History revisited

A glimpse into the life of an East India Company official posted in Sindh during British rule

Edward Eastwick was posted as the Assistant Political Agent of Upper Sindh.

Edward Eastwick (1814-1883) entered the service of the East India Company at the comparatively late age of 22, arriving in Bombay in the summer of 1836. This was not Eastwick’s first trip abroad. Following the unlikely advice of a family doctor and the "earnest solicitations" of his wife, Eastwick’s father Robert had taken his sickly 10-year-old son on a year-long opium-trading voyage to China in 1825. Eastwick caught the travel bug, and probably many others besides.

The privations of this early voyage may have gone some way to prepare Eastwick for his first posting in India as Assistant Political Agent, Upper Sindh After an exhausting two-month journey from Gujarat, by boat, camel and foot, Eastwick arrived at Sukkur on the bank of the Indus and set about securing lodgings.

With daily temperatures hovering around 40°C in the shade, and already suffering from regular bouts of fever, he rejected the canvas tents of the other officers and opted instead to have the long-abandoned tomb of a Mogul Princess cleared of rubbish for his own habitation. This action seems to have gone down very badly indeed with his new boss, the firebrand Scot, Andrew Ross Bell (1809-1841). Bell, suffering terribly from fever himself, was frequently absent from his post as he attempted to recover his health in the hills at Simla. Before one such sojourn he summoned his new recruit for what Eastwick imagined would be a formal handover of duties.

Life in Shikarpore

“I have sent for you,” Bell said, with a thoughtful and anxious air, “to beg you will lay the camel dák with care, and use every exertion in order that the produce of the vegetable garden, particularly green peas, may reach me as often as possible!!”

Eastwick – not, one senses, a natural gardener – had barely got started with the peas when he received orders to abandon his post and move on to the town of Shikarpore. His commodious tomb was to be replaced by a "miserable" bungalow, "densely populated by hordes of ants".

Enclosure to Selections from the records of the Bombay Government, No. XVII - New Series, Vol. II (1855)
Enclosure to Selections from the records of the Bombay Government, No. XVII - New Series, Vol. II (1855)

Entrusted from arrival with running the Shikarpore post office, treasury and prison, Eastwick was hard pressed to meet Bell’s other sundry requests. "You must therefore sink such a number of wells", began one, particularly demanding order, "as shall furnish an ample supply of water for 2,000 men and 500 camels." Even the most competent administrator would have been challenged, and Eastwick appears to have been anything but.

A constant refrain of the absent Bell was that his assistant seemed unable to keep accurate paperwork. As Bell noted in a hastily scrawled note of September 1840, the Shikarpore diary was "very incorrect’" With cholera ravaging his station, an escaped prisoner at large, and a drunken European clerk in residence who was apparently fond of charging around the cantonments at night with a drawn sword, the diary was probably the last thing on Eastwick’s mind.

 IOR/H/797, p. 360.
IOR/H/797, p. 360.

The parties thrown by local worthies may also have proved distracting for the young Lieutenant. Still in recovery for a concussion sustained when riding his camel under a low wooden arch, Eastwick received an invitation to the Minister of Hyderabad’s residence for a nach. Of the Sindhi dancing girls present, one "whose name was 'Moonbeam' (Mahtab) was rather pretty", he ruminated afterwards, "but on the whole, there was no great risk of being fascinated".

WD485 A natch girl (Moonbeam?) of Shikarpore, Sindh - Thomas Postans - c.1838
WD485 A natch girl (Moonbeam?) of Shikarpore, Sindh - Thomas Postans - c.1838

This article first appeared on British Library's Untold Lives blog.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

Play

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.