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DOI: 10.1177/001946460003700103
2000 37: 53 Indian Economic Social History Review
Indrani Chatterjee
A slave's quest for selfhood in eighteenth-century Hindustan

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A slaves
quest
for selfhood in
eighteenth-century
Hindustan
Indrani
Chatterjee
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Institute of Asian
Studies,
Calcutta
Acknowledgements:
I wish to thank
my colleague,
Mr Sabir
Hasan,
who collaborated with me in
reading
and
translating
the Persian
manuscripts. My interpretation
of the slaves narrative owes
as much to
him,
as it does to the discussions with Shamsur Rehman
Faruqi
and
Saiyid
Akhtar
Hussain
Kazmi,
and with Professors Muzaffar
Alam, Anisuzzaman,
Barun
De,
Gautam
Bhadra,
Sunil
Kumar,
Sumit Guha and
Joseph
Miller. I also
gratefully acknowledge
the
help
of Professors
Ujjvala Rajyadhaksha,
Sunil Kumar and Paul
Lovejoy
in
procuring
certain
unpublished essays
as
well as those from
journals published
overseas.
Historians of the late
eighteenth century
or of the
Mughal Panjab
have often con-
sulted the
manuscript/transcript
of
Kitab-i-Qissa-i
Tahmas Miskin,
written
by
an
ex-slave,
for its authors
participant
witness
description
of the
political
af-
fairs of the time and
region.
In this
manuscript,
the needs of Turko-Persian
1All unattributed folio references in
my
text
belong
to
manuscript
no.
174,
in the Jadunath Sarkar
Collection,
National
Library,
Calcutta. This is a
copy
of the British Museum Mss. no.
1918,
which
was
gifted
to Jadunath Sarkar
by
the
Habibganj Library
in 1932. Another
manuscript copy,
under the
name of
Tahm ā sn ā ma
in the Abdus Salam Collection at
Aligarh University,
Mss. no.
135,
has re-
mained outside this
survey
due to unforeseen circumstances. An edited version which collates both
the
Aligarh
and London
manuscripts
is Muhammad
Asiam, ed., Tahm ā s
Nā mā h
by Tahm ā s Beg
Kh ā n, Lahore,
University
of
Punjab,
1986. All unattributed
page
numbers in
my
work are to the
English
translation: P. Setu Madhava
Rao, abridged
and
tr.,
Tahmas Nama: The
Autobiography of a
Slave, Delhi, 1967, which,
while
editing
out
key passages delineating
the authors
purpose
and inner
world,
is closer to the
original
than Sarkars translation. A
Bengali
translation
by
Lutfunnesa
Habibullah,
Ek
Moghol
Kritod ā ser
Ā tmak ā hin ī , Dhaka, 1982,
has followed
Pagdis abridged English
translation. Wherever
previous
translations have been
inadequate
for
my purpose,
I have used those
done
jointly by
Sabir Hasan and
myself,
and have
provided
the folio numbers of the
manuscript.
2
See Hari Ram
Gupta,
Adina
Beg
Khan: The Last
Mughal Viceroy of the Panjab,
Lahore, 1943,
pp.
19-23 and
passim; idem,
Studies in Later
Mughal History of
the
Panjab,
1707-1793, Lahore,
1944, pp. 109-56;
Ganda
Singh, Ahmad
Shah Durrani: Father
of Modern Afghanistan, Bombay,
1959, pp.
93-142 and
passim;
J.S.
Grewal,
The Sikhs
of the Punjab:
The New
Cambridge History of
India,
Vol.
II(3), Cambridge,
1994,
pp.
87-91.
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54
aesthetics3-allusions and
quotes
from
Sadi,
Rumi and
Hafiz
and
literary
forms
like
metaphor
and
pun-as
well as the
remembering
of the self as the
protagonist
of the tale are
resolved,
first
by adopting
a takhallus
(a
device common to
poets)
and
by simultaneously speaking
of the narrator-self as a humble and
lowly
third
person (Miskin).
This then
aligns
the text
simultaneously
with the Turko-Persian
literary tradition,
as well as with a
historiographical
one.&dquo; There is a narrative of
events,
of wars and skirmishes between the
Mughal
forces and the
Sikhs,
the
Afghans,
the Marathas and the
Jats,
on a
grand landscape
lined with
poetry. Yet,
as far as I am
aware,
the threads of this
grand
fabric have never been
unpicked
for
a historical
study
of slave-consciousness in northern
India,
nor has the text itself
been
incorporated
into
literary
studies of the
autobiographical
self.
How should we
explain
this
oversight?
As a mere accident? For the time
being
let us leave alone the interconnected
complex
of issues such as the histories of
Persian and
English
literature in the
subcontinent,
the different and
changing
con-
ventions of historical and
literary selfhood,
as well as the later exclusion of the
self as the
object
of
history writing
in India. In addition to the demands made
3
For a
summary
of such
canons,
see E.G.
