Aitken, Dalrymple..what is with these Scots and India?

bill_aitken.jpg william_d.jpg

Just finished re-reading Bill Aitken’s account of his motorbike journeys across the Decccan plateau in central India. While I was keeping the book back on my shelf, I saw the other scotsman’s book on India – The City of Djinns by William Dalrymple.

Both Dalrymple and Aitken have the knack of looking at India from an open, honest and ultimately empathetic perspective. Among the multitude of tomes written on India by foreigners, their writings stand out. Is it a coincidence that both of them are Scots or is there more to it? Here is my hypothesis. I think two separate strands of the Scottish experience have made the Scots particularly good observers of India.

A few years ago, I was in a train, crossing the rail bridge over the Firth of Forth, near Edinburgh in Scotland. Somebody in the group I was with mentioned that the engineer who built that bridge was also involved in a constructing a number of bridges in British India. Cut to another memory. It was the late 90s. I was talking to the Chief Engineer of the Water Supply organisation in Chennai. He made a casual comment that went something like” did you know that all the water supply infrastructure in the big cities of India were done by the British, mostly Scottish engineers…?”. The Scots, inveterate adventureres & industrial revolution pioneers, came to India in large numbers during the British Raj and ended up working closely with native Indians on a number of areas. My sense is that this deep familiarity with India & Indians has been passed on to later generations. So, they have fewer misconceptions and more understanding of our land.

The other thing I noticed about Scots was their peculiar attitude to the English which is akin to the irritation, occassionally bordering dislike, that all “good people” feel for their upstart neighbours. My sense is that the Scottish attitude to the English makes them far more tolerant of Indians & our ways.

Here are links giving more info on Bill Aitken & William Dalrymple.

(Click here for the Wikipedia page on the bridge over the Firth of Forth)


(Bridge over the Firth of Forth, as seen from the Fife side : courtesy wikipedia)


1 thought on “Aitken, Dalrymple..what is with these Scots and India?

  1. I particularly like Riding the Ranges, and usually carry it along on my trips even though I’ve read it twice.

    I think Bill Aitken came into his own with this book.

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