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Essay: Dean Mahomet’s Bicultural Identity and Cultural Differences

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  • Published: 1 February 2018*
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Dean Mahomet developed himself into a bicultural man, accepting the practices and ways of the English, but not fully deserting the ways of Indian culture. He originally joins the English Company’s army, not due to a love and desire to serve the English, but because his father’s death had left him with no inheritance or prospects. He knew he had to make his own way in the world, and the English Company army proved to be his best opportunity. His decision appears to alienate him in both worlds, both English and Indian. Dean Mahomet adapts himself to the society in which he is currently submersed in (European and non-European) in order to further advance himself in this society, further removing himself from accepting in both cultures.

At a glance, Dean Mahomet appears to be almost fully accepting of English expansion in his country. Throughout his autobiography, he avoids any negative commentary regarding the English, however, it is clear to see that he has some differing viewpoints regarding English culture. One of the cultural differences that Dean Mahomet points out it the treatment of women. He describes the importance and almost reverence regarding marriage in the Indian culture and here it is noted the great differences between the social structure of England and the social structure of India. He explains that Indian culture “…shudders at the idea of exposing women to the public eye: they are held so sacred in India, that even the soldier in the rage of slaughter with not only spare, but even protect them. The Haram is a sanctuary against the horrors of wasting war, and ruffians covered with the blood of a husband, shrink back with confusion at the apartment of his wife.” Dean Mahomet only offers and explanation for the practice of Purdah, neither shunning, nor uplifting it.

Throughout the autobiography Dean Mahomet often uses the Persian and Hindi language but seems to make an effort to explain different cultural aspects to his readers in a way that it distinctly English. He seems to apply, in certain instances, an exaggerated exoticism when describing things to his foreign audience. His language seems almost to encourage the idea of an orientalistic mentality. Orientalism is a half understood fetishization of anything that seems to come from the East. Dean Mahomet plays to this idea through his use of flowery language to describe things from India. In one of his letters he describes the Nabob and his procession as a group that “…formed in the splendor and richness of their attire one of the most brilliant processions I ever beheld.” Dean Mahomet spends almost the entirety of Letter XI describing the vast splendor and pleasure of his visit to Nabob Mamarah Dowlah’s palace and it cannot be lost to the reader that he describes it as if he is a foreigner in his land, experiencing this vast splendor for the first time.

Dean Mahomet also seems to frequently describe the people of his native land as inferior to their English counterparts. In his first letter he gives a lengthy description of the difference between the two cultures. He describes the people of India as people tied to the natural way of life. They are sincere and genuine, “…devoid of every species of fraud or low cunning.” He even goes so far as to describe his people as almost a little naive to the ways of men and the ways of the world. In comparison, he describes the English as sophisticated, its people refined, and far more cultured than the people of India. Throughout the letters Dean Mahomet uses derogatory terms when referring to the natives of India. He calls them “lawless confederates” and “licentious barbarians” on one occasion.

But it also seems that he has reserved some type of sensitivity for his people and the yoke they must bear living under the English Company. Often the Company found themselves engaged in numerous skirmishes with the Native Indians, and Dean Mahomet laments over the senseless waste of war and fighting. In Letter XXXIV, he describes the jolt of empathy he has for these people describing their reaction to the advanced weaponry of the English as, “The refractory were awed into submission by the terror of our arms; yet humanity must lament the loss of those whom wasting war had suddenly swept away.” This seems to be one of the only times throughout his autobiography that Dean Mahomet addresses the English in a negative light, no matter how subtle.

Dean Mahomet found himself a stranger in his land. Some viewed him as an honorary member of Indian society, while others thought he was so far integrated into English society that felt the need to threaten him, just as they would have threatened an Englishman. He describes one instance in which he was captured by a group of men and feared fo his life for “So cruel were the merciless savages, that some were forming the barbarous resolutions of taking away  my life.” He continually uses white European language to describe the people of his native country.

But life was not easier for Dean Mahomet in Europe. As a foreigner, “His very identity as an Indian that made him stand out in society also marginalized him.” However, Dean Mahomet found a way to capitalize off of his foreign origins He found himself marketing his talents and skills as exotic and due to the popular mindset of orientalism, he found he was successful simply because people were interested in the so called mysteries of the East. He was depicted as a “Brighton ‘character’ with exotic India and Islam.” Dean Mahomet was able to make a life for himself in Europe simply because he was able to gain from the fact that he was Indian. Even though he might have been marginalized in English society, or merely thought of as a sort of trinket from the East, he was able to use this as a way to market his various businesses.

In conclusion, Dean Mahomet was able to adapt himself to the society in which he was currently associated with. He seems to have no real attachment to either European or non-European culture. He immerses himself in European culture when it is profitable to him and yet he also capitalizes on his Indian background when he realizes it will bring him capital gain. Overall, Dean Mahomet has no real identity. He is not Indian. He is not European. And though he has much knowledge about the workings of both English and Indian culture, he is ultimately rejected by both, removing the idea that he could be bicultural.

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