Monday, 22 December 2014

British Nawobs and Craze for Indian jobs - late 1800s to early 1900s

British sahib and Indian nauker(servent)
British sahib on horse back.
British Bob receiving illegal money from Indian
In the late 1700s and early 1900s a cross section of the people  in England  frequently heard from the returning East India company  officials and others  a lot of exciting stories - a sort of rags to riches - of the  British officials  and their  Maharaja-like cozy, carefree life in India making  big  money in a short period  that would assure them of future security and  comfortable retired life back in England. This was further conformed when they themselves  ran into several fairly rich, retired  people of the British East India company, who after several years of work  in India, were now  living  quiet and easy life in big  English villas  or  palatial homes which they won't have dreamed of.

Consequently, driven by  uncontrollable desire and greed, numerous young and energetic British men wanted to sail to India at the earliest opportunity to get a job with the British company or estates owned by English gentlemen and their families.  So, there was a craze for Indian  jobs among the young people. They  strongly believed there were Eldorados out in the jungles of India and Indian palaces up for grabs.

Working in a tropical, hot country like India ravaged by hot sun and harsh monsoon season is not that easy. They had to visit jungles and live among the wild, ferocious animals, dangerous mosquitoes, poisonous snakes, insects, etc and strange people whose culture and languages were altogether different. Further, they had to overcome fatigue and , loneliness and  had to put in long hours of work in isolated places.  They had to take  extra precaution against  dreaded diseases  like smallpox, cholera, measles, not to speak of dehydration, etc failing of which means near death situation.

Rarely  British officials amassed as much money as Clive  or Lord Wellesley did. Robert Clive  was an expert in the art of corruption, extortion, double crossing, and illegal gratification, etc all rolled into one. In spite of this moral weakness and human frailty, he was an excellent administrator and military leader; extremely talented man. Some officials who made decent money did  live long enough to enjoy the fortune they had  earned in India. But many of them were not fortunate to survive that long. Any way, several lucky BEIC officials saved enough money to live comfortably back in England after retirement.

The funny thing about these  nouveau riches who made quick bucks in the jungles of India was that,  on their  return to England, they led a carefree life, seeking social prominence by obsequious behavior. They had risen to a decent status economically and socially in a conservative and stratified British society, but  failed to develop social skills  and norms appropriate for their new position. In many cases, they lacked social grace and manners  and flaunted their riches as quickly as they could and became broke in a short time. Like willow-the wisp, their dough disappeared as quickly as they earned. Many of them earned the nick name 'Nabobs' though their comfortable life was short.
Warren Hastings on the palanquin and Indian
For the early foreign merchant adventurers, establishing a foothold in India was equally difficult. The East India Company did not establish its first 'factory' or permanent depot until 1619 at Surat. The opportunity for the British to expand came in 1661, when Charles II married Catherine of Braganza and as part of his dowry gained Bombay from the Portuguese.

The commercial success of the British in India was impressive, and by the 18th century the previously strong positions held by the Portuguese, Dutch and French had been undermined. The profits of the slave trade across the Atlantic gave Britain a huge financial advantage over all its competitors. Contracts were made with Indian merchants and artisans for all kinds of luxury goods, in exchange for silver from Britain. By the 18th century, the East India company was shipping more Indian goods to Europe than any of its rivals. For Indian states, European settlement offered a mixture of advantages and disadvantages. Some local rulers resented the British presence, while others benefited from the coastal trades in pepper, tea and textiles. But the situation became Topsy turvy when these one time traders became masters of the land after 1757 when they got the best deal- some thing like  treasures of Ali Baba's cave - undivided Bengal and other adjacent  money spinning regions. At his time more British people wanted to take up jobs in India so that they they got back to England they could lead a comfortable life - like Indian Nabos (Nawobs) or Maharajahs.