Robert Travers, The Connected World of Haji Mustapha: an informer to the British in eighteenth century Bengal

Travers, Robert, 1972- 2012-11-15


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Interview Participants
RT
Robert Travers, lecturer (male)
KM
Kris K. Manjapra, host (male)
KM
My name is Kris Manjapra. I am an Assistant Professor in the History Department. Today the Director of our Centre, Ayesha Jalal, cannot be with us. She is travelling and in fact, out of the country, I believe. So I am stepping in. But it’s a great honour and really a joy to be able to chair this particular event with Robert Travers.
KM
I met Robert when I was a graduate student, just beginning at Harvard, and Robert was just beginning as an Assistant Professor at Harvard, around the same year in fact. He was a mentor and I think I learned a lot from him just by observing his example. We were just chatting about that beforehand. So it’s really lovely to have him with us here at Tufts. Robert, who was trained at Cambridge University, finished an important book which has become a classic in the field, called “Ideology and Empire in 18th Century India”
KM
and, you know, Robert’s work fits into not only the kind of return to the 18th century in new ways and fresh ways in 18th century South Asia, which a number of scholars have been leading including Seema Alavi who came last year and presented to us but there’s also a very interesting theme that Robert has really developed of, you know, the early modern state craft, early modern forms of state, forms of state that in fact precede some of our common understandings of how state and governance work.
KM
And I remember when I was a graduate student, Robert was just finishing his first book and he had been to Calcutta and he said that right across the street from Presidency College, now Presidency University, he had discovered a number of fascinating and exiting new documents which were petitions. Petitions to the government, the fledging British government in Calcutta, and I believe that perhaps some of those petitions might make their way or have a mention in his talk today, so I am quite exited to learn more. The talk is called “The connected world of Haji Mustapha, an informer to the British in 18th century Bengal”
KM
and before I turn it over to Professor Travers, let me just make two announcements: first, we are recording this event so if you could please turn off your cell phones or anything that rings and second of all, when we come to the question and answer, if you could remember to state your name for the records since we are recording so we will have that in the recording and having said all of that, Robert wonderful to have you.
RT
Thank you so much. Now can everybody hear me? Oh Doug, good to see you. It’s so lovely to be here. Kris thank you for that excessively generous introduction. It’s great to see you. Thanks to James Schmidt for organizing my trip so expertly and for handling all the arrangements. It’s really – a real honour to be here speaking in this series and a particular pleasure to be at Tufts and in this building which is a kind of – if not homecoming – coming back to a point of origins for me
RT
because when I was a first year graduate student in 1994, I arrived at Harvard, I was an exchange student and there was no South Asian history being taught at Harvard and some wise person said, “Well you should go to Tufts and enroll in Professor Bose’s class on South Asia,” which is what I did. I used to take the T, and up to Davis square, and walk up here every week, and I am extremely glad that I did so. I will always be grateful to Sugata for an inspiring introduction, not only to South Asian History, but also to the way that history is taught in American universities and obviously that had a deep impact on me and I will always be very grateful for that.
RT
So I am going to talk to you about some new research, some work in progress and I am going to emphasize work in progress for the microphone, for the benefit of anybody who may be listening to this recording at some point and wants to hold me to this, to what I say today. I am currently working on a book project called “An Empire of Complaints,” and it looks at the ways that South Asian subjects of the East India Company government in 18th century Bengal engaged with the early East India Company state especially through practices of petitioning.
RT
And I am aiming through a study of petitioning, or arzi in Persian, to think more broadly about forms of public culture and political debate as they existed beyond the narrow sphere of the council chambers and committees of the East India Company, which is usually how the political history of colonial state formation is written. Now the paper today has grown out of that work and I am also preparing this paper to send out for an article, so I’d be extremely grateful at this point for any advice that you can give me. The paper is an essay and biography. It’s about a very unusual character called Haji Mustapha, who is born about 1713 in Istanbul – he usually called it Constantinople – and who died in 1791 in Calcutta, and who lived for the last 30 years of his life in British ruled Bengal.
RT
Now, as you will see, Haji Mustapha fits quite naturally into a book called “An Empire of Complaints,” because he was a world class complainer, an inveterate petitioner of the British, and extremely entertaining to boot. I love talking about him. Now you may well have heard of Haji Mustapha because he is quite well known in the historiography, at least as a kind of footnote, because he was the translator and publisher of the most famous Indo-Persian History, Tariq, of the 18th century, Ghulam Hussain Khan Tabatabai’s Sir Mutaqharin, “History of Modern Times,” a history of India in the 18th century and of the rise of British power, written by a Mughal scholar administrator in the early 1780’s in Bihar.
RT
And Mustapha translated this – it’s a remarkable translation – in the late 1780’s and published it in Calcutta in several volumes in 1790. Now this translation is very widely used. This history, the Persian history, is a very important source for understanding how Mughal elites responded to the rise of British power but Mustapha himself has remained rather obscure. He’s usually just considered that, well there was this odd chap sitting around, who happened to be very good Persian and he could translate this, but we didn’t – typically people haven’t have looked in much to who he was. He usually gets a brief mention in footnotes and when he does so, he’s mentioned as a French Creole. That’s what he’s usually called. Sometimes it also mentions that he was a convert to Islam.
RT
Now, because he was assumed to be French-ish and because he was a European convert to Islam, or assumed to be a European convert to Islam, he didn’t fit, I think, into most of the historical teleologies around which the 18th century Bengal history was written. The teleology either of the rise of British imperialism or the longer teleology of the history of the Indian nation. Mustapha just had no place in either of those teleologies. But there are signs recently of a renewed interest in this character by historians and I think, you know, we don’t have to look far to see why.
RT
Given the current interest in the global history of early modernity, in showing the intricate patterns of connection and exchange within a broad Eurasian cultural sphere in the early modern period, the kind of work that Sanjay Subramaniam has in particular exemplified, it’s easy to see how this impressively multilingual man of great mobility and indeterminate identity, Haji Mustapha, should come back into vogue as in a sense a representative of a lost world of Eurasian cosmopolitans. He was born in Istanbul. He had his university education in Paris and he ended up in Bengal. And sure enough we see Mustafa now appearing in the history books after two hundred years of disregard.
RT
So Michael Franklin in his recent biography of William Jones calls Mustapha “an exemplar of hybridity. His writings show the mingling of political orientalism and oriental romance, moving between the role of oriental actor and orientalist commentator. His is a story of racial and religious liminality.” And I think in Jones’ work, Mustapha kind of symbolises a particular moment of cultural openness in early colonial Bengal which of course William Jones in Michael Franklin’s book also symbolizes, a moment where learned individuals were encouraged to cross cultures and learn each other’s languages. So Miles Ogborn in his book “Indian Ink” – very impressive book – gives a slightly less optimistic version of Mustapha’s life. Ogborn shows that Haji Mustapha went to Calcutta in the 1780’s and became a kind of minor print capitalist.
RT
He started publishing books within a very small nexus of commercial publishing in Calcutta but according to Miles Ogborn, Mustapha’s outsider status, his very liminality, counted against him. He failed to gain government patronage for his publishing ventures. He struggled to get subscribers to buy his book. He fought with the printers who criticized his so called ‘Bengali English’ – what they called his Bengali English – and Mustapha kind of fought with everybody and may even have gone close to bankruptcy, claimed to go close to bankruptcy, because of the expense of printing his history which then nobody would buy. Mustapha died in 1791. His history came out in 1790. Embittered, he said that he had “thrown onto the fire 600 pages of a history of Kashmir which was very curious and which I had untaken but the printing in this country requires a young man and a rich one,” and he was neither.
RT
When he died, the Calcutta Gazette in 1795 reported that in Mustapha’s goods on his decease included over 30 sets of the translated history which had gone unsold. They would be absolute treasures today. So putting Franklin and Ogborn together, one could tell a story of Haji Mustapha as a kind of exemplar of a particular early modern form of hybridity or cosmopolitanism that was gradually falling foul of hardening racial and national boundaries with the onset of modern colonialism. This was a kind of liminality that could no longer work, the argument is, in colonial Bengal where kind of racial boundaries were beginning to set.
RT
Now, for the last few years I’ve been collecting what I can find about Mustapha in various archives and I’ve been trying to kind of collect all of his published and unpublished writings. It turns out he published rather a lot but he also wrote a lot of unpublished things which he sent to his British friends, he wrote letters, so these are all writings in English I am afraid. I don’t have any Mustapha’s writings in French or in Persian or in anything else but I do have his – quite a lot of his writings in English and I am trying to put them together in this paper and see what more we can say about this interesting character and I guess I’ve been in the process in the last few days – and this is why this talk is very much a work in progress – of kind of slightly changing my mind about what I think about this character.
RT
I think when I first wrote this paper, I did have in my head the kind of narrative that I just outlined to you: here is an early modern cosmopolitan, gradually running into the new racial hierarchies of colonialism. And so this was very much what I had in my mind when I gave the title to Kris earlier in the year: “The Connected World of Haji Mustapha.” Here was someone who seemed to be a bridge between the empires of Europe and Asia, who deliberately situated himself in Bengal as a mediating figure, a cultural broker who would self-consciously try to educate the British rulers in the proper forms of Indian governance. And a lot of his writings do have this kind of feel of imperial fusionism: here I am, I have this expertise in these languages, I know how India works, I can show you how you should govern in India.
RT
When I was reading these kinds of works by Mustapha, I was reminded of Enlightenment thinkers like Anquetil Duperron or Edmund Burke. Like those Enlightenment figures, Mustapha was very concerned to critique British stereotypes about oriental despotism. He was concerned to insist to the British that there were Asian categories of justice and rights that the British had to live up to and so there was a kind of Enlightenment feel to Mustapha’s writings. But in a way Mustafa was even more interesting than Duperron and Burke because he had this kind of on the ground experience of living in Nawabi and early British Bengal. He was on the cutting edge, if you like, of this larger intercultural encounter between an expanding British empire and the kind of Indo-Persian culture of late Mughal India.
