Nirad C Chaudhuri (1897 – 1999) dedicated his book, The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian (1951), to the British Empire.
To the memory of the British Empire in India,
Which conferred subjecthood upon us,
But withheld citizenship.
To which yet every one of us threw out the challenge:
“Civis Britannicus sum”
Because all that was good and living within us
Was made, shaped and quickened
By the same British rule.
“Every one of us”? How modest of him to speak on behalf of all Indians.
Sure, the Bengali babu, Mr Chaudhuri, wanted desperately to be considered British. Civis Britannicus sum is the Latin for “I am a British citizen”. To each his own, I say. But to declare that what he feels to be true about himself to be the general condition is unwarranted. Everything that was good and living in him may have been made and shaped by the British rule but that hardly exhausts the possibilities for others. Much of what is good and alive in Indians predate the rape of India by Muslim and European invasions.
I believe it is too early to dismiss the British Empire as a memory. Indians are still under the subjecthood of dead Britishers — their proxies being the generations of politicians, police and bureaucrats that took over control in 1947 after the British formally departed. They administer a colonial raj as laid out in the Indian constitution.
This idea is, not surprisingly, absolutely abhorrent to most Indians who bristle at the suggestion that they are not really free. Indians love to believe that they are free and independent. The alternative is unthinkable because it would imply that they have been fooled. Mark Twain recognized that “it’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled.”
Incidentally, the autobiography by NCC is held in very high regard by the British. The wiki notes:
Over the years, the Autobiography has acquired many distinguished admirers. Winston Churchill thought it one of the best books he had ever read. V. S. Naipaul remarked: “No better account of the penetration of the Indian mind by the West – and by extension, of the penetration of one culture by another – will be or now can be written.” In 1998, it was included, as one of the few Indian contributions, in The New Oxford Book of English Prose .
There’s something admirable about the British: they reward loyalty and recognize their most dedicated Indian supporters. The greatest of those loyal servants of the British Empire was undoubtedly Mr Mohandas Gandhi. They even made a hagiographic movie about him in 1982. It was a great propaganda success. Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi was nominated for 11 Oscars and won 8 of them. Pretty good show, eh?
Mr Chaudhuri also makes the cut. He was awarded the CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in 1992. No doubt, if he had been alive today, NCC would have lined up to return his Sahitya Akademi Award which he received in 1975 for his biography on Max Müller, Scholar Extraordinary. Of course, Herr Müller reviled India’s tradition, and that made him an appropriate hero for the British and their subjects.