Book Review: India, Bharat and Pakistan – a Not so Gentle Reminder

Lawyer and author J Sai Deepak is back with the book of his India that is Bharat Quadrology. I had reviewed his first book India that is Bharat almost a year back – you can find my review here.

The Summary: 

J Sai Deepak’s second book dissects the time from the fall of the Mughal empire to the Khilafat movement relying heavily on the tools developed in the first book and a vast number of primary sources. The author also investigates the trail of the Islamic doctrine consolidated during the Fatwa-e-Alamgiri (compiled on orders of Aurangzeb) back to the 13th century Islamic scholar Taymiyyah and Syed Ahmad Sirhindi (a contemporary of Mughal Emperor Akbar).

The two figures covered in detail among the post Mughal Ulema are Shah Wahiullah Dehlawi and Syed Ahmad Baraelvi – the two giants who have shaped the Islamic revivalism in the 18th century. The establishment of Wahhabi power center in Northwest of Punjab, establishment of the various schools of Islam in North India – Deobandi, Barelvi, Ahl-i-Hadith, Ali-garh and the British crackdown of Wahhabism are all discussed in sufficient detail before jumping off to Syed Ahmad Khan and the modern genesis of the two-nation theory. The author then covers all the important events from the Partition of Bengal to the Khilafat movement – relying heavily on primary sources. The book ends with a summary of the Khilafat riots – especially the Mopla massacre.

My 2 Annas:

It took me 3 weeks to complete the first section of the book. I completed the rest of the book in 2 days. I think this statement itself is a review in a nutshell. If I had to give a one phrase review for book 1 it would be “Overstated yet immensely Consequential“, if I have to do the same for book 2 it would be “About time or Oh My Gods“. This is not to say I don’t have disagreements with the book – especially some of author’s conclusions, but the overwhelming thrust of the book is something I strongly agree with.

Firstly, the book busts all the popular notions of two-nation theory and it being solely a creation of the British. The author effectively traces the modern origins of the two-nation theory to Syed Ahmad Khan and the Aligarh movement at the very least. The book also covers some of the lesser-known events from the 19th century – the Wahhabi movement and the conflict in the Northwestern frontier province. The book makes it abundantly clear that Islamic revivalism was less a reaction to Colonialism and more a reaction to Hindu and Sikh resurgence. The fact that both the British and Muslims saw each other as closer religiously and hence more acceptable/worthy instead of the “Hindu” is driven through via a vast number of primary sources. 

The common trope among the secular (even Hindutva discourse) about the Syncretic nature of Sufis is addressed (though I felt the author didn’t fully go into this question).

Location 528

Pan-Islamism and its proponents – especially Al-Afghani are also covered in the book.

Secondly, the book also goes into origins and progress of “Moderate Nationalism” under Indian National Congress right up to the ascendency of the “Mahatma”. I had expected the author to be slightly unfair to the Indian National congress and especially the role of Gandhiji but to my surprise he hasn’t. Though some conclusions may seem a tad unfair at times but because the author relies heavily on primary references the “judgement” is moderated. Most importantly the support of Khilafat which is put firmly on the shoulders of Gandhiji in Hindutva circles, is clearly shown to be a mainstream view of Indian National Congress years before ascendency of Gandhiji, absolving Gandhiji of some of the blame.

The inability of the “Indian nationalism led by Hindus” in dealing the Islamic exceptionalism both before and during the period of “Hindu-Muslim” harmony is on display in the book. The author compares “Coloniality” of the Hindus to the “Rootedness” and “Intransigence” of Muslims for these defeats. Whereas there can be no doubt that Muslim “Intransigence” was important, I find the blame laid on “Coloniality” not watertight.

