The Fronde of Youth

Taller Buddha of Bamyan, before and after destruction by the Taliban

The Fronde of Youth

by Stuart Millson

For many years, Sir Mark Tully was the BBC’s “voice of India”. His despatches from the sub-continent, where, in old colonial terms, “he went native”, represented the highest standards of broadcast journalism – chronicles of a country (or countries if one includes Pakistan), rather than the shallow soundbites which assail us from today’s television.

Tully became something of a modern-day, post-imperial Kipling, an English writer steeped in the languages and culture of India. And, whilst as a journalist of the post-war generation he was perfectly reconciled to Indian independence, he nevertheless reported the many complicated strands, religious divisions and political pulses which made the country and its neighbours what they are today. Tully also delighted in railway journeys across India and Pakistan – railways being one of the great legacies of the British Empire – and his observations from packed carriages of the dusty plains and engulfing monsoons of the land he loved, stand among the great travel-writing achievements of this or any time.

One such railway journey took the author to modern-day Pakistan, to a curiously-named town – Jacobabad – where he came upon a remarkable story, that could have come from the pen of Kipling. It seems that after the dismantling of the British Empire and the creation in 1947 of the Muslim state, vestiges of the old 19th-century order survived – the foundation of Jacobabad being one such example.

At the end of the 1840s, a Somerset-born British officer by the name of John Jacob (who ascended to the rank of Brigadier-General) arrived in a remote village called Khangurh, his orders being to protect the region. Yet it seemed that Jacob became – like a Lawrence of Arabia figure – immersed in the way of life and landscape of the area, conceiving a vision of building a new city and giving a new-found dignity to the people. Instead of this inciting a rebellion, quite the reverse happened, with Jacob assuming the role, not of imperial overlord, but of a local potentate, trusted and, in time, revered by the inhabitants.

Engineering and building work began, not with armed imperial troops keeping a watchful eye on slavish proceedings, but – according to local legend and Jacob’s own accounts, which we have no reason to doubt – a remarkable voluntary desire by all to create a worthy, civic community, sustained by commerce, agriculture and modern communications. It seems that this unusual British officer forged some sort of mystical alliance with the people of the region, a fact confirmed by the profound local mourning and grief which followed his death in 1858.

The town which bears Jacob’s name became his final resting place – the citizens maintaining the grave and continuing to honour his memory, with a loyalty that went beyond conventional respect or colonial deference.

We live, now, in very different times – the District Officers, the Generals, the Raj itself, have departed, never to return. [Editorial note; as Carlyle observes in The French Revolution, “Sovereigns die and Sovereignties: how all dies, and is for a time only, is a “Time-phantasm, yet reckons itself real””] And the story of their ambitious works seems destined to disappear, too, even in the land from which they set forth. As a self-righteous, resentful and vociferous minority, armed with smartphones and spray paint, seek to destroy or deface the statues that memorialise this country’s history, we should remember the achievements of John Jacob and his ilk. And, even if our country is now oblivious to them, his name will still be remembered by the citizens of a small town in Pakistan. Somehow, bizarrely, British history still matters to them.

Stuart Millson is the Classical Music Editor of QR

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5 Responses to The Fronde of Youth

  1. Stuart Millson says:

    Remarkable programme on BBC4 television last night – I switched over from the other channels, bulging as they were with an incessant “analysis” of our country’s wrongs and shameful past, not to mention the various journalists (one speaking from her home in the Cotswolds) bemoaning inequality.

    BBC4 aired an hour-long documentary on imperial ambition, conquest and subjugation, the changing of culture and language by force; on giant monuments to kings who believed they were gods and could control the world; on ancestral cultures and stories of the heroic past that persist to this day… The programme, narrated and presented with wonder and respect, concerned ancient Persia and its conquest by Islam. (It seems that Britain wasn’t the only place that started an Empire.)

  2. David Ashton says:

    A BBC series “Other Empires” – atrocity, slavery, genocide.

    Any takers?

  3. Stuart Millson says:

    I wonder what the great and the good at Oriel College, Oxford have to say about life in Southern Africa following the fall of Rhodes and Rhodesia? I wonder if they reflect on how Robert Mugabe turned what was known as “the garden of Africa” into a wasteland, of near-starvation, hyper-inflation, political repression and social despair? Clearly, Zimbabwean lives mattered little to that tyrant. The British media and those ranting against Rhodes (or ‘Rodes’ as the student placards put it) certainly don’t seem to have a view on that particular part of the story.

  4. David Ashton says:

    LOONEY TUNES Latest News

    TQR’s Music Expert may be interested in (1) more demands to scrap the Last Night of the Proms & its racist songs (“Guardian” Letters, 19 June 2020), and (2) the RFU’s possible ban on “Sing Low, Sweet Chariot” (“Daily Mail”, 19 June). Maybe Stormzy rendering a grime version of “The Internationale” would suit. “Black music is running the world just now” after all (“The Independent,” 15 January 2018).

    The “struggle” continues, even unto the doubly misnamed “Church” of “England”; see e.g. Douglas Murray in “The Spectator”, 20 June, sadly confirming my comments on the Resurrection in your columns.

    What was that about “structural racism”?

  5. Stuart Millson says:

    Yesterday’s edition of Radio 3’s Music Matters, presented by Tom Service (also of The Guardian) consisted of a panel, it seems, largely of orchestra-bashers – i.e. the days of the concert hall and its “elderly” audience are over/there is insufficient diversity etc., – and the time has come to reconstitute (or destroy) classical music as we know it. Only Richard Morrison – who seemed to get about two minutes to speak! – made the point that we don’t have to abolish the Halle Orchestra in order to broaden the audience.

    The point is that those who are now hammering the concert-halls and orchestras, accusing them of “systemic” failures and exclusion, are not interested in broadening the audience. Instead, they are in favour of banishing the “elitist” middle-class audience and removing all the dead, white European males (as the Left views it) from the repertoire.

    Emboldened by the current Maoist atmosphere, the self-hating arts establishment has found the right time to overthrow music (and the formality and setting of music), one of the last bastions of civilisation and cultural identity for the West.

    We will, if this anti-culture poison is allowed to spread, become a coarsened, Premier League-obsessed, chewing-gum society – the airwaves and TV empty of the arts – save for programmes about how “challenging” graffiti art is.

    As to the Guardian’s tired old criticism of the Last Night of the Proms, many true music-lovers may remember the Jamaican baritone, Sir Willard White singing ‘Rule, Britannia!’ at the 1999 Last Night. He didn’t seem offended by it at all.

    This year, all the music festivals have been cancelled, and it will very sad indeed this July, August and September, not to hear that sound of the people gathering and the orchestras tuning up at the Royal Albert Hall under that great Victorian dome…

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