20 October, 2020

The Thing About Thugs

The props all work, but the cast refuses to perform. The narrator as a spectator of himself as spectator can get precious

The Thing About Thugs

The thing about Thugs is that we can’t quite credit the definition anymore. Stranglers, yes; organised, yes; ritualistic, perhaps; but Thuggee wasn’t the national institution the British made it out to be. William Henry Sleeman ‘suppressed thuggee’ in the 1830s by rounding up 1,500 Thugs on the basis of ‘information received’. More famously, Philip Meadows Taylor told all England about it in his Confessions of a Thug (1839). Young Queen Victoria lapped it up. While not preparing them for 1857, it made the British grimly certain of what to expect. Every 19th century writer worth his salt took a shot at Thuggee. Dickens died without deciding if John Jasper had a taint of Thuggee in Edwin Drood. John Masters’s The Deceivers (1952) trailed the spoor of James Sleeman’s account of the life and times of his granddad William. The empire was writing back by the 1990s when Parama Roy’s cogent essay questioned the creation of Thuggee as a construct. Unfortunately, Roy’s...



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