Who discovered Ootacamund — J.
Sullivan or some other Briton? That is a controversy dealt with
in detail. But the entire notion of British discovery is a
version of the first idea, the transgressing trope of
origination which clearly delineates the extent of the colonial
anxieties. A discoverer may after all exercise the divine right
of possession! I fail to understand, how the Britons can claim
to be the discoverers of the site of Ootacamund, notwithstanding
the fact that some of the Toda huts were already in existence
prior to the arrival of the British. Moreover, some of the
so-called convicts that the Britons, like Whish and Kindersley,
chased could easily give them the slip just because of their
thorough knowledge of the surrounding terrain. Finally, the
nomenclature of Ootacamund, the book indicates, is a derivative
of Badaga or Toda or possibly even the Tamil dialects, and not a
contribution of the British. The British notions of exploration
and discovery are untenable, though it can be conceded that they
tried to reshape the site of Ootacamund according to their
In great detail
(sometimes excruciatingly extensive), the author dwells on
almost every aspect connected to British life of the town. We
get an insight into the inner administrative bickerings, the
jealousies, the charges, claims and counter-claims. We also get
a laboriously graphic account of the growth of this British town
on our native land. By intercepting a brook, a serpentine lake
was formed, which gradually became silted and edged with swampy
fringes — a dangerous bog, a "very foul receptacle of all
the sewage." Along with it came many additions of houses, a
club, a hospital, gardens, churches (made of the plundered
material from Tipu Sultan’s Lal Bagh Palace of Seringapatam),
office buildings, recreation facilities and the like.
Though there is
not much that we know about the church-architecture or other
arts, there are enough of episodic facts (without the attendant
art of exposition) about the Governors, the clergy, the laity,
and the others that sustains some interest of the reader in the
book. We come to know that Thomas Munro was "almost afraid
to go to bed on account of the cold," that Elphinstone
caused the first scandalised exodus of the Madras Government to
the Nilgiri hills, and that Lord Tweeddale one day went in a
hunting manoeuvre "after a hog", which was in fact
nothing but "a private pig."
salvaging shots like these, the book remains overburdened with
statistical data at many places. What will one make of this? —
"No 1 remained in the old billiard room block, the No 8 of
1842 became No 2, the original Nos 3, 4, and 5 continued as they
were, the combined No 6 and bit of No 7 were given the former
number, and the old Nos 9, 10 and 11, each went down two
Immense pains have
been taken by the author in producing this bulky volume with 22
chapters, 3 appendices, and a huge index that spans 34 pages.
Frederick price’s capacity of going through the drudgery of
official documentation is enviable, albeit the outcome of that
drudgery seems to be out of proportion to the fruits obtained.
Overall, it becomes an all-English-affair to such an extent that
one grows doubtful about the possible readership of the book.
Will it be only the English who would like to dig out their
ancestral colonial connections with the land?