Take example of Jawaharlal Nehru and Kemal Pasha “Attaturk”. Both were modernizers who tried to jettison the past of their respective countries. What separated them both wasn’t any rootedness or lack of deracination – but a personal attribute, namely political ruthlessness, incidentally something Mohammad Ali Jinnah shared. Kemal Pasha not only broke the tradition of the Khalifa but also forced the Roman alphabet overnight on the Turks. Similarly, in India the two heads who had the most clear-eyed vision of the thread of Islamic exceptionalism were Dr Ambedkar and Veer Savarkar (both “Modernists”). I would instead put the blame on Hindu naivete which is an unfortunate byproduct of Hindu Pluralism – we simply never understood the other. Most of our ReConquistadors (with notable exceptions) did not pursue Reconversions.

Another thing I found mildly irritating in the book (continued from book one) – is the use of the term Middle eastern coloniality/consciousness. Ironically the term “Middle Eastern” itself reeks of its Western Colonial origins. I would have used the term Islamic or Arabic instead, but this is sematic disagreement which doesn’t matter much.

a Not so Gentle Reminder:

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results“.

The disagreements with the author’s conclusions notwithstanding, the book is a not so Gentle Reminder for the India that is Bharat. In retrospect, the compromises Bharatiya nationalism offered, from accepting disproportionate Muslim representation to supporting the fanatical Khilafat movement, may have worked against the Indian civilization itself. While it may be unfair to excessively blame the Bharatiya leaders from the past, it’s imperative to call out those who are flirting with the same approach in the 21st century (incidentally my position a few years ago). Essentially the Hindu leadership made a Faustian bargain and sold their brains. Though Swatyantraveer Savarkar is almost absent from the book, he cast a long shadow in my mind while I read the book.

Another popular trope I felt the author could have busted was the trope that Islamic intransigence in India is largely the legacy of “it having been spread by the sword”. The Mopla carnage was undertaken by descendants of Arab traders who came without any major conflict. Maybe violent intransigence and exclusivity is a feature not a bug.

The book becomes unputdownable after the Lucknow Pact, as the Hindu-Muslim unity discussed here which didn’t even last a decade remains as relevant today as ever. The riots covered in the end of the book – especially the Mopla carnage is almost unbearable to read reminding the reader of Kashmir. The letter by Annie Beasant to Gandhiji stands out. The book also brings into focus some of the lesser-known riots like Kohat. Incidentally the trigger for the Kohat ethnic cleansing was blasphemy, a topic which continues to remain as relevant as ever.

As I write this review a century after Mopla Riots, raids are conducted on Popular Front of India members while the PFI supporters can call for Hartals with partial success in Malabar coast. If the first book was a red pill in a blue jacket (Akshay Alladi (@akshayalladi) / Twitter), this is a केसरी (Saffron) pill in a green jacket.

I have skipped over many topics from the book in this review for brevity, but I would urge the reader of this post to buy and read this book in its entirety and engage with the uncomfortable facts it lays down infront of us.

The book ends with the following quote

Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

The above line becomes even more relevant especially give the way history is taught in India. I would end this review with a quote (in one of its many forms) most people reading this review would recognize.

अश्वत्थामा हतः इति, नरो वा कुंजरोवा !

Hero and other stories; The short stories of Nadir Ali

As many of our readers know by now, I am Nadir Ali’s son, so this is not an unbiased post 🙂

