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

By Jyotsna G. Singh | Go to book overview

Chapter 1

Discoveries, encounters, spectacles: colonial beginnings

I

a people presented themselues to mine eyes, cloathed in linnen garments, somewhat low descending, of a gesture and garbe as I may say, maidenly and well nigh effeminate;…whose use in the [East India] Companies affaires occasioned their presence there.

Truth to say, mine eyes unacquainted with such objects, took vp their wonder and gazed; and this admiration the badge of a fresh Trauailar, bred in mee the importunity of a Questioner: I asked what manner of people those were, so strangely notable and notably strange? Reply was made, they were Banians, a people forraigne to the knowledge of the Christian world; their Religion, Rites, and Customes, sparingly treated of by any.

(Henry Lord, a Minister attached to the East India Company Factory at Surat, 1630:B-B1) 1

When the East India Company was granted its charter in 1600, the image of “India, ” often conflated with the “Indies, ” had already become a part of the collective European imagination. Images of India did not converge on a single geographic entity, but proliferated in a range of associations drawn from Columbus’s misnaming of the Americas as the “Indies” to the “wonderfull fame” of the Mogul king, Jehangir, and his ancestors, who were the descendants of the fabled conquerer, Tamburlaine. In fact, most accounts of India and other non-European lands, described by Samuel Purchas as “uncouth countries of the World, ” were shaped by an informal repertoire of conventions and methods. In his Preface to his monumental anthology, Purchas, His Pilgrimes, Purchas (1625) articulates his interest in recapitulating the “Rarities of Nature” and the “extraordinary Wonders, which God’s providence hath therein effected according to his good and just

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