Little Duleep Singh, aged five, had the misfortune to become the Maharaja of the Punjab, India, just at the time when Queen Victoria, her government and the East India Company were deciding on how to acquire the Punjab for themselves.
Get rid of this kid, they reckoned, and this rich slice of India is ours for the taking! And thus did it come to pass, around about 1850. Duleep was 11-12 when he was persuaded to come to England, where he was carefully molded into becoming a strikingly attractive, wealthy English gentleman. Who never returned to his people, his culture or his rule.
The other day I found myself explaining this piece of history to some very young children. Its a complex tale, and not much fun. But I found one moment with which to engage them, where the little Maharaja was presented to the Sikh army by his uncle, on an elephant. So I drew this for them, letting them guess which animal it would turn out to be as the drawing grew.
Yes yes, I know this isn’t the real way an Indian ruler would have ridden an elephant, but it worked for them. Later, when I was looking at this photo of the drawing on my phone, I suddenly remembered that many years ago I once had occasion to draw a cartoon on British India… After a long rummage, I dug it up, and blew the dust off – here it is below.
Put them together, and what do you know, another example of the notion that a picture can say a thousand words.
If the one above describes in simple terms what was going on in the Punjab before Duleep’s short reign, then the one below describes what happened after: British rule, for the next hundred years or so. Cartoons – the grain of truth is always there somewhere…