Colonial Narratives/Cultural Dialogues: Discoveries of India in the Language of Colonialism

By Jyotsna G. Singh | Go to book overview

Introduction

The cause of my coming hither [to India] is for foure respects. First, to see the blessed face of your Maiesty [the Great Mogul, Jehangir], whose wonderfull fame hath resounded ouer all Europe & the Mahometan Countries…. Secondly to see your Maiesties Elephants, which kind of beasts I have not seen in any other country. Thirdly, to see your famous river Ganges, which is the Captaine of all the Riuer of the World. The fourth is this, to intreat your Maiesty that you should vouchsafe to grant mee your gracious Passe that I may trauell into the Country of Tartaria to the Citty of Samarkand, to visit the blessed Sepulcher of the Lord of the Corners (this is a title that is giuen to Tamburlaine in this Country in that Persian language…) whose fame by reason of his warres and victories is published ouer the whole world: perhaps he is not altogether so famous in his own country of Tartaria as in England.

(Thomas Coryate 1618:1st verso after B2v)

The “discovery” of India serves as a framing trope of this book. It begins with Thomas Coryate’s wonderstruck evocations of the Mogul court in the seventeenth century and concludes with Jawaharlal Nehru’s The Discovery of India, in which he defines the independent nation’s identity by “discovering” both its mythic past and its claims to Western modernity. Since the early modern period, this discovery motif has frequently emerged in the language of colonization, enabling European travelers/writers to represent the newly “discovered” lands as an empty space, a tabula rasa on which they could inscribe their linguistic, cultural, and later, territorial claims. Geographically speaking, the English discovery of Indian territory was mostly accomplished in the seventeenth century. Rhetorically, however, the trope of discovery took on shifting, multiple meanings within British colonial discourse, being constantly refurbished and mobilized in the service

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