April 16th, 2006

Books!

What interesting timing ...

I find it somewhat amusing that I finished Kevin Rushby's Children of Kali: Through India in Search of Bandits, the Thug Cult, and the British Raj on Easter, as it has some very interesting things to say about Christianity.

Frankly, I sort of "stumbled onto" this book ... I'm reading another couple at the moment, both of which are progressing at a slower pace that I would have preferred ... however, this past Wednesday Daughter #1 and I had to run downtown to the big B&N on State St. to get a book she was supposed to be reading over Spring Break, and which was (predictably) gone from the local library and closer bookstores. When I discovered that her book was under six bucks, I decided that I'd "treat myself" to a purchase from B&N's "bargain" section, where I found (the $27.00 cover-price) Children of Kali for a mere $5.98 (such a deal!). It looked interesting enough, and I figured that at under ¾-off it was just begging me to pick it up.

I was surprised to find that the book was more of a travelogue than an analysis of the Thugee cult, or of Kali-worship in general. This was, I found, due to the author's surprise in his researches in India to find very little data to support the reality of there ever having been such a cult, or at least a cult of the sort luridly portrayed in the popular literature of the British Raj. Rushby details his journeys around India, the leads he followed, the experts he spoke with, and his readers (in my case at least) feel the growing sense of frustration ... it was almost like he was traveling in some future USA looking for the "real Easter Bunny".

While "Thugs" did (and, perhaps do) evidently exist in some form, the savage "kill-for-Kali cult" that is "common knowledge" in the West seems to be a fabrication of the agents of the East India Company and the British Crown, with full support (and possibly initial "conceptualization") by Christian Evangelical groups like the Salvation Army.

Rushby's research points to a scenario that goes a bit like this ... China had been opened up for trade through a series of European military successes ... one of the key things that the British were selling in China was opium ... in order to supply enough opium for the huge China market, the British decided to switch considerable swaths of agricultural land in India over to poppy production and away from basic food crops ... for many castes and regional cultural groups in India this resulted in areas suffering near-starvation, and a general steep decline in living standards ... responding to these economic forces, numerous of these castes and cultural groups turned towards banditry. Up until this point there had, while being regions where travel was hazardous, never been reports of "cult attacks", however, with the increase of the presence of highwaymen the new officials of the Raj were instructed to "clean it up", and the face they gave it was of a "murder cult" breathlessly fleshed out by Christian missionaries. To the Indians, the "Thugs" were simply con-men and robbers, who may have killed in the pursuit of their looting (some looting was better than others, as the opium trade resulted in large amounts of cash criss-crossing the subcontinent via couriers). None of the informants that Rushby interviews could provide any traditions of cultic activities associated with this.

Needless to say, this came as a shock to me ... I had anticipated a gripping over-view of a blood-soaked brotherhood of killers, dedicated to the Dark Mother ... and I suspect it disappointed the author as well. This is my main caveat about the book ... it leads the reader off on a "quest" but discovers that "there's no THERE there", so one is left with the search, the impressions, and the realization that we've been lied to again.

Again, finding another "big lie" oozing out of the efforts of Christianity to destroy a native culture is not a huge surprise, but it's somewhat ironic on the timing, being Easter and all.

Anyway, while not being "gripping", Children of Kali was involving enough that I breezed through it in just a handful of days, so you might find it of interest as well. For some reason Amazon has this at full cover, while B&N (in the store I was in, at least) had it for under $6.00 ... you can get this via the Amazon used/new vendors for new for about $7.00 (plus shipping) ... so your best bet to pick this one up (were you so inclined) would be to check the discount shelves at your local B&N, although getting from the Amazon vendors would still be under half price with shipping!


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