December 2012

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31          

Blogs & Sites We Read

Blog powered by Typepad

Search Site

  • Search Site



  • Counter

Become a Fan

Cat Quote

  • "He who dislikes the cat, was in his former life, a rat."

« Ignorance and inequality, hand-in-hand (Cyrus) | Main | Is the FDA a public watchdog or a corporate sponsor? »

March 11, 2011


Fascinating, Sujatha. I'd read before about VW, but never in such detail. My late ex-husband's grandmother was the daughter of a British officer of the Raj and a "local" woman. Except for being blue-eyed blonds, her children -- my mother-in-law and her brother -- looked Indian, as did my ex-husband, a brunet. In the early days of our marriage, we traveled a great deal, and he was often mistaken for an Indian. The whole thing only makes Dalrymple more of a Graham Greene character.

Is there some reason most Indians are not much interested in who their antecedents might have been? I'd never read that before.

I think the disinterest is partly to do with the lack not only of birth/death/marriage records, but the general idea, at least among Hindus, that the body isn't important once life is over. There is little impetus for ruminating over gravestones and wondering about what one's ancestors might have been like during their lives. I can't speak for everyone; surely there are some exceptions to that rule, but they are a miniscule minority, if they exist in any number.
What is the point of trying to track what happened or who was a great-great-great...grandparent. It hardly matters in the overall scheme of things as they are in the present- that's the general philosophy that pervades. We have our family mythologies and legends, rarely our histories.
History of the common man has never been a case for much concern, it's only the kings and nawabs who get extensive genealogies and family trees.
I will say in my case, that a faint curiosity persists, and certain tantalising hints dropped by my elderly relatives start to make more sense as I read about the century before I was born. I can imagine a story that might fit my great-great-great-great-grandparents, but I would have no way of verifying its truth.

Elatia, unlike your MIL, the trail for Dalrymple and Woolf runs very, very long. I am willing to bet that the "Punjabi" look that Dalrymple sees in his distant cousin is actually a swarthy Gallic one - the desi line had been highly diluted by the time Virginia appeared. I would disagree somewhat with Sujatha about the Bengali / Punjabi features that Dalrymple apparently confuses. My own take on the east Indian vs north Indian phenotype predicts that the offspring of Bengali (more east Asian)+ European parents are likely to resemble a Punjabi (north Indian).

As for Indians not being terribly interested in genealogy, it is generally true for reasons that Sujatha explains ably. But not among all families. My own family ( part of the minority), both the paternal and maternal sides, were very well versed in tracing back the lineage to several generations. My paternal grandfather used to make me memorize the names of ancestors (all males) to at least a half dozen great-great-great.... grandfathers. I have forgotten all of them now and my memory stops with him, my grandfather. With most of the elders of my parents' generation gone, I can no longer go back and ask. Similarly, on my mother's side. I do have a relatively young aunt in Florida, who sometimes refreshes my memory of my mother's side. In my husband's family on the other hand, the knowledge of ancestors is very sketchy and short.

Poor Dalrymple! The fellow has to now resort to blood line to be authenticated. That Bal-Dal blow up is one of the more interesting as well as inconsequential back and forth I have read in a while. What a tempest in a royal china tea cup.

Ha, I can barely remember the names of my great-grandfathers, one great-grandma. I never learned the names of those who came before them. Perhaps it might have been easier to remember the names of the previous 3 or 4 generations in earlier days, when marriages at very young ages were in vogue. One was quite likely to be a great-grandmother by the age of 50 or thereabouts. Now, one would have to live to 70 or 80 to be able to pass on the information of the previous three generations (orally, at least) to a potential great-grandchild.
A little hunting,and I found that there are a group of Pandas, Brahmin priests in Haridwar, India who maintain genealogical lists of families for whom they performed various religious rites, the first that I've heard of a formalized list for more ordinary families.

"We have our family mythologies and legends, rarely our histories."

Sujatha, that sounds like something lifted from -- or prefiguring -- the first paragraph of a most interesting novel. I find family history illuminating because, although it lays bare things one doesn't want to know, it also provides examples that are useful. My mother, a widow at 40, used to think of her 19th c. kinswoman who crossed the country in a covered wagon, with her children but without her husband, for he had been killed by a mule that kicked him in the head. Was anything Mother had to do more difficult than that? On her better days, she probably realized her life was filled with fewer threats than that of her kinswoman. And, history in the retelling has a way of becoming legend and myth.

Elatia, I'm sure that the line originates with me ;) Google lineage shows that the combination of words is unique and doesn't show up anywhere else on the web.
I suspect all history buffs have a love of mythology and legend. Surely, it is not the nitty-gritty details, the tchotchkes, laundry lists and store receipts of the days past, or the small items yielded by archaeological digs,that do much to entice them than the real people who lived and breathed and had their own stories that we can only imagine from what is left of them.
Maybe you should write your 19th century ancestor's story. It might be a reimagining, but how best to pass it on to a future generation, if it currently exists only in the form that you heard it from your mother. So many stories to tell, and so few of them actually written.

