Gujaratis are the smartest people in India

Light side of Victorian imperialism

"He was disgusted with the sticky stupidity of a life devoted to billiards and bridge, he refused to wait through his term, lost in cushions as deep as musty, staring at fingernails with sand and There was only one way he could not waste his life: learning languages. Languages ​​were weapons. With them he would free himself from the shackles of boredom, stimulate his career, face more demanding tasks. He had picked up enough Hindustani on the ship In order to orientate himself roughly, so as not to make himself look ridiculous in front of the locals, and that was more - as he had discovered to his astonishment - than even those officers who had long been marked by the Hind. One of them spoke exclusively in the imperative; another always used the feminine conjugation - everyone knew he was parroting his native lover. "

Richard Francis Burton, Her Majesty's Officer, Queen Victoria of England. Behind the walls of his befitting villa in Baroda, central India, there is little of the exotic everyday life outside - too little for a man inspired by curiosity and a thirst for research who sees the Victorian military as a travel company to get to places that would otherwise remain inaccessible. This is not the only thing that clearly distinguishes him from his comrades: For them, the middle and high ranks of the British Army, contacts with locals mean at best a nuisance that one has to fend off, as it is almost always brazen attempts at begging! Captain Burton has already been warned when he disembarks in Bombay. Nevertheless, he lets himself into a conversation with that strange figure that clings to his feet like a burdock:

- The faster you can find a servant, the better.
- What do you care?
- I, Ramji Naukaram, will be your servant.
- Why do you think I'm looking for a servant?
- Do you already have a servant?
- no I don't have a servant yet. Not even a horse yet.
- Every Saheb needs a servant.
- And why you? Why should i take you (..) I am only satisfied with the best.
- Oh, Saheb, what does best mean? There are men and there are women, and the men who do not take a woman because maybe a better woman, more beautiful woman, richer woman is waiting around the corner, men end up without a woman. Taking today is better than tomorrow's promises. Today is safe - nobody knows what tomorrow will be. "

That could be the beginning of a turbulent comedy adventure, it is no coincidence that the master-servant pairing reminds us of Phileas Fogg and Passepartout from Jules Verne's "80 Days Around the World". But Ilija Trojanow's British officer is not a fantasy. Sir Richard Francis Burton, who later became a diplomat and was ennobled, is one of the legendary explorers of the 19th century, one of those world travelers with a Faustian thirst for knowledge not only to subjugate peoples but also to understand their cultures. They mark the bright side of Victorian imperialism. They were mostly ridiculed by contemporaries, but the British right to be eccentric protected them from abuse as long as they did not come into direct conflict with state power. Burton, who traveled to India, the Orient and Africa, even proved to be useful with his willingness and ability to learn languages, since he made the facade of arrogant smugness that characterizes every colonial power permeable to knowledge, albeit unpleasant ones; Nobody on the staff of the British Army wants to hear them. This is how the captain reports to his general:

“The locals see us very differently than we see ourselves. That sounds banal, but we should always keep this insight in mind when dealing with them. They do not consider us brave, clever, generous, civilized, they see in us nothing but villains. They do not forget a single promise that we have not kept. They do not overlook a single one of the corrupt officials who are supposed to enforce our justice. They find our manners offensive, and of course we are dangerous infidels. ( ...) They see through our hypocrisy, more precisely, the contradictions in our behavior add up in their eyes to an all-embracing hypocrisy. When the Angrezi are particularly pious, an elderly man in Hyderabad told me when they stuff our ears with fairy tales of the rising sun of Christianity when they conjure up the spread of civilization and the infinite virtues with them n we barbarians would receive presents, then we know the Angrezi are preparing another theft. "

Is this the historical Richard Francis Burton speaking or a fictional one? The historical one himself published a lot, and Ilija Trojanow undoubtedly knows all these writings. In fact, however, the life of Burton represents a large, white area on the map.

"The camel leather burns, a grimace cracks, page numbers burn, baboon sounds glow, Marathi, Gujarati, Sindhi evaporate, leaving behind spooky letters that flutter up as sparks before they sink down as coal dust. He, Massimo Gotti, a gardener from the Karst near Trieste, recognizes the deceased Signor Burton in the fire, at a young age, in an old-fashioned outfit. Massimo stretches out his arm, scorches the hair on the back of his hand, the pages burn, the notes, the threads, the bookmarks and the hair, her silky black hair , long black hair that hangs down from the front end of a trestle, drifting in the wailing wind. "