Nadir Ali (1936-2020) was a well-respected Punjabi poet and fiction writer. Hero and Other Stories is a collection of selected short stories translated from the Punjabi. It was published in 2022 by Weavers Press. The originals are in Punjabi and translation always loses a lot of what was in the original, but people who cannot read or understand Punjabi will still find them interesting. His stories are snapshots of a vanished or vanishing Punjab, but also an attempt to keep it alive. They are usually inspired by real characters that he had met or real events that he had witnessed, so in that sense they are also deeply personal. His politics were mostly left wing but these politics are rarely explicit in his stories; A lingering suspicion that modern life, whether Right wing or Left wing, is fundamentally anti-human, is a more prominent theme, but even that takes second place to accurate portrayal of the life and times his characters. Whatever the topic, the characters are always realistic and their culture is portrayed as it was, not how a political or ideological preference would like it to be. These are the lives of peasants, landlords, lovers, dacoits, wrestlers, murderers and heroes. All except one have been translated by Amna Ali and Moazzam Sheikh (I translated one). The Punjabi language is itself a character in his stories, so translation can never do them full justice, but the husband and wife team has done an admirable job and manage to convey much even in translation. But anyone who can read Punjabi should check out the originals. I hope someday we can also produce audio versions in the original punjabi, as many in Pakistani Punjab cannot read Punjabi with any fluency.  I am posting excerpts from Moazzam Sheikh’s introduction to the book as well as one story. This particular story is fiction, but it is inspired by a real character, the saint of the crows (pir Kaawan aala), who lived (stark naked) in Gujrat in my grandfather’s time and whose shrine still exists there.

To buy the book (and of course, i hope some of you DO buy it) buy from Weaver’s press at this link. This is better for the small press, but if you want to buy from Amazon, click here. 

Excerpt from Moazzam Sheikh’s Introduction to Hero and Other Stories

     It’s widely agreed that all creative work is a result of the creator’s unconscious mind – what and when the unconscious mind unlocks, no one fully understands – Continue reading Hero and other stories; The short stories of Nadir Ali

Episode 13: History of South India from 1100-1400 AD


13th Episode of the History Podcast.  Shrikanth, Mukunda and Gaurav speak to Maneesh on all things South India from 1100-1400 AD.

The dynasties that ruled, the zeitgeist of the era and the legacy that thrives.




Sources and References:

1. A History of South India – K.A Nilakantha Sastri
2. Essay on Vedanta Deshika – Elisa Freschi :
3. Tarikh-i-Firuz Shahi – Ziauddin Barani (an early history of Delhi Sultanate)
4. Tarikh-i-Farishta – Mohammad Qasim Farishta
6. A Forgotten Empire : Vijayanagar – By Robert Sewell
7. Futuh-us-Salatin by Abdul-Malik Isamy
8. Tiruvendipuram inscription of Rajaraja III –
9. Travels of Marco Polo – Marco Polo
10. Travels of Ibn Batutah – Ibn Batutah (1325 – 1354)
11. Philosophy of Madhvacharya – BNK Sharma –



All Things Tamil Cinema


Maneesh talks to Sai and Arun on all things Tamil Cinema- its history, its unique relationship with the political milieu of Tamil Nadu, its evolution over the years and the cults of personalities that it has spawned.

@psynarayan    @worklifewinrep    @maneesht




  • M. K. Thyagaraja:
  • Sivaji Ganesan:
  • K. Balachander:
  • Mari Selvaraj:





British Officers of the EIC army. A force multiplier.

From Major Amin

TLDR: The British officers of the EIC army were a crucial force multiplier. The same regiments WITHOUT British officers were much less effective. I would add that by 1947, they seem to have figured out how to train Indians to be as good, at least at junior levels. But not yet at higher command levels?

British officer of East India Company the greatest force multiplier

sepoy perceptions about military effectiveness of english east india company Excerpts from Sepoy Rebellion of 1857- 59 Reinterpreted by Agha.H.Amin ,17 August 1998 Military effectiveness of British East India Company • May 2021 • DOI: • 10.13140/RG.2.2.35734.88648 •

Sepoy Perceptions about EEIC Military Effectiveness

The Bengal Army was the brain child of Lord Clive’s military genius. The Bengal sepoys related to each other by blood relationship and caste bonds had served the EEIC for some 100 years when they rebelled in 1857. These men had a very close contact with the British and had observed them from very close quarters. Any neutral and unbiased account of the events of 1857 clearly proves that the Britisher as an officer was never disliked by the sepoys. As an officer who served in Pakistan Army I can state with conviction that the British provided excellent leadership to the Indians. They definitely knew how to lead and inspire the Indian, leading them from the forefront which I am afraid few of at least our native post 1947 in Pakistan. People who rose to be Generals did not lead from the front, either in Burma or in 1965 or in 1971.