RT
We know that this cultural link, that lots of people in eastern India or northern India in the late 18th century were trying to cross this divide between Indo-Persian and Anglophone worlds. We know for example that the Nawabs of Murshidabad were trying to teach their sons English. Mustapha himself reports that Muhammad Raza Khan, he says, has spent 10 lakhs trying to each his sons English and they can only speak 20 words. It’s like, you know, half a lakh per word. I have a certain amount of sympathy as a terrible linguist myself but we also know that the English of course were trying to learn Persian and they were translating Persian histories and they were producing Persian grammars and Persian – so lots of people were trying to cross that divide in this period and Mustapha seemed interesting because he was on the cutting edge of that cultural encounter.
RT
He was an extraordinary linguist. He apparently – well, his translation, as I say, is a really remarkable piece of scholarship and it seems to me to be adequate testament that he was a really good Persianist and the fact is is that scholars of India have continued to rely on this translation, even though we don’t know anything about Mustapha, and actually they rely on it because it’s pretty good. When you go back to the Persian, as far as I can tell, it’s a very, very accurate translation – of course translation is always mediated etc., etc. – but it’s very, very scholarly piece of work.
RT
He claimed, and I have no reason to disbelieve him, to be good enough in Persian that sitting in a court in Murshidabad when the Munshi was writing out a decree in the wrong way, Mustapha could see that he had written the wrong word and said “Oi, what are you writing there?” and the Munshi said that he was surprised that Mustapha had such good Persian that he could do this. So of course Mustapha may be showing off but I think the evidence is he was an extraordinary linguist. He also had Arabic, French, Telugu, all kinds of other things. And as I say, compared with people like Burke or Duperron or even William Jones, Mustapha had this intimate knowledge of social life in Murshidabad where he lived for most of the latter part of his life, for 25 years, living in Moghultuli. He was a merchant who travelled regularly to Lucknow.
RT
He went on the Haj to Mecca. So he was in a way very familiar with diverse forms of writing. He, in his own writing I think, he was able to draw not just on European genres of textual genres but also on Tariq, also on Akhlaq literature on ethics, also on Persian Aziz, he wrote English style humble petitions, you know, ‘it humbly showeth that’ but he also wrote Mughal style petitions too. So he moved between these genres quite effectively, I think. So I was going to tell a story which was really about him standing between these worlds and connecting them and it was a relatively kind of celebratory story when I first wrote this.
RT
But as I have read more of Mustapha’s writing, it’s not that I think that’s wrong but I think it’s only half right and what I, in a way, want to emphasize today is the ambiguities and contradictions in Mustapha’s self-presentation in his English writings. There is this assimilationist strand, where he is a kind of self appointed cultural broker teaching the British about Indian life, but there’s also this quite different strand in his writings which is about distancing himself from local Indian society. His desire to be taken seriously as a European – he calls himself at the end of his life a semi Englishman – and so there’s a kind of enlightened acculturative mode of representation is itself an act and aspect of his self-representation as an European.
RT
Mustapha ended his life as I’ll show today by arguing about the pervasive venality and bad character of all the Indian officials in Murshidabad and the way that no Indian judge should ever be put in authority in a court and he ended his life arguing that the judges of the English Supreme Court should have their authority extended over the whole of Bengal for this reason. So he spoke at the end of his life a kind of rather virulent language of native depravity that we would associate with British colonial officials more usually. So my goal in this paper then has changed a little bit. I want to focus on how these ambiguities can tell us about a connected world of empire in which languages of cultural tolerance and sympathy coexisted with languages of racial exclusion and were coproduced.
RT
I think that there is a very strong tendency in the historiography of British imperialism to essentialize attitudes especially kind of British attitudes to India around separate periods. So there is an age of tolerance and an age of openness followed by a kind of evangelical kind of age of exclusion. I think what Mustapha teaches us or can teach us is about the simultaneity of different colonial languages, the way that William Jones, the great sympathiser with Indian civilization, and Lord Cornwallis, the man who said that every Indian I verily believe is corrupt. They didn’t follow on each other sequentially, they coexisted. And I think Mustapha’s writing can tell us something interesting about how that happens.
RT
So this is maybe too heavy a burden to put on poor Haji Mustafa but my goal in this paper is to think how these languages of culturation and hybridity are themselves implicated in the production of colonial modes of cultural distancing and differentiation.
RT
So I am going to go through Mustafa’s career in three moments, I guess, three moments that we know most about. So the first moment is the question of arrival: how does he come to live in Bengal? What do we know about his origins? And I think when we think about this, Mustafa’s career clearly fits into a larger history of go betweens – passeur in the French – a history of a recent collection in the history of science called "This Brokered World."
RT
A world of early modern empires in which cultural brokers played a critical role in kind of linking local societies with imperial structures and Mustapha’s career both exemplifies the opportunities for knowledge experts who were able to translate between disparate worlds but also the pitfalls that surrounded being one of this go-betweens because cultural mobility in the early modern world, as the authors of "The Brokered World" emphasized, could also easily be taken as a mark of alien-ness and also untrustworthiness. So there was a kind of pattern of go-betweens being considered to be suspicious and their religious beliefs questioned for example or being accused of being a spy
RT
and in fact when Mustapha arrives in Bengal initially, he is taken very quickly to be a spy.
RT
What do we know about his early life: well mostly we know it from his own narratives and these are evasive often, partly because he wrote these narratives in the 1760’s from prison in Calcutta where he had been imprisoned by the British East India Company, suspected of being a French spy. So obviously he wasn’t going to say, “I am French.” And he didn’t say I am French but what did he say? Well he said he was born in Constantinople, Istanbul. About the age of 10 or 11, he was sent to be educated in the College de Louis Le Grand which is apparently the – you know – most, one of the most important universities in France in that period.
RT
I think he may have overlapped with Voltaire or something like that in the College de Louis Le Grand. He then went to work for the French East India Company in Pondicherry in the 1750’s where he was a linguist and in 1757 somehow or other, he lands in Bengal and he has a rather elaborate story about how he lands which is he’s going to go back to Constantinople to go home but his ship runs aground and he gets onto an English ship and somehow he lands up in British Bengal just after the British conquest of Bengal and initially Robert Clive, because he is a very good Persianist, employs him as a linguist but very quickly he comes to suspect that Mustapha is in fact a French spy and of course, the French are themselves trying to conquer Bengal in this period and so throws him into jail where he sits for some years.
RT
He says I am neither French nor English. I am a Turk. I am an impartial unknowing foreigner and clearly he presents himself as a Muslim and as a native as it were of Constantinople. Eventually Mustapha’s self representations or just the fact that the French threat recedes or the fact that Mustapha is a very, very useful person to have around, they let him out of jail. He maybe goes on the East India Company expedition to capture Manila in 1762. There is a reference there. I haven’t been able to confirm that. But anyway, he is then employed by Henry Vansittart who is the Company governor of Bengal in the 1760’s as a trader. So he becomes a go-between.
RT
Now there a couple of other interesting clues. I don’t want to spend a long time on Mustafa’s origins. There are a couple of interesting pieces of evidence about this. A French nobleman called Comte de Modave visits Bengal in 1773 and writes an account of meeting Mustapha and he says that in Pondicherry he used to know him in Pondicherry. Now he’s living in Hooghly in lower Bengal and that he is now he was the grand voyer, the surveyor of the province of Cossimbazar, working on maps and tables of British territories. What most struck Modave about Mustapha was his being now a Muslim. Modave claimed that Mustapha was born de parents chretiens – of Christian parents – in Constantinople, educated in Paris, and now has quote, “lost all ideas about European customs
RT
and all feelings for decency on account of the composure, the sang froid, with which he maintains his apostasy.” So the idea is that he is a convert actually born of Greek parents. That’s what Modave says. There’s another interesting little clue in a letter from Mustapha about his origins in Constantinople. Mustapha clearly is in touch with his family in Constantinople. He writes to an English friend that they’ve almost been undone by an earthquake in 1772 and he wants his friend to procure him some caviar from London, quote, “a drug caviar which I much live upon as a Byzantine of the right breed and which the war upon the Danube renders scarce at Jeddah and Basra”. So here he says self-representation is a Byzantine which may fit into the idea that maybe he was born in a kind of Greek milieu in Constantinople.
RT
Maybe a kind of family in service to the French in the Levant. Maybe a kind of dragoman milieu — that would certainly make sense of his linguistic facilities.
RT
Okay, so I am going to skip ahead a little bit. Mustapha’s arrived in Bengal. He’s been let out. He’s a go between. And the second kind of crunch of his writings that we have is from the early 1770’s when Mustapha is living in Murshidabad, the old Nawabi capital, provincial capital of the suburb of Bengal. He’s living in the suburb of Mughal Tuli. He has a family he says in Malda which is nearby, a big centre for silk production. And what is he doing in the early 1770’s? Well clearly he’s become a relatively prosperous man with, what I would call, a finger in many pies.
RT
He is a merchant but he’s also an office holder. He holds office in the Nawab’s government. Remember at this stage, although the British have kind of moved the capital of Bengal down to Calcutta, they have maintained the Nawabs as the Nazims, the head of the so called kind of criminal justice division of the Bengal government, so the Nawab is still in place. There is still a court in Murshidabad. There are still valuable offices to be had in Murshidabad and through I think the patronage of his British friends, Mustapha gets hold of them. So he becomes the head of the Filkhana, the elephant house, makes some money there. He becomes the grand title of the Master of the Pushtabandi which is the – basically he builds – he rebuilds the river dykes every year and maintains the drainage of Murshidabad.
RT
That’s a pretty lucrative office. He gets 50,000 rupees a year from the Company to do this. Obviously some of that he spends on building the dykes. And as Modav says, he also works as a surveyor in the countryside. So he is kind of office holder, merchant, man about town, and we have some wonderful letters from him from this period which he wrote to his young Scottish friends in the East India Company Service about his life in Murshidabad. And I want to give you a few of these little snippets from these letters cause they give you a sense of some of the genres I think Mustapha is writing in English as he kind of flexes his muscles as a English writer and they are kind of representative of different aspects of his style.
