this “distant” space into the realm of the known.

Imagining Multiple Worlds: The Fantasy of “Discovery”


I did send for a cup of tee (a China drink) of which I never had drank before.(Pepys 1825: diary entry of Sept. 25, 1660)


Numerous texts detailing the glory, splendor, and barbarism of the East circulated in Europe in the early modern period. There was also a massive inflow of curios and Asian-Arabic exotica that made its way into the consumer cultures of the period, across European capitals and stores, and often into the homes of the wealthy. That is, it was not just fantastic narratives that urged the Englishman to turn to the East—it was also the very material commodities that brought the East into European drawing rooms, stores, and shop windows that then offered the temptation of the distant world. What this section demonstrates is a history of textual representations—texts in which the East was represented in particular ways which, I argue, inspired the imaginations of the Europeans.

In the 1460s Andrea Barbarigo, a Venetian trader, was selling spices from the Indies. By the time Vasco da Gama arrived in India in 1498, Calicut port (where he landed) already had a thriving international trade with European, Muslim, and Jewish merchants from North Africa, Turkey, Persia, and Egypt (Jardine 1996: 289; see also Prakash 1998). Exotic goods from the Levant Company and the East India Company began to be more or less commonplace by the 1620s. Shipments of Indian calico by the EIC climbed from 250,000 pieces in 1660s to one million pieces by 1680s (Canny 1998: 279), though as Lorna Weatherhill cautions us, not all classes were able to afford consumer goods (2007: 192). Samuel Pepys, as the epigraph to this section shows, made a specific entry describing his encounter with “oriental” tea. In William Congreve's The Way of the World