Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Counterflows To Colonialism

Counterflows to Colonialism: Indian Travellers and Settlers in Britain 1600-1857 by Michael H. Fisher (Permanent Black 2004).

Someone had to be the first person from India to visit Great Britain.

We don’t know his name – it was almost certainly a "he" – but we can make an educated guess as to the circumstances which brought him so far from home.

On New Year’s Eve 1600, the British East India Company received a royal charter, granting it a monopoly over English trade from southern Africa to the Philippines. Eight years later, the Company launched its first expedition to India. The ship was manned entirely by British sailors, some of whom either died during the passage or deserted upon reaching the subcontinent. Out of necessity, the Company hired Indians to work the return voyage, and one of those sailors may have been the first Indian to set foot in Great Britain.

He started a trend, explains Oberlin College history professor Michael H. Fisher in his compulsively readable book Counterflows to Colonialism. For the next two hundred fifty years, a flow of Indians – primarily but not exclusively sailors – journeyed to Great Britain. Some stayed one winter (because the ships leased by the Company arrived in England in the fall and departed for India in the spring). Some stayed for a few years, working or begging. Others married working-class British women, sired children, and lived out their days in Albion. All of them contributed to the creation of the vibrant Indian communities of modern Great Britain, communities now so "British" that a turban-clad Sikh writer named Hardeep Singh Kohli can refer to "we Scots."

The East India Company and its allies in Parliament inadvertently expanded the Anglo-Indian community. Indian sailors who arrived in Great Britain after 1657 discovered that the Company was charging an expensive license fee to everyone who wished to travel to India, returning natives included. Meanwhile, starting in the 1660s, Parliament passed a series of Navigation Acts which incentivized ship owners to hire crews that were no more than one-quarter Indian. Consequently, many Indian sailors stayed, lacking both the money to pay the license fee and the opportunity to earn the money by working a voyage.

Fisher’s technique is to illustrate his theories with richly detailed examples. Meer Hassan Ali, for one, was a high-born Muslim civil servant who traveled to England in 1809 and became an instructor of Urdu at the Company’s military academy in Addiscombe, South London. Although Hassan Ali, a native speaker, was far more fluent than the English instructors, an Urdu grammar he wrote was poorly reviewed by his superiors, and he was passed over for promotion. As Fisher notes, Hassan Ali was forced to have his work “authenticated” by English experts (who were no such thing).

But Indian life in London was not a consistent narrative of oppression and condescension. Indians who felt they had been wronged had recourse to the Company’s Board of Control, to the English courts and to Parliament itself – where their pleas sometimes met with success. Indians started businesses and families. Indians contributed to the local economy by patronizing merchants, publicans and prostitutes. Indians with a good story to tell had access to sympathetic ears in the media and, on occasion, the aristocracy. And, over time, a robust Indian neighborhood arose in the East End of London.

Nor was every Indian in England a sailor. As colonial power increased, delegations were dispatched to London in which claimants to Indian thrones petitioned for titles and pensions. The Indian elite’s tradition of higher education in the metropole began in 1845 when four medical students from Calcutta Medical College obtained advanced training at University College, London. One Indian, Dyce Somber, was elected to Parliament in 1841, although he and others were expelled from office within a year for vote-buying.

One of the themes of Counterflows to Colonialism is the continuous effort of the East India Company to control Indians while they were in England. Under the terms of its charter, the Company was financially responsible for all Indians in the U.K. So the Company attempted to exert its authority, primarily by bankrolling a series of lodging houses, the most famous of which was called Gole’s Depot. When unwelcome petitioners arrived in London, the Company would often offer a cash settlement with the stipulation that the petitioners leave the country on the next ship out. The Company’s responsibility for Indians ended in 1837 (except for a brief interval in the 1850s), when Parliament stripped the Company of its monopoly.

As evident from its title, the book Counterflows to Colonialism describes a small East-to-West trickle of Indians, traveling against the relative torrent of English and Scottish administrators moving West to East. Yet the Indians arguably won the struggle.

The modern image of "Britain" is saturated with Indian motifs, from the characters in Bend It Like Beckham, to the island’s justly praised curry houses, to the writings of Salman Rushdie and V.S. Naipaul. In India, the veneer of Englishness recedes daily (cricket notwithstanding).

Fisher could have titled this excellent book The Beginning of the Triumph of the Colonials.