The sepoy admired and revered the British officer. In 1857 he was rebelling against the system instituted by the EEIC. Against policies formulated by men constituting a board of directors in far off England. The greasing of cartridges with pig or cow fat similarly was also an administrative decision. The sepoy perceived the British officer as a fair and brave leader and many British officers reciprocated these feelings. One of the British commanding officer committed suicide when his native infantry regiment was disbanded. Many others resisted disbandment of their units. One troop of 3rd Light Cavalry the most crucial unit of Bengal Army Sepoys as a matter of fact loyally fought for the British in 1857. It appears, however, that sepoy perceptions about EEIC military effectiveness changed from absolute faith in the invincibility of the EEIC as a military machine to skepticism from 1804 to 1857.

Before we proceed further we must state that the first major reverse or defeat which the EEIC suffered in India was in 1780 at the hands of Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan who were heading forces whose opponents Hector Munro and Baillie in 1780 were defeated in a manner which was described by Fortescue the official historian of the British army in the following words, “The blunders had been flagrant and from a military point of view, Munro must be held solely responsible for one of the greatest calamities that has ever befallen the British arms”469. But this happened with the Madras Army.

The Bengal Army sepoy realized for the first time in 1804 that the that EEIC was not invincible. This happened while dealing with the Mahrattas and not the Afghans who came much later. In 1804 five battalions of sepoys and about 3000 irregular horse left by the C in C Bengal Army Lord Lake to keep the Mahratta Holkar in check under the command of Colonel Monsoon were forced to make a disastrous retreat from Central India to Agra470. The results of this reverse were short term since Lord Lake immediately assumed personal command and defeated the Mahrattas. However, the harm had been done and the myth of invincibility of the EEIC as far as the Bengal Army was concerned was challenged for the first time. Monsoon’s retreat was followed by a much more serious reverse which for many years shattered the EEIC myth of invincibility. This happened at Bhurtpore, the Hindu Jat fortress which is the only fort in British Indian history which a British army in India failed in a siege to capture. Leading the EEIC army in this case was a man of no less a stature than Lord Lake who had previously captured Delhi and destroyed Mahratta power in North India in battle of Laswari. (It must be remembered that Panipat – 1761 checked the Mahrattas, but this was temporary since within few years they recaptured Delhi. It was at Laswari on 01 Nov. 1803 that one European infantry regiment and a couple of Bengal Army Regiments composed of roughly 3/4 Hindu soldiers and 1/4 Hindustani Muslims destroyed the Mahratta Army) 471. In 1805 Lake failed to capture Bhurtpore. He made a first assault in January 1805 but failed to capture the fort. The British troops became so demoralised that the three European regiments i.e. HM 75 Foot, HM 76 Foot and the 1st Bengal Europeans refused orders to attack and withdrew 472! Almost a thousand casualties were suffered but repeated British assaults were repulsed. At last on 24 February Lord Lake withdrew his army from Bhurtpore. Subsequently, the Hindu Jat Raja sued for peace in 1805 due to reasons of political expediency; but the fact remained that militarily this Hindu Jat Raja had not been defeated! The EEIC never forgot this defeat and later on they did capture Bhurtpore but this was much later i.e. on 18 January 1826. Siege of Bhurtpore The force used at Bhurtpore this time was larger than the one the EEIC used to recapture Kabul in September 1842473 in the first Afghan War.

