From grass widows to lawn sports

This week’s video is on the word “Widow”:

One year ago my father passed away, leaving my mother a widow. As chance would have it, my father had always wanted me to cover the expression “grass widow” on my channel, and so this video is, in more ways than one, a reflection of him. My father was from India, but immigrated to Canada where he met my mother. So this this video also reflects that crucial period of Indian independence and partition that he grew up in. Furthermore, my father was also an avid golfer, so I think recounting the history of that game would also have pleased him. I’d also like to thank my sister for her help and input on the script.

There’s not to much else to add to this story. There are a few other small details that I’ll release soon in an endnote video, so stay tuned for that. For another detailed and fascinating story of widowhood in India, specifically as it relates to Bengali cuisine, have a look at this excellent post by Mayukh Sen.

In the video I quoted one British official about divide and rule policy in India, but that was hardly a unique point of view. Indeed that was a commonly repeated refrain, as the following additional quotations show:

“I am strongly of the opinion that Mussulmans should not be in the same company or troop with Hindus or Sikhs, and that the two latter should not be mingled together. I would maintain even in the same regiment all differences of faith with the greatest of care. There might be rivalry or even hatred between two companies or troops. The discipline of a native regiment instead of being impaired would gain by it, as regards the greater question of obedience to the commanding officer. The motto of the regimental commander and therefore of the commander-in-chief, must for the future be "Divide et Impera."” (Minute of Major-General Sir W. R. Mansfield)
William Rose Mansfield

William Rose Mansfield

“But suppose the whole native army to be formed into one grand army, the component parts of each regiment being as heterogeneous as possible, and suppose some cause of discontent to arise which affects all castes alike, the danger would be undoubtably far greater than that which overtook us last year. I have long considered this subject, and I am convinced that the exact converse of this policy of assimilation is our only safe military policy in India. Divide et impera was the old Roman motto, and it should be ours. The safety of the great iron steamers, which are adding so much to our military power, and which are probably destined to add still more to our commercial superiority, is greatly increased by building them in compartments. I would ensure the safety of our Indian Empire by constructing our native army on the same principle; for this purpose I would avail myself of those diversities of language and race which we find ready to hand.” (Lord Elphinstone)
“Keep the armies as separate as possible, as to tribes and grades in them. The system and organization may be the same; but I would rather have them distinct— "Divide et impera" - never let them assimilate if possible.” (Major-General John Hearsay)

So it was clearly a very conscious policy of divide and rule which laid the groundwork for the later divisiveness in India.
And speaking of the administration of India, those two lexicographers Henry Yule and Arthur Coke Burnell, who wrote Hobson-Jobson, had both been involved in the government of the British Raj. After attending the East India Military College, Yule joined the Bengal Engineer Group and worked on various infrastructure projects. Both of his brothers also worked in India, one of them dying in the Sepoy Mutiny.  As for Burnell, he had worked in Madras for the Indian Civil Service.

And a couple of  final notes — you may have heard the claim that golf is an acronym “Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden”. As with all such claims of acronym etymologies before the 20th century, this simply isn’t true. There’s another interesting lawn sport connection with India, by the way. Badminton is said to have developed in British India. Though there were various racket and shuttlecock games around, badminton as we know it now seems to have been developed in the city Pune where there was a British garrison, and used to be called poona. It gained its current name from Badminton House, the name of the Gloucestershire estate of the Duke of Beaufort, where the game first was played in England, mid-19c., having been brought over from India by British officers. My father taught my sister and me to play badminton when we were kids, and he was also a great fan of tennis, so I think this connection to India also would have pleased him.

The New Game of Badminton in India

The New Game of Badminton in India