“If the Sultan of Mysore had had a bit more luck, George Washington might be known as the Haider Ali of North America,” writes Blake Smith, a professor at the University of Chicago. Who is Haider Ali? You may be wondering. And why are we comparing him to the Founding father of the United States of America? Isn’t that a bit heretical?
Bear with me, as I untangle this mystery and introduce you to an incredible father-son duo, from South India, who had a part to play in the American revolution.
As July 4th is approaching us, I accidentally came across a short article that talked about Tipu Sultan, the ruler of Mysore, who fought and died in battle against the British empire. As present day attempts at revisionist history are taking place, it is good to place some historical facts before us and recall the many sacrifices that non-Americans have made, towards America’s independence. I grew up in Bangalore, about three hours away from Mysore city (back in the day, the state of Karnataka was called Mysore), in case you read some material and get confused. So, growing up, I have been intimately familiar with Tipu Sultan and Hyder Ali’s history.
Tipu was born in 1750, in Devanahalli, near the present-day city of Mysore. He was the son of Hyder Ali, a former commander of the Wodeyar King’s army who rose to become King.
As Smith reminds us, this was a time when the British East India company was expanding in South India and Hyder Ali sought to contain their influence. He was part of a broader global coalition, which included the American revolutionaries that sought to contain (and in the American case, kick out) the British. “The French sent money and military advisors to both Mysore and the US, aiming to avenge its defeat by stoking colonial rebellions against British,” he points out.
Smith further reminds us that the American fascination with Mysore’s rulers – Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan was such that newspapers covered it and poems were written. Yet, he suggests to us, this fascination died out in a generation and Americans forgot about both Tipu and his father.
As we celebrate July 4th in the US, and remember the struggles to establish democracy, just as we are struggling to keep it; it would be good to remember the global dimensions of this struggle. We have had allies in this fight and will need allies, both at home and abroad to stand up for the best in us, as a people. Tipu Sultan, a man who never stepped foot on American soil can, and perhaps, should be seen as an exemplar of this spirit of inquiry and courage.
To be continued….