A Hedge? A Customs Hedge?

So Trump wants his beautiful wall, right, and at once time he said he wanted to make Mexico pay for it?

IMG_2382.JPGAs with so many follies of history, it turns out that particular strategy’s been tried before. The Brits built a wall of sorts in India, back in the days of the East India Company. And they intended to make the Indians pay for it.

It wasn’t exactly a wall, all the way. It was a hedge–well, sort of.

A Customs line was established which stretched across the whole of India, which in 1869 extended from the Indus to the Mahanadi in Madras, a distance of 2300 miles; and it was guarded by nearly 12,000 men… It would have stretched from London to Constantinople… it consisted principally of an immense impenetrable hedge of thorny trees and bushes.

A hedge? A Customs hedge? Turns out this was all about the infamous Salt Tax. On a whim, writer Roy Moxham, stumbling upon a reference to the hedge, decided to go look for it in India.

Now needles and haystacks are as nothing compared to the task of finding anything at all in India. The country of my birth, if I say so myself, specializes in obfuscation, delays, disappearing mirages, bureaucratic stumbling blocks, and other kinds of phenomena in the nearly-there-but-oh-no-look-out! category.

The Great Hedge of India combines Moxham’s historical quest with his journey on the ground. It’s full of marvelous information like the history of the tax on salt, which the East India Company quietly appropriated from local royal traditions and began to impose, in defiance of orders from London. The amount of salt used by an Indian family, it seems, was the subject of fierce argument, as was the question of whether Indian cattle or sheep needed salt. It’s an improbable story, well told, with little digressions into such things as the body’s need for salt and what is likely to have happened to people who were deprived of it.

The hedge itself was abandoned in 1879. If finding it on the ground seems an impossible task, consider also that Moxham had never used a map or a compass to go on a really long walk before. India is not the most salubrious setting to exercise such beginning skills. Moxham’s book alternately amuses and enlightens. The quixotic travel chapters detail the hospitality and kindness of friends and strangers alike, painting a heartwarming picture of rural India.

If Trump had any sense at all, he’d see the futility of this wall project. Unfortunately, he is no better equipped with either common sense or compassion than were the greedy and ruthless in the Company’s higher ranks, or their poorly paid, corrupt subordinates.

 

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