“I have travelled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country…”
That was India according to Macaulay – in 1835. He was addressing British Parliament. He then proposed to replace India’s ancient education system “for if the Indians think all that is foreign and English is good and greater, they will lose their self-esteem and become a truly dominated nation.”
That one move close to two centuries ago has repercussions today. This lasting bond that present-day India shares with colonial history was the theme of an exhibition ‘The British left-behind show’ inaugurated by N.Ram, editor-in-chief of The Hindu, here on Tuesday.
“India needs to recognise the inescapability of history. Without romanticising the Raj, it is possible to understand the centrality of the British rule to the evolution of modern-day India,” said Mr.Ram.
According to S.Muthiah, historian, the British have left behind a legacy which lingers on. “Whether we like it or not, every institution – from the Railways to the Army regiments – has colonial roots.”
The exhibition features a collection of what the British have left behind – furniture, personalities and their ideas.
Curiosities like a portable wash-basin, a kerosene operated refrigerator and hand operated fans; along with interesting tit-bits such as the origin of the slang OC from the words ‘On Company’s service’ or “the crook of a Governor”, Elihu Yale’s corrupt plunder of the Madras Presidency and the setting up of the Yale University with a part of the ill-gotten wealth are on display.
Steve Borgia, chairman and managing director of INDeco Hotels and Indologist, whose private collection is on display, said “Whether in India or Vancouver, these gentlemen officers were bent on preserving their identity as British subjects living abroad. Their empire was portable, and they took Britain with them wherever they went.”
According to P.M. Belliappa, president, Association of British Scholars, the collection portrays a slice of British life in Madras, which is now Chennai.
He also said that the exhibition which is part of the ‘Madras Week’ celebrations should encourage the community to care more about the city.
“It is not just about fun and games,” he said.
The exhibition will be open till August 30 between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. at the Lalit Kala Academy, Greams Road.