that then controlled South and Central America was licensed by the Crown and was essentially a form of Elizabethan state-sanctioned organised crime controlled by the oligarchs of Whitehall and Charing Cross.
The status of the English at the Mughal court in this period is perhaps most graphically illustrated by one of the most famous images of the period, a miniature by Jahangir’s master artist, Bichitr. The conceit of the painting is how the pious Jahangir preferred the company of Sufis and saints to that of powerful princes. This was actually not as far-fetched as it might sound: one of Roe’s most telling anecdotes relates how Jahangir amazed the English envoy by spending an hour chatting to a passing holy man he encountered on his travels:
a poor silly old man, all asht, ragd and patcht, with a young roague attending on him. This miserable wretch cloathed in rags, crowned with feathers, his Majestie talked with about an hour, with such familiaritie and shew of kindnesse, that it must needs argue an humilitie not found easily among Kings … He took him up in his armes, which no cleanly body durst have touched, imbracing him, and three times laying his hand on his heart, calling him father, he left him, and all of us, and me, in admiration of such a virtue in a heathen Prince.61
Before long it had eclipsed Surat as the main centre of EIC operations on the west coast, especially as the rowdy English were becoming less and less welcome there: ‘Their private whorings, drunkenesse and such like ryotts … breaking open whorehouses and rackehowses [i.e. arrack bars] have hardened the hearts of the inhabitants against our very names,’ wrote one weary EIC official. Little wonder that the British were soon being reviled in the Surat streets ‘with the names of Ban-chude* and Betty-chude† which my modest language will not interpret’.
The country about being overspread with Paganism, the Custom of Wives burning with their deceased Husbands is also practised here. Mr Channock went one Time with his guard of Soldiers, to see a young widow act that tragical Catastrophe, but he was so smitten with the Widow’s Beauty, that he sent his guards to take her by Force from her Executioners, and conducted her to his own Lodgings. They lived lovingly many Years, and had several children. At length she died, after he had settled in Calcutta, but instead of converting her to Christianity, she made him a Proselyte to Paganism, and the only Part of Christianity that was remarkable in him, was burying her decently, and he built a Tomb over her, where all his Life after her Death, he kept the anniversary Day of her Death by sacrificing a Cock on her Tomb, after the Pagan Manner.87
This young man of average height, aged about 24 or 25 years old … was noted for indulgence in all kinds of debauchery and for his revolting cruelty. The women of the Gentiles [Hindus] are in the habit of bathing in the Ganges. Siraj was informed by his henchmen of those who were of some beauty. He would send his henchmen in small boats to carry them off while they were still in the water. He had been seen many times, when the river was in flood, to intentionally ram the ferry boats to jolt them, or make them spring a leak, in order to experience the cruel pleasure of frightening a hundred or more people – men, women and children – many of whom would not know how to swim and would be certain to perish by drowning.
This Prince … made a sport of sacrificing to his lust almost every person of either sex to which he took a fancy, or else he converted them without scruple into so many objects of the malignity of his temper, or the frolics of his inconsiderate youth … He neglected and daily insulted those ancient commanders that had served so faithfully and so bravely Aliverdi Khan, so that intimidated now by his grandson’s character and foul language, they did not dare to open their mouths, or even take breath in his presence. Most of them, shocked at the dishonourable expressions made use of in speaking to them, and incensed at the insolence of the upstarts that had taken possession of his mind, were so far from offering advice upon the posture of affairs that they were generally ill-intentioned and wished to see his downfall, while he made it a point not to ask anyone’s opinions.
As for himself, Siraj was ignorant of the world, and incapable of taking a reasonable line of action, being totally destitute of sense and penetration, and yet having a head so obscured with the smoke of ignorance, and so giddy and intoxicated with the fumes of youth and power and dominion, that he knew no distinction between good and bad, nor betwixt vice and virtue. His imprudence was so great that, in the middle of a military expedition, he would set daggers in the hearts of his bravest and ablest commanders by his harsh language, and his choleric disposition. Such usage naturally rendered them regardless, and utterly neglectful … In time he became as hated as Pharaoh. People on meeting him by chance used to say, God save us from him!
