Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Macaulay , Pioneer of Indian Modernization- Zareer Masani

After the history books in school where one became acquainted with British officials Robert Clive, Warren Hastings, William Bentinck, Thomas Macaulay - I revisited that part of my history again thanks to Harsha who insisted that I read about Macaulay. Zareer Masani's book recreates the person that Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859) was and the impact he made (if I am writing this blog in English and if you're an Indian reading it in English, we have Macaulay to thank for as the blurb on the book goes - he was the champion of making English the medium of instruction and introducing western education in schools in India). Macaulay learned languages at a rapid pace, memorised many details, read a lot, wrote abundantly, spoke voluminously, convincingly, had a vision and worked as hard as any to rise from a common and humble background to the higher echelons of British society. He served as Secretary at War and as Paymaster General. In later years he was a regular on the list of the Queen's parties.

Macaulay apparently showed signs of his extraordinary talent in his childhood - and Masani begins his story being known as Clever Tom. He must have done more than the average clever things but one thing he could do well was write very convincingly. He wrote much to his sisters, of whom Hannah and Margaret, were very close to him and from their letters Masani recreates the man from his private writings. A bachelor all his life, Macaulay spent much time in the company of his sisters, even forcing Hannah to accompany him to india where she met her husband Trevelyan. A sharp mind, a powerful speaker, a clear thinker and a belligerent attitude made Macaulay scale the highs of officialdom without any special connections with the higher classes. His Indian trip earned him much money and he was finally a rich man from his travels, his posts in the Government, his own prudence with money and to top it all, royalties and advances from publishers for his writings - a collection of poems and his magnum opus, 'History', which apparently sold next only to the Bible those days, selling upwards of 100, 000 copies! Staggering stuff.

Anyway Macaulay had some fine arguments about educating the locals in India as he felt that the British should not fear loss of control over the locals - it is better to educate them, he argued. And from that line of thought emerged the Minute which proposed English as a medium of instruction and which reduced the barriers between not just Indians themselves, but Indians and the British and now the world. It is interesting to see India through the eyes of the British official - his trip to Ooty from Chennai taking some months as he had to be carried over in a palanquin. His exposure to the double standards and hypocricy of the babus, his dislike of Indian food and fruit, even culture, and funnily his quick adjustment to the Indian weather and food - he fell ill only once, a mild fever that lasted a few hours.

Macaulay was an intelligent man and craved for intelligent company and conversations and certainly did not suffer fools. Among the people he really loved were his two sisters, of whom Margaret died pretty early when he was in India, and Hannah who was his companion for most of his life. There seems to be no love interest in his life. A lonely life otherwise, one that he filled with work, books, writing and conversations, Macaulay made some hefty contributions especially in India. He played a big role in introduction of English and western concepts in Indian education, replacement of Persian by English as official language and trained English speaking Indians as teachers. His Minute on Indian Education in February 1935 is a famous document which is still discussed and researched. His contribution to the Penal Code as Member of the Law Commission was also significant. Much of his Penal Code is followed in British colonies till date.

For someone so well read, well spoken and intelligent Macaulay was considered uncouth by the high society in London. He did not care much for them either, preferring to dine quietly with his friends and family. But good to see things from the other point of view. What amazes me is the ease with which all these foreign powers came, mingled, settled down and then ruled. Bribe a few, fight a few, and they were in. And started controlling kingdoms, cultures. Fascinating people. I found many names that are now used for places - Auckland, Lansdowne were two of them.

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