Browne,
A
Literary History of Persia,
first
edition,
1924;
reprint
New
Delhi, 1997,
Vols
I-IV,
esp.
Vol.
II,
pp. 19-83;
and Shafii
Kadkani,
Persian
Literature
(Belles Lettres )
from the Time of Jami to the Present
Day,
in
George
Morrison, ed.,
His-
tory of Persian Literature from
the
Beginning of the
Islamic Period to the Present
Day,
Leiden-Koln,
1981, pp.
135-206. For a
study
of such canons in the
development
of
early Mughal writing,
see
Stephen
F.
Dale,
The
Poetry
and
Autobiography
of the
Babur-nama,
Journal
of Asian
Studies
(hereafter JAS ),
Vol.
55(3), 1996, pp. 635-64;
and for the
opposite argument
of the
de-naturing
of
both Ottoman-Turkish
speech
and Indo-Persian literature
by
such
canons,
see Victor
Kieman,
Per-
sian
Poetry
and Its
Cosmopolitan Audience,
in
Christopher Shackle, ed.,
Urdu and Muslim South
Asia: Studies in Honour
of Ralph Russell, Delhi, 1991, pp.
9-18. For a
comparative development
in
Turkish
literature,
see Cemal
Kafadar,
Self and Others: The
Diary
of a Dervish in Seventeenth
Century
Istanbul and First-Person Narratives in Ottoman
Literature,
Studia
Islamica,
Vol.
69, 1989,
pp.
121-50. For a later
period,
see David
Lelyveld, Eloquence
and
Authority
in Urdu:
Poetry,
Ora-
tory,
and
Film,
in Katherine P.
Ewing,
ed.,
Shari at and
Ambiguity
in South Asian
Islam, Delhi,
1988, pp. 98-113.
4
In addition to footnote
3,
for the outlines of the
historiographical
tradition,
see Peter
Hardy,
Historians
of Medieval
India: Studies in Indo-Muslim Historical
Writing,
London, 1960;
Zahiruddin
Malik,
Persian
Historiography
in India
During
the 18th
Century,
and
Jagadish Narayan
Sarkar
Personal
History
of Some Medieval Historians and their
Writings,
in Mohibbul
Hasan, ed.,
Histori-
ans
of Medieval India, Meerut, 1968,
pp.
142-55,
166-97
respectively;
also Kumkum
Chatterjee,
History
as
Self-Representation:
The
Recasting
of a Political Tradition in Late
Eighteenth-Century
Eastern
India,
Modern Asian Studies
(hereafter MAS ),
Vol.
32(4), 1998,
pp.
913-48;
and
Sudipta
Sen,
Imperial
Orders of the Past: The Semantics of
History
and Time in the Medieval Indo-Persianate Culture
of North India in Daud
Ali, ed.,
Invoking
the Past: The Uses
of History
in South
Asia,
New
Delhi, 1999,
pp. 231-57.
5
This refers to the
historiographical
discussion around the individual in Persian and Arabic litera-
ture. One
group represented by
G.E. von
Grunebaum, argues
that Islam
prohibits
self-adulation and
vanity
and thus retards the articulation of individual
personality
in
literature,
while another
group
of
scholars, represented by
Marshall
Hodgson,
Rosenthal and
others, argues
that Muslim
preoccupation
with
personalities
is evidenced
by
the
flourishing
of
biographies
and attests to an effort to understand
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55
upon
the student
by
the
literary depth
and forms of a
language,
the
shrinking
of a
Persian-reading intelligentsia
in
post-colonial
India has
proved
to be
fairly
criti-
cal. For
entirely
historical
reasons, generations
bom after
Independence
have been
rendered
dependent upon English
and vernacular translations done
by
an earlier
generation
of scholars. Hence
many
of those bom after
Independence
have
inherited,
along
with the
translations,
the mimetic and nationalistic
readings
of that earlier
generation
of scholar-translators. The
analysis
of intellectual trends that
Subrahmanyam
and Alam have recommended
recently
for the construction of
Mughal history
must
surely
now extend to a
history
and
politics
of such
readings
and translations.6 Hence I
propose,
in the first section of this
essay,
to
analyse
some of the more influential translations of the
Kitab-i-Qissa-i
Tahrnas
Miskin. In
the
subsequent sections,
I
propose
to retrieve the
self-in-history
outlined
by
an
ex-slave in the
eighteenth century.
Translators and Historians
Jadunath
Sarkar,
the first translator of the
manuscript, began
his translation with
folio
44-right
in the middle of Ahmad Shah Durranis
early
attacks
upon
the
Mughal
forces in
Panjab,
and the
assumption
of the subahdari of Lahore
by
a
particular governor.
This sets the tone for the
passages
that were to be translated
and used as
eyewitness
evidence for Sarkars
history
of the decline of the
Mughal
Empire.
