Of an ‘Angrez’ and His White Mughal Ancestors in West UP’s Kasganj

In UP’s Kasganj district, resides the descendant of Col William Gardner, an officer in British East India Company.

Hindi Female

On 11 February, when Kasganj, – a back-of-beyond rustic district of what was once a thuggee and dacoit territory in colonial and later times – goes to polls, Julian Gardner will queue up with the village folks of Fatehpur near Soron in this part of western Uttar Pradesh to exercise his franchise.

A direct descendant of Colonel William Linnaeus Gardner, an America-born Irishman, who sought out fortunes in the services of the East India Company’s army in what was then the Central Provinces, Julian (74) will stand alongside free Indians who will, hopefully, cast their votes in a free and fair electoral atmosphere that day.


“Congress Follows the Right Norms”

“We have traditionally voted for the Congress because the party follows the right norms,” Julian said. Today, the Gardner’s estates spreads over Chhaoni, Fatehpur and Manota villages of western UP’s Kasganj.

“I usually vote for the Congress, but since the party is now in an alliance with the Samajwadi Party, I will of course vote for the latter’s candidate from Kasganj,” Julian told The Quint in an English-Hindi dialect that we often associate with our “angrez” rulers.

The Quint met up with him outside his modest single-storey dwelling built on the ruins of the property left behind by Col Gardner, who died in July 1835.


Colonel William Gardner and His Mughal Affair

In UP’s Kasganj district, resides the descendant of Col William Gardner, an officer in British East India Company.
Julian Gardner with a portrait of Colonel William Gardener. (Photo: Abhilash Mallick/The Quint)

The Colonel, who resigned from the services of the East India Company to command the troops of Indore’s Maratha ruler Jaswantrao Holkar, went native – a ‘White Mogul’ – after getting married to a “beautiful” Mughal princess from Cambay in Gujarat. He later reestablished his relationship with the “British Crown and formed his own irregular regiment – Gardner’s Horse,” according to writer-historian William Dalrymple, in his ‘Introduction’ to a 19th century travelogue by Fanny Parkes. Parkes was a friend of the adventurous Colonel.

Colonel William Gardner’s son James, according to Dalrymple’s Introduction to Parkes’ absorbing travelogue, Begums, Thugs and Englishmen, “continued the family tradition by marrying Begum Malka, a niece of Emperor Akbar Shah.” The ‘White Moguls’ were – and remain – a quaint symbol of the syncretic culture that many Englishmen practiced with their Indian consorts. For the Gardners then and the Gardners now, things then – as now – have always been the same.


The Angrez of Kasganj

Nursing a bandaged wound in his left wrist, Julian, who is referred to as angrez by the rustic villagers of Fatehpur who surround his modest redoubt – complete with a pair of Golden Retrievers, cattle and jungle fowl – greeted us effusively as he welcomed us in.

In UP’s Kasganj district, resides the descendant of Col William Gardner, an officer in British East India Company.
A rooster pen on Julian’s property. He also rears poultry and cattle. (Photo: Abhilash Mallick/The Quint)

Biscuits and coffee, in antique china, arrived. “Yes, I am aware that people in these parts still refer to us as angrez,” Julian said with a smile, his English carrying a lilting mix of a British and Hindustani accent reminiscent of the sahibs of 18th and 19th century India.

“We have a good legacy, par kisko dikhayein?” Julian asked with a sigh. “UP is going downhill everyday. It is the survival of the fittest here,” Julian said, his words a throwback to the rapacious days of the Company’s expansionist ways and the thuggee-ridden belt of UP’s Mainpuri, Etawah, Etah, Aligarh and Agra.


Gardner’s ‘Simple Life’

“Of course, I feel lost here. What will happen after I am gone is a thought that bothers me sometimes,” Julian said. Besides his son, Ashley, who established the Gardner Memorial School in Soron, Julian lives with his Gujarati Parsi wife in Fatehpur. The Gardners of today lead a simple life.

The school, which is attended by some 300-odd underprivileged children from villages surrounding Fatehpur and Soron, runs under a trusteeship of which England-based direct descendants of Lord Robert Clive are, among others, members of.

“Do you often relapse into reveries of the times when Colonel Gardner lived in these parts and waged wars elsewhere across India of the times,” I asked Julian.

Julian chuckled, saying, “Not quite, but yes, sometimes.” Today, Julian clings to the memories of a distant past – a portrait of his Rastafarian great ancestor, Colonel Williams, the Company’s indigo plantations in these parts of UP, the Gardners’ estates across Kasganj and much more that snapshots from colonial India’s past are made of.


Julian, the Medicine Man

Julian practices farming, rears poultry and cattle and sometimes goes out in the wild hunting partridges – yet again a romantic reversion to a time when law, or the lack of it, paved the way for the East India Company’s British rulers’ passions and persuasions.

But just as Julian is transported back in time, in walks heavy set Bunty Singh with a medical issue: His complaint is that he has lost all hunger. Julian then dons the medicine man’s hat, prescribing “ayurvedic” medicines to burly Bunty, owner of a nearby brick kiln:

Aapka jigar (liver) bada ho gaya hai,” Julian says in Hindi, the English accent of yore unmistakable. “Issey bhook badh jayegi (This will increase your appetite),” Julian advises Bunty, as he scribbles on a prescription. “Yeh goli zubaan pe rakhkar choosna…Samajh mein aaya?” Julian explains to Bunty, his authoritative but gentle prescriptive ways reminiscent of his British ancestors who sought to help and assist the uneducated native Indians of the times.

In UP’s Kasganj district, resides the descendant of Col William Gardner, an officer in British East India Company.
Julian turns the medicine man for Kasganj locals prescribing Ayurveda medicines. (Photo: Abhilash Mallick/The Quint)

“In such times, I take recourse to consulting an old compilation of local ayurvedic treatments which my naani has mastered back in those days,” Julian said, adding: “Sometimes, the villagers come to me to seek help over health issues.” In times of health-related distress, nearby villagers often rush to Julian for remedies – at a time when the UP government’s health machinery has almost collapsed.

Julian, who could easily lay claim to a barony in England today but never hankered for it, is a storehouse of stories that date back to the East India Company’s formative days across India.

Today, as UP is in a state of social ferment ahead of the first round of polling, Julian leaves behind a Latin thought (which he translated to English) meaning: “Judge not a man by his face, but by his deeds.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and incumbent UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, besides much of Independent India, could take a leaf out of this angrez’s moral book.

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