The term Wog, an acronym for Westernised Oriental Gentleman, was popular in the last stages of the Imperial Age, the first part of the 20th century. By which time in the continuum, numbers of Wogs had access not only to Western ideas but to the West itself. This covered all the Brown and slant-eyed races regarded as orientals and exotics, one and all. India had its caste system, its untouchables, its notions of pollution and purity, its ancient tyrannies. China tied up and crippled the feet of its women.
The other currency, Gollywog, popularised by Enid Blyton, is being challenged lately by the Black Lives Matter Movement. It’s been a long road. There was the highly musical and entertaining Black & White Minstrels Show, now expunged from every browser, even on the Dark Web. There was the common or garden Hollywood of the 1940s with the maid, butler, driver, pool-cleaner parts reserved for ‘coloureds’, the blacker the better. There was apartheid.
All such racial slotting, its horrible history, and its implied slurs are mostly gone from plain sight now. There is racism and ethnic hatred, obdurate as ever but under the surface. The once oppressed have also taken to hitting back. But there are also laws against it in most of the West. It recently sent a policeman who killed a young and innocent Black, George Floyd, to jail for 22 years in America.
Today, you have Hollywood films in which Blacks and Whites routinely make love, even marry, and procreate. There is talk of a black James Bond. A black Anne Boleyn has already essayed the role. The Klu Klux Clan and organisations of White Supremacists merely exist alongside.
But who were the Gollywogs of Enid Blyton fame? They were Blacks, who did not look like Masai Tribesmen or Hottentots for that matter. These dressed up in Western clothes — Top Hats, Spats, watches on chains, extravagant cravats. But they were always painted in as rogues.
Enid Blyton’s Gollywogs were thieves, fences for stolen goods, confidence tricksters, black marketeers. In her books, they were not pimps inclined to violence, but that is probably only because she wrote for children. Gollywog Town, a separate district in Toy Town, partied all night, bottles held aloft in white-gloved hands. It might have been all too much for Noddy and Big Ears, but sounded sublime to the young reader.
The spread of Asian & Oriental Woggery, and the snickers it elicited, was mostly thanks to the advent of commercial passenger steamship cum cruise vessels. These were put on the sea by the likes of Cunard and the P&O — the Peninsular And Oriental Steam Navigation Company. Early cruises went from an English port to the Iberian Peninsula. Soon they were sailing to Bombay, Singapore, Shanghai, Sydney, New York.
The Oriental Wogs, which included the mixed races, quite often knew how to dance to In The Mood. That WWII rage by Glen Miller and his Band did not call for the formal training of ballroom dancing. Though there was that too, at the weekend dance halls where men met women. Our Wogs were desperate to be accepted, at least a workable degree. They were willing to be more White than Whites. In the way, of course, was the tar-brush, the distressing reversion to sing-song in speech, fleshier faces, fuller lips, a certain shortness at the shoulder.
But then, the Wogs came to encompass travelling Arabs, Turks, Armenians, Jews, Malays, Chinese. It was one thing for Roman Catholics to convert a swarthy, curly-haired, black-eyed Yesu into the blond blue-eyed saviour on the cross. But altogether another to make sense of hordes, smelling of strange foods and speaking in tongues.
MK Gandhi tried his hand at being a Wog while studying to be a lawyer in London. He dressed the part and took dancing lessons. But he changed course after being heaved off a South African first-class train compartment. His days as a Wog started to transform into that of a political activist. The sartorial effect was completed in India, some years on, with a loincloth and a chaddar. It was the dress of a poor Indian peasant in the hotter parts of the subcontinent. And it was handspun Khadi, made on his own wobbly charkha. All of it was a big hit. It made a potent economic and political p0int. There were bonfires of mill-made Manchester cotton. And MKG turned into a Mahatma, a Christ-like general striking Apostle of Peace.
His disciple, Jawaharlal Nehru, also changed out of his Harrow and Lincoln’s Inn suits. And later, the tropical gabardine too. Now it was white cloth astrakhans, churidars, sherwanis and a rose-bud. The look of a future ‘secular’ prime minister, one part Moghul, one past homespun. Less emphasis on the Kashmiri Hindu Brahmin, except for the title of Pandit.
