Review: The Map and the Scissors by Amit Majmudar

Amit Majmudar, a Gujrati from Ohio (he is the poet laureate of Ohio and if you have not read his poetry, do look it up, he is good) already wrote one novel about partition (called, appropriately enough, partition) but as he says in the epilogue, his views continue to evolve and another book was needed. And what a book it is; a riveting page-turner that tells the story of partition through the parallel lives of Jinnah and Gandhi, all wrapped up in very tight and carefully thought out writing, with quotes from Plutarch, the Gita and other works used as needed.

Amit has done his research and the novel is rich in historic detail and apt anecdotes. Some dialog has obviously been imagined, but wherever possible the words they speak are the words various histories and memoirs have already recorded. What emerges is a very striking portrait of two very different Gujratis who, for better AND for worse, determined the fate of British India and of the largest population group in the world (Indians in united India would exceed the population of China by hundreds of millions). Jinnah is the hugely talented and ambitious anglicized lawyer who became the most successful barrister in India before entering politics. An upper crust “brown Englishman”, he has great success politicking within the new Indian elite, but is sidelined by the rise of Gandhi and his popular politics (deftly captured in a scene where the newly arrived Gandhi is invited to a meeting of the Gujrati association which Jinnah chairs; after Jinnah has finished his perfectly modulated English speech, Gandhi opts to speak in Gujrati and the crowd goes wild. A taste of things to come.

Jinnah gradually sours on the idea of united India and is reborn as the messenger of Muslim separatism and the father of Pakistan. Gandhi has a slower start as a lawyer, but in South Africa he has found a new vocation: mahatma or great soul. Unlike Jinnah, he has world historical and prophet-level ambitions, and his impact is huge, yet he also fails at the most important task he set himself (winning independence for a united and spiritually elevated India), while Jinnah gets his moth-eaten Pakistan, but then he also gets to say “My God, what have I done?” when he sees the carnage unleashed by his campaign. Gandhi heads towards his meeting with Godse, while Jinnah’s tuberculosis finally finishes him while he lies in a hot ambulance that has broken down on the main road in Karachi. Amit is a poet and he brings a poetic touch to these events; the description may be brief, but it covers a LOT of ground.

The book also does a fine job of bringing Fatima Jinnah out of the shadows. She is the “white wolf” by Jinnah’s side, Pakistan’s virgin mother. There are many excellent books about partition, but almost none pay enough attention to Fati. Amit rectifies that error. Short but telling descriptions introduce all the other main characters of this tragedy, from Nehru and Patel to Liaqat and Suharwardy and Mountbatten and Edwina. And while it is not a very thick book, it manages to fit in almost every important event that happened along the way. Jallianwala bagh, the salt march, the Pakistan resolution, Direct Action, partition riots, it is all there, and while the coverage is not very detailed, a lot of thought has been put into every vignette, so they convey a lot more than you might expect at first glance. Unfortunately this tight pacing and compact descriptions also mean that the reader is expected to have a general idea of what went on and some of the clever literary maneuvers are best appreciated when you already know something about the events in question. Still, even those without prior knowledge will get most of it, while knowing more already will help you appreciate it more. Well worth a read.

Dream part 1

Dream 2
Nehru, Patel, Gandhi

USA, China, Taiwan. A Fateful Triangle.

Following was part of conversations with few well-informed folks about the subject.

Hamid

Fateful Triangle – China-United States & Taiwan

By Hamid Hussain

November 10, 2022

“Let China sleep; when she wakes, she will shake the world”.       Napoleon 1817

In the last two decades, United States and China have emerged as competitors for political and economic influence especially in the Indo-Pacific region. This has invariably influenced the military posture of both countries to secure economic gains. Most strategists are of the view that Taiwan will be the most likely cause of military conflict between China and United States. Continue reading USA, China, Taiwan. A Fateful Triangle.

The Survey of India

From Dr Hamid Hussain

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”. Continue reading The Survey of India

Pakistan 2022; Things fall apart?

 

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify, and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

In this episode, Omar talks to Ambassador Kamran Shafi and Columnist Dr Mohammed Taqi about the current political crisis in Pakistan. We take our best guess on whether the army is falling apart or just having a hiccup.