From the
opening paragraph
of the
translation,
it is clear that Sarkar had a
specific agenda
for this
manuscript.
This was to
provide empirical
information on
the various battles between
Mughals
and
Afghans
and between
Mughals
and
Sikhs,
as well as on alliances between Marathas and
Mughals,
and on various kinds of
military technologies
and the formation of armies.
Clearly setting great
store
by
Miskin
eyewitness
account,
Sarkar once demanded from another historian of
the Marathas:
the real
power
in human
accomplishments.
For a
survey,
see R.
Sandler,
The
Changing Concept
of
the
Individual,
in R.M.
Savory, ed.,
Introduction to Islamic
Civilisation, Cambridge, 1987, pp. 137-45;
and Julie S.
Meisami,
Medieval Persian Court
Poetry, Princeton, 1987, pp.
131-79. For Persian
literature in
eighteenth-century
India,
it is
noteworthy
that the voluminous
growth of biography (ta zkira)
has been
represented
in the famous
autobiography
of Muhammad Shaikh Ali
Hazin, Ta zkir ā t-al
Ahw ā l,
Sarfaraz
Khattak, ed., Lahore,
1944 and M.C.
Master, tr.,
Tā rī kh -i
Ahhw ā l, Bombay, 1911,
but
to a much lesser extent in
Mirs,
for which see C.M.
Naim, ed.,
tr. and
annotated,
Zikr-i Mir: The
Autobiography of
the
Eighieenth Century Mughal
Poet: Mir Muhammad
Taqi
Mir
(1723-1810),
New
Delhi,
1999.
6
Muzaffar Alam and
Sanjay Subrahmanyam, eds,
The
Mughal
State
1526-1750,
New
Delhi,
1998,
introduction.
7
Sir Jadunath
Sarkar,
tr. and
abridged,
Memoirs
of Tahmasp
Khan
by Miskin, Sitamau,
1937. I
thank the
librarian,
M.K.
Kulkarni,
of Deccan
College, Pune,
for
helping
me
procure
a
copy
of this
extremely
rare work.
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56
Where is Peshawar mentioned as
occupied by
a Maratha
garrison?
Not cer-

tainly
in
any
Modi letter. If in a Persian
akhbarat,
I
ought
to examine it before
accepting
this flat contradiction of the
eye-witness
Miskins statement.
Despite
the
great
store that Sarkar
put by
Miskins
eyewitness narrative,
he
had an ambivalent and
contradictory
attitude to the
manuscript
and to its author.
All his
published
references to Miskin describe the author as
page,
never as
I slave. It is hard to
explain
the historians
squeamishness
about
calling
a slave a
slave,
especially
since the
particular passages
that
provided
the basis for an entire
chapter
of Sarkars five-volume
history-that
on
Panjab
between 1753 and 1757-
referred to the time in Miskins life when he was a slave.
However,
this evasion/
suppression
of the narrators status went
along
with the almost total
appropriation
of the narrative voice when it came to
specific personalities.
This is
notably
the
case with the
representation of Mughlani Begam,
the woman who acted
briefly
as
regent of Mughal Panjab,
and then went on to be the
Afghan viceroy
for a while.
Sarkars
misogynistic representation of Mughlani Begam,
and the
explanation
of
her arrest
by
Ghazi al-Din Imad
al-Mulk,
the Vazir of the
Mughal Empire
went
thus:
She
was,
after
all,
a Muslim
woman,
but used to do the work of a
provincial

governor
in the manner of
males,
before the
public gaze.
This
part
of a
virago
that she
played, quite apart
from the stories about her loss of
character,
was felt
as a
personal disgrace by
Imad,
because she was his mothers brothers wife
and also his
prospective
mother-in-law. His
family
honour demanded that she
be removed from
Lahore,
where she was
enjoying
unbridled
liberty
of action .... 10
This was an almost verbatim
appropriation
of Miskins
representation of Mughlani
Begam-except
that Miskins
misogyny
was rooted in his own reconstruction of
the sexual and material
manipulation
of a slave
by
his mistress. Of this relation-
ship
Sarkar said
nothing.
So the subtle
revenge
that the freedman-author extracted
through remembering,
in minute
detail,
the
ignominy
and humiliation of the erst-
while
mistress,
was written out of Sarkars
history. Having appropriated
the slave-
authors voice for
representing
the
virago,
as well as his
explanation
for a Vazirs s
8
Sarkar to
Sardesai,
11
August 1943,
in Hari Ram
Gupta, ed., Life
and Letters
of Sir
Jadunath
Sarkar,
Panjab University, 1958, pp. 237-38;
for his belief in the
empirical
value of Miskins manu-
script,
see also Jadunath Sarkar
Musalman-Yuger
Bharater
Aitihasikgan, Sahitya
Parisat
Patrik a,
Vol.
46(2),
1346 B.S./1939
C.E., pp.
73-78.
