Family lore insisted that my great-great-great-great grandmother was a white English woman (my grandfather recalled his grandfather telling him that his grandmother was white, which is the approximate limit of accurate oral transmission). This lore has proven to be accurate. It is not incredibly surprising that I have a European ancestor from the tumultuous period during which the Mughal Empire collapsed into smaller successor states, the Maratha Empire rose, and British and French armies competed for access to the various princes of India. During this period, unlike during the 19th century British Raj, Europeans were not a dominant ruling-class, isolated from the native population by walled compounds. Thousands of soldiers of fortune, advisors, and seaman mingled with the indigenous populations during this period, including the area of coastal Andhra Pradesh where my family is from—this area came under British rule relatively early, in 1765.
Lots of interesting stuff in this piece, not just the remarkable accuracy of that piece of oral history, but of the history of Indian people as a whole. For example, that modern Indian people are descended from two main groups, one (Sanskrit-speakers) originally from the steppes of Central Asia and another that had been in the subcontinent many tens of thousands of years, and that was (and is) related to Australian Aboriginal people. With other smaller groups too, later, like Turkic steppe peoples, Europeans, and East Asians. Also, the tidbit that Dravidian languages likely didn’t originate in India, but in modern-day Iran, travelling along the coast! And the general point that cultural/linguistic/religious transitions often spread outwards from the elites: as in, a new elite would seize power, and over time surrounding peasant populations would take on their cultural traits to try to get some upward mobility for themselves. It’s wonderfully fascinating stuff 😊