Biased Literature, Historical fiction and An account of Robert Clive

Robert Clive and Mir Jafar after the Battle of Plassey, 1757
Robert Clive and Mir Jafar after the Battle of Plassey, 1757

(above image copyrighted to National Portrait Gallery, London

As is very well known, the historical account is seldom unbiased and true to the incidences and often full of propaganda to foster a given agenda. While recently going through an account of Robert Clive, the man renowned for establishing British Empire in India almost singlehandedly, the bias inherent in the literature hit me hard to the point of revulsion for any historial account by the non indian about the indian history. No doubt the academicians and writers from the west have have contributed immensely in archiving and cataloguing the Indian struggle for Independence and provided the often necessary third point of view, but i believe the “white man’s burden” hanging around their neck like a dead Albatross, often skews their perspective.

Sample these, some of the accounts ( rather propaganda) found in the children’s books about Robert Clive from Western authors.

On his childhood:

Robert Clive was the eldest of a large English family. He was born in Shropshire in the year 1725. At a very early age he showed that he had a strong will and a fiery passion, “flying out on every trifling occasion.” The story is still told in the neighbourhood of how “Bob Clive,” when quite a little boy, climbed to the top of a lofty steeple, and with what terror people saw him seated on a stone spout near the top. ( doesn’t this make him like some superhero )He was sent from school to school, but made little progress with his learning. Instead, he gained the character of being a very naughty little boy. True, one far-seeing master prophesied that he would yet make “a great figure in the world,” (of course at hindsight such comments can be attributed about any successful person, isn’t it ) but for the most part he was held to be a dunce. Nothing was expected from such a boy, and when he was eighteen his parents sent him off to India, in the service of the East India Company, to “make his fortune or die of a fever.” ( bollywod kinda plot? )

On the siege of Arcot:

Arcot was sixty-five miles away. The fort was known to be garrisoned by 1100 men, but Clive marched bravely forth. During the march a terrific storm arose. The rain swept down in a deluge on the little army, the lightning played around them, the thunder pealed over their heads; but they pushed on through it all, ( kidding me! sure they did march 😛 ) undaunted in their desperate undertaking. Tidings of their fearless endurance reached the town before them. A panic seized the native garrison: they abandoned the fort. Not a shot was fired, and Clive with his 500 men entered the city in triumph. ( really, did all the mighty Rajput soldiers with all the hubris about their loyalty and might, so pathetic in their duties, that they gave up the house of their master without a wielding a single sword? )The young boy-captain had already won a deathless renown. ( Reportedly, Clive was aged 25 at the time )

If such an account of the history on one front showcases their kinsfolk in a superhero mode, they undermine at the same time our respect for the indian fighters. Read this.

It was not likely that the spirited little army should be left in undisputed possession of Arcot, and Clive now prepared for an inevitable siege. Soon 10,000 men had swarmed into the place, hemming in the garrison on every side. Days grew to weeks, and the ready resource of Clive alone saved the situation. The handful of men—European and native—caught the spirit of their leader, and each became a hero. History contains no more touching instance of native fidelity than that related of the men who came to Clive, not to complain of their own scanty fare, but to propose “that all the grain should be given to Europeans, who required more nourishment than the natives of Asia. The thin gruel, strained away from the rice, would do for them,” they said. With such as these Clive held the fort for fifty days…

Why this outrage at such pieces of history one might ask. Therein lies the point i would reply. All of us can recount how our history teachers taught us in our childhood the indian way of treating the “atithi-devo bhavah”. That despite all the troubles and pain we underwent, we still respected and helped the white folks. Thats exactly what the Whites wanted us to learn; and trained our teahcers to teach. Be deluded in the opium fumes of your own goodness, and do nothin to fight. And thats exactly why we need to knock on the doors of history, again. and Again. To revise.


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