9
See Jadunath
Sarkar,
Fall
of the Mughal Empire,
Vol.
II, 1754-1771,
first
published,
1934;
fourth
edition,
New
Delhi, 1991, p.
31. All
subsequent
references are to the fourth edition. Ganda
Singh,
more
sceptical
of the narrators
reliability,
also referred to him as
page
in
Singh,
Ahmad Shah
Durrani, p. 136,
footnote 1.
10
Sarkar,
Mughal Empire,
Vol.
II, pp.
34-35. Ganda
Singh
reiterates this
representation of Mu gh lani
Begam by referring
to Miskins
manuscript
in Ahmad Shah
Durrani, p.
141.
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57
political
actions,
Sarkar then dismissed from
history
those
segments
of the
narrative in which Miskin
only
tells us
of Mughlani Begams
activities and of
his own
sufferings.&dquo;
In Sarkars scheme of The
Corrupt
and
Oppressive State,
there
may
have been
only
collectives
(like nations);2
the
slave,
or
ex-slave,
the individual and his heroic
tale of rectitude in the face of
sufferings
formed no
part
of
History.
While the
original manuscript
was
replete
with references to the tensions in the
relationships
within the
governors household,&dquo; relationships
between
slaves,
servants and non-
slaves,
structures
of learning,
and the
religious aspirations
of
slaves,
Sarkars track-
ing
of a
narrowly
circumscribed
politics
in Misklns narrative meant a
fairly
ruthless omission
of everything except
wars and factional conflicts-the
supposed
facts of
eighteenth-century
North India. In
this,
it
may
be
surmised,
Sarkar was
merely replicating
what
Devji
has called the condescension of
legalists
towards
the domestic realm of the
za ij (weak), 14
a condescension which conditioned
many
secular
projects of history writing
as well. Miskln
autobiographical writing
needed
to be read
precisely
for the desire of a
singular za if to
cross
multiple boundaries,
and,
as he himself
insisted,
to achieve
immortality by inscribing
a
private
self
onto written
records,
and hence into
public gratitude
and
memory (folio 351).
In
addition,
as the verses of the
munjt explain,
the
autobiography
is meant to be
read as a revelation of the
signs
of God
(folio 4). Hence,
in the
prose-autobiography,
the timeless truth of a
particular Quranic prohibition
is underlined
by attributing
the sins of
Pride,
or of
Greed,
to
particular
historical
persons, upon
whom
Retribution,
either in the
shape
of Abdalis
invasion,
or another
enemy,
is visited.
Together,
these transform the narration of
memory
into a
laying
down of
parables,
in itself an act of
courage by
an ex-slave. The
very organisation
of the
manuscript bespeaks
this resistant
writing
back of an invisible
being
into his-
tory,
and of the
experience
of alienation and
indigence
into serious moral instruc-
tion.
Thus, chapters
alternate between the
story
of the authors
personal
life and
those
military
and
political
events which occurred in North India. Both kinds of
11
Sarkar,
Mughal Empire,
Vol.
II,
pp.
48-49
(footnote) explaining
the
neglect
of the
manuscript
for
writing
the
history of Afghan
invasions from 1759 to 1761.
However,
Sarkars
misogyny
led him
to
supplement
Miskins evidence from other sources to darken his
depiction
of
Mu gh lani Begam
(ibid., p. 53)
12
Barun
De,
Problems of the
Study
of Indian
History:
With Particular Reference to
Interpreta-
tions of the 18th
Century,
Occasional
Paper
no.
116,
Centre for Studies in Social
Sciences, 1989,
pp.
29-37.
13
For the
longevity
of an error of
reading,
one can refer to the commonest one
regarding
the son of
Muin al-Mulk. Both P. Setu Madhava
Rao,
Tahmas
Nama,
p.
18,
and Ganda
Singh,
Ahmad Shah
Durrani,
p.
42,
attributed a son to
Mu gh lani Begam,
whereas the
manuscript Qissa-i Tahm as
Miskin
clearly
attributes two
daughters
to one
wife,
Mu gh lani Begam,
and a son and a
[missing
word:
daughter?]
from a woman in the
mahal
of the
Begam
in Lahore in folio 81-82.
14
Faisal F.
Devji,
Gender and the Politics of
Space:
The Movement for Womens Reform
1857-1900,
in
Zoya Hasan, ed.,
Forging
Identities:
Gender,
Communities and the
State,
New
Delhi,
1994, p.
26.
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58
chapters
are then tied
together
in the deliberate
literary style required
of the
person
with adab.1s
Some,
like those on the revolt of a trusted lieutenant of a
Mughal
governor
after his death
(folio 102),
or one
describing
the behaviour of some mem-
bers of the
entourage
towards their mistress
(folio 190),
even
carry keywords
like
namak
hareimi (disloyalty)
and bi-adabi
(incivility)
in their
captions.
