A Heart Like a Fakir's: The Life and Times of General Sir James Abbott, KCB Open Access
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The life of General Sir James Abbott (1807 -1896) provides an entry into the relationship between Britons and Indians in the first half of the nineteenth century. Abbott's life forces a reconsideration of the standard historiography that Britons and Indians were separating as a result of ethnic and cultural differentiation as early as 1800. His writings cast new light on under-questioned assumptions about the relationship between colonizer and colonized in India prior to the end of East India Company rule and show that the deterioration of this relationship was gradual, uneven, and contested even as it was occurring. These sources strongly suggest that there was in fact a dichotomy between actual individual behavior and the tropology of separation circulating within broader Ango-Indian society. Consistently in Abbott's journals there is a pronounced contradiction between an externally-driven synecdoche of dedomiciling intercultural relationships and what was actually occurring in the bungalow and bazaar. James Abbott was an astute and active participant in virtually every major aspect of the last thirty-five years of East India Company rule in India. His journey to Khiva in Central Asia and his service as a district commissioner in the Hazara, in particular, are valuable in studying the troubled relationship between the peoples of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and the West. Unique among his contemporaries in the Punjab, Abbott was considered by his colleagues to possess strange powers in attracting indigenous peoples, and was in fact for a time worshipped as a god by a cult in the Hazara in the early 1850's. His tenure as the de facto "King of Hazara" requires a reexamination of the accepted historical narratives of the Northwest Frontier. Finally, his observations as a military officer on the changes within the Bengal army in the thirty years prior to the end of Company rule add important new insight into the causes of the Mutiny of 1857.
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