EUROPEANS are so pre-occupied with their own problems – their problems as those of their countries – that they do not have much time for others. There was a time when they used to be extremely curious about the rest of the world, possibly because they used to own or run most of it. Most European countries, including tiny God-forsaken countries like Portugal, used to have huge colonies, many of them in Africa, but there are no colonies now and the countries have to fend for themselves. I suspect that many of their current problems stem from the fact that they have lost their colonies, and along with them, their captive markets.
Take England. There was hardly a family in that country, which did not have a member working in India. At one time, whole families worked in India, including fathers, sons, nephews and often nieces as well, either in civil service, or the military, or railways, if not hospitals and tea gardens. They not only earned salaries but pensions too, for years and years, which ultimately influenced culture in Britain.
Almost all great British writers had strong Indian connections. Take George Orwell, who is pre-eminently an English writer, but was actually born in India, though he rarely referred to India in his writings. When I first met him, immediately after the last War, he did not even mention India. He did mention Burma though, which was actually a part of India when Orwell was posted there as a police officer and served for seven years. He was not the only one. Three uncles of Virginia Woolf, the famous English writer, served in India Office in London and were so powerful that Viceroys trembled before them. But Virginia Woolf herself hardly mentions India in her books, though even her husband, Leonard Woolf, was a civil servant, not in India but in Ceylon (as Sri Lanka was known at the time) because he did not get high enough marks to be selected in the Indian Civil Service.
There was a time, before our Independence, when thousands of Englishmen worked in India. Now it is the turn of Indians to work in England. Certain cities, like Leicester, are for practical purposes Indian cities, with streets after streets given over to Indian shops and Indian goods.
I expected the British to resent such a large presence of Indians—and Pakistanis—in their midst, but for some reason, this has not happened. Some British hoodlums do stone Indian shops once in a while, and sometimes burn them, but this happens rarely. Indians, particularly the Hindus, do not mix easily with foreigners and keep themselves to themselves, as they have done throughout history, and this keeps them away from mischievous and rowdy British elements. I did not see a single Hindu girl consorting with English boys, though many Indian shops are manned by Hindu girls. The Hindus, particularly Hindu women, have always managed to keep themselves aloof from foreigners, foreign men as well as foreign women, which, I think, is largely responsible for the relative purity of our race.
This is not true, I think, of Muslims. When there are riots, you see Muslims ganging up with the locals, though privately they may hate each other. A Hindu has a certain dignity about him, and her, and this manifests itself during street clashes. I was told by an English police officer that he does not have much trouble with Hindus during riots. But that is not the case with men of other faiths.
The English are still very nostalgic about India and secretly bemoan its loss. There was a time, immediately after the last war, when so many Britishers had to abandon India and return home, when they simply had no idea why and how they had lost what they called the Jewel in the Crown. They had no idea they had lost it for good. One Englishman told me at the time – and he had spent almost a lifetime in India – that the two countries simply could not do without each other – and they would re-unite one day when they realised they were made for each other.
I told him – he was a high court judge and had served most of his time in Allahabad – that he should quit day-dreaming, that most conquerors believed that the conquered loved them, or could not do without the conquerors, but things were much more complex, for India belonged to Indians and Hindus, and the Hindus had always fought outsiders tooth and nail, whether the outsiders were Moghuls or Afghans or Turks or Greeks or British or Portuguese or French. We fought the Moghuls for three hundred years and the British for two hundred years, but we fought them with all we had, and ultimately drove them out. If you believe that you can go back again and try to invert history, you are mistaken.
History is now on our side, I don’t mean Indian side, but the side of Hindus. Of course, there are stupid among us, so-called secularists, who are doing everything they can to see that the Hindus do not assert themselves, but they are on the wrong side of history – and history always defeats those who are on its wrong side.
One evening, I went into Trafalgar Square, as I have done several times in the past, and climbed on the pedestal on which sits a toothless lion, and I could see huge red buses rumble past me, from Whitehall to Charing Cross, as pigeons flew from one building to another, and children gorged on ice-cream. I could not see a single Hindu child in the Square, for it was getting late, and no Hindu mother would permit her child to go outdoors at that time of the day, whether in London or Paris or Rome, or, for that matter, in Mumbai or Chennai or Kolkota. No matter where we live, and which tongue we speak, and what we wear, we are still Indians, and we behave as millions of Indians and Hindus have behaved for thousands of years, and, I have a feeling, will go on behaving, for that is what makes us what we are, and what we shall always be.
I was often asked, particularly in London, how we have allowed ourselves to be ruled by a foreigner, sixty years after the British have departed the shores, and their place usurped by this foreigner from another part of Europe.
It is not the kind of question an Indian likes to be asked, for it is indeed a matter of shame to be ruled by a foreigner, and the only reply I could give was that our sade-sati is not over, and there are shameless people in India who call themselves Congressmen – and Congresswomen – who have forgotten their history and have become so de-culturised they have ceased to be Indians. We had similar Indians at the time of Akbar too, and history is repeating itself, but it is a temporary phenomenon. But this too shall pass, possibly sooner than you think!