How have the British changed us

If I may call India the land of invasions, it would not at all be an exaggeration. Time and again our rich natural resources, climate, gold, spices, textile etc have attracted foreigners starting from Alexander and ending with the British rule.

These rulers have had their influence on our lifestyles, culture and traditions to name a few. Of the lot, since our generation has seen more traces of British influence, I was wondering what if British did not rule us?  What if we are what we were for ages, How would have India responded to development?  How would we be living now? What kind of lifestyle we would be having? These questions always bother me because I think somewhere we have taken the diversion and ended up at some other destination and now since we have travelled so far, we are happy to be settled here. I am using the word diversion just because this is not how we Indians lived for centuries. Every practice of ours had been different from the west. So let’s start with the exploration. Do note that we are not discussing good or bad we are just imagining the road we never took, and with we, I mean the bigger Indian map we had before partition as we would have lived together if we were not ruled by the British.

Language: Yes we would have learnt everything in our own state language. Science, Mathematics and may be Computers. The language would have been just a mode of transforming knowledge. Codes would have been written in local languages.  Yes and then maybe Google could pronounce everything in the correct accent and Siri would understand what we say and lastly, I would have written this blog in Hindi.

Clothing: Who knows, every man in India would be wearing a dhoti and every woman a sari. Regional attire reacts to the climate and lifestyle of that place. The best part about Dhoti and Sari is that it can fit anybody of any shape. You don’t have to customize it for a particular person (unlike in case of western wear). The best example of the flexibility of Indian attire is that a pagdi can cover your head in the morning and can cover your body while sleeping.

While working in big firms, I was often asked by my boss to wear a formal shirt, trousers, tie and blazers (especially in case of greenfield projects) and come for meetings. That was the most painful part. I mean how can you suit up and feel comfortable at 42 degrees? (Thinking of Superman made me feel better that at least I can have a leak whenever I want) and then we had air conditioners blowing their lungs out to make us feel comfortable.

Traditional writing desk. Courtesy:

Furniture: If we would have not changed our clothing then I find no need of changing the furniture. We would still be sitting down on the floor in the lotus position for lunch and dinner. Our study table would have been low height movable desks, kitchen platforms would have been non-existent and we would still be cooking food sitting on the floor, sleeping would have been on movable cots or on the floor. There would be no sofa, not a trace of centre table as everybody would be sitting on low height platforms. Indian commode would still be seen in every house instead of the western commode. Showers would disappear from toilets. Door height would still be less as compared to the one we have now. Yes, and every house would have a Jhoola.

Architecture: Rooms take shape based on the furniture inside and position of the room depends on the circulation pattern. So if at all we would have lived in an apartment, I am sure the design would not have been the way it is now. Maybe we would enter into an entrance lobby connected to a courtyard, acting like a living room and rest of the rooms surrounding this courtyard. Surely there would be no dining room but a worship area would definitely be there. Stone and mud would still be our preferred construction materials due to our sustainable approach for ages. Nowadays villagers have started using brick and concrete but that is all because of their fascination with cities.

Architecture style as it might have been without the influence of the British

Had we mastered the art of using the local material, we would still be using it in normal construction the way it was used magnificently in ancient Indian times. Space optimization and flexibility of spaces would have still existed. Architecture would still gel with the surrounding without disturbing anything around it. I am not sure if the house would be as compact as we have now but surely it would have a different bubble diagram. 

Utensils and appliances: Mud vessels would have still existed in kitchens along with our very own Lota. Fingers would still be used for eating rather than spoon and fork. We would still be using banana leaves or leaf plates instead of metal plates. If women were to sit down and cook food instead of a platform, then who knows even the fridge in the house would have been horizontal instead of vertical. Not sure about the Chulha, if it would have stayed because of the smoke it creates.

Science and Technology: I feel technology would have been there as it is now but would be more focused in other fields like Ayurveda, yoga, textile, metallurgy, shipbuilding and navigation. History shows that our ancestors were quite advanced technically and the transfer of knowledge could not happen due to various invasions, so only the British can’t be blamed for this. But yes, with the money that they have taken from this country, I don’t think technological advancement would have been an issue for us in any, which case. Railways would not have this big network but some other mode of transportation would have existed. 

I see India would have been similar to a mix of Bhutan and Japan. Technologically advanced but happy and sustainable. 

About the author:SidharthSingh

Siddharth Singh, is the principal architect of Green Hat Studio, Pune. Since starting his own practice, he has tasted a fair bit of success since then. Recently he won an award in the prestigious Delhi Architecture Festival Awards 2016.

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