Monday, 30th October 2017

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William Dalrymple draws lessons from history

“It’s a bit of a homecoming for the book since a large part of the action unfolds in this city” — The author

By Hia Datta (Intern)
  • Published 4.12.19, 7:13 PM
  • Updated 4.12.19, 7:13 PM
  • 2 mins read
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William Dalrymple caught in a moment from his book presentation Picture: Rashbehari Das

Tata Steel Kolkata Literary Meet hosted the Calcutta launch of the The Anarchy: The East India Company, Corporate Violence, and the Pillage of an Empire by William Dalrymple recently at Abanindranath Tagore Gallery, Indian Council for Cultural Relations. The book launch was followed by a presentation on the book by Dalrymple and an interactive session with stand-up comedian and author Anuvab Pal.

“It was an honour to present a book like The Anarchy: The East India Company, Corporate Violence, and the Pillage of an Empire in Calcutta. It’s a bit of a homecoming for the book since a large part of the action unfolds in this city. The author has a legion of fans in Calcutta and it was pretty special to see so many avid readers at the event,” said Malavika Banerjee, director, Tata Steel Kolkata Literary Meet.

A few learnings from William Dalrymple’s session:

  • We often forget to acknowledge that the Mughals made for a gigantic industrial power under whom the textile industry flourished to unparalleled heights. It was the export of Mughal textiles that earned all the plentiful riches for Mughal India.
  • The Marwaris, or the Jagat Seths, were the richest bankers in the whole of India, contributing to 10 per cent of the economy with their astonishingly rich businesses. “He is to 18th century Bengali what Rothschild would be to 19th century Europe,” said Dalrymple.
  • In the late 18th century and onwards, the company flourished exponentially with the number of sepoys mounting from 20,000 at the Battle of Buxar to 2,00,000 sepoys in 1799 that was twice the size of the British army, courtesy the heavy taxation on the Indians from the Jagat Seths and bankers of Bengal, to the bankers of Allahabad.
  • Popular culture is rife with memories of the ‘Raj’ as the lasting memory of British India, but the period of East India Company should be equally remembered for the significance it holds in the modern age of burgeoning corporations around the globe.
  • Warren Hastings was perhaps the only “fairly good” Governor-General in India, but he also got impeached for his allegedly corrupt conduct.
  • The Wellesley brothers were the most cruel and also the most efficient of all the Governor-Generals of Bengal. They conquered more of India than Napoleon conquered in Europe.
  • In the late 18th century, the company had turned into a huge empire, producing a third of the English custom revenues and tax revenues.
  • The British period in India is split into two periods — the early period which was extractive and collaborative, and the later period which was thoroughly racist but also saw public institutions, such as courts and universities, being built.
  • The rhetoric of the civilising mission of the British Raj was spread by the Victorians, from the 1740s, peaking at 1780s-90s, to ease the embarassment at the relentless looting, pillage and plundering of India by the company in the recent past.