Begun during
the month
of Ramazan (either
in 1780 or in
1782),6
with
chapters
sometimes
coming
to a hurried close as the narrator heard the call to
evening
prayers,
the
writing
of such a
manuscript
was located within a
larger purificatory
enterprise revolving
around the
remembering
of the Divine in all matters. Thus the
suffering
of a lifetime as well as the life of
suffering
had to be recounted in order
to reveal the steadfastness of the devout souls submission to Gods
will,
as well as
to
praise
the
power
of a God who could elevate and transform a
particle
of dust
(the author)
into an exalted and
distinguished
human
being.
This tale is hence
written in a mode outside calendar
time;&dquo;
the
manuscript
is
completely
devoid of
dates or seasons.
However,
Sarkar-and
following him,
P. Setu Madhava Rao in
English
and Lutfunnisa Habibullah in
Bengali-incorporated
a series of dates into
the
body
of the
text(s)
translated
by
them. These dates were often as
precise
as 6
March
1752,
and formed the
organising
boundaries between
chapters
of the trans-
lated
texts;
the
insertions, however, spoke
of a
very
different notion of time and
history
from that of the author.
Despite
their
great sensitivity
to measurable
time,
historians like
Sarkar, Gupta
and
Singh
most often erased the effects of time in their own use of the manu-
script. They
cited this
autobiography
for a time
(childhood
as household
slave)
in
the authors life which was most remote to the
vantage point
from which he
began
writing. They
also
disregarded
it
generally
for the
period
of his freedman and
mature
years.
In their
largely
mimetic
readings, they
thus overlooked the
play
of
memory-as-parable
in the reconstruction of
history.
This was due
partly
to the
neglect
of culture. While the
eighteenth-century
narrator had
composed
his own
verses,
and embedded these in the text as
signposts
of the moral and ethical
paths
taken,
the
twentieth-century
translators
completely
overlooked these
literary cues,
and concentrated
entirely
on the
prose.
15
For a discussion of adab as a
literary genre,
a set of
rules,
and a
quality
of
personality,
see
Barbara D.
Metcalf, ed.,
Moral Conduct and
Authority:
The Place
of Adab
in South Asian
Islam,
Berkeley,
1984. I
suggest
that adab
comprises
the whole
system
of
injunctions, prescriptions
and
valuations,
a moral
repertoire,
that enables the
techniques
of
memory
and
assembling
of a self as
the bearer of ethics. The source of
my analogy
is Nikolas
Rose, Assembling
the Modern
Self,
in
Roy Porter, ed., Rewriting
the
Self: Histories from
the Renaissance to the
Present,
London/New
York, 1997,
pp.
224-61.
16
In the
mun ajat,
the author writes A.H. 1194
(A.D. 1780)
as the date of his
composition:
however,
his narrative ends with the death of
Najaf
Kh an,
which occurred in
1782,
that is A.H. 1196. It is
possible
that the
manuscript
is made
up
of two
separate fragments,
one of which was
begun
at the
earlier date and the other written over nine months in 1782.
17
For the
poetic
and
general
connotation of time as fate and time as
passing
circumstance,
and for
the
religious
and social tension which
might
have resulted in
exorcising
time from such
narratives,
see
Franz Rosenthal Sweeter than
Hope: Complaint
and
Hope
in Medieval
Islam, Leiden,1983, pp.
4-17.
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59
Ironically,
Sarkar had been an
undergraduate
student and
subsequently,
a teacher
of
literature;g
his failure to
appreciate
the
intensely
ethical
purpose
as well as the
literariness of the narration sat
heavily
on his
recovery
of historical facts.
My
focus is not
merely
the
accuracy
or otherwise of Sarkars translation. Other scholars
have
analysed
his omissions and commissions in the translation of other Persian
manuscripts.9
What concerns me in this
essay
is the
neglect
of the
working
of
adab in historical
self-presentation
and in the
disciplining
of
memory,
as also the
silence of the historians
regarding
the
significance
of this
manuscript
for a re-
appraisal
of slave-as-alien cultures in
Mughal
India.
Both the
poetry
and the
prose
offered
many
clues about
literary genealogies:
one for Miskins own status as a
poet,
and another for a
significant
Rekhti
poet
of
the
early
nineteenth
century,
Saadat Yar Khan
Rangin,
who was Miskins son,20
Misklns own
preference
for
poetry
was stated
clearly
in the untranslated
mundjat
thus:
man avval _khwastam
ahvcil-i
khud ra .
chit dar sazam ba-tir nazm-i zeba
chit man didam keh darin daur-i akhir
sukhan fahm
ast kam
bi-fahm
aksar
digar
man ham nachandan andarin
fan
abure ddram andar sh er
guftan
azan man kardamash dar
nasr taqrir (folio 4)
(I
had first wished to write
my story
In
strings
of beautiful verse
But I saw that in these times
Comprehension
is
scarce,
incomprehension abounds,
Besides,
being hardly proficient
in the art of
poetry
I wrote this in
prose)
.