Another reverse which the EEIC suffered was in the Nepal war of 1814-16. General Bal Bhadra,the indomitable Gurkha commander in Anglo Nepal War of 1814-16 Here their initial advance into Nepal was repulsed. Nepal was subsequently defeated using the Bengal Sepoys but again the harm had been done. The sepoy’s confidence in the British officer was a little shaken. The EEIC retreat from Kabul to Jalalabad in the first Afghan war was not a big disaster keeping in view the numbers involved. There were only 700 Europeans in some 5000 troops in the weak and starved brigade which withdrew from Kabul in January 1842 and which was destroyed by an overwhelming force of some 30,000 Afghans taking advantage of harsh weather and shortage of food in this EEIC force. The EEIC troops largely composed of Bengal sepoys did subsequently recapture Kabul in September 1842. But the human mind is not a computer and the net significant impression produced on the sepoy was that the EEIC had been forced to retreat.

The extremely tough resistance of the valiant Sikhs in the First and Second Sikh wars again produced a strong impression on the mind of the Bengal Army Sepoy. At Mudki the main British army survived just because the Sikh general Tej Singh did not attack them,474a otherwise their destruction was certain. Battle of Mudki This was a battle fought on absolutely plain land, unlike Afghanistan where the Afghans bravery had a deep connection with adverse mountainous terrain. The impressions of the Sikh wars were the deepest in convincing the sepoys that the British were not invincible. In Afghanistan the mountains, the adverse weather and the small numbers were an excuse; but at Chillianwala everything favoured the British and yet they failed! Tej Singh the Hindustani Hindu imported by Ranjit Singh from Meerut,UP in hope that a non Punjabi general would be reliable just as Nawaz thought in case of Musharraf. Tejh Singh turned out to be the traitor who betrayed Sikhs at Moodki All these disasters from 1804 till 1849 certainly had an influence on the mind of the Bengal sepoy and reinforced his decision to rebel in 1857. The sepoys felt in 1857 that they could meet the Europeans on the battlefield as an equal.

Their perceptions were however erroneous in one area. They did not realize that the principals force multiplier of sepoy efficiency was superior leadership of the British officer. Without British leadership the military effectiveness of the sepoy reduced by some 75%. Since the British suppressed the initial rebellions in Punjab they were able to use Punjab and Frontier’s manpower to create new regiments or in using comparatively new regiments raised in 1846-49 which were used with as much effect at Delhi as the Bengal sepoy units at Kabul or Ghazni or at Gujrat. The British officer of 1857 was the greatest force multiplier of military effectiveness by virtue of leadership which was far superior to be “Rebel” leadership in terms of “Resolution” “Tactical Efficiency” reinforced by an iron frame administrative organisation created by the EEIC during its 100 year rule in India and its eight year old rule in the Punjab.

Why Hindu modernity is incomplete without Hindu Capitalism

With the recent debate emerging on what constitutes Hindu modernity, the general conclusion of the discussion being that the first stage of Hindu modernity was the Bhakti movement which reflected social reform. It helped synthesizing complex philosophical metaphysics through devotionalism, reduced caste barriers and made incremental changes; to create a modified society without breaking its structural edifice.

The second stage of Hindu modernity would constitute the reforms of the 19th century starting from the Bengal Renaissance and then finally culminating into the caste egalitarian, temple entry movements all the way until the early to mid-20th century. Between these two milestones, a number of creditworthy causes such as abolition of child marriage, the removal of Sati, allowing widow remarriage and banning of dowry were also achieved. New religious sects such as Brahmo Semaj, Arya Samaj, Ramakrishna Mission emerged, whose dynamism created a new way of looking at Dharma. While the first stage of Hindu modernity looked at making the message immensely acceptable to the masses, the second stage helped in enabling Hinduism to keep its feet into the modern world in the socio-cultural sphere. What was left out though from both these stages was economic development and general prosperity of the masses. For Hinduism to truly emerge in the contemporary world, it needs to bridge this final lap, the last mile to get it over the hump.

