Daily Archives: 11 January 2007

Indian Travel Tales from Vilayet, 1765

The [French] houses in the country are built of stone slabs, with roofs of terra cotta tiles. As the bamboo doesn’t grow here the scaffolding for the roofs is built of wood. The poorer classes live on a diet of broth and barley-bread and wear coarse wool or clothes woven from hemp, of which ropes are also spun. Most of them cannot afford leather shoes. Paris, the capital of France, is several hundred miles from either Calais or Nantes. Frenchman and foreigner alike sing high praises of the buildings and gardens of that city, its artistic innovativeness, scientific and technological advancement, the polished manners, cultivation, well-spokenness and wit of its inhabitants. In these respects it far surpasses all other cities in the Firinghee world.

The French claim that they have taught music and horsemanship to the English. Wealthy Englishmen send their children to French schools to polish up their manners and taste. The French say that the present excellence of the English in the arts and sciences, trade and industry, is the result of French education; in the past, when they lacked this education, they were ignorant like the mass of Indians. However, even the French admit that the English have always been outstanding soldiers.

The French say that the lower classes of Englishmen do not go to foreign countries to seek trade or employment because, being stupid and without any skills or business acumen, they would fail to earn a decent livelihood….

The [Scottish] Highlanders wear a jacket and a cap, but neither breeches nor boots. The lower part of the body is covered by a skirt called a kilt, but the knee is bare and cotton stockings are worn on the legs. Instead of shoes they wear wooden sandals fastened to the feet with leather straps. They carry a double-edged sword. I was told that their courage was beyond compare. But they are also simple-minded and doltish.

A Highlander who had gone to London was sightseeing about the bazaars, followed by a curious crowd of Englishmen and boys. One of the Englishmen in sport lifted the skirt of the Highlander’s kilt from behind. He was overcome with shame at this, but at the same time his wrath was inflamed and with a stroke of his sword he cut off the offender’s head. The Police and townspeople surrounded him but could not force him to surrender. He undauntedly stood his ground, prepared either to kill or die: He wounded many people, and on whichever side he charged they fled before him. No one had the courage to approach him, far less seize him. Word of this strange situation eventually reached the King, who sent a courtier to summon him. The Courtier went before him and said, ‘His Majesty has sent for you.’ On hearing the King’s name the Highlander immediately bowed his head and followed the royal envoy. When he appeared in the royal presence the King asked why he had heedlessly murdered a man. The Highlander knelt on one knee, according to the custom of Vilayet, bowed his head and after making obeisance, replied in a respectful tone, ‘When that man exposed a shameful part of my body I felt my honour had been ridiculed, and therefore in a state of rightful anger I struck him dead. But when I received your royal summons I hastened to surrender myself to you and I feel proud to have been permitted to kiss your threshold. Otherwise none would have been able to capture me alive.’ The King was impressed by this simple and courageous man’s defence and pardoned him.

There are amusing stories about the English too, particularly their country people, who are ignorant and stupid. One of them went to town where he was feted by a friend. He greatly relished a sheep’s liver kebab, which he had never tasted before, and took down its recipe. Before returning home he went to a butcher and bought a sheep’s liver, which he tied in a napkin and carried in his hand. A pie dog came up from behind, snatched the liver, napkin and all, and scampered off. The rustic shouted jeeringly after the dog, ‘You silly beast, you’ve got the raw liver, but the recipe is in my pocket!’.

Such stories only prove the truth that Allah did not create all five fingers equal. There is no country in the world where there are no stupid and ignorant people. In fact, everywhere they are the majority.

SOURCE: Other Routes: 1500 Years of African and Asian Travel Writing, edited by Tabish Khair, Martin Leer, Justin D. Edwards, and Hanna Ziadesh (Indiana U. Press, 2005), pp. 322, 325-326

See Wikipedia for the various meanings of Vilayet.

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