Note: For reasons passing understanding, Counterflows to Colonialism has not been published in the United States; it is available through the Indian academic publisher, Permanent Black. Also, the paperback edition is woven together, making it much stronger than a conventional glued paperback.

Labels: , ,

Monday, December 29, 2008

Love And Rockets Lives On

Sherman Oaks, California

Maybe it's the Ambien talking at one in the morning, but this is a YouTube keeper. The music is by Spanish pop-rock band Dover. The illustrations are excerpts of Jamie Hernandez' Locas stories from the Love And Rockets graphic novels.

Happy Islamic New Year!

Sherman Oaks, California

Happy Islamic New Year!

Today is the first day of the year 1430 A.H.

Islamic time is measured from the day in 622 A.D. when Mohammed left Mecca and moved to Medina to escape persecution. This web page summarizes how Islamic time works (and why 2008 minus 1430 does not equal 622).

Pictured: When sighted, the waxing crescent moon is the "official" start of an Islamic month.


Thursday, December 25, 2008

Today: The Doctor and The Queen

Sherman Oaks, California

It's 5 a.m. on Christmas Morning in London as I type, so mere hours to go.

The Queen broadcasts her Christmas Speech at 3 p.m. Greenwich Mean, and, three hours later, BBC1 brodcasts the 2008 Doctor Who Christmas Special. Full schedule here.

Here's another preview (of The Doctor, not The Queen):


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Yes, The Media's Obama Love Has Gone Too Far

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Cutting Off The Long Tail?

Sherman Oaks, California

The Long Tail Theory may have a short life.

The "long tail" refers to a sales chart. For any type of product (say, books), the majority of sales is created by a few bestsellers, which are depicted as the "short head" of the graph. Sales for all remaining competing products stretch out in a long, declining tail.

The key to the Long Tail Theory is that nothing sells zero. The worst dorm band in Chico will sell at least two or three albums; consequently, a business that can aggregate millions of "worst sellers" can make real money. The theory was popularized by Wired editor Chris Anderson, whose book I read while crashing at a seedy hotel in Macau.

A new report suggests that the Long Tail Theory is dead wrong.

"MCPS-PRS Alliance" is a ghastly name, but it's the name of the business that tracks music royalties in Great Britain. It found that, of 1.2 million albums available for download, only 173,000 were purchased while the remaining 85% did not sell a single copy. Meanwhile, 10 million of 13 million singles did not sell even one copy. If verified and replicated, these numbers would destroy the Long Tail Theory.

I guess some bands are that bad.

The Next Doctor: Two Days

Sherman Oaks, California

It's already tomorrow in the U.K., so:

Two Days Until The Doctor Who Christmas Special!

The teaser:


Monday, December 22, 2008

Four More Days

Sherman Oaks, California

Four more days until the BBC broadcasts the 2008 Doctor Who Christmas Special, this year titled "The Next Doctor."

The BBC's charity broadcast, Children In Need, introduced the official preview:

The title's a tease, I'm sure, since David Tennant is signed to play the Time Lord for four additional specials before the new creative team and the new Doctor -- whoever that will be -- step in.


The ACE Factor

Sherman Oaks, California

An anonymous scribe made an interesting point on AngryJournalist.com, a journo bitch board:

Probably the only worthwhile snippet I ever got from a journalism conference came when I listened to Lou Adler, then of CBS News, about 20 years ago, who spoke of the ACE Factor in the business: Arrogance, Complacency, Elitism. That was at work every day in my newsroom, and also every day on this site. It’s tiresome and boring. Like the products a lot of these posters probably generate, at least for now.

Arrogance. Complacency. Elitism. The Triple Crown of dying businesses from Detroit to Spring Street.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

China Miscellania

Sherman Oaks, California

-- I previously noted that Chinese authorities shut down the indispensible and innocuous Time Out Beijing, apparently fearing the counter-revolutionary dangers of listicles ranking the Chaoyang District's pizza joints. After the Games ended, the authorities allowed the magazine to quietly reopen.

-- If you missed it, be sure to read James Fallows' Atlantic piece on why the Chinese authorities, who do a lot of things right, are so ghastly when it comes to public relations with the outside world. Excerpt:

There is no politer way to put the main problem than to call it “ignorance.” Most Americans are parochial, but (surprise!) most Chinese and their leaders are more so. American politicians may not be good at understanding foreign sensitivities or phrasing their arguments in ways likely to be effective around the world, as foreigners have mentioned once or twice in recent years. But collectively they understand that America is part of an ongoing, centuries-long, worldwide experiment and discussion about political systems and human values, and that making their case well matters . . . .

