Friday, April 1, 2011

Show thy affection or else

April 1.  This is the day upon which we are reminded of what we are on the other three hundred and sixty-four.  - Mark Twain, Pudd'nhead Wilson, 1894
Punch 1904 admiring the Hindi version
I recently came to learn of the Hindi Punch  and spent some time browsing the 1904 issue. This Indian version of Punch magazine was produced in Bombay and was even acknowledged by the venerable original.

"...and what useful service, wherever reform is needed, our Indian cousin is always ready and willing to render. In some instances he appears to be a very hot Punch, steaming in fact, but that is a matter of climate. The Baron tenders congratulations on the present volume, and, on behalf of Mr .Punch himself, wishes Hindi Punch continued success in the future."
Punch magazine gave birth to the word "cartoon" in June 1843 when they announced plans to publish a collection of their designs " be called Punch's Cartoons!" - derived from the French cartone which referred to strong heavy paper on which artists made sketches.

A little research showed that Punch had considerable influence  in British India. Apparently there was also "The Oudh Punch", "The Delhi Punch", "The Punjab Punch", two versions of "The Indian Punch", "Urdu Punch", "Gujarati Punch", "Parsi Punch", "The Indian Charivari" and a "Hindu Punch". The last apparently got in the way of the law of the land and was declared seditious in 1909. Sure enough, researchers with access to such material have produced erudite books on the subjects of satire and sedition. 
Hindi Punch on war expenditure

Much of the Hindi Punch of 1904 concentrates on social problems, war, taxes and the sops given to Indians. A recurring theme is the expenditure incurred in the Tibetan expedition of Younghusband. Satire was obviously an excellent way of reaching out to people in the face of anti-dissent/sedition laws.  Sedition was broadly defined as "dissaffection" for the government, or in other words the lack of "affection"! There are a number of interesting historical documents on the Internet Archive and these include "A treatise on the law of sedition ... in British India" (1911), "Law relating to press and sedition" (1915), "Indian States (Protection Against Disaffection)  Act (1922)" and "Sedition Committee Report 1918".
A. O. Hume

Looking at the text of  some of these pieces, it seemed like my favourite British Indian ornithologist, A. O. Hume must have been a "seditionist" and sure enough I found evidence of such allegations. Hume's considered Government as a means for ensuring public welfare and this brought him into serious conflict with his employers and their elite Indian Rajah friends. A pamphlet produced by an organization of "Indian Patriots" aimed to show that Hume and his Indian National Congress were seditious. It includes a section by a local chieftain about democracy being inappropriate for India. It is interesting to note that only one Indian under Hume's command  deserted him  during 1857 and after the rebellion, he never punished anyone for it and followed a philosophy of forgiveness. Hume  subsequently wrote that force would never help any government:
... assert its supremacy as it may at the bayonet's point, a free and civilized government must look for its stability and permanence to the enlightenment of the people and their moral and intellectual capacity to appreciate its blessings
Hume senior, a Punch favourite
Towards the end of his service in India, Hume made a rather remarkable statement in an 1887 letter to the Public Commission of India  — "I look upon myself as a Native of India."  I think about that quote whenever a government car tries to get ahead of the traffic with flashing lights with some government official lurking inside the dark tinted windows. Unlike public servants in most countries, Indian government officials continue the British practice of looking down upon the citizens and trying to distance themselves from the general public. Had the spirit of public service been inculcated after Independence, our governance (at the very least, public transport and healthcare systems) could have been greatly improved, apart from saving a great deal of government expenditure and reducing the carbon footprint. And government expenditure brings us to the topic of A.O. Hume's father, Joseph Hume. After making a fortune in India, (in part contributed by remembering his chemistry, and figuring out how to dry  gunpowder that had gotten soggy) Joseph Hume purchased a seat for himself in the House of Commons and became a self-appointed guardian of tax-payer money - he constantly made calculations on how much money was lost in various transactions of the government and how it could be saved by cutting various costs. He was extremely vociferous in parliament - making him a favourite of Punch magazine. Around 1836 the sixpenny "groat" was replaced by a "fourpenny" coin - this was at the insistence of Joseph Hume who argued that the usual rate of a cab was fourpenny and that a six-penny would require a change of two which could not usually be returned. It was nicknamed after him as a "joey", and the horse-cab drivers were not happy about the loss of their two-penny tips. Punch magazine includes a homage to "Joe". Suggesting that a monument be built using the pennies that were saved they note "In those days, such attempts of Joseph Hume were considered nothing less than penny-wise disaffection and pound-foolish treason."
B H Hodgson
The intellectual element in British India seems to have always harboured ideas that stood independently of their employers, naturally easily meeting the commoners definitions of "sedition" and "contempt".  And it is not surprising that many of these were into natural history. Brian Hodgson went far beyond this, he was into serious Indological and Buddhist studies apart from nearly having "gone native". Living for a while with a Kashmiri woman in Nepal, he had two children by her who were sent to the Netherlands to avoid being stigmatized, however they did not live long. Hodgson described many of the birds and animals and when they had a local name, he often made use of it in their Latin names. Thus the Snow Partridge Lerwa lerwa got the name from the Tibetan name. He called the Pygmy Hog as Porcula salvania,  "little pig of the Sal forests". Hodgson spent a good deal of effort fighting Macaulay's idea of introducing English education in India. He wrote a series of essays and letters to the local press apart from distributing copies on his own. Titled the "Preeminence of the Vernaculars" he uses historic, philosophical and practical arguments suggesting that Macaulay's idea was ethically flawed. His arguments like those of Hume could easily have been dismissed as seditious, however it appears that these colonial laws applied only to Indian subjects.
Borders? I have never seen one.
But I have heard they exist
in the minds of some people
Board outside the Kon-Tiki museum, Oslo

Being students of nature, naturalists clearly saw that the rules made by humans were for convenience and any delineations  based on religious, economic, social, national and other boundaries were questionable - it is not surprising that they questioned so-called virtues such as "nationalism" or "patriotism". "Tell people that patriotism is bad and most of them will laugh and say: ‘Yes, bad patriotism is bad, but my patriotism is good!’" -Leo Tolstoy

It is interesting that sedition laws essentially aim to block criticism and dissent which are an essential part of large-scale rational democratic debate that would almost certainly result in conclusions that can be unfavourable to minorities, especially those in power. It has a cousin in religion called apostasy and in justice - contempt of court - another rather archaic idea that flies in the face of modern egalitarian ideals and rational thought. When rational channels are blocked - taking the irrational to an extreme - satire - reigns supreme.

Image credits: Punch and Hindi Punch - public domain courtesy of the Internet Archive. Hume, public domain, Hodgson, National Gallery - public domain image from Wikimedia Commons, Kon-Tiki board - taken by self.

Further reading

Monty Python's affectionate satire

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