After Aurangzeb died in 1707, the Mogul Empire began to decay and India was effectively split into independent states. Their authority was often weak, and much of the country was at the mercy of brigands and freebooters. After the British were more or less invited in to restore order, many of the states retained semi-autonomy, though protected by the central government.
Some of the rulers used to send their sons to be educated at a private school for princes run on English lines. This had many advantages besides learning the language of the sovereign power: the youngsters could meet each other without the constraining, and distancing, punctilio of formal court etiquette. They met, and often made lasting friendships, on so to say neutral ground. The school was widely respected till Independence in 1947, when the princes ceased to exist as such.
The successive English headmasters had some interesting experiences with these aristocrats, both Hindu and Moslem, some of whose ancestors had fought against Richard the Lion-heart in the First Crusade.
One of the last headmasters recalled an incident with a new boy of about fourteen from the royal house of Tewari. The Head used to visit the class for new boys personally every week. They had to prepare a special weekly essay for him which he read beforehand; then he sat at the high desk, and called the boys up one by one. He gave each one back his essay, with some comments on it. These comments would normally be audible to at least some of the others.
On this occasion, the Tewari Prince had handed in an essay over which he had obviously taken very little trouble. When he came up, the Head did not mince his words: ‘Very poor. You should be ashamed to hand in a piece of work as bad as this. Now take it and go over it with a dictionary, looking up every word. Give it in again tomorrow with no spelling mistakes.’
He recalled how the boy had stood bolt upright and biting his lip. That afternoon the boy asked to see him. ‘Sir’, he said, ‘You are not from our country and cannot be expected to know, but the Royal House of Tewari is never criticized or corrected before others. We cannot tolerate it even if it means that we lose our lives. I know my work was bad, but if I am corrected it must not be before others.’
‘You have seen even in the short time you have been here that others are corrected in front of you and other boys. You are all here treated the same.’
‘Sir, I have nothing to say about the others. I have been told to obey you while I am here, and if you tell me now to put my hand in that fire there, I will.’ (And the Headmaster added: ‘And I think he would have’.) ‘Correct me, Sir, and I will do what you say. But we of the Royal House of Tewari are never to be corrected before others.’
The Headmaster said to him: ‘Your father has sent you to me just for this: that you should learn inner strength. It is not real strength to try to frighten people into silence when in your heart you are afraid of their criticism. You come here to learn how to accept correction and criticism without being upset by it. The honour of the Royal House of Tewari is not touched by proper correction: it is touched if you work badly and disappoint your father.’ The prince became a model pupil.
© 1999 Trevor Leggett