"The underlying problem is that very few people in China really understand how foreign opinion works, what the outside world reacts to and why,” Sidney Rittenberg told me. Rittenberg is in a position to judge. He came to China with the U.S. Army in 1945 and spent 35 years here, including 16 in prison for suspected disloyalty to Chairman Mao. "Now very few people understand the importance of foreign opinion to China" — that is, the damage China does to itself by locking up those who apply for demonstration permits, or insisting on "jackal" talk [when referring to the Dalai Lama].

Many Chinese who have seen the world are very canny about it, and have just the skills government spokesmen lack — for instance, understanding the root of foreign concerns and addressing them not with special pleading ("This is China . . .") but on their own terms. Worldly Chinese demonstrate this every day in the businesses, universities, and nongovernmental organizations where they generally work. But the closer Chinese officials are to centers of political power, the less they know what they don’t know about the world.

-- Senior members of the Chinese Communist Party have been increasingly vocal about their opinion that, in the words of one official, the Chinese judiciary must be "loyal to the party, loyal to the country and the people, and loyalty to the law." Note the order of precedence.

-- Leung "Long Hair" Kwok-hung (pictured), whom I saw in action at the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal last year, was easily re-elected to the city's Legislative Council. He may be the world's only remaining Trotskyite.

Labels: ,

Saturday, December 13, 2008

"There Is Something Deeply Despicable About Their Bogey Man Politics"

Poor Peter Hitchens.

He's an interesting columnist and speaker, but he has a brother named Christopher who is, damned the luck, one of the best writers and polemicists of our time. So Peter tends to be slapped with the "brother of" label when he should be considered his own man. (Peter's book The Abolition of Britain is particularly good.)

In the above clip from the fabulous British television program Question Time, Peter lays into Foreign Minister David Miliband for what Peter considers to be the UK's counterproductive war on terror. The panel starts by talking about the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, which allows the British government to hold suspects for certain lengths of time without charge.

If only we Yanks could confront our Cabinet officers in this fashion . . . .


Friday, December 12, 2008

Learn Chinese, Learn Law, Earn Twenty Grand

Sherman Oaks, California

China Law Blog posts about the fact that many U.S.-educated, Mandarin-speaking lawyers in China are earning less than US$20,000 a year.

Granted, the cost of living in China is lower than in the West. An acceptable one-bedroom apartment in Beijing can cost about US$500 a month, less if you choose a non-expat neighborhood.

Food and local transport can be laughably cheap. A ride on the Beijing metro costs 30 cents, for example, and one boozy night my friend Simon fed a table of Western visitors with a bag of pork buns that cost two dollars. Almost any product made in China can be had for a song. As long as you live within the local economy (and don't have kids), twenty grand a year can be a fine Sino salary.

The outside world is the problem. Many expats earning local wages can afford only one annual trip back "home." Excursions to developed Asian countries like Japan and South Korea can be budget busters. With a one-hour plane ride, twenty thousand dollars a year shifts from princely to pitiable.

The comments to China Law Blog's post are worth reading, since people reveal their China salaries and expenses. One example:

I make about US$2000 a month as an entry-level consultant. True, that goes a long way in China, even in Shanghai and even with US-sized college loans to pay off, a dollar-denominated retirement account to pay into, and US$1000-a-pop plane tickets for trips back. Plus I'm thrilled to see that I'm making more than a lot of lawyers.

And yet I have to say there's a certain anti-climax to finally entering the labor market -- after years of studying Chinese and studying IN Chinese, and of being told by the folks back home that I was going to "write my own ticket" and bring honor to our family -- and making less than my brother the philosophy major pulls in as a part-time waiter.

Pictured: Westerners living on local salaries will have to ration their visits to expat bars like Rickshaw, in the Sanlitun area of Beijing.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Wall Street Journal Turkmenistan Bonanza

Sherman Oaks, California

The Wall Street Journal this week is all over Knife Tricks' favorite loony dictatorship, Turkmenistan.

Reporter Guy Chazen files a report from the capital Ashgabat, the upshot of which is that new leader Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has enacted a few reforms (abolishing exit visas and internal checkpoints) but isn't rapidly reforming the Stalinist nation.

The Journal also posts a slide show and a video report, both of which capture the look and feel of Turkmenistan.

You can fly to Turkmenistan on Lufthansa, Turkish Airlines or China Southern, but, for flavor, there's Turkmenistan Airlines or Uzbekistan Airways.

