A general theory of India

The standard travel writer’s summary of India is that it’s a mixture of medieval and modern. But it’s not. That’s a lazy, historically illiterate cliche, which is at the same time both too harsh and too generous.

It’s too harsh, because even the most archaic values and standards of Indian society are superior to those of European medieval society. A much more appropriate comparison would be to our “early modern” period: the 1500s-1700s.

It’s also too generous, in assuming that India has any modern element mixed in. Just because it has 21st century technology, doesn’t mean that it has any 21st century values. Its society is not just partly early modern: it’s entirely early modern.

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Jhansi and Gwalior

It’s impossible to write about my visits to the cities of Jhansi and Gwalior without first explaining the historical reasons why I would be interested in them. The first part of what follows is therefore a brief-ish and opinionated summary of what Wikipedia, that bastion of neutrality, calls the “Indian Rebellion of 1857“, but is traditionally known in British historiography as the Indian Mutiny. Feel free to skip it if you just want to read about me wandering around some forts.

Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi, one of the leaders of the 1857 Indian Mutiny

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Delhi Tomb Review

If you ever visit Delhi, you’ll probably want to see some tombs. But which tombs are the best? I’ve been to most of them now, so I can give you the lowdown.

 

HAUZ KHAS

Hauz Khas’s calligraphic decoration is in dire need of conservation work. But you can get a good thin crust pizza next door.

Where: About 10km south of central Delhi. The yellow metro line goes to Green Park or Hauz Khas stations but both are 10 minutes’ walk to the complex itself. Have fun asking people for directions, as the whole area is called Hauz Khas as well so you’ll just confuse them.

Who: Firuz Shah Tughlaq (1309-1388), Sultan of Delhi.

Tomb features: The tomb is part of a larger archaeological site, the remains of a complex built by Sultan Alauddin Khilji (reigned 1296-1316) and renovated by Firuz Shah Tughlaq. So there’s a whole bunch of old ruins to look at. And a stagnant reservoir. Next to it there’s a modern complex of upmarket boutique shops, bars and restaurants, which I think is the main reason my friend who took me there likes it so much. And beyond that, there’s a deer park. The tomb itself isn’t much to look at from the outside. The ceiling’s ok, with some painted calligraphy, but it’s a poor state of repair.

Summary: If you like to combine your tomb viewing with a bit of clothes shopping and a latte, this is the tomb for you. Otherwise you can give it a miss.

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The Abbots Bromley Horn Dance

Ever since I accidentally bought a book about British folk traditions on Amazon a few years ago, I’ve been making an effort to attend a few of the more interesting ones. In the past two years I’ve been to the Haxey Hood Game, the Burning of Old Bartle in West Witton, Preston Guild Fair, and the York Mystery Plays.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance, in and around the Staffordshire village of Abbots Bromley.

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