Some background:

  1. NFP (nationalist-leftist columnist from Karachi) writes a pretty good summary of the Imran Khan experiment and how it fell apart. https://www.dawn.com/news/1719266/smokers-corner-the-self-destruction-of-imran-khan
  2. Former ISI chief Asad Durrani writes about the failure of Project Imran: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/pakistan/the-army-took-a-back-seat-because-its-project-imran-khan-bombed-says-former-isi-chief-asad-durrani/articleshow/95305574.cms
  3. Mainstream Pakistani nationalist Mosharref Zaidi writes on this topic: https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/1007665-november-29-and-pakistan-s-polycrisis

it is worth noting that I could not find a single recent good article by a pro-khan columnist. That is not his style. He has a simple message, and no details and no plan.

Maj General Tajammal Malik. Very Important Interview

An old piece from Major Amin. A “must read” for anyone trying to understand the Pakistan army. From its peculiar combination of Jihad and British ideals to its performance in 1965 and 1971, to its full politicization under Zia.
Gen Tajammal Hussain Malik was an excellent officer (ie very good at his primary job of training and leading troops into battle), an asset to any army, but also a coup maker and a fanatic with very shallow ideas about nations and how they can (or cannot) function.. A great officer to have on your side in war, but in Pakistan the army does much more than  fight wars, so there you have it… (It is a very long interview, so if you are in a hurry, just jump to the highlighted excerpts, you will get a flavor of the whole thing).

Major General tajammul hussain malik-Hero of Battle of Hilli and twice Coup maker

Agha H Amin
This is the man who was praised by Indians and they established a commission to study his masterpiece Battle of Hilli. He was praised by his Indian battle opponent in his book “Indian Sword penetrates East Pakistan” as a singularly brave man. He was miles above pygmies like Zia, Ayub and Musharraf. When we joined the army we were inspired by his battalion 3rd Baloch’s attempted coup of 23 March 1980 to wipe out despicable clown Zia and his dirty clique!
One good thing that General Beg did immediately after that glorious crash in 1988 was to restore Tajammul’s complete military honors and privileges. Tajammul was serving a sentence of 14 years RI for planning to liquidate all army generals and Zia on 23 March 1980 ,a brilliant scheme indeed!
We had to wait till glorious 17th August 1988 when that plane finally crashed right into the Hindu Shamshan Ghat on Basti Lal Kamal ! Tajammul has thrown light on Zia’s shallow personality in this interview !
 May God Bless His Soul !
Major Agha H Amin (Retired)
Please tell us something about your early life, parents?
I was born on 13th June 1924, in village Thanil Kamal, Tehsil Chakwal, then District Jhelum (now District Chakwal). I spent my childhood in rural atmosphere, which at that time was quite primitive. There was no electricity, no roads, no telephones and as far as I remember no one owned even a bicycle. Radio came much later. Men, women and children wore the same dress as their ancestors put on centuries ago. There was not much difference between the rich and the poor. There were no social barriers and the living style of all the inhabitants was almost alike. A village was a self-sustained compact unit. They produced their own wheat, meat, vegetable, rice, ghee, eggs and almost everything one needs for ones simple living. The village shopkeepers were Hindus or Sikhs. Almost all purchases from the shops were on barter system. The prices of agricultural and dairy products were very low: -Wheat was sold at 1 1/4 rupees a maund. (40 Kilo) Meat 1/4 rupee a seer ( Kilo) Milk – 10 seers for one rupee.Pure desi ghee – 1 1/4 seer for one rupee. Chicken weighing one seer for about four annas (1/4 rupee). These rates compared
favourably with the rates laid down in “Aaeen-i- Akbari” during the Mughal Emperor Jalal ud Din Akbar’s rule, more than four hundred years ago.
Both my father and mother were highly religious. I inherited my religious convictions from my parents.
Please tell us about your school / college days and any decisive influences on your personality formation / development of convictions ?
A common village boy living in rural atmosphere, as mentioned above, could not conceive any high ambitions. I had many relatives in the Army but the highest rank held by any one of them was that of a Subedar, (which was then called Viceroy Commission). In fact, as far as I remember, there was not even a single King’s Commission Officer in the  whole of Tehsil Chakwal at that time. ( First IMA course passed out in 1934/35). From village school, I moved to Government High School Chakwal. Lieut General Abdul Majeed Malik and Maj General Nazar Hussain Shah were a class ahead of me. Brig Amir Gulistan Janjua, whose last appointment was Governor of NWFP, was my class fellow. I think if statistics are taken, that rural area High School produced more Brigadiers and Generals than Aitchison College and Burn Hall combined.
What were your perceptions as young man in pre-1947 India about the prevalent political conditions, Muslim League, Congress etc?
The British Indian army was a mercenary Army. Although occasionally we used to read about the political developments then taking place, yet at that time it never occurred to us that the Indian Army would be divided so soon and a new state of Pakistan would come into being as a homeland for the Muslims. It looked a fantasy. I vividly remember when I was a cadet, I had read an article in one of the magazines, perhaps the Military Digest, wherein, the then Commander-in-Chief Indian Army, Field Marshal Sir Claude Auckinleck, while addressing army personal at some station had said, “In ten years time, you would have all Indian Battalion Commanders, in fifteen years time you would have all Indian Division Commanders, and in twenty years time you would have an Indian Commander-in-Chief.” From this statement it would become evident that the division of Army was never visualised even at the highest level of military hierarchy, nor did theBritish officers ever think of vacating their biggest colony so soon. At the most one could say that India might get dominion status in due course of time, but complete independence was still being regarded as a dream.
Any memorable incidents, which left an indelible impression on your personality?
I cannot think of any particular instance, which left an indelible impression on my mind. However, by the time I was a Platoon Commander at PMA in 1954/55, my experiences, observations in life, extensive study of books of history, philosophy and religion particularly Iqbal’s book “Reconstruction of religious thought in Islam” and his Urdu poetry had convinced me of existence of God and all that is laid down in Quran. From then onwards I became a dedicated practicing Muslim and started praying regularly which continues till today. Islam is the guiding force for all my actions and reactions. Whether in peace or in war, I drew my aspirations from Islam. I pray to Almighty Allah that may He continue to guide me for the rest of my life.