RT
So the first genre I want to point out is Mustapha as a fabulist, as a fantasist, as a satirist, as a story teller, as a gossip. He writes to one of his friends David Anderson that it’s a very hot part of the year, it’s the summer, but he has, he says, a good smutty story from the bazaar. And what is this smutty story about? It’s about Banu Begum, one of the leading ladies of the Nawab’s household, one of the richest ladies of the Nawab’s household and a so called a late performance of hers. “She has contrived and invented a new pleasure”, he says, and he tells a story of her cross-dressing as a man and pretending to be the Nawab sitting on the masnad in the “harem” and going so far as to make love to a young courtesan of the harem to kind of play out this image of the cross dressing Begum assuming the role of Nawab.
RT
And this is an interesting story because there is a lot of stuff in this period in Murshidabad about the Nawabs, you know, as the Nawab’s revenues are squeezed by the Company, the Begums become increasingly important. The wealth of the Begums. So there is something interesting going on here when he is relaying this kind of bizarre gossip. Anyway he describes the scene: “A moment later appeared the Begum, acquitted like a man with a small turban and armed with an imitator on which a great deal of ingenuity and jewels had been bestowed. So this is an imitator. It was of hollow silver encircled here and there with two or three rose of gold wire like the handle of a guitar. The tip was enamelled red and seemed to arise from a capsule of wire of diamond and rubies.
RT
This was festooned around the loins with two coins of crimson, silk, and gold to which hung two richly worked tassels.” So this clearly is a dildo that he’s talking about and he goes on to say that the court has answered and the ladies of the harem then have this problem. They had the silver imitator but there was a problem: “that nothing should be wanting. The hollow tube had received a proper quantity of a certain mucilaginous liquor, warmed to a proper consistency, heat and colour but how should the tube perform its service unless it was suddenly drawn out and unbound and how could it at the very moment have a right to the title of an imitator.
RT
Great embarrassment, this. The whole council of matrons assembled and was non-plus. The Begum, by a stroke of genius, hit upon it at once. It was to shut up the small hole with a piece of sugar candy, filed down to the proper size and fitted up exactly, so that it might melt in due time.” And then he reports that the whole thing was a success. That the Nawab Begum bestowed upon her paramour the title of – no I’m sorry – the Nawab, Banu Begun bestowed upon her paramour the title of Nawab Begum like a general that returns from an successful expedition. So this is the kind of – you know – way that Mustapha would entertain his English friends and I think there was a kind of a – of course this is kind of soft porn for a English civil servant in Bengal, playing up to kind of oriental fantasies about the harem – but there’s also a kind of political point here I think which is that Mustapha knows this secret stuff.
RT
The British were always complaining that they don’t know what goes on in the harem and Mustapha is the kind of fellow working in the bazaar who can pick up these titbits. So this is Mustapha the fabulist. Now I wanted to give you that because his letters are very, very funny and I wanted to give you a sense of why he would have been an entertaining friend to kind of young Scottish officers in the hot Bengal summer. But there is a second genre that is represented in these letters and that is Mustapha the philosophe, the wise man, and in particular this comes across I think in his letters about medicine. He gives medical advice to his British friends and he rather dresses these up in a certain kind of philosophical rhetoric. So let me give you some example. Mustapha writes to again David Anderson and he says, look the English die suddenly in Bengal.
RT
We know this but this is not the fault of Bengal. It is the fault of the English because they can’t stop eating meat and drinking claret. Mustapha writes that the stomach loathes animal food and drinking a fermented liquid like wine when the body is in a ferment is absurdity. It was like pouring oil or spirit onto a house in flames. So he goes on to say in his private institutes of health, take care of the European way of eating mangos. A wonderful piece of detail that Mustapha would give, you know, this is the kind of stuff that you can’t get in books. Take care of the European way of eating mangos. If peeled and eaten with a knife in the European style, the fibrous indigestible parts of the fruit would abrade the inner coats of the intestines, leaving them exposed to the vilification of the salts.
RT
Instead Mustapha pointed to the method of eating mangos favoured by the Moors. And he says they eat them in the proper way by pressing the mango in their hands and heating its juice, slightly altering its nature. Peel then the mango as an apple, peeling thinly because the under part of the skin contains the best fruit and then suck as lightly as you can. He makes it sound so easy and then you won’t get the fibrous intestines and all that stuff.
RT
So he goes on and writes another letter and here, he gets a little bit more philosophical about medicine. He says, “in medicine the uncertainty of human knowledge is conspicuous,” and he emphasizes the variable in a kind of classic kind of humeral early modern humeral conception of the body.
RT
You have to adjust your body practices depending upon the climate. You have to regulate the inflow of bad humours and the outflow of humours and he kind of takes that view which is a classic as I say early modern view of medicine and he says, “Many remedies operate contrary wise in India. Honey purges here. Eggs exasperate the flux and broths of animals heighten putrid fevers.” So the kind of remedies you are used to in England won’t work here. So he says to his friend, “British doctors, avoid them. They are most wretchedly wedded to their own European customs and systems
RT
and they unaccountably despise the knowledge of the physicians of India superciliously discouraging their intercourse and therefore depraving themselves of light, hints, and symbols approved this thousands of years.” So this is the idea, not only observe what the locals do but go to Indian doctors and Indian theorists who will tell you, who have very good knowledge about this. Now this is a slightly misleading, you know, one could take this to mean, oh here is Mustapha the cosmopolitan showing his worth by reading all these Arabic texts and medicine and then telling his British friends about them. But I think we have to be a little suspicious of this because actually when you go to the British medical and in fact standard European medical textbooks of this period, they are saying very similar things.
RT
In other words, they are saying we have a humeral body, we have to adjust our bodily practices, we have to do what the locals are doing, we have to… So Mustapha is kind of putting on here a kind of show of cosmopolitanism which may be real enough but is also actually standard European theory in a way and in fact he ends that letter to George Burgal by – not by you know referencing some Indian doctor but he says, you know, don’t go to doctors, work on what your body needs for yourself, proscribe for yourself as does the King of Prussia and as do I.
RT
When I first read that letter I thought it said the King of Persia which was probably what I was wanted it to say because I was getting all exited here as this lovely cosmopolitan fellow but actually it’s the King of Prussia. He is identifying himself with Fredrick the Great, you know, enlightenment sage and enlightenment ruler, etcetera, etcetera. So it ends on this rather Europeanist note. Ok so that’s Mustapha the philosophe, the humeral, adjust your bodies, look at the climate, well that kind of thing.
RT
And then finally I just want to mention because there’s another strand in his letters which clashes a little with this kind of humeral assimilationist mode which is Mustapha the palimpsest
RT
because actually he has some kind of extremely harsh things to say about local Muslim society in Murshidabad and especially the Nawabs and the court. He says of Mubarak ud Daulah of Bengal that his court is a quote, “a sink of nastiness, poverty, and disorder. The Nawab when he has dinner sits at a table with 15 or 20 plates all around him but his guests only get three.” They sit at the other end of the table and are only given three plates – a curry, a pulao, and sweet meats. “This piece,” says Mustafa, “of rustic niggardliness is the general style all over India.”
RT
But then he goes on to say – it’s interesting – I know it’s the general style all over India because I have dined with Asif ud Daulah, and I have dined with the King in Allahabad, and so he’s kind of playing this double game where he is an insider and he gets to dine with the Indian ruling families but he finds them a little lush, one could say. So there is this simultaneous effect of kind of nearness and distancing that is one of the things that I am arguing kind of a runs through Mustapha’s works in India.
RT
Okay so I am going ahead now to the final stage of Mustapha’s career although I don’t want to start packing your bags in. We’ve got rather a long way to go. I don’t want to get your hopes that the talk is nearly finished.
RT
But we are coming towards the final stage of Mustapha’s career as a man of letters in the English language which is really what I am talking about. And this was the stage in the late 1780’s, so after he has been in Murshidabad, he’s lived there, he’s a man about town. He seems to trade in various goods, he imports books from Constantinople, he helps his British friends collect Persian books, he goes to Luckhnow. He puts together his own seraglio he says and buys slave women in Lucknow and he trades in cloth among other things and then in the late 1780’s, he kind of again reinvents himself and spends more and more of his time in Calcutta in the English capital and he becomes a pioneer in a sense of the emerging English language public sphere, the kind of print capitalist public sphere in Calcutta.
RT
It’s very small at this stage but he begins to get his first prints in the first English language newspapers and Mustapha and published Persian histories and Mustapha clearly thinks that there is some profit to be made here and he goes down to become, you know, a published author. And again I think this is the stage of his career in which you see this very stark contradiction playing out again between the kind of philosophical Mustapha, the Eurasian man who wants to train the British in the subtleties of Indian life and the polemical Mustapha who is determined to prove the kind of depravity of Indian political life and they really in some ways, there’s no way of making these fit, they’re just different languages and I am going to talk about that a little bit later.
RT
Now why does he go to Calcutta? Well according to his own writings, he feels very badly treated, persistently badly treated, by the authorities in Murshidabad. He has various run ins with the courts, he has various debts which he thinks are owed to him and when he sues for those debts in the law courts which are technically the civil courts are governed by the British and the criminal courts are governed by Muhammad Raza Khan, the Naib Nazim, the deputy Nawab, but Mustapha claims that the Muslim lower officers, the darogas and the muftis and the maulavis and the munshis, they really govern these courts and that they are against him and that they constantly kind of harass him in Murshidabad. He tells this long story in one of his pamphlets about he wants to build the upper storey of the house, second storey on his house in Kumartuli
RT
and his neighbour who’s one of the Nawabs, the Begum’s eunuchs, disapproves of the upper storey because he says that Mustapha is then going to see into his women’s quarters and Mustapha makes these very typically Mustapha comments about, well why would I want to look at these shrivelled ladies, but anyway, he loses his case and he says the whole of his upper storey is ruined and then the rains come and he gets involved in some scrapes in Murshidabad and he falls out with the kind of local authorities in the local courts – that’s his view. I mean there is some interesting evidence that from very early on in his time in Murshidabad, the Nawabi court and the other courtiers in the Nawabi court are very suspicious of Mustapha.