For any religious philosophy to truly emerge and make an impact on a world stage, it needs to be backed up not just by soft power but by hard power. For too long ashrams, yogis, gurus and mantras have helped keep Hindu soft power going but relying too much only on soft power can only take you so far. Greek and Roman philosophy had huge impact on the world stage as they were backed Alexander’s and Caesar’s feats of military innovation. The Druids who represented the elites of Celtic society also had a well-organized, structured and an established religion, but the core of their framework was lost and failed to make a mark, as they failed in defending their homeland. In the polytheistic world, the Gods were a free market with their rise and fall shadowing those of their patronized cities. Hence, going by this historical evidence, it is quite remarkable that Hinduism managed to make the impact that it did against all odds, despite facing centuries of hostile foreign rule.

It is because of the brutality of the Turkic, Mughal and British rule that almost all the reform movements tended to focus on religion, theology & society rather than economy. For the economic discourse to emerge, Hindus needed to be masters of their own destiny. While they most often resisted these foreign rulers, they were seldom truly able to enjoy uninterrupted and peaceful reigns to focus on their general economic well-being.

With the advent of Independence, a glimmer of hope had risen but with the economy left in tatters, after a long period of colonial rule and the following decades of socialism; Hindu vitality was lost. In fact, not only did fail to make a mark economically but even in matters of religion, there was an inordinate decline, with the Nehruvian consensus hitting at the heart of the Hindu Dharma in ways that even the foreign invaders did not in the past.

The 1991 reforms had created a hope and indeed worked initially. But the lack of follow-up, from successive governments led to the petering away of the advantages that were gained initially. The economy laboured through, from agriculture to services with vast rural to urban migration. The intervening stage of industrialization eluded it fully and India was neither able to create the required ecosystem for industrial growth, nor able to train enough skilled manpower to harness its demographic dividend. The result being that growth started stagnating and a vacuum was created.

Hindu society needs to address this vacuum quickly. For if Hinduism is to make the next level of modernization, it is important to resolve this very component with an immediate sense of urgency. For without this, all the philosophical gravitas and cultural capital it acquired in the previous centuries would be lost and the vitality of Dharma itself will be at a threat.

History Podcast Episode 12: Social Milieu of North India 700-1200AD


The History Podcast resumes on Brown Pundits.  In episode 12 Mukunda and Jay talk to Maneesh about the cultural and social milieu in North India from 700-1200 AD.

They talk about the waning influence of Buddhism and the evolution of various schools of Philosophy. Arts, science and role of temples in an era that sees North India’s first brush with Islam.




@raghman36    @jayvtweets     @maneesht


Sources and References:

1. Al-Hind, Volume 1 Early Medieval India and the Expansion
of Islam 7th-11th Centuries by Andre Wink
2. Prabandhacintāmani of Merutunga Ācārya, Translated by C. H. Tawney.
3. Hammīra Mahākāvya. Translated by Pandit Nathulal Trivedi Madhukar       Shastri.
4. Medieval Kashmir and the Science of History by Walter Slaje
5. “Ramayana and Political Imagination in India.” by Sheldon Pollock
6. “Epic and Counter-Epic in Medieval India.” by Ahmed Aziz
7. Representing the Other?: Sanskrit Sources and the Muslims (Eighth to    Fourteenth Century) by Brajadulal Chattopadhyaya
8. Prithviraj Vijay Mahakavyam of Mahakavi Shri Jayanak Rachit translated by Madan Mohan Sharma.
9. Agamadambara by jayanta bhatta
10.  Abhinavgupta
11. Hemchandra
12. Kumrila Bhatt
13. Prabhakara Bhatt




The Survey of India

Survey of India

Hamid Hussain

 “We travel not for trafficking alone.

By hotter winds our fiery hearts are fanned.

For lust of knowing what should not be known,

We take the Golden Road to Samarkand.” 

                                                                  James Elroy Flecker



Eighteenth century India and its neighboring regions were an exotic place for outsiders and not much was known about the geography and people of this large swath of land. An odd traveler or explorer published the details of his perilous journey among strange and alien land and people for the home audience.  Arrival of East India Company (EIC) for trade and later territorial expansion brought modern scientific methods of exploration and mapping that filled up the empty spaces on maps. 

