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Great Hedge of India: The Search for the Living Barrier That Divided a People Hardcover – April 27, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

The Indian equivalent of the Great Wall, the Customs Hedge, which is rarely mentioned in history books, was grown to prevent the smuggling of salt in response to the East India Company's oppressive Salt Tax. Composed of thorny trees and shrubs, this barrier covered 2500 miles and was attended by 12,000 men for 50 years before it was finally abandoned in 1879. In this notable debut, Moxham, a paper conservator obsessed with the Customs Hedge, recounts his efforts to confirm its existence. Armed with a Global Positioning System navigator and photocopies of old maps from the Royal Geographical Society and sustained by the hospitality of the locals, the author traveled through many remote villages of India's interior until he finally located remnants of the Customs Hedge in dacoit-infested Chambal. In his highly readable account, Moxham exposes the rapacity behind the levy and collection of this historically famous tax and the widespread corruption it engendered. For comprehensive history collections devoted to India and the Raj.DRavi Shenoy, Naperville P.L., IL
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

More than 2,000 miles long and tended by 12,000 workers. Was a hedge the British cultivated in India a mad monument to the topiary arts? Quite serendipitously in a colonial memoir, Moxham discovered such an oddity was maintained up to 1879, and he instantly decided to discover the hedge's purpose and any of its physical vestiges. The first task he ascertained from colonial archives stashed in London: the thistly hedge was the barbed-wire fence of its day, marking a customs line imposed to enforce the British tax on salt. Finding the hedge's remnants was a more elusive and frustrating labor, but it propels the travelogue in delightful directions as Moxham trains and ambles about central India, seeking help from villagers in locating the long-forgotten barrier. With revealing digressions into the salt tax's significance in the history of India--Gandhi defied it in 1930--the author rounds out an amazingly curious story, one to enjoy and savor while vicariously accompanying Moxham to see if he does find palimpsests of the hedge on the dusty plains. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 234 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; First Edition edition (April 27, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786708409
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786708406
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,090,777 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAME on March 25, 2001
Format: Hardcover
If you haven't heard of the Great Hedge of India, don't be surprised. Roy Moxham spent his every holiday in India, and thought he knew something of the nation, but when he came across an old book that mentioned the hedge, he had never heard of it. He found more references to it, did all the research he could, and then went on a quest to find it. _The Great Hedge of India: The Search for the Living Barrier that Divided a People_ (Carroll and Graf) is the delightful story of that quest. Moxham had the idea in the beginning that he was searching for a quintessentially British folly, but learned in his researches that it was a far-from-harmless monstrosity, "a terrible instrument of British oppression." He gives us the history of salt and of the salt tax, as well as salt physiology, and it's role in the deaths of millions in the last century. The salt tax and the hedge played a role in that sad story.
Fortunately, while Moxham has to fill us in on such history (and the history of the comparable French tax on salt), he also has the much more pleasant task of telling us about his researches and his travels. We get to learn about his finding period maps, how difficult they were to read, and how he came to use the Global positioning System on his hunt. But the cheeriest parts of the story have to do with his visits with friends and strangers in India. He is able to describe with good humor the frustration of travel by motorized rickshaw, inexplicably efficient or inefficient trains, and pedestrian searches in the heat and dust of the Indian plains. His Indian friends were unflaggingly helpful.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By "KB" Kamla Srinivasan on July 15, 2004
Format: Paperback
Like many students of Indian history, I thought I knew it all. Imagine my surprise when I came across "The Great Hedge of India," by Roxy Moxham and discovered that the British had built a living barrier of hedges between British India and the Indian States. That this British-built Hadrian Wall of sorts, referred to as the Custom Line by the British in India, was meant to curb smuggling of the lowly common everyday household ingredient-salt!
Moxham first stumbled across a reference to the Great Hedge in a lowly footnote in a book (aptly titled) "Rambles and Recollections of an Indian Official." That footnote became a full-fledged obsession for Moxham who spent countless hours and days in libraries hunting for more information on this living hedge. His quest takes him to various parts of India to hunt for this living "Customs Line."
This is a must read book for anyone interested in reading Indian history.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Oxford42 on September 16, 2006
Format: Paperback
The author Roy Moxham set out to uncover the story of a huge hedge the British built from Pakistan across India. He discovered though a much bigger story of oppression and how a large corporation sought to dominate a people. The hedge was built to control the movement of taxable commodities like salt and had a huge impact on the lives of Indians.

The salt tax is a key part of the story and a key reason for the hedge. Taxes on salt are ages old, salary is the from the Latin for payment in salt. In imposing the salt tax on Indians, the British East India company perpetuated the previous practice of Moghul princes.

Salt is so important to life because humans in general cannot survive without salt in their diet. The human body contains about six ounces of salt and salt is critical for the body processes. The body loses salt daily which must be replaced. Failure to replace lost salt can lead death and disease.

The British East India company's salt tax affected every one, but none more so than the poor of India. The company made huge profits from the tax in the 1700s and 1800s. Many British aristocrats and businessmen made fortunes from their investments in the British East India company. After the British government took over the rule of India from the British East India company, it could have stopped the salt tax, but didn't.

This is an eye-opening story. The only thing missing are detailed maps because Moxham frequently refers to and discusses maps of India.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By M. A Michaud on January 2, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This little book describes the author's initially quixotic quest to find the remnants of the world's longest hedge, briefly mentioned in an tome he finds in a used book store. Moxham discovers that British imperialists of the 19th century built a man-made barrier more than two thousand miles long, reaching across the Indian subcontinent. This hedge was designed to prevent the smuggling of salt from parts of India with low salt taxes to the area of Bengal, where salt taxes were very high. As Moxham expands his research into the history of this barrier, he discovers with growing horror the impact of imperial revenue policy on the lives of ordinary Indians, many of whom died because they could not afford the salt they needed in their diets. This previously neglected aspect of British imperial history makes one wonder how many other horrors lie buried in the dry pages of the Empire's official journals. Moxham, who writes in simple, declarative language, sometimes devotes too much space to the details of his encounters with modern-day Indians, though some of those encounters are charming. It is unfortunate that his book does not include a single photograph, such as one of the remaining piece of hedge he found. Michael Michaud, Vienna, Austria
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