"Their great indoor amusement is to listen to singing interspersed with slow movements which can scarcely be called dancing. The attitudes are not ungraceful, and the songs are pleasing; but it is, after all, a languid and monotonous entertainment; and it is astonishing to see the delight that all ranks take in it; the lower orders, in particular, often standing for whole nights to enjoy this unvaried amusement. These exhibitions are now often illuminated, when in rooms, by English chandeliers; but the true Hindu way of lighting them up is by torches held by men, who feed the flame with oil from a sort of bottle constructed for the purpose...In the houses of the rich, the doorways are hung with quilted silk curtains; and the doors, the arches, and other woodwork in the rooms are highly carved. The floor is entirely covered with a thin mattress of cotton over which is spread a clean white cloth to sit on; but there is no other furniture of any description. Equals sit in opposite rows down the room. A prince or great chief has a seat at the head of the room between the rows very slightly raised by an additional mattress, and covered with a small carpet of embroidered silk. This, with a high round embroidered bolster behind, forms what is called a masnad or gadi , and serves as a throne for sovereigns under the rank of king."
- M. Elphinstone, History of India (1841).
        Montstuart Elphinstone was born on October 6, 1779, in Dumbarton, Dumbartonshire, Scotland. He entered the Civil Service with the East India Company at aged sixteen, as did many of his fellow young Scotsmen at the time. He sailed to Calcutta in 1795. In 1801, he barely escaped death in Benaras at the hands of the followers of deposed Prince of Oudh, Wajid Ali Shah. Mercenaries raided British offices and massacred any soldier or servant loyal to British interests. Afterwards, he transferred to the Company’s Diplomatic Service in 1801 and was posted to the court of Peshwa Baji Rao II (titular head of the Maratha confederacy) as assistant to the resident at Pune. He won distinction in 1803 as a political aide to Col. Arthur Wellesley (brother of the governor general; later Duke of Wellington) in the Maratha War.
        He became Chief company Resident at Nagpur in 1804, but was sent to manage negotiation and diplomacy at the Maratha court at Gwalior in 1807, concluded negotiations with Shah Shuja (Shoja) of Afghanistan about Napoleon's rumoured advance on India.1 In 1808, he became the first British subject to enter Peshawar, surrounded by the Royal Mounted Bodyguard. So furious was the crowd of curious on-lookers, most of whom had never set eyes upon a European, that the royal guard had to dispatch the horde with whips. The Shah hoped British might and money might help him establish order over the tumultuous competition of the various Afghan lords. He pledged ‘bonds of everlasting friendship’ with the English, and Elphinstone became a frequent visitor, always warning of growing Franco-Russian influence in neighbouring Persia. By shrewd diplomacy, he kept the Marathas disunited and helped engineer the battle plans which led to the defeat Peshwa at the Battle of Kirki (Kirkee) in November 1817, though his home at Pune and his life’s diaries and notes were lost.
        Following this success and his now-proven political savvy, he was appointed Commissioner of the Deccan region in 1818 and Governor of Bombay. The reform of the British administrative system in the region between 1819 and 1827 was largely his work. An enlightened man for his times, Elphinstone followed his own sense of justice in India. Despite protests from increasingly imperialist administrators, he returned the Deccan to the Raja of Satara, and estate lands to many landowners and temples. Like many older Company men, he deeply distrusted the pious Anglicised system of government and sought to preserve the good in Maratha institutions, sentiment and tradition. Unfortunately, the sanctimonious Reform movements of the later Victorian era would erase many of there initiatives.
        To the raja of Satara he restored political sovereignty; to the local warlords and nobles he slowly returned lands, privileges, and judicial powers; and finally to the Brahmans he restored temple lands and provided awards for learning. Local authority of the village chiefs and tribunals was finally re-instituted so that immediate affairs and grievances were governed close to home – thereby saving time while also keeping upset contained . Higher education for Indians was also largely a work of Elphinstone at a time when the opinion in Britain was against educating the "native". Elphinstone College in Bombay was named after him.
        He returned to Europe in 1827 (the same year Russian armies swept into much of Persia) and twice refused the Governor Generalship of India, preferring to finish his two-volume work, "History of India" (1841). He died in Hookwood, near Limpsfield, Surrey on November 20, 1859.
Works:
An account of the Kingdom of Caubul and its dependencies in Persia, Tartary, and India : comprising a view of the Afghaun nation and a history of the Doraunee monarchy. London : Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Browne : J. Murray, 1819.
The history of India; the Hindu and Mohametan periods. with notes and additons by E. B. Cowell. London : John Murray, 1874.

Notes:
1 Lord Wellesley, Governor General of the East India Company from 1798-1805, led British interests in the subcontinent to expand in almost every direction, under strong military presence. By 1807, however, the new Gov. Gen. Lord Minto (Gilbert Eliot) had been ordered to cease territorial expansion, under the shadow of a French or Russian showdown in Central Asia. Instead the Company’s Political Branch was ordered to cultivate relations with as many potential buffer powers as possible, incl. the Sikh, Afghan and Sindhi territories, effectively heralding the outbreak of the Great Game in India. See J. H. Waller’s Beyond the Khyber Pass: the Road to British Disaster in the First Afghan War (NY: Random, 1990).

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