Ghulam Hussain Khan
He was given the titles Ali Gauhar and Shah Alam, Exalted of Lineage, Lord of the World, and forced to take an interest in politics as well as his first and most personal passion of poetics. But it was still literature that lay at the heart of his world. Under the pen name ‘Aftab’, the prince became a prolific and respected author in Urdu, Persian, Punjabi and especially Braj Bhasha, in which language he wrote copious, passionate odes to Lord Krishna, Shiva and to goddesses Kali and Sarasvati; many of his works were later gathered at his own request in a diwan (collection) he entitled the Nadirat-i-Shahi. He also later composed a dastan romance entitled the Aja’ib al-Qasas.82 Shah Alam was a Sufi by inclination.
Ghulam Hussain Khan gives a moving account of Law’s brave last stand and his determination, having seen the Emperor deserted by all, and betrayed even by his commander-in-chief, to battle to the death: ‘M. Law, with a small force, and the few pieces of artillery that he could muster, bravely fought the English, and for some time he managed to withstand their immense numerical superiority. The handful of troops that followed M. Law, discouraged by the flight of the Emperor and tired of the wandering life they had hitherto led in his service, turned about and fled. M. Law, finding himself abandoned and alone, resolved not to turn his back; he bestrode one of the guns, and remained firm in that posture, waiting for the moment of death.’
Moved by Law’s bravery, the Company commander, John Carnac, dismounted, and without taking a guard, but bringing his most senior staff officers, walked over on foot, and pulling their ‘hats from their heads, they swept the air with them, as if to make him a salaam’, pleading with Law to surrender: ‘You have done everything that can be expected from a brave man, and your name shall undoubtedly be transmitted to posterity by the pen of history,’ he begged. ‘Now loosen your sword from your loins, come amongst us, and abandon all thoughts of contending with the English.’
Law answered that if they would ‘accept this surrendering himself just as he was, he had no objections; but that as to surrendering himself with the disgrace of his being without a sword, it was a shame he would never submit to; and that they must take his life if they were not satisfied with the condition. The English commanders, admiring his firmness, consented to his surrendering himself in the manner he wished to; after which the Major shook hands with him, in their European manner, and every sentiment of enmity was instantly dismissed from both sides.
But perhaps Shuja’s most feared crack troops were a large force of 6,000 dreadlocked Hindu Naga sadhus, who fought mainly on foot with clubs, swords and arrows, ash-painted but entirely naked, under their own much-feared Gossain leaders, the brothers Anupgiri and Umraogiri.
It was at this point that it became clear, as Pearse noted, ‘that both gentlemen were unacquainted with the modes usually observed on these occasions’; indeed, neither of the two most powerful British intellectuals in Bengal seemed entirely clear how to operate their pistols. Francis said he had never fired one in his life, and Hastings said he could only remember doing so once. So both had to have their weapons loaded for them by their seconds who, being military men, knew how to operate firearms.
At the end of ten years’ captivity, one of these prisoners, James Scurry, found that he had forgotten how to sit in a chair or use a knife and fork; his English was ‘broken and confused, having lost all its vernacular idiom’, his skin had darkened to the ‘swarthy complexion of Negroes’ and he found he actively disliked wearing European clothes.126
James Kirkpatrick, who was in the second column, had gazed across the river and seen Tipu’s magnificent Mughal-style garden palace, ‘Lall Baug, in all its glory’, the day before: ‘Alas!’ he wrote to his father, ‘it fell sacrifice to the emergencies of war.’ The palace was made a hospital for the wounded and the beautiful garden ‘toppled to supply materials for the siege. Whole avenues of tall and majestic cypresses were in an instant laid low, nor was the orange, apple, sandal tree or even the fragrant bowers of rose and jasmine spared in this indiscriminate ruin. You might have seen in our batteries fascines of rose bushes, bound with jasmine and picketed with pickets of sandal wood. The very pioneers themselves became scented …’
The East India Company limped on in its amputated form for another fifteen years when its charter expired, finally quietly shutting down in 1874, ‘with less fanfare,’ noted one commentator, ‘than a regional railway bankruptcy’.
Its brand name is now owned by two brothers from Kerala who use it to sell ‘condiments and fine foods’ from a showroom in London’s West End.
The Company’s conquest of India almost certainly remains the supreme act of corporate violence in world history. For all the power wielded today by the world’s largest corporations – whether ExxonMobil, Walmart or Google – they are tame beasts compared with the ravaging territorial appetites of the militarised East India Company. Yet if history shows anything, it is that in the intimate dance between the power of the state and that of the corporation, while the latter can be regulated, the corporation will use all the resources in its power to resist.