However, Nehru’s was a woggery of the mind that even MK Gandhi could not erase. He kept his Englishman trapped in an Indian body, airs and graces intact, till his dying day. Overlaid, of course, with fashionable socialism and a post-colonial but very impractical internationalism. After all, the gifted amateur was revered above the mundane professional in English sporting circles.
And the entire ICS and IAS/IFS permanent bureaucracy followed suit, with its brown sahib ways, the citizen be damned. This, for the seven decades since 1947. It wore a little thinner with time, and more so after liberalisation in 1991. Suddenly, India stopped being basket-case poor and squalid and began to grow its economy at more than 6% per annum.
Today’s IAS/IFS aspirants have a changed profile. They are less privileged people, often from the provinces rather than the metro cities, content with government salaries, perquisites and power. This even as the sons and daughters of the brown sahib bureaucrats mostly emigrated abroad or went into business or the multinational private sector.
The phenomenon today, of a ‘committed bureaucracy’, demanded first by Indira Gandhi, put paid to the original intent of integrity and service. It came to be composed of left-leaning people willing to do the bidding of their political masters. These, as a crawling sub-species of the body politic, not averse to aiding and abetting all forms of corruption. But fortunately, these people too are retiring, as they are in the judiciary and academia, thus making space at last for the phenomenon of the ‘Bhakt’.
The Bhakt is a committed nationalist but eschews corruption. Ditto his political masters. So the time for both has come. Since 2014, a very different dispensation came to power at the Centre and in a number of states. These new people speak better in Hindi and other regional languages, notably Gujarati, and wear saffron and red rajtilaks. They don’t generally come from the big cities. They speak in Ramayana- and Mahabharata-inspired allegories. They tend towards vegetarianism and don’t consume alcohol but are quick to step away from annoying any in the fold who differ.
To the earlier order, this is the invasion of the hordes from the hinterland. The ingress of unsophisticated Bharat into the corridors of power and legislation. Overwhelmingly Hindu in composition, they are harbingers of a Hindu Rashtra to come.
A clash of civilisations ensued almost immediately, as the minorities cannot be convinced that such a government will also look after their interests. That the legislatures apart, the judiciary, academia, the bureaucracy, the police, perhaps even the armed forces are being saffronised means a very different future awaits India. It is likely to be prosperous, nationalist, somewhat militarist, confident of its place in the world, and uncaring of illegitimate or motivated criticism.
As yet, the Bhakt is still emergent. It is depicted in caricature by the established mainstream media and parts of Bollywood. The voter could always be ignored once elections were over, but this time it has thrown up its own into the parliament and the state assemblies. To fight the Bhakt is clearly a losing battle. A losing battle as long as the voters stay loyal to the saffron surge.
This alone will see to it, even in a slow and chaotic democratic process, that the old certainties are discarded. Indeed some of it as accomplished is evident in the six years past. More will change, just as securely as the end of Article 370 and 35A in Jammu and Kashmir. Even its most ardent votaries do not seriously expect its return.
One day soon, just as the Wog and Gollywog have been discarded, the false secularism and inadequate, unproductive socialism will also be relegated to the past. India belongs to the Bhakt now. It is no use calling this a communal phenomenon, or the action of narrow-minded revanchist chaddiwalas fond of cows, bovine urine and faeces.
There will be many changes made, despite the desperate howling of those who no longer matter, to make this abundantly clear. Symbols are revered because they translate into expressions of reality. They create new narratives, new assumptions, aspirations, facts. A new history is uncovered, with links and pride in a hallowed past.
Ridicule won’t stop Ayurveda, yoga, a uniform civil code, population control, a military industry, the identifying of real citizens from illegals, a kind of economic prosperity never envisaged or seen before. Ancient Indian wisdom from the Vedas will guide this country in place of Marxist importations and distortions of history, and be admired afresh by the world. Right now, the Bhakt phenomenon is still a work in progress. If 2024 and 2029 belong to it after the national delimitation exercise, it will mean the change that has come cannot be reversed.