White Mughals Revisited
William Darymple’s White Mughals (Darymple, 2003) ends with the lines ‘[that] the East and West are not irreconcilable and never have been. Only bigotry, prejudice, racism and fear drove them apart. But they have met and mingled in the past and they will do so again.’
White Mughals is a work of narrative history telling the tale of a British Resident in Hyderabad, James Achilles Kirkpatrick, who in the eighteenth century fell in love with and allegedly married the beautiful Khair-un-nissa, grand daughter to a rich and powerful nobleman of the Nizam of Hyderabad’s court. The two face conspiracies, blackmail and public outrage. The livid Governor General institutes an inquiry into Kirkpatrick’s indiscretion of ‘turning native’, eventually true love triumphs, albeit briefly. In a few years Khair-un-nissa sees her children sent off to England by their father, so they can be groomed to be the proper English ‘gentlefolk’ which would aid their progress in colonial India. Kirkpatrick dies soon after, and Khair-un-nissa left a widow and exiled from Hyderabad never hears from her children again.
August 2005 has seen the tragic love story that Darymple narrated of Hyderabad’s former British Resident re-created in Pakistan. The outrage over the Brigadier Durcan affair and how the incident has been articulated in the print and electronic media employs a similar discourse that earlier reflected British India’s disdain towards Anglo-Indian relations. Being the dominant power, the British were able to erect barriers to distinguish and defend an untarnished image of self as culturally pristine (Brumann, 1999). As Darymple explains the promiscuous mingling of races and ideas, modes of dress and ways of living, was something that was on no one’s agenda and suited nobody’s version of events (Darymple, 2003). That the inquiry report into Brigadier Durcan’s affair is quick to emphasize and subsequent accounts conscientious to repeat that there was no ‘sexual relationship’ between the British Defence Attache’ and his annonymous paramour, reminds us of the earlier years of the British Raj when all sides seemed, for different reasons, to be slightly embarrassed by particular ‘moments of crossover’. These were episodes most preferred to ignore a having never happened. As most have concluded when it is easier to see things in black and white, there is a great discomfort while designating such gray encounters—against one’s own self-identification of morality –as part of our respective histories.
In South Asia in particular the purity of race/nation/society/religion had to be maintained by disallowing intermarriages. Any marriages across race, religion, culture or nation were a violation of strict boundaries. The ‘zenana’ had remained the ‘essential space of Indian femininity’. Instances when the ‘zenana’ was violated in colonial times and the veil removed were therefore akin to the impregnation of the woman and had strong sexual connotations, for ‘…only after such a sanctum had been penetrated that the Anglo-Indian can claim to ‘know’ the Indian’ (Suleri: 1992:93). While the link between empire and sexuality continues to engage students of colonialism, what needs to be appreciated is that these relationships, whether formal or informal, consensual or exploitative, conversion or non-conversion resulted in the birth of children, and in the emergence of a hybrid or metis population (Caplan, 2001). There has been from earlier times an aversion by the ‘good Muslims’ of South Asia towards what they perceive as hybrids in their midst. As Treacher points out:
Social myths operate powerfully against mixed-race relationships and tend to focus on the mixing of blood. What we all know is that for a mix of blood to occur there has to be a mix of other fluids as well. The socially grounded myths are pervasive, they may be false but the operate in such a way that these myths structure our relationships with one another, and our relationships to ourselves. These myths have a social message and the strong injunction is not to mix up categories, that ‘pure’ blood should not be mixed with ‘tainted’ blood of the Other (Treacher, 2000: 100).
Brigadier Andrew Durcan like his predecessor in Darymple’s ill fated Kirkpatrick has been accused of behaviour ‘inappropriate with his status and position’. Like Kirkpatrick before him he faced an inquiry once he ‘lost the confidence’ of the (British) powers that be. ‘Tricked into’ what The Sun reports as ‘a close friendship by the attractive woman…
believed to be an undercover agent’, the hapless Brigadier is a pawn in the hands of ‘rogue elements within Pakistan’s intelligence services’ who plot their nefarious plans. Much like Sharaf un-Nissa and Durdana Begum, (Khair un-Nissa's mother and grandmother who were accused of scheming and encouraging the affair between Kirkpatrick and Khair-un-nissa) Pakistani intelligence agencies are held responsible of playing a remarkable role in forging the relationship and conspiring that the Brigadier and his beloved meet! What is interesting is that though in Pakistan the Inter Services Public Relations, Interior Ministry as well as the Information Ministey play a pass-the- buck game of who best would be able to comment on the issue, at no time do any of the offices deny the news reports that intelligence agencies might enlist the help of Pakistani women to enter into relationships to solicit information. Which of course is a complete change in morality by the custodians of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan who have been very concerned till now about how Pakistani women express their sexuality.
Islamabad however has turned into a cesspool of secrets over the past fortnight. The mystery woman in spite of tantalizing hints regarding her identity remains elusive. Every day she becomes more of the Salome of the seven veils in Islamabad’s popular imagination. The city’s opinion makers have busied themselves in spinning tales, playing guessing games around her personality and motives or trivializing her agency by giving her a moniker of a Weapon of Man’s Distraction. Others liken her to an alluring Mata Hari bringing in a whiff of intrigue, blackmail, and scandal to the tale. However what lies at the heart of the matter is the fundamental uneasiness of the British press (which reflects the anxieties of the British High Commission) to this episode of ‘togetherness in difference’. As Ien Ang has written elsewhere for those living in between (or as in this case choosing to bridge) Asia and the West.
We have still not escaped the clutches of thinking of the world around us in terms of identity, ethnic, national and otherwise. As a result, mixture is still often inevitably thought of and felt as a contamination, a breach of purity, an infringement of ‘identity’ (Ang, 2001:200).
The manner in which the whole episode has been sordidly worded and how a probable list of names (to identify the female protagonist of Brigadier Durcan’s love story) is exchanged by the Pakistani and British print media emphasizes that not much has changed over the years for Anglo-South Asia relationships. The catalog of ‘likely suspects’ in our local press shows how Pakistani women’s sexuality has been structured through the concept of ‘reputation’. This particular incident is only a hypothetical hook on which lies suspended the academic debate of the historical and societal encounter between Pakistan and Britain.