Continue reading Maj General Tajammal Malik. Very Important Interview

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

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.

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

 

 

 

Notes:

 

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

Pocket Review: Secret City. A History of Gay Washington

Secret City: The Hidden History of Gay Washington by [James Kirchick]

For a good review, see here at Reason

I dont have a detailed review, just a short note. The book is not a detailed history of gays in Washington (such a book would have to start in the 1790s and would have to include the stories of Black and poor gay people; two groups notably excluded from this book, which is mostly high class elite gossip). This book actually covers the time from the 1930s to the 1990s (though it does begin with a reference to Abraham Lincoln sharing a bed with his male friend, that anecdote is just a hook to start the book with; Kirchick does not actually claim that Lincoln was gay). Prior to the 1930s there were gays in government, but little or no overt discussion of the topic; their sexual preference mostly caused problems from the 1940s to the 1990s, when there was a “lavender scare” that actually exceeded the Red scare in duration. Interestingly this lavender scare was partly driven by closeted gays, including McCarthy’s aide (and Trump’s teacher) Roy Cohn. There was a fear that homosexuals were a security risk because they could potentially be blackmailed, but actual analysis of American spies indicates that very few were gay and none were recruited via blackmail. Still, many lives were destroyed in the course of this scare and the topic remained “hot” until the 1990s, when gay liberation finally took hold and by now we are the point that we have an openly gay transportation secretary (and former presidential candidate) whose main scandal is that he took paternity leave in the middle of a transportation crisis. Though his final conclusion is optimistic (gay liberation is “a magnificent accomplishment of the liberal society, enabled by the fundamentally American concepts of free expression, pluralism, and open inquiry.”) there is a backlash in process (mostly directed against Trans activist over-reach, but likely to catch gays in the dragnet) and the current equilibrium may not be that stable. The notion that gay liberation is an active cause of civilizational decline is not gone (there is an anecdote in the book about the state department security chief commissioning a study of how homosexuality causes civilizational collapse, but the researcher concluded that homosexuality did not in fact cause the collapse of Rome and Greece) and may come back in other guises.

The book is an easy read and is full of interesting stories and characters. If you are interested in American politics and recent history, you will enjoy it.

See the Reason review for more details.

The Surveying of India by the British

From Dr Hamid Hussain

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”. Continue reading The Surveying of India by the British

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