More
significant
than the comment on the uncultured audiences for whom he
writes,
this verse alone
inspired
me to search for his
poetry
and to read it
against
the condescension of the
cognoscenti,
both of his
century
and of ours.2
However,
18
Kiran
Pawar,
Sir Jadunath Sarkar: A
Profile
in
Historiography,
New
Delhi, 1985, pp. 4-5;
Nurul Islam
Manjur, Bangalir
Itihas Charchar Dhara
(Trends
in
Bengali
Historical
Writing
1901-1950), Dhaka, 1997, pp. 14-15.
19
Abdus
Subhan, tr.,
Tarikh-i
Bang ala-i Mah abatjangi of Yusuf
Ali Kh an
(An EyeWitness
Ac-
count ofNawab Alivardi Khan of
Bengal
and His
Times), Calcutta,
1982.
20
Syed
Masud Hasan
Rizvi, ed., Maj alis-i Rangin,
Lucknow, 1929, p. 2; Syed
Muin-al
Haq,
Akhb ar-i
Rangin, Karachi, 1962,
pp.
20-21, 75;
Muhammad
Sadiq,
A
History of Urdu
Literature,
second
edition,
New
Delhi, 1984, p.
197.
21
Diw an-i
Miskin,
a
compilation
of
approximately
18,630
verses in
Persian,
whose
language,
concepts
and content are identifiable as authored
by Tahmas.
A
manuscript copy
of Diw an-i Misk in
is in the Asiatic
Society
of
Bengal, Calcutta,
under accession number P.S.C. 921. I am not aware of
any
tazkira of the
eighteenth
or nineteenth
century
that lists
Tahmas
Kh an Miskin. Evidence of the
absence of Tahmas Kh an Miskin from
biographies
of Persian
poets
was
provided by
Muzaffar Alam
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60
the
prose-autobiography
also
spells
out the effort invested
by
Tahmas
in his own
education and in the
training
of his sons.
Many
issues about the constitution and
transmission of culture in northern
India, given
the
radically
different
literary styles
of father and
son,
await further
exploration
here.22
Comparative
Frames
To
my mind,
the double
neglect
of adab and of the slave-individual has had a
seriously debilitating impact
on the
historiography
of
slavery.
The
possible unique-
ness of slave narratives
produced
within an
Islamicate-Mughal
milieu could not
even
begin
to be
outlined,
leave alone
initiating
a
comparison
with Afro-American
slave narratives. The
problem
was
suggested by
the
publication
of Michael Fishers s
marvellous
study
which
attempted
to raise the issue of self-identification of a mar-
ginal figure
like Din Muhammad.23
In terms of
chronology,
the two
authors, Tahmas (or
as he refers to
himself,
Miskin)
and Din
Muhammad,
were
contemporaries:
Tahmas
was bom around
1738-40,
and Din Muhammad around 1759. While
Tahmas
adopted
the well-
established
narrative structure of a
history,
Din Muhammad wrote his
autobiography
as a narrative of travel. Unlike
Tahmas
who was snatched from his brother and
mother
during
a raid
by
Persian
soldiers,
Din Muhammad
joined
the house-
hold of his
English
master,
Captain
Baker,
just
as famine was
beginning
to strike
eastern India in 1769-70
(and desperate
families were
selling
their
children).
Like
Tahmas,
Din Muhammad too was
very young-11 years
old-at the time of this
relocation.
However,
unlike
Tahmas
who
spoke clearly
of his slave
status, per-
(personal note),
Shamsur Rahman
Faruqi (personal note)
and
Saiyid
Akhtar Hussain
Kazmi,
who
also
brought
to
my
attention Nabi
Hadi,
Dictionary of Indo-Persian
Literature,
New
Delhi, 1995,
pp.
356-57. The
explanation
for this
oversight may
well lie in the kind of elitism articulated
by
Mir for
which see
Naim, Zikr-i-M ir,
pp.
180-82,
or in the
greater prestige
of Urdu
poetry generally,
for
which see Khurshidul Islam and
Ralph
Russell,
Three
Mughal
Poets:
Mir, Sauda,
Mir
Hasan,
Ox-
ford,
1969. For the comment
characterising Tahmas
verse as
distressingly
verbose and common-
place,
see W.
Ivanow,
Concise
Descriptive Catalogue of the
Persian
Manuscripts
in the Collection
of the
Asiatic
Society of Bengal,
first
published, 1925, reprint Calcutta, 1985, p.
418. A fuller treat-
ment of Miskins
poetry
is under
preparation.
22I have drawn
inspiration
for
posing
this
question
from Tirthankar
Roy,
Music as Artisan Tradi-
tion,
Contributions to Indian
Sociology (ns),
Vol.