RT
There is an interesting moment when Mustapha wants to get the monopoly of some trade goods in Purulia District and he reports that the Nawab Mubarak Abdullah resists his proposal declaring in full darbar that a man so connected with the English should not remain under his control so there is a sense here that you know people are already suspicious of him in Murshidabad as a kind of outsider. I should say on the other hand that when Mustapha tries to get the English official in Purulia to agree to him becoming the monopolist, the English official also tears up his letter in public and Mustapha says he railed upon my art of interweaving so Frenchly my compliments and my letters. So he is being he’s very conscious of these slights. On the one hand, he’s not a local for the Nawab and he’s too closely associated with the English.
RT
On the other hand, for the English, he’s not really English either, he’s French and that’s a problem. So anyway for whatever reason we have some sense why he moves down to Calcutta. He moves down to Calcutta and he says himself, he’s interested in exploiting the new book market in Calcutta and he also hopes, he’s got hold of Ghulam Hussain Khan’s famous history of India and he also hopes initially that he can translate this and get it published in England because interestingly he sends his children to be educated in England. He sends a child called Mubarak Sharif. We don’t know what happens to him, I don’t know what happens to him. But Mubarak Sharif goes back to England with a copy of the book and Mustapha hopes that the English translation will be published in England and will pay for Mubarak Sharif’s education.
RT
Actually we don’t really know why but it never gets published in England. Nobody is interested. There’s a – Mustapha thinks that it’s because they don’t like the English, that the English is too flowery or something like, that it’s not suited but anyway in the end Mustapha decides to publish the history in Calcutta itself, the Persian history. And so he reinvents himself in this period, this is about 1788, 1789, as a man of letters and even a political philosopher, an imperial reformer. He starts actually proposing grand schemes for the regeneration of Bengal. He just doesn’t translate the Persian history but he also publishes pamphlets in Calcutta about the bad state of Bengal about the bad state of the law courts, etc.
RT
So I am just going to quickly summarize. There are three main works from his period in Calcutta and I think you’ll hopefully see the kind of contradictions between these. So the first work is actually an unpublished memorial that he sends to Lord Cornwallis, the governor general in 1788, January 1788, and he writes a typical Mustapha letter to Cornwallis which says, “I am sorry sir to intrude upon your lordship’s illustrious occupations and to stand up as an informer, that is a giver of information, and that too on so delicate and momentous an article as the administration of distributed justice all over Bengal.” And so, you know, here is Mustapha who himself admits, you know, he’s an outsider, he’s not a man of great property, addressing the Governor General of British India on the subject of justice in Bengal.
RT
Really remarkable and even more remarkable is Cornwallis, I don’t know if you’ve read it but he stashed it away in the files, so now you can see it in the public record office, it’s sitting there, and he never replied to him. But anyway, what does it say? Well this is Mustapha in his philosophe mode, I think, and also in his kind of humeral mode: okay you English have certain ideas of justice developed in your north European climate but now you’ve come to India, you have to adjust them because the humans are different here and body politics are like bodies, they are regulated differently in different environments. So the starting point for Mustapha in this treatise for Lord Cornwallis is first of all that Europeans themselves who live in Calcutta have no idea what’s going on in Bengal because they are not subject to the local law courts.
RT
So the company has set up these adalats, or law courts, to which Indians are subject but the English have their own court, the Supreme Court, so they have no idea. So here I am Mustapha. I am coming from Murshidabad and I can tell you, this is what it’s like out there with these adalats and then he says that the regulations the English have made for the adalats were wrong-headed. They were derived from European theory and not from Indian experience and what has happened is that these bureaucratic regulations have undermined earlier forms of relatively successful dispute resolution under the Nawabs and the Mughal. So he gives a very positive view here of Mughal justice.
RT
He says that the Nawabs used to sit everyday and hear complaints and that if somebody had a debt and they wanted to call in the debt, they could go very quickly, the debtor would be called and this would be dealt with in a summary way and it was effective and there would be open debate in public durbah and now instead you have these very bureaucratic court which take endless time to get your way so in effect if you owe money, you can’t it back. Creditors are duped. There’s a kind of credit, in fact he says, there’s a kind of credit crisis because these courts are jammed up. The law officers are venal and he also says something interesting which I was talking to someone earlier tonight about arbitration, practices of arbitration, merchant arbitration.
RT
He says that under the Nawabs, merchants were given substantial powers to regulate their own credit in their debt but now the Company insisted that all matters of debt have to be decided by the state courts and they’ve undermined these informal processes of dispute resolution and so the system doesn’t work, there’s a credit crisis, there’s an economic decline, and he says to Lord Cornwallis that you have to tamper your practice to the local condition. So this Mustapha the cosmopolitan philosophe, I think. Ok that’s the first one. So the second one. The second time we see Mustapha writing a lot in this period indeed in his tariq in the history say of Sir Mutaqharin, the history of modern times and he writes a preface and he also, he doesn’t just translate the history. He writes these long footnotes also in the history.
RT
So he develops kind of interesting arguments and again here we see Mustapha the philosophe. He says in the preface again that he is an informer, that because he lives in Murshidabad wearing Hindustani dress and making the practice in the evening to walk the streets with only a servant, I had a variety of information which is often out of the power and always out of the way of other Europeans and in fact he says that he has other information that Indians are extremely unhappy under British rule, that people were seriously thought about rebelling, a general rebellion against the British in 1781 when Raja Chet Singh in Banaras rebelled and that what he called there is a vein of national resentment and here am I the Mustapha to tell you about this and you better listen to me. And he claims that this resentment of Indian subjects is rooted in the memory of the Mughal government so again people compare the British with the Nawabs, with the Mughals, and they find the British wanting.
RT
He argues, Mustapha argues in his text that there was not only a concept of natural right in Mughal India but there were also mechanisms of redress, ways of hearing complaints, public debate, consultative ruler ship which the British have not pursued. And of course in making this argument Mustapha has a very good text to make it with it because Ghulam Hussain’s history is not just a kind of history of military events in India, he also has this very interesting section where he criticizes the British for the distantness of their rule, where he details the practices of Mughal rule, where he indeed imploys humeral theory and he starts off that, Ghulam Hussain starts of that section by saying that there is a diversity of political forms because there is a diversity of climates and the Muslim conquerors of India, he uses the word ‘mustamal’, they conciliated the subjects and by hearing their complaints and they adjusted their habits to the people of India and so this is what the British must do.
RT
So I think Ghulam Hussain’s history is in a kind of Akhlaq, you know, broadly one could say, it’s kind of influenced by what Muzaffar Alam’s talked about with Akhlaq which is this kind of discourse on political ethics that emphasizes social harmony, again the balance of humours in the polity, the ruler is like the physician of state – so there’s a kind of fit between Mustapha’s philosophical predilections and the Persian treatise that he’s publishing and in fact Mustapha in his footnotes tries to kind of reinforce these points. So for example, he criticizes the view in the footnote, the European view, that the Mughals were despotic. Mustapha says, "the reader who has read in Montesquieu that in India there despotic governments is quite wrong.
RT
There is saleable property in India and more importantly there’s a sense of natural justice in India. Mustapha told the story of the Nawab of Lucknow who had his own son and heir beaten and imprisoned for invading the women’s quarters in a private house, again the harem here is a kind of recurring symbol in Mustapha’s writing and what he’s arguing is that as it were, this exemplary story of justice is protecting the patriarch from someone invading his women’s quarters. When the son protested his rough treatment, the Nawab explained to him his duty as a ruler under the law. A true prince, says the Nawab, would have thought his duty to protect a subject’s rights and not to violate them.
RT
I am paid, the Nawab said, for that purpose myself and it is on that account that they pay me taxes and duties. So there is an idea here of reciprocal ruler ship. Mustapha is telling the story, he may have picked it up in the bazaar, of reciprocal ruler ship – we pay taxes, we get justice. So there’s an idea that there’s a deep seeded sense of justice in Indian states and that the Nawabs lived up to it. Mustapha also in his footnotes emphases this point about hearing petitions and he says should we listen to the books found in Europe? We should be apt to think that the princes of the east are a set of inaccessible men, shut up in the walls of their palaces.
RT
The fact was, he said, there are no princes and no ministers on the face of the earth so accessible and none so inclined to put up with the murmurs, the reproaches, and even the foul language of their disappointed suitors. So again Mustapha is arguing not only is their a sense of justice in India but there’s a mechanism for getting redress and in fact there’s a kind of system of public – you know, satire is not right word but there’s a system of like public rebuke for rulers who have to listen to the curses of their subjects if they don’t provide justice. So relatively kind of open system. So this is what Mustapha said. So this is Mustapha the philosophe. And then we go to a quite different Mustapha.
RT
So the year after – yeah, the timing of this… – no the year before he had written this history already but then he published this amazing pamphlet which is the third and the final thing he published in Calcutta and it’s called “Some idea of the civil and criminal courts in Murshidabad” with a very kind of Cambridge University Press title. It’s not very exiting but it tells you what it is. Some idea of the civil and criminal courts of Murshidabad and that indeed is what it gives you, some idea of the civil and criminal courts in Murshidabad. And it is a very salacious and slanderous and libellous idea. In fact, what I think this is, I mean it obviously is a work of polemic and I have been reading, you know, Robert Danton has been writing about the role of what he calls libalist, you know, libel writers, slanderous pamphleteers in pre-revolutionary France or in Grub Street in London, and I think this is what this pamphlet is.
RT
It is a piece of deliberate slander on the lower offices in Murshidabad designed to persuade the British government to sweep them away and in fact in this period we know that Lord Cornwallis was considering judicial reforms that in the end did take power away from Mohammad Raza Khan and the authorities in Murshidabad and so Mustapha was probably being paid by somebody else to write this and he was making a kind of immediate political point but I want to emphasize that this kind of libalist pamphlet, there isn’t anything else quite like it in this period from Calcutta. There are some libalist newspapers that are published but almost as soon as they are published, their editors, who are British, are deported because all Europeans are in Bengal at the whim of the East India Company and the Company doesn’t like libalist things being said and so they deport.
