Far Off Hindostan

I brought on vacation with me a stack of old New Yorkers. Today I was reading an article from April 2005 (!), Global Warning: Mrs. Mortimer's guide to the world, by Todd Pruzan. Mrs. Mortimer (1802-78) wrote a number of books for children, including a series of guides to different countries, one of which was Asia and Australia Described (1849). As Pruzan writes, "No matter where your ancestors had the misfortune to live, Mrs. Favell Lee Mortimer likely had something nasty to say about them." The article is fascinating, and I rushed to the internet, to find out what she had to say about 'Hindostan'. Here it is -- page down for the entry on Hindostan, which begins:
This word Hindostan means "black place," for in the Persian language "hind" is "black," and "stan" is "place." You may guess, therefore, that the people in Hindostan are very dark; yet they are not quite black, and some of the ladies are only of a light brown complexion.

What a large country Hindostan is! Has it an emperor of its own, as China has? No: large as it is, it belongs to the little country called England.

How did the English get it?

They conquered it by little and little. ...

... There is no nation that has so many gods as the Hindoos. What do you think of three hundred and thirty millions! There are not so many people in Hindostan as that. No one person can know the names of all these gods; and who would wish to know them? Some of them are snakes, and some are monkeys!

The chief god of all is called Brahm. But, strange to say, no one worships him. There is not an image of him in all India.

And why not? Because he is too great, the Hindoos say, to think of men on earth. He is always in a kind of sleep. What would be the use of worshipping him?...

Vishnoo, the preserver, is a great favorite; because it is supposed that he bestows all manner of gifts. The Hindoos say he has been _nine_ times upon the earth; first as a fish, then as a tortoise, a man, a lion, a boar, a dwarf, a giant; _twice_ as a warrior, named Ram, and once as a thief, named Krishna...

It goes on, and she has a few kind things to say, and it is all written in a remarkably authoritative style, even though she never went there.

Pruzan points out that Mrs. Mortimer's views were consistent with those of the time; and concludes his article by citing a few recent stereotypical views of foreigners, including one by the Russian politician Ivan P. Rybkin, who, in 2004, declared: "Tyranny is tyranny. Tyranny in Africa is tyranny, only there they eat people."

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