The book begins with a guaranteed beacon: Burton's Italian widow burned all of her husband's diaries and notebooks from 40 years, thereby creating not only legitimacy, but the sheer necessity to turn the legendary life into an imitation. It took a long time, now it has happened, accomplished by a kindred spirit. Ilija Trojanow not only knows the writings of his hero, he also knows the continents Burton has traveled to, and he knows the lure of a comprehensive change of identity across all cultural barriers. Born in Bulgaria, emigrated to Germany, Trojanow lived in Africa and India and - like Burton 150 years before him - performed the Hajj, the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, as a convert (or just as a perfect simulant?). Thus the author is a "collector of the world" like his hero. At the same time someone who wants to bring the worlds together, yes, wants to soften their sharp contrasts through sensitive enlightenment. Especially in the middle book with the trip to Mecca this motif comes to the fore. First, Trojanow talks about India, the first stop on Richard Francis Burton's life journey. Here the officer begins to learn foreign languages. His servant Naukaram - the very one who spoke to him so briskly - finds a Brahmin who is willing to open a window into the foreign world for the Englishman:

"How often do you curse the commander who assigned you to Baroda? That's why we meet today," replied Burton, I want to escape the Ennui by learning. Ennui? You like unusual words? You have to learn Sanskrit. The world is created from the individual syllables of this language. Everything comes from Sanskrit, take the word elephant, in Sanskrit Pilu, where is the similarity, you will ask, follow me, to Iran, there it became Pil, because the Persians are short End vowels ignored; in Arabic the pil became a fil, because Arabic has no P, as you probably know, and the Greeks, who liked to add -as to all Arabic terms, coupled with a consonant shift, we already have an elephas, and from that it's only an etymological hop to the elephant as you know it. I see we'll have fun. By the way, what does Ennui mean? Out that old man as soon as the last syllables of Burton's explanation died away. Upanitsche is my name, you have already heard it, now write it down, Upa-nitsche, in Devanagari script, so I will see how things are with your knowledge. "

This 200-page India episode - the whole novel could be broken down into three independent books - is plump and exotic, at the same time a literary feat. Nothing would be easier than to tell the life of Burton in a straightforward documentary way. But Trojanow uses a nifty trick: in order to get a multitude of perspectives, he has the servant Naukaram report how the foreign officer got through the adversities of military service and what an important role he, the servant, played in it. As an illiterate Naukaram has to dictate all of this to a hired scribe, who in turn adds material and balances other things with critical questions. Little by little, delicate secrets emerge, such as the fact that master and servant shared a mistress. Naukaram's original narrative motif - he needs a letter of recommendation with which he can offer himself to a new master - fades more and more into the background. In truth, he is concerned with a mixture of confession and justification, while the writer smells a great work of narrative art with which he can make himself immortal. While burlesque experiences predominate in these passages, the tone of the authoritative narrator, who intersperses seemingly objective information in between, is rather melancholy. Certainly, there are impressive passages of love in these sections of text, but what preoccupies the thoughtful captain above all is the incompatibility of the British system of thought, penal and legal systems with the feelings of the locals. So it is not uncommon for someone sentenced to death to send someone else to the execution who does not turn out to be grateful if he is released from his "task":

"The man who escaped the rope by a breath showered Burton with fierce abuse. May your nose fall off, you pig-eater," he yelled. He didn't want to hear that Burton had saved his life. Not until much later than he did Having calmed down and made friends with the prospect of his future life, he answered the question why he had entered into such an exchange. I've been poor all my life, he said calmly. So poor, I didn't know when I would be next I would eat again. My stomach was always empty. My wife and children are half starved. That is my fate. But this fate is beyond my patience. I received two hundred and fifty rupees. With a small part of this money I filled my stomach. I left the rest to my family. They will be provided for, for some time. What more could I achieve on earth? Burton made another report. Saw the general's eyebrows like strings.
- How can we put an end to this grievance?
- By eliminating poverty?
- If I'm in the mood for something witty, I look it up at Lukian. Do you understand, soldier?
- Do you prefer the Alethe Dihegemate, or do you prefer to delve into the Nekrikoi Dialogoi?
- The world is usually open to a man of your talent. But with your chutzpah, Burton, I'm afraid you will slam some doors. "

Indeed, Richard Francis Burton is lost to the army by then. We are now in Sindh, a province that is now part of Pakistan, and Burton is drawn to the rites of Islam even more than to the language lessons of his Brahmin teacher. His mimicry is becoming obsessive and military comrades hardly believe that he is doing all this to gather information. Even when he is thrown in jail by the British with local suspects, he does not reveal his identity - and thus crosses a line. Naukaram frees him, but the officer's fate is sealed. He takes refuge in a feigned illness in order to escape the rest of the military service. But first he has to have his head adjusted by an Islamic teacher:

"Do you think it's so easy to switch sides. What you did you did for the sake of your vanity. To which Burton Saheb replied: You always think in rough patterns, friend and foe, ours and yours, black and white. Can't you imagine that there's something in between? If I assume someone else's identity, then I can feel what it's like to be him. (…) Burton Saheb almost pleaded, he wanted so much for the truth of his words believe. But the teacher was not gracious. You can disguise yourself as much as you want, you will never find out what it is like to be one of us. You can take off your disguise at any time, this last resort is always open to you. But we are trapped in our skin. Fasting is not the same as starving. "

