Sunday, November 30
Tristram Hunt @ Ootacamund, The Guardian, December 1, 2003
A couple of days' journey south of Bangalore, the booming hub that has come to symbolise the India of science, technology and aggressive modernity, lies a corner of the old Raj which is forever England. High in the rain-soaked hills of western Tamil Nadu is Ootacamund - or Ooty, or "Snooty Ooty".
It was once the territory of the Toda people, but the British colonisers of the 19th century fell for its temperate climes, stunning scenery, and accessibility from their Madras power base.
Marshalled by the East India Company bureaucrat John Sullivan, they built a microcosm of the Surrey hills complete with a railway, bungalows, a club, botanic gardens (just off Havelock Road) and St Stephen's Church.
To enter the porch of St Stephen's is to re-enter a lost universe of Anglo-India: of duty, militarism, and racial solidarity.
Here the administrators of the Indian civil service, the soldiers of the Bengal Artillery and Light Dragoons, and the missionaries of Anglicanism celebrated their civilisation amid the encircling jungle of the western Ghats.
And here lie their monuments to the fallen - those who gave their lives for a vision of India.
The Rev William Sawyer "who having laboured with diligence and zeal for six years as a missionary to the Heathen at Madras died in the faithful discharge of his duties as chaplain of this station".
Poor Georgiana Grace, "the beloved wife of JC Wroughton Esq, Principal Collector of this Province" who died at the age of 30 "leaving her Husband and seven Children to deplore their Irreparable Loss".
The unfortunate Richard William Preston, a captain in the 1st Bombay Grenadiers, who "drowned in the Kromund River while out hunting with the Ootacamund Hounds. Thy Will Be Done."
The very fabric of St Stephen's was a statement to English imperial hegemony.
Its architect, John James Underwood, a captain in the Madras Engineers, extracted its wooden beams from the remains of Tipu Sultan's palace in Seringapatam, some 100 miles north-east of Ooty.
Tipu Sultan Fath Ali Khan, the Tiger Prince of Mysore, was one of the most persistent obstacles to the expansionist ambitions of the East India Company.
Time and again during the late 18th century, he powered through Britain's "thin red line", capturing thousands of soldiers in the process.
Most would succumb to infection in his disease-ridden dungeons.
But Sultan's palace was also a place of more intimate fears as captive British soldiers were pressured into joining the Mysore army.
As part of their induction, the hapless warriors of empire were, according to an account unearthed by historian Linda Colley, body-shaved, stretched naked over a large bowl and "circumcised by force".
The British army was systematically unmanned.
Seringapatam constituted a site of deep horrors, both physical and psychological, for the British colonial imagination.
It took a Wellesley - Richard Wellesley, governor general of Bengal and brother of the future Duke of Wellington - to crush the Tiger Prince in 1799 and open up southern India for British rule.
Pictures of the killing of a tiger, complete with leather boot atop the skinned animal's head, would become a favourite leitmotif for Victorian rule in and over India.
Underwood's decision to strip Seringapatam for the roof of St Stephen's was the ecclesiastical equivalent of shooting the tiger.
The thick beams which had provided the foundations for the Tiger of Mysore would support the Anglican soul of Ooty. Here the soldiers, tax-collectors and British colonial elite gathered to reaffirm their victory over Tipu Sultan's India.
Today Bangalore, not Ooty, represents India.
Bombay is now Mumbai, Madras is Chennai and Ootacamund trades under a Tamil title, Udhagamandalam.
Meanwhile, we are not allowed to go hiking. A tiger is stalking the hills.