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Mysteries of the vanishing Indus

Another chapter of the Indus book, due to travel to song circle. A lot of it is just the author going on a pathetic boat ride up the river. Cheap falling-apart boat, depressing and depressed river with little water in it.

In 1635, the English couldn't sell anything to the Sindh. The passage is unclear, so Italian goods might have sold, but not English ones; they had to trade silver for Indian cloth.

Anyone with a classical education knew of the Indus, but the British didn't know much *about* the Indus for a surprisingly long time. Even after the Ganges had been thoroughly subjected and exploited, Company maps didn't even have the right mouth for the Indus, let alone stuff on the valley or source.

Eventually they fixed that and conquered that valley too, to much actual moral outrage back home. And disasters, as well; troops were shocked that the virgins of Kabul did not strew their path with flowers in gratitude for overthrowing their native rulers. The river turned out to not be as navigable as boosters had claimed, either. But the 1857 "Mutiny" turned public support back to India, and the Sindh (lower Indus) and Punjab (upper, loosely speaking) had been 'loyal'.

Much damming occurred. Not one drop of water should be wasted in flowing out into the Arabian sea! So dams and canals were built, water was diverted ot wheat and cotton fields in the north... and away from rice fields and mangrove swamps (with shrimp) in the south, which got invaded by ocean salt instead. The delta shrank from 3500 to 250 square km. Farmers turned into fishermen. And Pakistan has continued the trend, plus extra sewage.

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Feb. 24th, 2013 08:26 pm (UTC)
Western, and especially Protestant, ignorance of India, as compared with China, is quite an extraordinary feature of the early modern age. Where China is concerned, Chinese history and philosophy were being debated - and not in a foolish way either - in French printed books as early as 1680, thanks to the extraordinary activity of those Jesuits, but also thanks to busy merchants in Manila and Formosa and other half-way houses dealing with real Chinese on a daily basis. On the other hand, the British had to wait till they had actually conquered Bengal to discover Sanskrit, Sanskrit literature and Sanskrit theatre. (I assume you heard of Sir William Jones.) There were exceptions - the Portuguese were fairly au fait with native society, and a Jesuit published a Sanskrit grammar in Rome in something like 1700. But the issue, it seems to me, was that the Europeans in general had a short-cut to dealing with influential people in any Muslim-dominated or Muslim-influenced state. Any Western traveller or expedition could hire an Arab speaker as a translator and get on fairly usefully anywhere where the Koran was understood. China, as it happens, had no Muslim class of any significance to serve as go-between, and so Chinese and Western merchants and emissaries had to deal with each other face to face. It is interesting that at the same time as Sir William Jones' first translations stunned the Western world, a similar shock - this time not unmixed with disgust - greeted the first translation of the Zend-Avesta. Enlightenment sages simply did not want to believe that the "enlightened sage" Zoroaster (for an Enlightenment idea of him, look at Mozart's Sarastro) actually was an Oriental religious leader with a lot of deities and taboos and stuff. The translator was charged with faking the work and had to defend himself.
Feb. 24th, 2013 08:50 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I've heard of Jones.
I didn't mention the author saying that the British were initially kicked out of the Indus region by the Portuguese (later denials of service were by the Muslim rulers). And obviously the Portuguese had some west Indian, err, west coast of Indian, presence with e.g. Goa.

Interesting idea regarding Muslim intermediaries.

Of course as far as history goes, everything I've read seems to point to a huge difference in native sources if not attitudes between China and India.


Damien Sullivan

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