An Era of Darkness

”Conscious and deliberate bleeding of India….[was the] greatest crime in all history”

Will Durant

American philosopher and historian

‘An Era of Darkness’ or ‘The inglorious Empire’ is a book, by the eminent writer and politician Dr.Shashi Tharoor, which factually portrays the two centuries of British Colonial rule in India,. With his eloquent speech at Oxford union, on May 2015, making the case for ‘Britain owes reparations to her former colonies’, he has caught world attention on the topic and topped it off once and for all with this elaborate and gripping narrative.

Drawing largely from the historical accounts, anecdotes and quotes, Tharoor disproves the claims of the apologists of the imperial rule.

‘An era of darkness’ analyses the looting, extortion, violence and corruption carried out by the British colonial rule in India at the same time acknowledging its benefits. He points his cynicism to the claims that political unity, democracy, education and infrastructure development were the benefits of 200 year of colonial presence.

What I liked in the book

1) Presents proofs for his arguments with stats and anecdotes

Like someone said before, you cannot argue with statistics. Instead of rude and baseless rants, Tharoor abundantly presents irrefutable demographics. For instance to prove his point that the British unabashedly looted India he writes

‘At the beginning if the eighteenth century,…India’s share of world economy was 23 percent, as large as that of Europe put together…….By the time the British departed India, it had dropped to just over 3 percent’. ‘Britain’s rise of 200 years was financed by its depredations in India.’ he adds.

The book silences the apostles of imperial rule by presenting in abundance the exact numbers with regard to the amount of money extracted from India, the number of forced mililitary recruits and subsequent casualties, meagre development projects and so on.

2) Impeccable research

The astounding preciseness of arguments, which made Tharoor one of the best debaters, derives from the amount of research that he puts in. In ‘An era of darkness’, he presents the historical facts supported by a plethora of writings of historians, British officials and nationalist leaders of the time. There is no effort to smoke screen any ideas with dubious arguments.

The book invites our attention to the world view, about the colonial rule by quoting the words of eminent people of the time. Quoting the British official Mr. F. J. Shore

‘The halcyon days of India are over; she has been drained of the large proportion of the wealth she once possessed and her energies have been cramped by a sordid system of misrule in which the interests of millions have been sacrificed for the benefit of the few….. The gradual impoverishment of the people of the country, under the mode of rule established by the British Government, has hastened their fall’

The incontrovertible facts and quotes puts the arguments of admirers of imperialist rule like Ferguson down the drain

3) Open attack on pseudo-nationalists and heroes

There is no holding back on the criticism towards some of the heroes of British empire. Tharoor’s tirade against Robert Clive for his avariciousness, Lord Macaulay for his racism, Lord Curzon for his self-regard and lavishness amidst famine are but a few examples.

Perhaps the most shocking exposure is that of the great war hero Winston Churchill. Tharoor sheds light on to the resentment of Churchill towards Gandhi and his ideals of pacifism and simple life style expressed during the round table conference of 1933. It gets more disturbing when Tharoor points out, with the help of Churchill’s own letters, how the British Prime Minister deliberately caused the great Bengal famine of 1943, where 4 million people starved to death. The odious behavior by which he ‘…ordered diversion of food from starving indians to the well supplied British soldiers and even to top up the European stockpiles in Greece…’, is comparable to that of a despot.

Tharoor quotes Churchill, ‘The starvation of anyway underfed Bengalis is less serious’ than that of ‘sturdy Greeks’. When a telegram was sent by the conscience-stricken British officials depicting the tragedy caused by his decision, Churchill peevishly reacted ‘why hasn’t Gandhi died yet?’.

4) Educates modern Indians and Brits on the colonial past

Though I am an Indian and have tried to read on history of Indian freedom struggle and its colonial past, nothing so elaborate has got my attention. The role of British Raj in the Partition of India, the communal riots and illiteracy has been hither though unknown. Same is the case for young Brits who have been educated on a different version of colonial history, undoubtedly glorifying it. The book demystifies such conceptions.

