Words by Ed King / Pics by Paul Ward – all photography in this article has been taken from Snapshots of Mumbai
I used to live on Cecil Road. At the end of Cecil Road was Kitchener Road. Running parallel to Cecil Road, and perpendicular to Kitchener Road, were Fashoda Road and Manila Road.
Every one of these roads is named after a murderer, or where many murders took place.
And each terrace house that sits behind their names, be it full of second year students or people on remand, are an epitaph to evil. And Imperialism. And to Empire that stole a third of the world, then sold it back piecemeal at a charge.
How does this happen? What possible reasons could there be to celebrate such cruelty? Let’s backtrack… let’s look backwards to move forwards, to see the patterns. Let’s understand some history before we compartmentalise modernity.
In 1601 a group of London merchants set sale aboard a fleet of grand old ships called the Hector, Red Dragon, Ascension, Guest, and Susan – bound for the East Indies, a place we now recognise as India and South East Asia. White British men with their eyes on fortune and glory. White British men with privilege – a word you need to remember when talking about Britain’s colonial history.
Their mission was to trade, and their reason was that the Dutch, Portuguese, and French merchants were beating them to it – charging them a high price for goods a new society was beginning to enjoy. And to feel was their right to enjoy, be it gifted by God or the court. But it was trade that galvanised the request to take bullion abroad and exchange it for silks on the road. It was about competition, and greed – two more words to remember.
So, in one decree the East India Trading Company was born – and over the next 400 plus years would use their Amazon approach to the Elizabethan marketplace to end up controlling half the world’s trade.
What began as a royal charter to circumnavigate the prices of spices, silks, coffee, and cotton from mainland Europe, would turn into a centuries spanning race for control of international territories – one that would end in monopoly, slavery, a New World Order, and the backbone of what we purport as ‘democracy’ – after some savvy North American think tanks helped coin a new meaning. And wars. And bloodshed. And all the unspeakable horrors that occur when you believe God isn’t watching.
I know there’s a lot to research here, and I am not an academic man. But we all have a responsibility to ourselves, to learn. To keep learning. Then to pass on truth and knowledge. And as most of us walk around with the world’s largest library in our pockets that’s a pretty good place to start.
But there’s another point of understanding we need to address. Something I need to recognise too, as I become involved in conversations that are long overdue and fundamental to any future that can call itself equal.
There is a thing about being British. And white. And male.
And until the widespread media reports of recent weeks, it’s a word that that is not often acknowledged as it really needs to be. Just like the names of the roads where I used to live.
A hierarchy formed through history and hubris; a position stolen by my forefathers and endorsed by every silent generation that came afterwards, including my own.
I have it. My father has it, as did his father beforehand. It is impossible to be British, male, and white, and not have it. You can deny it all you like; all your heart wants to. But it’s there. We’re born into it. The world around us was built on it, by powerful people who can get away with murder. Who have roads named after them.
I’m not condoning acts of social disorder or violence, but crimes need to be challenged – whether they happened weeks or centuries ago – and their perpetrators need to be seen as the criminals they are.
Maybe some of us need to live in fear for a while too; maybe some of us need to know what that’s like. To be unsure of what the world could do to you without consequence. To walk down a road and not feel safe. To sit in a job interview and know it’s not your experience that’s the problem. To not get served in a bar, or a restaurant. To get heckled from the stands. To get spat on, to get to get punched. To have your last cries for help, for mercy, squeezed from your windpipe by a man with a badge.
And if you don’t believe there’s a balance that needs to be reset, Google each of the names I mentioned at the start of this article – those proud men and moments of history that still pepper UK cities. Whose names are remembered but whose actions we choose to forget. Men with privilege, granted by a world that hid its horror behind their own.
Lord Robert Cecil. Lord Kitchener. The Fashoda ‘incident’. The Battle of Manila.
Murderers and murder, adorned on the roads where I used to live – on street corners near primary schools and pubs. In the edge of our blind eyes every single day.
…and you’re worried about a statue?
Ed King is a Birmingham born writer and author of Snapshots of Mumbai.
For more on Snapshots of Mumbai, published by Review publishing, visit www.reviewpublishing.net/snapshots-of-mumbai