Pictured: Young Turkmen women in traditional costume, which many Turkmen wear daily.


Monday, December 08, 2008

The PM's Office, New Delhi

Government photograph of the office of the Prime Minister of India.

The Indian PM's office is located in the South Block of the Secretariat Building in New Delhi. The PM's official residence is a separate facility named "Panchvati," popularly known by its address 7 Race Course Road. More photos here.


Sunday, December 07, 2008


Australia. Directed by Baz Luhrman. Starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman (Fox 2008).

Australia isn’t a film, it’s a film archive.

Australia is a romance, a Western and a World War II movie. It’s a story about a woman, a couple, a family, and heroic ranchers battling evil ranchers. It’s man v. man, man v. nature and man v. himself. It’s also, in a peculiar way, a musical.

Lady Sarah Ashley, played by Nicole Kidman, arrives in the port city of Darwin, in Australia’s rugged Northern Territory, in 1939. She’s checking up on her husband, who is ostensibly managing the family’s remote ranch at Faraway Downs but is rumored to be spending his time with young aboriginal women.

Lady Ashley is met in Darwin by her husband’s “trusted man,” a rugged independent sort known only as The Drover, played by Hugh Jackman. The two trek across the dangerous deserts of the Kimberly Region, finding the ranch in a state of bankruptcy and finding what’s left of her husband with an aboriginal spear through his chest. She decides to save the ranch and also becomes a surrogate mother to an aboriginal boy, played by Brandon Walters (pictured).

“Nothing new here,” you might be thinking, and you would be correct. The script of Australia is a pastiche of scenes and scenarios you’ve seen in other movies from Gone With The Wind to Out of Africa to Pearl Harbor.

So why see it?

Because it knows it’s re-assembling parts from other movies, and it does it in a way that’s mesmerizing and – as contradictory as this will sound -- original.

You can feel the effort. Every frame bears the sweat of hundreds of craftsmen who take pride in their work. The film is Brechtian – it’s always aware that it’s just a movie, and so are you. But it pulls you in anyway, because the emotions are genuine and there’s always something interesting to look at.

The visuals in this movie will be plundered by less original filmmakers. It goes without saying that the scenes in the northern deserts are breathtaking. But so are the sets and props used to evoke a pre-war territorial port. So are the various crane shots which are not gratuitous wizardry but are there to inform you of the geography of scenes.

And Australia does something I’ve never seen before: it makes a distinction between CG shots that look real and CG shots that look like CG shots. There are several levels to Luhrman’s heightened reality.

Yes, at almost three hours, it’s long, and I could have done without the noble savage motif used to tell the story of the aboriginals. The ending is predictable, but Rupert Murdoch isn’t going to hand out $130 million of his company’s money and be happy with an edgy third act.

Australia is a visual feast, a talented re-working of stories we’ve seen before. But they’re good stories, and, if told well, we don’t mind.


Friday, December 05, 2008

APB: Liam Gallagher's Voice

Sherman Oaks, California

The Los Angeles Police Department this evening issued an all points bulletin for Liam Gallagher's voice.

"Liam Gallagher's tenor has been a well-known member of this community since 1991," said LAPD police chief William Bratton, referring to the front man of the British band Oasis. "Unfortunately, police sources, including about 10,000 people who spent this evening at Staples Center, have reported it missing."

"Maybe it's dazed and wandering the area," Bratton opined, noting that the voice, while clearly missing from "Rock'n'Roll Star" and "Lyla," was sighted in "Songbird" and "Slide Away."

"The bottom line is that Noel sang the pants off Liam tonight," Bratton said, "and that means something's missing."

"By the way," he added, "'Morning Glory' still has one chunky riff, and 'The Masterplan' can make even a tough cop cry. Too bad they didn't play 'Acquiesce.'"

* * * * *

Staples Center, Los Angeles
December 4, 2008

Fuckin' In The Bushes (taped)
Rock'n'Roll Star
The Shock of the Lightning
Cigarettes & Alcohol
The Meaning of Soul
To Be Where There's Life (Noel sings)
Waiting For The Rapture (Noel)
The Masterplan (Noel)
Slide Away
Morning Glory
Ain't Got Nothing (plus band intros)
The Importance of Being Idle (Noel)
I'm Out of Time

Don't Look Back In Anger (Noel acoustic)
Falling Down (Noel)
Champagne Supernova
I Am The Walrus