What I disliked

1) Comments on Gandhism

Sasi Tharoor has again reiterated the ineffectiveness of Gandhism against Fascism (yes, again. He does so in his other book ‘India from midnight to millenium‘). He comments, rather wrongly that, Gandhism prompts the victims to self-sacrifice to evoke goodness in the opponents. By his way of thought Gandhians would walk into the Hitler’s gas chamber without protest (India from midnight to millenium). He couldn’t be more wrong. Gandhism is about fearlessly not giving in to the evil motives of the subjugators, while taking a moral high ground of love and non-violence. Gandhi himself has written a letter to Hitler warning him of his impending fall.

2) Depiction of cultural impact of colonialism

Indians of today are largely unaware of its rich cultural heritage of 5000 years and adores western culture. This blind love was envisaged by Lord Macaulay. He writes

I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation.”

Though ‘An Era of Darkness’ discusses this, the total impact of such a social outlook is neglected. The recent rise of neo-fascist political parties proclaiming the revival of Indian culture is the last of the atrocities. They are using the regret in the Indian consciousness as a leverage for their propaganda.

Conclusion

Spanning 8 parts, ‘An Era of Darkness’ is a breath-taking read which unambiguously catalogs the atrocities of British rule. Tharoor succeeds in building an impressive case against colonialism by recounting the arguments of the apologists and breaking them one by one.

In short, ‘An Era of Darkness’ is not to be missed not only for its historical accuracy and factual depiction of British colonialism in India, but for its witty comments and vast research which sheds light into the anecdotes and writings of an unforgettable period in world history.

I am sure that Tharoor’s new book ‘The Paradoxical Prime Minister’ will raise a havoc. But, however blind the followers are, the politics which prefers identity to performance and lofty rhetorics to worthwhile action will be over soon. ‘The Paradoxical prime minister’ will incontrovertibly prompt the beginning of the end of fascistic ideals in India.

32 comments

    • Colonisation has left people to suffer everywhere in the world. I didn’t know of the Irish famine. Thank you for pointing it out

      • Yes reportedly, there was very little if anything in the way of famine relief and, like India, the British continued to export food from the country whole people starved.

        • That is atrocious. The greed of the colonisers is notorious. The psychological and moral scars created by them would require decades, if not centuries, to heal

  1. Ola
    Muito bom
    Para nós brasileiros a Índia
    e um país atraente por toda sua
    Tradição espiritual e cultural,
    que admiro muito.
    O Brasil também sofreu por
    Séculos a exploração de
    Portugal.
    Um abraço
    Luiz

    • obrigada querido irmão. It really means something to appreciate other cultures for their tradition and spirituality. Very few people are able to do that. I am also sympathetic about your subjugation. It is great to see you thriving in spite of that. Love your football too!

  2. I remember Shahi Tharoor during one of his interviews saying that we Indians shall forgive British for what they did to us but we shall not forget. I couldn’t agree more. Tharoor defenitely has some gandhism deep inside him.

    • As Martin Luther King said ‘Gandhi is inevitable’, especially for an Indian. To forgive is part of our culture. But apologist should remember that it doesn’t mean we forgot the past. Thank you for your comment bro!

  3. This review is really helpful…it have been really difficult time for our ancestors….in my blog untold saga I mentioned how my grandfather left his job in Pakistan and came to India after partition. Thank you for sharing this review.

  4. What an insightful book review & a glimpse into your country & the subsequent ‘colonization’. It has always upset me that the British felt the need to come in & over turn Indian culture. It is similar to what happened to Aboriginal First Nations peoples here in Canada. Europeans came over & ‘discovered’ Canada & the USA & tore their tribes & cultures to shreds. It is all so unfair.
    And my family history is one of both my families ancestors running from place to place in Easter Europe as they were Jewish & not wanted. Most of my Father’s family exterminated in Death camps. Only he & 1 nephew made it out alive……left Germany & sailed to Canada only to be put in Internment camps set up for German Jews who our government viewed a “German Spies”….ridiculous I can tell you.
    My Father stayed in Canada; his Nephew went to the USA.
    Why people must dominant & change other cultures is beyond me. And the scars run very deeply for generations to come….
    Sherri-Ellen & BellaDharma