32(1), 1998, pp. 21-41;
from the
ongoing
work of
Amlan
Dasgupta,
Words for Music
Perhaps:
Reflections on the
Khyal Bandish, Paper
at the Centre
for Studies in Social
Sciences,
18 June
1999;
and from Shamsur Rahman
Faruqi, Constructing
a
Literary History,
a
Canon,
and a
Theory
of
Poetry:
Ab-e
Hay at (1880) by
Muhammad Husain Azad
(1830-1910),
Social
Scientist,
Vol.
23(10-12), 1995,
pp.
70-97.
23
See Michael
Fisher,
The First Indian Author in
English:
Dean Mahomed
(1759-1851)
in
India,
Ireland,
and
England,
New
Delhi, 1996;
and
also, idem, Representation
of
India,
the
English
East
India
Company,
and Self
by
an
Eighteenth-Century
Indian
Emigrant
to
Britain, MAS,
Vol.
32(4),
1998, pp. 891-911.
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61
haps
because he had so
successfully
re-made himself as a free
man,
Din Muhammad
spoke only elliptically
of this
crucial,
and
life-changing,
moment.24 Once Baker
moved
away
from
Bankipur (near Patna),
the
young
adolescent never saw his
mother or brother
again.
When Baker
resigned
from the
Companys Bengal army,
the cadet-cum-servant followed
suit;
in
1784,
both left India for Cork. So
why
did
Din Muhammad not
identify
himself as a slave in his own
writing?
The answer
may
well lie in the
myths
and
stereotypes
of African slaves in
English
society
in the
eighteenth century,
and in Din Muhammads
unwillingness
to asso-
ciate himself with these
images.&dquo; Fisher, however,
notes that unlike the slave and
ex-slave narratives
published
in
English
at the end of the
eighteenth century,
the
Travels made no
explicit
reference either to enslavement or to a
religious
conver-
sion to
Christianity,
the two standard themes in such literature .26 Is it
appropriate
to measure historical
literary
forms
produced by
South Asians with
yardsticks
taken from the
literary history
of Afro-American slaves? Can the latter
supply
comparative
models for
reading
narratives from slave
systems
in South Asia?
Did slaves have
comparable
forms for
constructing
the self and for
emancipat-
ing
it
through
the written word? The answers would all be in the
affirmative,
if historians
of
slavery
in
eighteenth-century
America or Britain had researched
the local cultures and
regions
from which slaves were
drawn,
before
constructing
and
defining
the characteristics of the canon of slave narratives. 21 In the
light
of
present work,
this canon itself needs to be re-cast in terms of time
(eighteenth/
nineteenth
century)
and
generation (first/second)
as well as in terms of the
gender
and cultures of
(remembered) origin.
If one were to do
this,
then the differences
between
first-generation
slave
writing
in the Americas or in South Asia will not
appear
to be so
starkly
exclusive of each other.
Apparent Oppositions
There
were, apparently, significant
differences in the conditions of
production
of
these
differing
narratives. Afro-American narratives
presumed upon
a
fairly large
and literate white
readership
from the
eighteenth century itself,
and on the existence
24
Fisher,
The First Indian
Author, pp.
22-24.
25
See James
Walvin,
Black
Ivory:
A
History of British Slavery, Washington,
1994;
and Norma
Myers, Reconstructing
the Black Past: Blacks in Britain
1780-1830, London, 1996,
pp.
38-55.
26
Fisher,
The First Indian
Author,
p.
214.
27
For recent work on these
lines,
see Michael A.
Gomez,
Muslims in
Early
America,
Journal
of
Southern
History,
Vol.
60(4), 1994,
pp. 680-710;
Sultana
Afroz,
The
Unsung
Slave: Islam in Ja-
maica,
Caribbean
Quarterly,
Vol.
41(3-4), 1995, pp. 30-44;
Paul E.
Lovejoy,
The Muslim Factor
in the Trans-Atlantic Slave
Trade,
Conference on West Africa and the Americas:
Repercussions
of
the Slave
Trade, Mona, February 1997;
and
idem, Situating
Identities in the African
Diaspora:
Islam
and
Slavery
in the
Americas, Haifa, Israel,
January
1998.
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62
of a
print
culture.28 In
eighteenth-century
South
Asia, however,
while Persian and
Urdu both
proliferated
as
languages
for
literary production, literacy
itself was not
widespread,
nor was
print
a
given
medium. The transmission and diffusion of
culture in oral
forms-poetry, sermons,
commentaries or
expositions
of various
kinds,
like
songs,
to name
only
one-was unlimited. Miskin lived and wrote within
this milieu. Din Muhammad
originated
from this but wrote in another.
Many
American slaves could have
originated
from similar cultures in
western,
northern
and sub-Saharan
Africa,
and written in a much more literate
one,
thus condition-
ing
their choice of forms
(like
the address to the
reader).