RT
And this is interesting because Mustapha of course because this is one way in which Mustapha is not being a British subject. He’s being a Muslim and who’s not being considered as European works for him. He can’t be deported. So I think that it is kind of interesting that his liminal status helps him to write this absolutely slanderous thing for which he says that he’s immediately condemned by the authorities in Murshidabad who start harassing him even more than they were before. So what does he say? Well Robert Danton says that the way you know one of these polemics is that they reduce power to the play of personalities. And this is very much what this text does. It’s about the bad personalities of the lower offices and indeed the whole political elite under the naive Nawab Mohammad Raza Khan in Murshidabad.
RT
He spares no blushes. He particularly is hard on Khawaja Ahmed and Ghulam Ali, the two munshis of the courts in Murshidabad. He says that Ghulam Ali is a good Muslim so he never drinks wine. Instead he drinks hard liquor distilled from dates and he is perennially drunk in court. Khawaja Ahmed is addicted to opium which he consumes in quantities that would kill 25 Englishmen and disorder the minds of 40, coming to court with his eyes bulging out of his sockets. Mohammad Raza Khan is, he has been lent money by the Begums so he is a mere kind of puppet in their hands. And indeed the eunichs of the Begums get away with murder on the streets and they are not prosecuted and Mustapha says, so how far eunichs have an influence over immured ladies and “how far immured ladies immensely rich can influence the courts of justice and how far these have a knack of turning the law and its expounders, to wit, the Maulavis...”
RT
So basically the lower offices are all under influence. They are venal. This is what the pamphlet goes on to say in like 90 pages of exhaustible exhaustive histories of all his complaints. I mean the other interesting thing about this pamphlet is all – so he goes through all these cases where he’s been badly treated and they are all about interestingly his servants suing him or him suing his servants. So there is this interesting caste dynamic in this which is that part of the problem with these lower courts is that they don’t recognize Mustapha’s gentility and they and these law officers he says are low bred fellows so they are not you know proper ashraf. He says for example of Khawaja Ahmed – I am trying to find this quote, oh yes – “Ghulam Ali is a low bred fellow who can read a sing song petition such as is customary in this country but who proves a block head when anything uncommon in the narrative or in the reasoning…”
RT
So he doesn’t have as good Persian as Mustapha and yet he treats him as a low bred fellow. So there is something kind of interesting thing about caste going on here in this. So at the end of this pamphlet, this polemical pamphlet, Mustapha makes clear his contempt really for the whole political establishment of Murshidabad and he couches this in a language which is very familiar, you know, from British languages of native depravity in this period. So he says, well what can we do? We could pay them more money because the lower offices are not paid very much. But actually even if we did, they would still be bad because look at Raza Khan he’s got a lot of money but he still behaves in this way.
RT
So he says we should extend the power of the English judges of the Supreme Court all over Bengal and he says, will you deny, to Lord Cornwallis, that all his qualifications will not produce a greater regard for their own personal character – so this comes down to character – an article upon which the natives from the first to the very last seem to have no feeling at all or seem to be dead to all intents and purposes. They have no regard for their character. So really fascinating. How to make this fit with the, you know, when I am reading this, I am thinking about, well wait a minute I have just been reading in this Tariq about how these Indians have a sense of natural justice and the Nawabs do justice and people complain and yet here we have a picture and he goes on to say you know people are too timorous, they are cowards, they are slavish, he’s really speaking a very kind of familiar language here of native depravity and despotism.
RT
Okay, so I am going to try to conclude. So what are we to do with this Indian dragoman, this byzantine munshi? Taken together, I think that despite their oddity and confusion, Mustapha’s writings can be made to yield some kind of coherence. For example I think that it’s not too much of a stretch to say that in arguing for his own legal rights, because what in effect he was doing in these pamphlets, he was saying my rights have been violated, you the East India Company are the sovereigns, you have to protect my rights. In arguing for his legal rights and in arguing that the British should themselves submit themselves to the same law courts that they make others to submit to and in arguing that the Supreme Court of Bengal which administers justice for the British should administer justice for everybody, he was making some kind of argument here for equal rights, rather kind of a strained one.
RT
And in many ways I think he was a pioneer of the kind of liberal public sphere that emerged in Bengal in the early 19th century, the kind of Ram Mohan Roy public sphere. Indeed Indian liberals of the 19th century often made the same argument that the Supreme Court should be extended over the whole of Bengal, that there should be equality under the law. Mustapha is making a kind of rather precocious version of this argument. Mustapha is not the only one. There are also free traders in Bengal. British free traders like William Bolt who are making a similar kind of argument but he’s aligning himself with a kind of tradition of equality under the law so there is a kind of anticipation, a rather strained one perhaps, of a kind of universalist liberalism here.
RT
And I suppose you could say that his idea in some of his writings that there are shared norms of political justice rooted in natural reason between say the Mughals and the British also could fit into a kind of universalist kind of argument about right and justice. Although of course, institutions should vary according to climate etc, etc. And there is again a rather strained sense of linking his own personal rights to those of the broader mass of Indian subjects which he describes as timorous and cowering sometimes and he describes as complaining all the time at other times. But like later Indian liberals, of course, his conception of legal subject hood is cut across by markers of caste and gender very clearly, so it’s about respectable man of property, that’s what his rights are about and it’s about men.
RT
And you know so there are ways again in which he anticipates the hierarchies of 19th century liberalism. And I think one could argue that it’s his precarity of status, his singularity, his liminality that forces this kind of innovative approach to his rights which is he’s not getting his rights, he goes down to the governor general, and when he doesn’t get his way, he actually publicises the governor general not reading his petitions. I mean they are not just against the Muslim law offices of Murshidabad. They are also against their governor general who is not listening to him. So there is a kind of innovative public spherish-ness to this fellow despite his oddity.
RT
Mustapha’s attempts at redressing his grievances for inclusion as a citizen of Calcutta, and as a semi-English – these are things he calls himself – are roundly ignored by the English authorities as far as we could tell. There are two rather poignant end points to his life. The last we hear of him in the records, one is that in 1789 he is buying a house in Calcutta and he is furious that he is made to pay a 5% fine on the purchase of his house from which Europeans are excluded. He thinks he’s a European. So there’s a 5% fee that all non-Europeans pay on house purchases in Calcutta. They make him do it and he petitions and he says this rather wonderful thing. He is disgusted that after long resonance among the British, he’s been treated as an alien, for I have always prided myself on being an Englishman born and that only locality was wanting in me.
RT
It’s a lovely phrase. An Englishman born only locality is wanting me. It’s actually very, very similar to something in Sanjay Subramaniam’s book “Three Ways to be an Alien.” Well how to be an alien. Yusuf Khan, I think his name is, a Bijapuri sultan who ends up in Goa in the 1580s says something almost the same to the Portuguese when he appeals to the King and he says, I think of myself as Portuguese only that I haven’t been born, only that, you know, which is kind of interesting. Anyway they ignore his complaint as usual and then when he dies, he wants to have his will proved in the English court, in the Supreme Court, and here is the man who has been arguing that the powers of the Supreme Court should be extended and he wants to have his will proved in the court and what happens?
RT
The judge’s look at the will and the will states – and we don’t have the full will, we have the judges summary – that Mustapha did not believe in any of the established systems of religion but that he conformed to the religion of the government of Constantinople where he was born. So he was a Muslim, yes, but that’s just because he was born in Constantinople and he is clearly anticipating the judge’s argument because they say, no you are a Muslim, you can’t have your will proved in the English court. So they exactly live up to his view of the exclusivity of English justice. But, you know, that’s a sad end.
RT
Now as I have tried to suggest, this is not just a story of hybridity or of cultural eclecticism or assimilationist conceptions of bodily humours running into colonial racism. We actually have to confront the contradictions within this hybrid character and how can we do this? Well there are a number of ways. One is that we could argue that of course even the acculturated subject has to also, as he writes English, acculturate to British languages, to British society and it conforms in some ways to British ways of speaking. So in some ways it’s not surprising that when he writes to Lord Cornwallis he’s going to say… Cause he knows that Cornwallis thinks that. Well that’s one way of handling this.
RT
Although I don’t think it is very satisfying because actually these contradictions run all the way through what Mustapha’s doing but it certainly some part of what’s going on. Another way of dealing with this is to say that this is a discourse that’s partly about race but mostly about property. It’s mostly about this access of the well bred and the low bred and that Mustapha is speaking a language that is, you know, we could read now in racial terms but it’s really about the coding of the gentility. That’s another way of possibly doing it. Another is to really take seriously the way that language is about difference in here in different genres of writing. And so that when Mustapha is writing in the philosophe mode, as a translator of a Persian history, he’s taking an assimilationist view and when he is writing in the libelist mode, he is taking a quite different view.
RT
I mean that is something interesting to think about I think. I think another thing that I am only just beginning to think about but I’d be interested in your comments is the way in which colonial stereotypes and languages of native depravity were actually parasitic on discourses internal to South Asian political culture, internal to Indo-Persian culture. For example when Mustapha is criticizing the law offices in Murshidabad, he says one of them is a Kashmirian and Kashminrians pay so generally a bad character all over the Indian world that even grave historians like the author of the Sir Mutaqharin have not disdained to take notes.
RT
So he’s taking these kind of localized notions of community and kind of descriptive values to particular communities that are present in Indo-Persian discourse and kind of generalizing them out into this colonial language of, you know, British virtue and Indian corruption. So there’s clearly no simple continuity here but there is an interesting. I mean the other thing that I want to think about there is a kind of Mughal ideology in Ghulam Husain Khan’s text in the Sir Mutaqharin where he talks about the Muslim conquests and he says of course the climate is different here and he says about the people in India that they are most different than anyone in the world because they have this most different climate and he goes on to use words which mean small minded, weak minded, but then he goes on to say but because the Muslims were virtuous rulers, they conformed themselves to the wishes of the subjects.
RT
So there is an interesting kind of way in which that kind of Mughal ideology could have been taken up by somebody like Mustapha and reframed in a kind of colonial language. That’s just something to throw out there. So I wanted to end by saying that connected world of Haji Mustapha is connected in more ways than one. Hybridity as Sanjay Subramaiam has argued in his book, I think excellent book, “Three Ways to be an Alien,” has tended to be associated in our scholarship and maybe, you know, I know I am running quite a long way behind literary scholars who are just much more sophisticated about these things but I think in the history, it’s really been true that hybridity has been kind of valued for its own sake.