 During military operations, officers collected localized information about terrain, availability of supplies to support troops and animals and information about local population.  However, this information was localized and limited to military operation at hand.  Knowledge about land and people ruled by EIC rapidly expanded.  Over the years, a small group of extraordinary British and native explorers contributed to sciences of geography and anthropology. This was an area where political, administrative, military and spying arts freely intermingled.

 In eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, India’s frontiers were changing with territorial expansion of EIC.  In these decades, frontier moved from Oudh, Gangetic plains, Sindh and Punjab to Northwestern and Northeastern frontiers. In the context of defense of India, area of British influence also expanded to Tibet, Chinese and Russian Turkistan and Afghanistan.  The Royal Geographic Society (RGS) became the patron of the advancement of the field of geography on scientific grounds and published works of explorers of India and its neighborhood.

 In 1800, three separate surveys were started in India: Revenue, Topographical and Trigonometrical (later named Great Trigonometrical Survey – GTS).  In 1878, all three were amalgamated into a single Survey of India.  James Rannell (1742-1830), William Lambton (1756-1823), George Everest (1790-1866), Thomas George Montgomerie (1830-1878), Henry Trotter, William Johnson, James Walker, Colonel Frederick Bailey (1882-1967), Sir Thomas Hungerford Holdich, Godwin-Austin, Captain Francis Younghusband and others were exceptional individuals.  They were driven by a sense of adventure, exploration and duty.  They were highly committed individuals willing to suffer extreme hardships in strange and unknown lands. They instilled same spirit among their native assistants. Surveying in frontier areas was a dangerous task as locals correctly concluded that surveying was the steppingstone towards loss of their freedom.  There was an Afghan saying that “First comes one Englishman for shikar (hunting), then come two to draw a map, and then comes an army to take your land.  So, it is best to kill the first Englishman”.


 A surveying school was established in Madras in 1794 for training of natives in surveying techniques. A number of Anglo-Indians were also recruited as sub-assistants.  In the first quarter of nineteenth century, some natives who received English language education at Delhi College became qualified assistants to British military, civil and survey officials. The status of this new generation was higher than the ‘munshi’ who traditionally acted as clerk, scribe, translator and tutor of British superiors.  The new title of ‘Persian Secretary’ elevated the social and financial status of the new generation and proficiency in English language was the single most important factor of this advancement. Two members of the first class of Delhi College became well known travelers and wrote their memoirs in English based on daily journals that they kept.  Mohan Lal served with Alexander Burns and Shahamat Ali served with Resident of Ludhiana Agency Lieutenant Colonel Claude Wade and later Resident of Malwa.

 Father of Indian Geography James Rennell mapped EIC holdings of Bengal and Bihar in later part of eighteenth century. Rennell acknowledged the contributions of his native surveyors. In 1770s,  Gholam Mohammad surveyed the roads between Bengal and Deccan, Mirza Mughal Beg explored northwestern India and Sadanand surveyed Gujrat. This is the earliest written record of work of native surveyors. 


McCartney mentioned his two native assistants Zaman Shah and Mahmood Shah who assisted him in mapping Afghanistan. Alexander Burns relied heavily on his secretary Mohan Lal and surveyor Muhammad Ali.  Mirza Izzatullah Beg was from an influential family that had served Mughals.  He became an authority on his own due to his unique background, intelligence, education, hard work and travels. He used rigorous methods of accuracy and left written record of his adventures.  In 1812-13, he travelled from India to Tibet, Chinese Turkistan (Yarkand) and Central Asia. He served under Thomas Metcalf (helping collecting intelligence in Multan and surrounding areas), Mountstuart Elphinstone (travelled with him to Kabul) and William Moorecraft (reconnaissance mission to Tibet, Chinese Turkistan & Bukhara). He rose to become key secretary of the Delhi Residency.

