Carrying Culture: Simla and Aï Khanum

What parts of “home” do people take with them when they move? I’m not thinking of most relocations in the US, where people remain inside their own culture more or less and just shift geography, but looking back, very far back, to people who left a familiar world and moved to one alien in both culture and topography. Do you adopt the local custom? Or do you blend what works in the new place with the best of the old? Or do you recreate the old world and hope for the best?

One of the sites in Barry Cunliffe’s book that caught my interest was Ai Khanum. It was nestled on the banks of the Kowkcheh River near where it flows into the Panj (aka Amu Darya aka Oxus) on the border of modern Afghanistan and Tajikistan, also known as way the h-ll away from Macedonia.

Your back is to the river. Nice defensive position in the days before artillery.

Your back is to the river. Nice defensive position in the days before artillery.

Not quite as lush as it has been in the past.

Not quite as lush as it has been in the past.

It was founded around 300 BC or so by some of Alexander the Great’s former soldiers during the time of his successor Seleukos, on top of a palace belonging to a Persian administrator. In doing so, they re-created a little Greek-Macedonian polis on the edge of the steppe frontier, complete with Greek temples, an agora, columns with Corinthian and Ionic capitals, mosaics, tile roofs (p. 219-220). They re-created a Greek city.

Not so compact as many poleis, but still Greek.

Not so compact as many poleis, but still Greek.

afgh02-06-18-800w

When in doubt, in the middle of a trade route at the far end of the known world, recreate what you knew as precisely as possible. That was the Greek and Macedonian response, at least in this case. The city lasted until migrating nomads attacked it twice, the second time in 130 BC. It seems to have been abandoned after that. But while it lasted, it was a pocket of Greek and Macedonian culture carved out of a rather different environment. You wonder what the children of Ai Khanum thought, listening to their fathers talking about the sea, the thalassa they might never encounter in their lifetimes.

Because of reading about the Raj, I crossed paths with Simla once more. Anyone who has read Kipling or about that time period is familiar with Simla, the “Hill Station” to which the British government in India retreated during the wet, unhealthy season. kalka-shimla-india-map

They recreated England as much as possible, with a few exceptions. Like the views.

" . . . Himalaya heavenward heading, sheer and vast, sheer and vast . . ." in the background.

” . . . Himalaya heavenward heading, sheer and vast, sheer and vast . . .” in the background.

Yes, this really is in northern India, not England.

Yes, this really is in northern India, not England.

If you ignored the Hindu and Muslim and Jain servants and merchants, and the tongas, and the flowers, and the monkeys, the seemingly vertical hillside upon which the houses perched, the Himalaya rising up like a wall, and the vast plains of India spreading out “like a yellowed parchment,” as M. M. Kaye put it, you could pretend you were back in England, with English people and English society. To this day, Shimla is one of the Hill Stations that prosperous Indians visit in order to avoid the wet. In the 1800s, it was a refuge for the Imperial People, a way to hold fast to all that was English and therefore proper. There were other Hill Stations, but the Viceroy and others went to Simla, and there power concentrated.

There’s something in me that sort of admires the determination of people to rebuild their world wherever they land. On the other hand, people who refuse to accept the rules and culture of their new, freely chosen surroundings are a major problem in the Western World right now. What is the balance, between disappearing into the local culture never to be seen again (aside from the occasional blue-eyed descendant) and forming a knot of the Old World that tries to lock out the new?

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2 thoughts on “Carrying Culture: Simla and Aï Khanum

  1. Senator4/Alinsky5, I have not approved your comment because of the sales link. Please ask permission before posting sales material.

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