RT
Acculturation has been often kind of valorised just because it’s there and it’s been associated with forms with subversive forms of agency, with protean self-fashioning. Now Mustapha as I have said at the end was in some ways a subversive kind of alien but another’s much lesser and his hybrid life, I think, was less a product of his own agency, his own enterprise, than pervasive and we might even say byzantine, forms of social constraint. So I’ll leave it there. Thank you very much.
KM
Thanks so much Robert. I wanted to ask a question to start things off which is when listening to your talk I was thinking of Lionel Trilling’s book on sincerity and authenticity and you know the fascinating argument that Trilling makes that in the early modern period there was a kind of cultural capital placed on sincerity because this was a world of fealty in which one had to perform sincerity to a lord as a vassal and this moves to a system of authenticity when the modern nation-state is born, when one in some ways has to perform one’s authenticity, one’s allegiance to a state that actually now has the technology to, you know, keep track of who its citizens are. So that argument is about the different forms of performance that relate to different performs of state craft.
KM
And when thinking about that, I was struck by how Haji Mustapha’s neither performing sincerity nor authenticity but almost performing insincerity and that, you know, this kind of libelist mode, the polemicist, the interest in over-statement – he’s not trying, in some ways, to get his audience to think that he’s being accurate. He’s in some ways he’s really leading his audience to want to ask the question, “wasn’t that a little bit insincere?” So now how – if this is insincerity as a kind of personal performance, what’s the state form that relates to? And are we are we looking at something that might even be a late early modern kind of state craft that’s somewhere between a system based on fealty and one based on sovereignty?
KM
I mean he wants to kind of belong to a state that – it seems that he wants in, he wants to be an insider, he’s not an insider but he’s almost there and insincerity seems to be the response. I mean that’s kind of my…
RT
Or a kind of performative… I mean I think your point about, it’s very well taken, and yes I do think it’s a late early modern kind of state. We are not dealing with, you know, very, very interesting in the early 19th century in the kind of liberal public sphere of Ron Martin Roy, or in the liberal public sphere of Lord Macaulay in England, this kind of salacious, slanderous stuff is not any more central to politics, you know, but it is in 18th century Britain and it is, as I said in different ways in India. And I need to think more about, you know, why that is. I mean it seems to me that partly it’s a question of kind of performativity.
RT
There are these and partly the focus on personality, the libelist is all about the character of the personalities, is about a system where the legitimacy as it were of the monarchy or the kingdom is not the thing that’s at stake yet. Although there is an argument in French history that this kind of stuff really undermines the legitimacy of the state polity. So when the legitimacy of the state or state policy is not at stake in the same way, it has to be about the individuals. So that might be one way, you know, when in other words monarchy is taken for granted, you could say, the ancien regime to use an anachronistic term. Maybe that’s one way of thinking about it. The other way is to think - compare it with the kinds of plays we know went on for example in Lucknow.
RT
Claude Martin, the French in Lucknow, and this is where I am thinking of performativity, describes these plays in Lucknow where you go to some big house, some big man’s house, and you watch all kinds of ludeness being played out on the stage and although it’s played, the play says it’s the King of Persia. He says everybody knows it’s our king, it’s the Nawab, it’s the Mughal. And so this kind of spectacular display of performative critique is you know a very important kind of mode of political satire and so I don’t have a very good answer to that question but you would probably have a better one. Sorry there’s one behind can I just... yeah.
I am Mohua Banerjee and I am a GOT student at the Harvard History Department. I’ll just follow on from Professor Manjarpa’s comment and your answer to that. Even Victorian in London has this mode of libelious slanderous critiques of the government. I am thinking of, you know, erotic publications like “The Pearl” or “The mysteries of London” and “The mysteries of the court of London,” where Queen Victoria herself becomes this, you know, figure of fun but even going on later in London to Henry Mayhew and his kind of journalism. I wonder is there a continuity that you see there instead of a rather strong break with what you are suggesting with the public sphere of McCaulay and others. Thank You.
RT
Yeah that’s a good question and I am sure that there are continuities but there’s also this argument that people like Vic Gatrell have made, right in British history, that there is some kind of, you know, the world of Gatrell and these 18th century cartoonists in which Prime Ministers are pictured you know on the toilet and so forth is there’s a kind of certain idea of kind of national probity in the 19th century that makes that kind of stuff more difficult to do and a certain idea of, you know, of I guess categories of social life, you know, the public man, that means if you picture somebody like that everybody is in play. You see you know what I mean?
RT
So it’s the whole – there’s something about the kind of coherent social categories around say “Bhadralok” the category of “Bhadralok” or the category of the middle class or in England. It means that the kind of singularity of this discourse, that lower officer is a bad lower officer is harder to make in the 19th century. Although I don’t think it disappears but I think the aspiration to be both as Mustapha had, both a philosophe and the libelist at the same time seems like a very 18th century mix to me. But I am not quite sure I can describe why, you know, someone else might be able to help me.
Hi, I am Ina Baghdianz-McCabe. I, more than the question, the question is how much have you looked in France because I think there is a big key to what seems to be a mystery – his hybridity and his acculturation is in fact an institutionalized one by Louis XIV and until the French Revolution, the French started taking in twenty Ottoman children. They first called them les Armeniens du Roi then les Enfants du Roi because they were sick of the Ottoman dragomans. They were saying oh they are always at the service of the Sultan, we have to have our own and even les Armeniens du Roi they were not all Armenian, they were Greeks, they were Syrians, but they were Christians.
RT
And the French insisted that these children should be Christian Ottomans and they would bring him to Paris to Louis Lagren, that’s where they went, and they were chosen on the basis of what they already had as languages and Persian and Arabic and Ottoman were key. And so he was probably chosen because he spoke Persian. And so he was sent to a consul probably in Pondicherry because they used to send French consuls. So that’s probably his itinerary so he is French because he was forced to become catholic. So therefore being French at the time was catholicism and he is longer French when he is a Muslim. That’s for sure. The French lose and that’s probably why he’s so subservient to the British because he must prove that he’s not this French spy but you know he was in the service of the French for sure. They knew that and that’s probably why they wanted to send him to jail.
RT
No, I think that’s a very plausible. I mean, I think the thing you’ve outlined is very plausible. I was kind of aware of the dragoman history although I haven’t been to the archives of France to see if I can trace him in the archives for example but certainly there’s a very nice piece by Maya Jasanoff about a French dragoman in Alexandria in this period who, you know, she talks about how if a dragoman did a become a postdate and convert to Islam, they were often sacked. So I mean it is kind of interesting that they left the service and my understanding is in this period they were still as there were creol families or families that maybe Greek or Ottoman subjects of some kind
RT
who were in service of the French but they were also local families as there were French families living in Constantinople who were also involved in this and I think that’s exactly very plausible, of course, you can never be sure that he’s not making the whole thing up I doubt it because he has very good Persian and French and all that but you know always in the back of my mind…
It’s the French culture he probably acquired it…
RT
I think that’s exactly right I mean I didn’t go out into that a lot and I am going to keep that kind of asterisk in my head that until we know we don’t know but yeah I think that’s extremely plausible and that’s what the assumption is and when calls himself a byzantine.
RT
I mean, an interesting footnote is that when he gets kicked out of Bengal. Well he escapes from Bengal. When he’s imprisoned in Bengal in 1757, he escapes – he dresses as a Mughal cavalryman – escapes from Bengal and joins up with the French and claims they put him in jail so nobody trusts him at that point. He’s a Muslim who speaks French, dresses as a Mughal cavalryman, and the British think he’s a French spy and the French think he’s an English spy, so he has this you know, which is again familiar from these you know these dragomans – so thank you I do, I think that’s very plausible.
Hi, well thanks for the talk. My name is Ren Chao. I am a master’s student at Harvard. Just now you mentioned a lot about connectivity and hybridity of identities of the late early modern world and I was quite struck by the more multilingual ability of Haji Mustapha and when I reflect upon that introspectively I feel that there’s something to it about the multilingual part of this person and there must be something more interesting to look into that because as you said he wrote in different languages and if I were not mistaken, there were many other things that he wrote in other languages and obviously he knows a ton of languages and also many Indian languages beyond what was needed in Bengal such as Telegu.
RT
And when I think about myself because I am a native speaker of Chinese and when I talk to my friends who are fluent in both the languages I feel that sometimes I feel a difference between the times when I express myself in these two languages and there’s a conscious or subconscious reason when I do it and also related to what kind of thing I want to say, how I want to express it, and I am just thinking if we want to see how Haji Mustapha experienced his world at that time with these different language skills is there anyway that we can look into other of his writings and really see a full picture of how he considers his own identity?
RT
Yeah I think it’s a great question and I am puzzled over that. The answer is that I don’t have anything that’s not in English. Although his English is filled with French. I mean it’s quite interesting, he uses French spellings, but he also uses wonderful words that come from French like immancable which sent me to the dictionary and in some ways I want to be Mustapha because I am a very bad linguist and so the reason that I am working on him. I am a very bad, for example, I am a very slow reader, a very bad reader of Persian. I am even worse than the low bred fellows of Murshidabad who can’t read a sing-song, who can only read a sing song – I can just about read a sing-song petition and so what you say is very important and I think that’s what I try to emphasize, we are only seeing one fragment and that’s why I try to emphasize this putting on of genres.
RT
That I think in his English he was very consciously deploying – in other words when he talks about humeral medicine, he’s reading European treatises in humeral medicine and putting on a kind of recognizable genre of the philosophical discussion of medicine or when he is writing this libelist track, he’s putting on – you know, he’s been hanging around France and he – so one way I think about it is in terms of genre and in terms of him adopting certain personalities in English which is one way of explaining as I say why he has such divergent personalities in English. And I think to be honest his – the fact that English isn’t his first language is one reason why he’s not taken seriously – it’s clearly a reason why the British exclude him from, as it were, their own society in Calcutta
RT
and they comment on his ability and he says that the English don’t read his history because they make fun of his English and it’s one reason I think why he hasn’t been taken seriously as a social and political thinker and that’s you know in a way what I am trying to do is get away from the image of him as a kind of – you know, I mean I say that, you know, with some hesitation because I realize that I have also tried to play up the kind of comedic, I think there was a kind of ludic playfulness in his writing. But I am also trying to take his project seriously you know that he’s a writer, that he sees himself as a political writer, and of course it’s not that ridiculous that he sees himself as an imperial reformer because there are 22 year old English people who don’t know their Allah from their whatever sitting around Bengal declaiming about the right kind of government for India.