Keyword for a change of scene. A few years later we experience Burton as Sheikh Abdullah on the Hajj, on the way to Mecca. Outer disguises are not enough, he now knows that, so he has immersed himself completely in Islam and has mastered even the most remote rules of conduct. As a supposed doctor, he quickly wins the trust of the locals, and his coup actually succeeds: Burton penetrates to the holy of holies of Islam, touches the Kaaba and undergoes a Saul-Paul change:

"He feels he has been taken in by this place. He is laid to rest. As if leveraged by all the traps and ropes of life. He has grown into al-Islam, faster than expected, he has skipped over penance and privation and immediately found his way into this heaven. None Another tradition has created such a beautiful language for the unspeakable, from the chanting of the Koran to the poems from Konya, Baghdad, Shiraz and Lahore with which he would like to be buried. In Islam, God is deprived of all qualities, and that appears to him right so. Man is liberated, not subject to original sin and entrusted to the mind. Of course, this tradition, like all others, is hardly able to improve man, to raise the broken. But in it one can live more proudly than in the guilty, joyless lowlands of Christianity. "

On his return to London, however, he published a book in which he confessed to the outrage he committed from the perspective of Islam, which Ilija Trojanow made possible a further narrative variant. This book prompted the Ottoman authorities to conduct an investigation, in the course of which countless witnesses were heard. As in the first part, this results in a kaleidoscope of opinions about the mysterious stranger. The kadi, the examining magistrate, gives the wisest assessment:

"I think this man stands outside of faith. Not just our faith. That allows him to go where his will drives him. Without remorse. He can use the beliefs of others, he can accept and reject, pick up and put away, as he likes it, as if he were in a marketplace, as if the walls that surround us had fallen away, as if we were standing outside on an endless plain with a view in all directions, and because he believes in everything and nothing, he can transform themselves into any gemstone, at least in appearance, but not in strength. "

Is that the key to the character of this driven person? The contradictions between Trojanow's insinuation of internal Islam inflaming and the external act of publicistic betrayal are evident. The author skilfully pulls out of the affair. The pilgrimage episode ends like this:

"He won't skimp on external details, he'll give natural science a lot of space to eliminate the errors that his predecessors made. Inaccuracies are a thorn in his side. But he won't reveal his feelings. Not all of them. Especially since, he has not always been sure of his feelings. He does not want to bring further ambiguity into the world. It would be inappropriate; besides, he cannot afford it. Who in England will be able to follow him into the twilight realm, who will understand that the Answers are more obscured than the questions? "

"Natural science" can also be used as a synonym for journalistic vanity, and this mundane trail follows the last part of the book. Burton sets out into the wide world three more times, and Trojanow skips two episodes - exploring Somalia and participating in the Crimean War - in order to concentrate on the last adventure, which of course leaves the terrain of mental and religious awakening wishes entirely.

"The highest recognition beckons. Rewarded with a title of nobility, a life pension. Solving the riddle of the Nile springs, which has preoccupied everyone for more than two thousand years. And thereby opening up an entire continent. He is not afraid of his ambition. It mustn't give another goal than to make sense of the white spots on the cards. "

Together with John Hanning Speke - he is also an authentic figure - Burton sets out to the suspected source of the Nile, which neither of them can find, whereby Speke at least comes across Lake Victoria, while Burton is struck down by malaria.The joint discovery of Lake Tanganyika to the south, on the other hand, is a relatively unspectacular act, so that the entire third part falls away from the first two: There is no tension. This is less due to the construction - the reporter is, in addition to the authorial narrator, an aged African scout - than to the ambition of the two researchers. If the first two parts of the book live from the fact that the exotic world always embodies a complex intellectual challenge, then this added value is completely absent with the African tribes. Their religious animism cannot captivate Richard Francis Burton nearly as much as Hinduism and Islam have, and without this spiritual component his ambition to discover approaches an imperialist gesture. But Ilija Trojanow owes no one anything, as he warned his readers in advance:

"This novel is a personal approach to a secret without wanting to reveal it."

No, the secret is not revealed: Richard Francis Burton remains a phenomenon whose description leads to no answers, however precise it may be, but literature is not obliged to either. Ilija Trojanow wrote an extraordinarily compelling novel that lives from knowledge, experience and empathy - a rare triad! - and yet never presume to map out the right path. Symptomatic of this is the noticeable preference for the word "mindfulness" over the common Western "attention" - this is where the closeness to the Indian culture is expressed. Being mindful implies a lot more than just noticing something; it contains a promise of security. If you collect worlds - like Burton, like Trojanow - and behave carefully, then each world has its own value. In times of cultural clash, that is an extraordinary message.