Our knowledge of Indian society during British rule in the nineteenth century has rested primarily on the voluminous records of the East India Company, the works of various Europeans, the writings of many civil servants of the Company and the accounts of Indians writing in this period. Interesting first-hand and very useful alternative sources are writings of Indians produced on request or assignment by company administrators. Such accounts are by no means readily available; they were probably discarded after serving their purpose.
Nevertheless, as this codex "illustrates", they embody a special middle space in the texts belonging to this genre. These writings were used by the Company officials as research data in writing their own reports, survey, or papers for publication. The Kitab-i-Tasavir Shishagaran Vaghairah Va Bayan-i-Alat-i-Anha (The Illustrated Book About Makers of Glassware, etc. and a Description of Their Tools) is written by Ghulam Yahya in a matter-of-fact scientific, observational style.
It is an economic and ethnographic description of eleven tradesmen and their crafts in the district of Bareilly in the Rohilkhand area in the 1820s. The text is augmented with detailed drawings, sowing tools and processes and coloured paintings in the regional "Company style." Of immense interest are the lists of commodities sold by the dry goods dealer, along with details of prices and an inventory of jewellery and ornaments manufactured by goldsmiths. The codex was advertised by a London rare book dealer as "an early nineteenth century cook book" written in Urdu. It turned out to be neither a cook book nor in Urdu, but a neat little book in Persian on trade-crafts and their practitioners. Some of the crafts described in the text, for example, crimping and specialized charpoy weaving are now extinct. The book also includes forgotten delicious recipes for kababs!
About the Author:
Mehr Afshan Farooqi was born in Allahabad. She holds a Ph.D. in History from Allahabad University. She has taught courses in Indian History and Literature in universities in India and abroad. Her research interests lie in the interface between literature and society in medieval and modern India. She translates both poetry and prose from Persian, Urdu and Awadhi into English. Her works have been published by Sahitya Akademi, Katha and other literary journals such as Annual of Urdu Strudies and Edebiyat. She has translated Abdus Samad's Urdu novel, Khwabon ka Savera for Macmillan's series, "Modern Indian Novels in translation"; published an analysis of M.H. Askari's approach to Urdu literature, along with translations of his fiction and literary theory, and is currently working on a collection of short stories Ghulam Abbas. Another current project traces the earliest examples of Urdu prose. Farooqi now teaches in the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures of the University of Virginia.