RT
So he’s not that unusual in his moment in adopting this rather grandiose style as an imperial reformer and of course he also is unusual in, although the historiography is so fixated on the categories of the British and Indian, that he is not that – you know, to be a stranger in Bengal is not that unusual. He writes about in his own writings Yemeni traders who appear out of the blue and steal his money typically or Armenians or Portuguese or, you know, to be as it were, what’s unusual about him is that he doesn’t have a community that we can see. That he, you know, that Armenians and Greeks and Portuguese and Yeminis – there are Arabians in Murshidabad, etc. He seems to be, you know, an outsider in that way, a real dragoman but I agree that that’s a really important point and I wish you know one day the Dastoor ul Amal by Haji Mustapha appears and we can see the way he wrote in Persian. I don’t know, yeah.
Hi I am Aniket De, a student at Tufts. Thank you for such a captivating talk and such a captivating subject. I find it rather interesting that – just to comment – I find it rather interesting he is born in Istanbul which is probably historically the most hybrid city in the world and we find that blend everywhere and also I find his name very sceptical like Mustapha is the typical Turkish name and if I wanted to take up a Turkish name, I would take up probably this exact name, so is there any record of him going to the Haj and becoming a Haji?
RT
Yes there is and I mean that’s why, so, yes, there is. I mean again it’s his records so we have to take it. But no he claims to have gone there maybe twice certainly once he claims twice to have thought that he was going to go back to Constantinople and he got cold feet both times and the first time was in 1756 when he says I couldn’t put on the clothes of my family anymore and I don’t know what that meant you know but he gets to – and usually there is some kind of major catastrophe that happens. Like when he goes on the haj, this is on I understand a familiar narrative of the haj, he goes around 1770 around then and he has everything robbed, he’s got a big library, and so he loses everything and comes back to Calcutta and he has to remake his fortune.
RT
So it’s interesting because there are also Greeks in Calcutta called Haji and they have been on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, I understand so that there are other Hajis who are kicking around, who are not Muslims and who are not but yes he does although we don’t know anything about his conversion, really, apart from what Modav tells us which is that he converted and then we have this tantalizing reference at the end of his life to, “I don’t believe any of these established religions but I do conform to the religion of my homeland,” which is a very, very interesting – I mean of course if he hadn’t been a Muslim he wouldn’t have been able – I think I am right in saying this – he wouldn’t have been able to hold these offices in the Nawab’s household that he told in the 1770’s.
RT
Europeans were excluded from certain kinds of offices and that’s also interesting to think about the strategic relationship of being Muslim in that moment, of course I think for him, being a Muslim was preferable in the 1750’s to being French in the eyes of the British and so it’s interesting to think with because we don’t have a lot of evidence – we have in his tariq, in his translation, he spends quite a lot of time to defending the Prophet for example against the attacks of European writers so he does – he comments often on what he calls bigoted Shias so he seems to have a kind of sense of, Ghulam Hussain is of course a Shia so he distances himself from him so one has a kind of sense of Sunni milieu but I am not able to say a lot about his religion which I am sad about I mean that would be very interesting.
One last question, the period he is in Murshidabad is a very interesting period because that’s when Murshidabad is decaying and Calcutta is growing and a lot of thing is happening in the peasantry and in the fields, the permanent settlement, the Zamindar system and everything is coming in so in his voicing of grievances, does he say anything about that sector?
RT
I mean he has a he has a clear account of why Murshidabad is declining, indeed why Bengal is declining. And that is because he is not getting his legal rights protected. So he does kind of tend to argue but more broadly it’s because, you know, creditors don’t feel secure in lending money
RT
and they don’t feel secure in lending money because these new courts are bureaucratic and venal and of course that is also something Ghulam Hussain is saying in his history which is that you know the Nawabs and the emperors of old days had virtuous, had a kind of political virtue and they had as it were mechanisms of political oversight and they crucially – I mean in Ghulam Hussain’s narrative, it is very much about, in Ghulam Hussains text it’s very much about not a kind of sense of the emperors daily supervising but about selecting, about who you select, and having eyes on the ground who are watchful so you can see when people are corrupt and of course part of what Mustapha says about the English is that they can’t see that.
RT
They don’t understand enough local languages. They don’t understand enough about what’s going on in Murshidabad to be able to see and so there’s a kind of imperial watchfulness that the Mughals had, that the British don’t have, so he does make generalized arguments about the decline of Bengal based around the disruption of the earlier forms of dispute resolution and virtuous rulership that went with this kind of watchfulness. So he does make general as it were kind of economic arguments.
I am Josh Relick, I am a GT in the Harvard History department. You framed at one point Mustapha as something like an enlightened character and I wonder what kind of intervention you may intend in the literature on enlightenment because it’s fascinating to think about somebody who could have an enlightened face and potentially un-enlightened or anti-enlightened or counter-enlightened face.
RT
I thought that was what the whole enlightenment was about, wasn’t that…
Yeah all in one figure though, it’s fascinating. But alternatively do you intend to say or perhaps at the same time, do you intend to say that Enlightenment itself, its values, its emphasizes on things like toleration are situational in that depending on the context it can appear tolerant or enlightened more broadly…
RT
Yeah, well look I am interested in a couple of things. I mean that’s a very good question. I appreciate it. And I am interested in a couple of things. One of the things is that there is this tradition of writing about the British in Bengal in this period as enlightened and therefore as sympathetic,
RT
open to Indian opinions, interested in Indian cultures, you know, you read through the, as I did the other day, in the excellent Telegu library, the catalogue of like printed books in Calcutta, the “Poems of Sadi,” the “Persian Munshi,” you know, the “History of Alamgir”, you know and I am interested in the production of the enlightened colonial ruler as a claim to legitimacy as a form of power because I think we’ve, as it were, read this at face value too often as a sign of benevolence and it’s not that I don’t think there were forms of benevolence encoded in these texts but one has to look at what’s going on in Calcutta and British society in Calcutta is highly exclusive, extremely fond of its own rights vis-à-vis Indian servants, for example, extremely concerned to police the boundary of British legal rights so that Indians don’t have access to those or Indians don’t have access to those, and so, you know, I am interested in a figure like for example George Bogel.
RT
I think Mustapha and George Bogel make a very interesting comparison. There have been several books about George Borgel recently as an enlightened, as a perfect example of this stage of enlightenment imperialism. He goes off to Tibet and he writes these very enlightened narratives about Tibet, about his travels in Tibet. Oh I am so interested in these Bhutanese flute players and I am so interested in the Lama and he is such an interesting kind of religious figure and I am broadening my mind and now I will broaden your mind, the mind of Europe, when you read my travel account. But he is putting on a genre of the enlightened travel account. Now when you read Borgel’s account from Calcutta in the early 1770’s before he goes to Tibet, he is full of standard fare about, oh, Indians are so cowardly and timid and you know they are so fawning,
RT
and they have no idea of justice and they have no idea of their rights, you know, all this kind of negative and you are thinking well how does this fit, how do these two sides fit and I think we haven’t really grappled with that enough. And the broader thing I want to do with enlightenment in the book is to argue that, you know, there is this idea of an enlightenment against empire, you know, Sankar Muthu’s excellent book, Jennifer Pitts’ book, you know, an idea that within European discourse there is a kind of self-conscious, coherent, anti-imperial strand of thought around either natural rights or Burke, Condorset, or Kant and that’s a very interesting argument but it’s entirely made as it were within the tradition of European, it’s an argument within European thought.
RT
What I am interested in arguing in the book is that in order to understand European enlightenment against empire, you have to understand encounters with, maybe not with other forms of enlightenment, but with other forms of, with other ideas of imperial legitimacy. In other words, let me give you a more concrete example. Burke is reading, when in the trial of Warren Hastings, Burke is reading petitions from rural Rangpur of peasants, saying, you know, we have the right to a certain percentage of our crop and when this is violated, we will rebel. Now he is then turning that into a big argument about natural rights but that’s just one small example of a way in which I hope to be able to argue that there’s a much more, you know, that this encounter has a much more creative effect in European thought, that one has to take these encounters on a global scale more seriously, not just as oh we are observing what’s going on out there and therefore we have certain ideas about that.
RT
But how for example petitions are complained from Indian travel and they get turned into arguments about natural rights. It’s quite interesting that the colonial official in Rangpur goes and collects the petitions of the peasants after the rebellion. He uses the language of natural rights when he is writing these petitions so he has already put it in that frame by the time Burke reads his report. So I think those kinds of things are interesting to me in thinking about but I do think, you know, this problem of you know the enlightened man of empire. I think we so want to find that enlightened empire man, you know, we so want to see it. We would love that you know and I think we haven’t done enough with that.
JS
Julia Stevens. So I have a comment and then a question. And I really enjoyed the way I think you are struggling to rethink how we conceptualize the relationship between nearness and distance or universalism and difference and sort of traditionally in Indian historiography these have been seen as sort of you move from one to the other, at least it’s a sliding scale where you are closer or farther away from one pole or the other and I guess kind of what I think I heard you beginning to develop in the talk is an idea that nearness and distance can actually like very much operate in tandem and I think I am really finding the same thing in my work. But I wanted to ask you to kind of push a little further in a sense sometimes you still seem to see these as sort of they are both there but they are contradictory but it seems to me that maybe actually there’s a relationship between the two and that in a way Haji Mustapha, in saying look India has this incredibly rich tradition of governance
JS
because he admits that in the past he has to be overly aggressive in saying what but today these people are totally a mess and that’s how he kind of justifies that’s why you need me, because I can tell you about this rich tradition but none of these people who are sort of wandering around the Murshidabad court can do the same thing because they are in this sort of corrupt culture of the current historical moment. And I wonder whether there are ways in which like sort of when you assert nearness in one respect, you also have to assert distance in the other. And actually kind of see these two things as in certain ways sort of working off each other which is why I kind of think that with liberal thinkers, if we can kind of think about him as a liberal thinker, universalism and difference, it’s always there.
