Sunday, July 11, 2010

Delhi - Those Times and Lives - 1

In my post The Last Mughal, I had promised that I would serialize the portions of this book by William Dalrymple, depicting the daily lives of the Dilliwalas of those times - Indians and English.
This is the first in the series - Enjoy!

(Painting - Delhi Gate; taken from the Wikipedia)

During the early 1850s, it sometimes seemed as if the British and the Mughals lived not only in different mental worlds, but almost in different time zones.
The British were the first up: in the cantonments to the north of the Delhi civil lines, the bugle sounded at 3.30 a.m., a time when the poetic mushairas of the Mughals were still in full flow in the Red Fort, and while in the kothis of the courtesans in Chauri Bazar the dancing and ghazal singing were drawing to a close, and the girls were progressing to the more intimate stage of their duties. As the Mughal poets and courtesans raised their different tempos, sleepy, yawning Englishmen like Captain Robert Tytler, a fifty year old veteran of the 38th Native Infantry, or Lieutenant Harry Gambier, an eighteen-year-old Etonian newly arrived in India, would be sitting up in bed as their servants attempted to shave them and pull on their master's stockings. A long session of drill in the cantonment parade ground lay ahead.
Two hours later, by the time the sun was beginning to rise over the Yamuna, and the poets, the courtesans and their patrons were all heading back to bed to sleep off their long nights, not only the soldiers but also the British civilians would be up and about and taking their exercise. A woman like Harriet Tytler, the brisk and no-nonsense wife of Robert, or the English community's great beauty, the lovely young Annie Forrest, to whom Harry Gambier was already writing politely admiring letter, would have been back from their morning rides round the cantonment: in order to protect a lady's complexion, it was considered advisable to ride much after sunrise.
By six, Harriet would be busy supervising her large staff of servants in her screen-darkened bungalow. The first task was preparing for the enormous breakfast without which no English-man in Victorian India would consider starting his day: at the very least a selection of 'crumbled chops, brain cutlets, beef rissoles, devilled kidneys, whole spatchcocks, duck stews, Irish stews, mutton hashes, brawn of sheep's heads and trotters, not to mention an assortment of Indian dishes such as jhal-frazie, prawn do-piaza, chicken malai and beef Hussainee. Added to the list were a number of Anglo-Indian concoctions such as kidney toast Madras style, Madras fritters, and leftover meat minced and refried with ginger and chillies. Then of course there was the ultimate Anglo-Indian breakfast dish of kedgeree, a perennial favourite, even though in Delhi it was considered most inadvisable to eat fish in high summer*.
(*From the footnote: Overeating remained a leitmotif of British life in India right up to 1947. As late as 1926 Aldous Huxley was astonished by the sheer amount of food the imperial British were capable of consuming: 'Five meals a day - two breakfasts, luncheon, afternoon tea and dinner - are standard throughout India. A sixth is often added in the big towns where there are theatres and dances to justify late supper. The Indian who eats at most two meals a day, sometimes only one - too often none - is compelled to acknowledge his inferiority...The Indians are impressed by our gastronomic prowess. Our prestige is bound up with overeating. For the sake of empire the truly patriotic will sacrifice his liver and his colon, will pave the way for future apoplexies and cancers of the intestine...)

To be continued

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