There’s something about a book borne out of a promise at a social meet. Such as the one, that stemmed out of Moin mir’s catching up with the publisher. The book, a 200+ -pager, Surat –Fall of a Port, Rise of a Prince, Roli Books, unearths nuggets of Surti history, previously unheard of, – charting the course of the east India company and its machinations in their dealings with the nawabs and rulers of Surat.
|Mirroring the Past...
|The Portuguese and the Dutch stamp on Surat finds negligible mention except perhaps at the book’s nascent stage.
Surat- a port that held commercial maritime promise squashed by the intrigues of the East India company, is seen through a personal periscope of the author – a scion of the Nawab family of Surat. The author’s passion buttressed by historical facts, helps weave a warp and weft of the history of this port city from Akbar’s capture of the castle at Surat in 1573 to the Hindustani prince’s unprecedented judicial win in London in a year before the first war of independence.
The journey takes us through the infighting among Hindustanis (nothing unusual about that for us), the divide and rule policy of the EIC, their clever coinage of treaties with the nawabs and their blatant disregard when it suited the company, the astute positioning of Bombay as the port of trade and the copious freight charges that filled the coffers of the company- largely summed up in a tussle for the complete domination of Surat.
It is not up until the third chapter that we are introduced to the protagonist, as it were, of the book Meer Jafar Ali Khan whose mounting as a future hero is cleverly done as that of a sagacious pre-teen who counters his father’s arguments on grounds of rationality and propriety, as a marksman who saves his father’s life and as a dedicated understudy of his dad’s jurisprudence.
All this to culminate in a striking account of how history was created as a legal counter attack was launched by the same astute Jafar (carried the paternal title of darbar shree) against the corporation in the House of Commons. A personal victory as well as that of Surti pride, that ends with a silent yet a palpable plea for commemoration of the genius of Jafar- whose grave is surrounded by shops and bric-à-brac sellers in modern day Surat. From the lush gardens, exotic fruit orchards, waterfalls, palaces and castles, Turkish rugs and the gemstone riches of port city to the steadily chiselled decline of the city by the company- to the resurrection of the pride and in the restoration of their rightful claim; the book takes you to a meandering journey along the Taptiriver down the centuries!
The author makes no claim of being a historian or a literary genius, to a reader quite obvious from the absence of a steady sparkle of a well crafted prose, sometimes prosaic recounting of facts as a history teller, and the occasional blurring of the lines between historical non-fiction and fictional folk lore. The earnest tone however balances out the small oversights for an informed reader. The personal drive to commemorate and pay respect to a well deserved feat and in felicitating an undiscovered diamond deed, is nevertheless, worthy of a quiet read, minor bumps in reading pleasure aside.
Surat: Fall of a port, Rise of a Prince
Defeat of the East India Company in the House of Commons , Roli Books