Tempest in a teacup, indeed. Well, it was good for a few days worth of entertainment. Had this been a previous age, there might have been a duel with swords or pistols and either Bal or Dal would be missing from action now.
I don't think Dalrymple was earlier trying to establish his 'Indian cred' with the ancestry claim, which came much before the dustup. In the particular linked article,though, he may have been reiterating it to achieve that effect, more relevant after Bal's accusations than it was before.

Another point of curiosity now, the name Marie Monique - is this a strangely converted version of Marinmoyee/Mrinmoyee? Was she a Hindu who converted at the time of marriage, as this might indicate?

Sujatha, you are the one with the shovel, and a fine one at that. Keep digging.

Yes, Marie Monique could have been derived from Mrinmoyee. But my anecdotal knowledge of name changes upon conversion is that the new name is usually not an echo of the older one. Upon crossing the threshold of faith change, people are rarely sentimental about their previous entity. The new life is at some level, tabula rasa. Of the various historical and contemporary name changes due to religious conversions that I am aware of, none bear any similarity to the birth name. Just one example. Sharmila Tagore = Ayesha Sultana.
(BTW, the Wiki entry shows a photo from 2009. Tagore still looks elegant and attractive. Also, it appears that unlike many of her peers, she has not resorted to cosmetic surgery.)

I think it varies, depending on the convert. I have anecdotal evidence that Annabelle, marrying one of my cousins, chose the name 'Aarti' when she went through an Arya Samaji ceremony, rather than a totally different sounding name. One of our maidservants chose to retain her original name, even when she converted to a Pentecostal group. Or maybe she chose some other name, but still went by her original name, much as Sharmila Tagore seems to have done- she was still Sharmila Tagore, despite the often-sonorous 'Begum Pataudi' that gossip columnists continued to use when they interviewed her.

I wonder whether it is possible to hire investigators to trace family histories in India. One in our extended family Gadde Kotaiah Naidu did it in 1914 and found that family came from two farmers from Gaddevaripalem near Nellore who were encouraged to migrate to Avanigadda to farm temple lands about 500 years ago.

There may be enough land records and a diligent investigator could find data, if the family is prominent enough in a particular village. I don't know how trustworthy such services are, however. What if you end up with a fake history that is plausible enough?

I really can't understand why the general view is that she was from Bengal. As she gave birth in Pondicherry surely she was from there.

Probably for the simple reason that it must have stated in the marriage documents/registry that she was born in Bengal, which might be why her descendants think that she was from there originally, not Pondicherry, where she got married. In the 1700's Chandernagore in Bengal and Pondicherry were the two major outposts for the French, so it's entirely possible that she moved from one place to the other when she married Brunet.

I'm not convinced that such evidence exists.
The only evidence seems to be her name and 'de caste gentil'.
There was a lot of traffic between Chandegore and Pondicherry. Madame Dupliex was from Pondicherry, and moved to Chandegore on her first marriage. However travellers at the time are critical of it, and it only ceased to be a miserable outpost with the arrival of Dupliex.
On the other hand there was a second repopulation of Pondicherry in the 1700s after the Dutch had to leave. It seems more likely that Brunet arrived with Francis Martin at this time.
The family mythology could have been to do with their Calcutta/Bengal experience of Indian life. They also transform her into a'princess' with their romantic perspective.
Dalrymple claims that there is a portrait by Watts of Sarah Prinsep (an important aunt in the Woolf family) wearing the Brahmin locating 'bracelet'. I haven't seen this picture.
Certainly there was a Christian family in Pondicherry, the Mudali family, with high social connections. They would trace their associations back to the Chola dynasty of kings.
However, I am still left feeling that Marie-Monique is one of the anonymous figures of history, only known to us, because she had children to a French Catholic, and had to have her birth name transmuted to a Catholic one for the French Company's records. All that really appears to be known is that she came from a Hindu background and that her relationship with Brunet was longstanding, as she had so many children with him.

he standard form of the French marriage certificate appears to be "prenom ------, nee le dd/mm/yy a ----, et XXX YYYY, ne le dd/mm/yy a -----" along with the date/place of marriage.
In Marie Monique's case, being a Hindu, there was no 'prenom' or maiden name, which was probably filled in with 'de caste gentille' i.e. not a Christian or Jew, and the 'nee le dd/mm/yy a XXX' would have stated either Bengal or a town there. Had she been born in Pondicherry, like Mme.Dupleix, it would have listed Pondicherry.
Neither of us can conclusively prove where MM was born, short of producing her actual birth certificate. Even marriage certificates could list the wrong place of birth, for all we know. Maybe MM decided to falsify the place of her birth for her own ulterior reasons, or the clerk heard Satthankudi as Chandernagore and wrote down the wrong name. That's a possibility.
And birth certificates mean nothing, just ask any Tea Party Patriot about Obama's birth certificate ;)

The comments to this entry are closed.