JS
I mean when you actually get down to it, you know, it’s really hard to find, you know, whether you think about Henry Maine or whether you’re thinking about sort of like 1830’s liberals, they both have these kind of simultaneous sort of dynamics. So that’s my kind of comment and my question is you talked a lot about genre with respect to his writing. But I was thinking with respect to your writing, how do you think that this sort of biographical mode of historical analysis is sort of pushing you to make interventions on questions of periodization and is the relationship between sort of shifting from a kind of history that focuses on the state to a history that focuses on biography, that that’s leading you to the kind of rethink periodization?
RT
Hm, those are great questions. Thank you so much. I totally agree that about nearness and distances and liberalism and in a way that’s an argument that somehow is more, you know, I suppose because of work like Uday Mehta is more familiar – of course Mehta still wants to have an enlightenment pre-liberalism that is more sensitive to difference where – but I totally agree with that point, that, you know, nearness and distance are always in play and, you know, your comment was extremely helpful in helping me to think through that. There is a very nice quote from Georg Simmel that Sanjay Subrahmaniam uses about the figure of the stranger in Simmel which is that their life is regulated by a certain measure of – all one can say is that there life is regulated by certain measure of nearness and distance
RT
and I think what that is getting at is that as you say, if you are near something, you are a little distant from something else, but, you know, but nearness you know there is some kind of a structural relationship there and yeah, I kind of appreciate that question. And I’m not sure I want to resolve it though in a way about period because it seems to me it’s too messed up for that. You know well that’s certainly one way of resolving it, just as I could say, oh he writes that when he’s speaking to Cornwallis and he writes something else when he is – because you know actually like when he says in the pamphlet, oh it's so timorous and cowardly, he’s not saying that in the history and he’s not necessarily putting it in the past.
RT
I mean there is that discourse about the past but I am not sure that I want it – I think it’s part of it but I am not sure that I want to entirely resolve that because I think that in a way would push away the problem of the, as you know, so I think by using the language of contradiction I wanted to say that we have to face up to this. We can’t just explain it away as something. That there are structural tensions. But the second point about biography, I guess I haven’t really thought of that. And you know I think I am coming at this state in my project from the angle of supplicants and in the first book I was coming at the state from the angle of what Mustapha would have called the Gods, sitting up there in the council chambers, reading the petitions, and in this, I am trying to think what are these people out there doing to try to get the attention of the gods.
RT
And so that is giving me a different kind of – but I was reading you know I guess Michael Franklin’s book on Jones the other day and he takes me to task quite reasonably. I am so glad when people take me to task, it means that they have read my book, which of course, puts them in an extremely small category. And he takes me to task quite reasonably for saying that Jones, you know, Travers repeats this, you know he doesn’t quite say that, but you know repeats this old shibboleth that somehow Jones takes the attention of the British enlightenment away from Indo-Persian and towards Sanskrit and therefore begins this kind of antiquates colonial process of separating out Hindu and Muslim culture and I do kind of say that at the end of my book and I kind of still believe it in terms of not how Jones – you know, he makes the point but Jones is a Persianist.
RT
He’s called Persian Jones and he loves Saudi and all that and I guess you know that’s a problem of a biographical mode where you make it about the intention of William Jones and I think I was making an argument much more about a kind of a sift within the structural legitimatisation which meant that after you abandon the Mughal constitution as your template for rule, you no longer are interested in making that connection and you are more interested in making the connection with ancient Sanskrit law or something like that. So I think the biographical mode can be problematic if it becomes about, I think a lot of writing on enlightenment and empire is about the virtuous intentions of enlightened imperialists who then have their intentions you know messed by on the ground,
RT
you know, in other words in Calcutta you could easily say, oh there are these very enlightened elites and then there were all these slightly grubby commercial writers who don’t like to have their rights challenged, you know, and that it seems to me is very revealing about this enlightened discourse about – which is a discourse about class, is a discourse about who is, as you say, who is enlightenment. I Haji Mustapha am enlightened. It’s much more a discourse about claiming a certain kind of gentility than it is about, you know, embracing hybridity as your way of life or something like that. I don’t know. Does that make sense?
Hello my name is Saira Hussain and I am a MA student here in the Department of History at Tufts and I am still interested in a little bit on Haji Mustapha’s identity, his Muslim identity. And I know we don’t know much. But I’m wondering if his translation of the Tabatabai’s history of India, gives us any indication about his ideas to words Shias other than the fact that they are just bigoted so if you could answer that.
RT
That’s a good question. Yeah I need to think more closely about that but there are a lot of comments and if you are interested in that go to his amazing footnotes which are very thorough and give little histories of Islamic saints and histories of Islam and they are very interesting as a kind of, you know, dragoman commentary on Islamic histories, Islamic pilgrimage, because part of what he is doing is trying to educate this British audience in the things that ordinary Muslims in India would have known.
RT
And so I mean, what I took from it is this sense of distancing from, yeah, what he calls the fanaticism and the kind of sectarianism of Shia – what he takes to be that, in the discourse of Ghulam Hussain who quite often makes comments himself about the irreligion of people that he is writing about and as I say there is this interesting footnote where he defends the life of the prophet against kind of slanderous accusations but I haven’t found, I haven’t been able to go much deeper than that.
SB
Hi I am Saugata Bose. If I may return to the question of periodization in the closing stages of this seminar. I mean I can see that you don’t want to place Haji Mustapha neatly within the sort of the, you know, the chronological flow of early modern cosmopolitanism, dissolving into a form of modern colonial racism.
SB
And also that, you know, you want to correct the sort of the more sort of idyllic romanticized sort of versions of late 18th century life in Bengal, you know, it’s not in any simple way an age of toleration. Yet I mean I wonder how far you want to go in rejecting any kind of close periodization in the course of the 18th century and what was very valuable about your book was that you questioned romanticized notions of, you know, wonderful relations between the races in late 18th century Bengal and yet you were able to draw distinction between the age of Hastings and the age of Cornwallis, you know, separated by no more than a decade.
SB
And I think in trying to explain the shift from sort of the Hastings era or a Hastings-Francis era of lording the ancient constitution or the Mughal constitution to the Lord Cornwallis era of thinking in terms of a civilising mission, you were also able to sort of locate certain sort of institutional venues where this form of racial exclusivism really took hold early on. And one of them if I remember correctly, belonging to a fairly large category of the readers of your book, was you know the Calcutta Supreme Court, you know, and the Chief Justice and when you were talking about the polemical pamphlet that Haji Mustapha wrote, my first reaction was to say somebody in the Calcutta Supreme Court’s circle paid him to write this but, you know, clearly he is located in that particular institutional venue.
SB
When he is making a case, that in order to achieve equal rights for colonial subjects, you know, the Calcutta supreme court’s jurisdiction has to be sort of expanded, I mean he clearly is in some ways talking the language of that colonial racism that emanates from that institutional sort of venue and of course there is this other issue of, you know, he lauds an earlier system of justice and rights but when he attacks, he attacks individuals – these law officers in Murshidabad who are depraved and so on. So I was just wondering that, you know, there is a certain trajectory of historical change which I probably think is still sort of quite important while sort of taking away you know large scale characterisations or labels that we attached to late early modern cosmopolitanism of the 18th century or sort of the colonial modernization of the sort of liberalist empire in the early 19th century. So I mean how far how do you want to go in rejecting sort of a kind of periodization, of a shift that takes place around the turn of the 19th century?
RT
Now that’s a great point. Again I guess I would want to be – rather than have kind of generalized notions, you know, it seems to me that the problem comes when you kind of essentialize attitudes around some general notion of, you know, your attitude to India or not, you know, which is how we’ve always done it. Like the historiography has done it, you know, were you pro or anti or were Indians the same or were they different – you know, these kind of categories around, and you know, an Indian famously wasn’t really a category in this period or when the British said Indian, they were just as much likely to mean their own officials, you know, an East Indian servant. And so for example I think my book about a particular language of affiliation to a kind of constitutional structure, the Mughal constitution, which has a certain timeline and is as you say is implicated in certain institutional developments and really does end in a certain way.
RT
But you know so for example if Mustapha had gone to Calcutta with the same stories in the – well it’s interesting to think – in the 1770’s, you know, he would have been taken up by one of the parties in the Calcutta council and he would have been, you know, turned into an agent of parties. At that stage, the Company’s service was very split and they were split and they were competing to perform the idea that they were the best stewards of this Indian constitution and so there was a certain structure of politics. Now by the time he goes in the 1780’s, the company service has really rallied round. It has become very tight it has become difficult to break into. Even Lord Cornwallis and Shaw who disagree with each other make sure they don’t disagree in public and they are making comments to each other and it’s harder for Mustapha to break in at that point.
RT
So there are certain structural changes, you know, and part of the reason they do that is because they have seen what happened to Warren Hastings, you know, nobody wants to go back and be impeached and so they want to limit the scope of complaint and critique and party politics and so I think you are exactly right that there are important structural changes. I don’t think I want to – the way – so what I would say is we need to attend to structural changes in politics and ideological structures as well as institutional structures but not pretend that, you know, what is changing is attitudes to India, you know, because that’s the way the historiography has very powerfully tended to be written and that’s a nationalist narrative as much as it is an imperialist narrative. That’s an anachronistic reading back of nationalist discourse onto the 18th century.
KM
Any last questions? All right, well thank you so much Robert for introducing us to Haji Mustapha and his genres, his very lively genres, and I think your lens, your own genre of writing history really reminds us of what good history can do, which is make the past something that we can dive into and something that kind of responds to the intellectual questions that we’ve been posing. So this is a really intellectual feast, a very lively presentation. Thank you very much for being with us at Tufts.
RT
Thank you for coming. Thank you for all your questions. Really appreciate it.
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