The Brown Sahib has Brexited


The Brown Sahib has Brexited

Illustration: Saachi Mehta/ Arré

o join me along with the rest of the world, as we ring the death knell of what is left of the British Empire. Now that the pound has gone to the dogs, the creditworthiness of the nation is in shreds, and John Oliver has made them the laughing stock of the internet, Britain seems also to have lost its famed humour. Even the irony of declaring its independence, while having a history of robbing others of theirs through old-fashioned despotism over the last couple of centuries, hasn’t really set in. Add to that growth rates and a shit football team. It’s time to conclude that the sun, in a country that’s wetter than a <insert indecent metaphor here>, has set.

It’s easy to be facetious. Indeed, it must reinvigorate an entire sub-genre of comedy. A Monty Python sketch, maybe? It’s only fitting that the movement to leave the Union was lead by Boris Johnson, a man who said, “My chances of being PM are about as good as the chances of finding Elvis on Mars, or my being reincarnated as an olive.” And now, he is a favourite of the bookies to succeed David Cameron as the prime minister of the UK. (Meanwhile, Ireland, known for its love of Swedish females and Scotland, for Scotch whisky that ages Indian uncles by another 18 years, may secede from Britain. The stiff upper lip has yet to soften, but the cracks are already showing.)

In these desperate times, one can’t help but look back at the glory days of the Empire: scheming Pommies discovering another stretch of land to loot and plunder, none more profitable than India. Arriving in the early 1600s, as a group of merchants, incorporated as the East India Company, the British undertook what some might call the costliest language education and railroad project in history. On the East India Company website, their 200-year rule is summed up in two sentences: “They were explorers, traders, innovators. They took risks, they broke new ground and they sometimes got it wrong.”

They sometimes got it wrong? Say, that’s a rather pithy euphemism for willfully imposing social and economic degradation at an unprecedented scale. Directly as a result of British policy, India saw over fifteen major famines, lost tens of millions of lives, and was reduced to less than a twentieth of the world GDP, from accounting for over a quarter of it, in the 1700s. And then they go and sell “limited edition” silver coins with inscriptions of the Salt March, the Quit India Movement, and Indian Independence, commemorating Gandhi. To say they sometimes got it wrong is the equivalent of calling Islamic State beheadings a surgical malpractice.

During the time of the India Brexit, Sir John Strachey, a high-ranking civil servant, opined that there was no concept of an Indian nation or country in the past; nor would there be one in the future. He believed we were so vastly divided that he went on to say, “You might with as much reason and probability look forward to a time when a single nation will have taken the place of the various nations of Europe.” Strachey Sir must rank today as one of the daftest persons in history, even worse than Thomas Midgley Jr, who after inventing leaded gasoline and the first CFC, contracted polio, and was strangled to death by a complicated system of pulleys he invented, to help others lift him out of bed. Notwithstanding that, if one were to pick the most prized turd from the shitpile that was colonialism in India, it would be this acute identity crisis among a significant section of our demographic.

These days, of course, toothpastes advertise charcoal, salt, neem, and other herbs, which as you might have guessed were the native solution anyway.

While the British chose to leave in 1947, they did leave behind the brown sahibs. Lord Macaulay defined them aptly, way back in 1835, as “a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals and in intellect”. The specimen is easily identifiable. He will talk English, walk English, think English, and even poop English. Indeed, we have prioritised the comforts of sitting on a chair, such as something one might find in their living rooms while browsing the funny pages, over a straightened rectum.

The brown sahib is a sucker for old-fashioned English aesthetics. Indeed, he identifies wisdom only if it appeals to his refined sensibilities. What good did we have until the British introduced us to science, philosophy, reason, and even dental hygiene? Even a blind man knows not to listen to the British about oral care, but not the brown sahib. He deemed toothpaste, quite possibly, the best thing since sliced bread. Even while knowing that the magic ingredient in the white elixir, fluoride, was used in pesticides. It took until the late 1970s, when several of this nation’s children were blinded and crippled in the most unfortunate manner, that it caused mild introspection. These days, of course, toothpastes advertise charcoal, salt, neem, and other herbs, which as you might have guessed were the native solution anyway. Having been proved a spectacular fool, one might expect some humility and restraint, but unsurpassable confidence is integral to the brown sahib. He continues to solider on, unflinchingly.

Currently, it’s the American enterprise that has the brown sahib enamoured. After all, they look rather similar and seem to have better teeth. American enterprise invented Squatty Potty, which helps correct the aforementioned latrine deficiency for only ₹2,200 a stool (no pun intended). American enterprise also tried to patent over 27 herbs used in native oral care. The courts rejected it, last year, but with the highest lawyers per capita in the world, we can be sure, it’s not the last we’ve heard of that idea. As eminent American historian Daniel J Boorstin, said, “The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.” It would seem like the British have passed on their colonialising to capable hands.

So, what can us, brown sahibs, tell Britain about leaving a Union? Be British. And be skeptical of dental advice. Especially, from the British.