    • No, it has not always upset you about British colonialism in India. Think back to primary school when, most likely, you first encountered the images of British colonialism in India. The romanticizations of Kipling and Naipaul could hardly be upsetting could they? In terms of literature and the arts, so much has been created out of the colonial movement.
      Further, your comment about Britain “feeling the need” to “overturn” Indian culture is false on so many levels.
      Nowhere in any account is there an indication the British felt any “need”. This was not manifest destiny or a forced coup!
      As concerns your notion of overturning “Indian culture” this cannot be true since first, there is no Indian culture per se and second, even if there was in some non-integrative sense (not structural) the “culture” was intact after partition.
      The remaining part of your comment seems invective and there is some loose agenda in there. Risible stuff!!

      • I am afraid I would have to differ with dailywriter here. Starting from Mohanjodaro and Harapan civilizations to the enlightened works of philosophy including Vedas and Upanishads, Indian culture has created a distinct identity in world history. Regarding the argument British not trying to ‘overturn’ indian culture, I believe Lord Macaulay’s words that I quoted in the blog is self explanatory.

        • Mohanjodaro and Harapan civilizations? Wow, that’s conflation of incomparables. But, that knot aside, those two are not Indian culture. There is no such thing as Indian culture. Lord Macauley is a great read and I won’t touch that. But, nothing in LM’s accounts would bolster the pat and simplistic notion of overturning. If anything, colonialism redefines culture by accentuating certain aspects of it.

          • I am sorry that you feel that way. An unprejudiced approach to the historical facts might change your view. Travellers from Hieun Tsang, Alberuni, Marcoplo and even Megasthenese have accounts of Indian history and culture. Thank you for sharing your views on my blog. Stay Happy and peaceful.

            • Nothing to do with feelings but thanks for your token of concern. Unprejudiced approach would be to proceed from archaeological record. It’s fair topic but goes beyond the scope of the original blog post. I was just responding to a particular comment. I am not interests in heretic accounts such as Alberuni. Again, you use Indian and I will just conclude in saying you might want to examine the archaeological record first. The accounts are largely fictions mixed with what happened. The reconstruction of a culture is non-trivial. Assigning an incorrect and inane label is meaningless.

    • The cruelties done by one human race to another to establish superiority is unimaginable. You are so bold to come forward and share your story. I greatly appreciate your bravery and pray that we would live in a world where everyone sees the other as their equal. Thank you for reading the blog and sharing your story here.

    • With respect Daily Writer I am in Canada & we were taught the TRUTH about colonization in India! I started studying the country & culture. And my first ‘exposure’ to India was a TV show in 1967-68 called “Maya” starring Sajid Khan & Jay North. Yes 2 cultures can work together for the greater good. However when a culture comes in & tries to change or refine another culture I disagree with that. Maybe I am naïve…..
      Many of my East Indian friends over the years have told me the effects of colonization had on them. And so I believe what they say; it is after all, their country!
      Sherri-Ellen

  5. That must have been a difficult thing to read – the intentional destruction and abuse of your culture, and for some kind of international chess game? Thank you for sharing this with us.

    • Yes Liz. It is estimated that the loot carried out by the colonialists would amount to 9.184 trillion pounds in today’s money. Not to mention the invaluable artifacts including the Kohinoor diamond (which adornes the Queen’s crown), the peacock throne and so forth. But cruel still is the moral scars that the subjugators left us with.

      • I can’t imagine. There is SO much that needs to be repatriated – not just for your country but others. Some days, I just wonder at the greed of my ancestors.

        • The empathy that you express through your kind words is truly remarkable. If it’s not for the people like you, who knows what the fate of earth would have been!

  6. You have reviewed an interesting book. The British are quite unapologetic about their plunder of the colonies. Who is going to make them pay back?

    • It is more about educating the new generation on the atrocities of colonial rule, thus preventing it’s recurrence, than taking revenge or extracting reparations. As Dr Tharoor says, ‘ a simple sorry would suffice’.
      Thank you for you valuable comment. It’s a pleasure to have your opinions here.

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