 William Moorecraft in his trips to Nepal, Tibet and Central Asia had company of some exceptional natives including Ghulam Haider Khan and Pundit Harbalam.  He also had assistance of two brothers; Bir Singh and Deb Singh.  They were Bhotias: Indians of Tibetan descent. Another native Harkh Dev was assigned the task of survey and recorded distance by a measured pace.  This technique was later to be refined and used by ‘pundits’ during survey of Tibet and Chinese Turkistan. Sarat Chandra Das was one of the famous pundits’ who was a Bengali scholar of Tibetan language and culture.  In the last quarter of eighteenth century, Nain Singh, Kalyan Singh and Kishen Singh surveyed Chinese Turkistan.

 Arthur Conolly (6th Bengal Light Cavalry) in his travels to Tsarist Russia, Caucasus, Afghanistan and Baluchistan was accompanied by Syed Karamat Ali. Mirza Shuja served with Eldred Pottinger in Heart in 1837 and later conducted military survey around Peshawar, Baluchistan, large swaths of Afghanistan and Chinese Turkistan.  He also performed sensitive intelligence gathering while teaching English to Amir Dost Mohammad Khan’s sons in Kabul.

 Hayder Shah was from Peshawar and served as Havildar in Bengal Sappers and Miners. He along with another native explorer Ata Mohamad explored Dir, Swat, Chitral and Badakhshan.  Later, he undertook another survey from Kabul to Bokhara. Naik Ghafoor Shah also of sappers accompanied Hayder Shah on one of the journeys. In 1860, Mullah Abdul Majid was sent on a mission from Peshawar, crossing Pamir Mountain range to khanate of Khokand. In 1863, Abdul Hamid was sent on surveying mission of Chinese and Russian Turkistan.

 A jeweler’s assistant Mohsin Hussain proved to be such an expert in calibrating and repairing complex and expensive survey equipment that when his cantankerous British superior Henry Barrow was discharged, Mohsin took over the task. Surveys generated huge amount of data that needed complex calculations.  A team of ‘eight human computers’ processed this data. This team of Bengalis that included an exceptional gentleman Radhanath Sikdar earned the respect of British. It was freely admitted that their mathematical genius would be ranked very high in Europe.

 There was a saying that “in the east, nothing is ever forgotten, but little remembered with accuracy”.  Native surveyors changed that tradition and added European new methods of keeping daily journals, written knowledge based on facts thus incorporating text-based knowledge to the art of oral tradition and memory. Later generations of educated natives of Survey of India continued the traditions of devotion to duty and work ethics and setting high standards of proficiency and hard life in extreme climatic conditions. They also put a high premium on the value of education and made education of their children a first priority.  Children of ‘servants of the map’ proudly served in the armed forces and civil services of the successor states the Raj.

 “Frontiers are the razor’s edge on which suspended the issue of war or peace and the life of the nations.”                Lord Curzon






Edney, Matthew,  Mapping an Empire: The Geographical Construction of British India, 1765-1843 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997)


Meyer, Karl & Shareen Brysac.  Tournament of Shadows: The Great Game and the Race for Empire in Central Asia (Washington D.C.: Counterpoint, 1999)


Dean, Riaz. Mapping The Great Game: Explorers, Spies & maps in Nineteenth century Asia (Oxford: Caseate Publishers, 2019)


Hopkirk, Peter. The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia (New York: Kodansha America Inc, 1994)


Ward, Michael.  The Survey of India and the Pundits.  The Alpine Journal, (Vol 103, 1998), pp.59-79


Mathur, Tapsi.  How Professional Became Natives: Geography and Trans-Frontier Exploration in Colonial India. Ph. D Thesis. University of Michigan, 2018


Hamid Hussain

[email protected]


Defence Journal, June 2022

Brown Pundits