As a
literary genre,
the American slave narratives have been identified
by
clear
chronological
and
episodic
structures
moving
from
capture
to
freedom,
through
a
series of
exciting
or
dangerous
events. A central element of this
pattern,
to
quote
Costanzo,
is the
developing
characters search for freedom.
However,
the man-
ner in which he seeks it is
important
to his education as a human
being.19
The
slave
autobiographers,
we are
told,
were aware of the
demeaning stereotypes
attached
to their
state-deceit, subterfuge
and the
wearing
of masks
being
some of the main
ones. It is
equally possible
that since a
majority
of
first-generation
slaves were
adults,
many
remembered
something
of their
pre-enslavement
cultures and faiths.
Thus,
the
multiple crossings,
the
looking
at ones self
through
the
eyes
of others
and the double-consciousness that scholars of these narratives have noticed
may
actually
be even more
complex
than established so far.
It is believed that the authors of American slave narratives took
great pains
to
convince readers of their mental and
spiritual talents,
their fitness for
emancipa-
tion and the
veracity
of the
story.
Their
frequent
use of stock
literary
conven-
tions-the
dialogue
directed to
readers,
the
citing
of authorities and
testimonies,
or what
Stepto3
has called the
authenticating
narrative-is,
as a
convention,
common to
many
older traditions and cultures as well. For
instance,
it is found in
the
citing
of traditions
(bad<5,
and the device of
isnad)
in Islamic
learning, teaching
and
justice.
Hence it does not
necessarily
need a later Freudian model to under-
28
In a vast and
sophisticated
field are Charles T. Davis and
Henry
Louis Gates
Jr., eds,
The Slaves
Narrative,
New
York, 1985;
and William L.
Andrews,
To Tell a Free
Story:
The First
Century of
Afro-American Autobiography,
1760-1865,
Urbana/Chicago, 1988;
Robert B.
Stepto,
From Behind
the Veil: A
Study of Afro-American Narrative, Urbana/Chicago, 1979;
J.
Sundquist,
Frederick
Douglass:
New
Literary
and Historical
Essays, Cambridge, 1990;
for the
complexity
of
slavery
and
memory,
Paul
Gilroy,
The Black Atlantic
Modernity
and Double
Consciousness,
London
1993;
for
recent reviews of the
issues,
see Marcus
Wood, Seeing
is
Believing,
or
Finding
"Truth" in Slave
Narrative: The Narrative
of Henry
Bibb as Perfect
Misrepresentation,
in
Slavery
and Abolition
(here-
after
SAA),
Vol.
18(3),
1997,
pp. 174-211;
Jerome S. Handler Life Histories of Enslaved Aricans in
Barbados,
and Judie Newman Textual
Passing Along
the Colour
Line, SAA,
Vol.
19(1), 1998, pp.
129-49;
Janet
Gray, Passing
as Fact: Mollie E. Lambert and
Mary
Eliza Tucker Lambert meet as
Racial
Modernity
Dawns, Representations,
Vol.
64, 1998, pp.
41-75.
29
Angelo
Costanzo, Surprizing
Narrative: Olaudah
Equiano
and the
Beginning of Black
Autobi-
ography,
New
York, 1987, pp.
3-33.
30
Stepto,
From Behind the
Veil, pp.
3-31.
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63
stand assertions of
humanity
and the denial of
thingness, (by evidencing
of
memory
as a
faculty)
in American slave narrative. As Fleischner
puts
it:
Given that the
ideology
of
racism,
extending
well
beyond
the
slavery years,
argued
that African Americans were not
fully human,
to show that one did
suffer ... from reminiscences
(one
of Freuds earliest
psychoanalytic
formu-
lations)
was to make both a
political
statement
against bigotry
and
abuse,
and a
psychological one,
against suffering.&dquo;
Memory
was
venerated,
and its
techniques
and skills
taught,
in different
ways
in
different
proto-literate
cultures. 31
Perhaps,
one
may argue,
much more attention
could be
paid
to the
weight
of
oral,
cultural and
religious
exercises that contri-
buted to the
making
of different kinds of
memory
in historical situations.
Equally,
attention to distinct
linguistic
and
literary
forms in each
locality
and
region (like
the
empirical
and
descriptive safarndma,
and the didactic
qissa
in
Persian)33
will
give
a better idea of the articulation of
memory,
and the
subsequent recovery
of
belonging-ness, by
slaves and ex-slaves. Both American slave narratives as well
as those of South Asian
provenance
can
eventually
share the same frame-for it is
scholars,
and not the
slaves,
who have made the canon hermetic.
Learning
as Axis of Difference
It is however undeniable that the slave
systems
that existed in the
eighteenth
cen-
tury
on the Atlantic coast and in the Indian subcontinent differed in the use to
which slaves were
put.
Plantation slaves were denied access to
literacy
and to the
language
of
high
culture in
plantocratic
societies. On the other
hand,
at least some
slaves in
West,
Central and South Asia were
consciously
trained in the
high
literary
and administrative cultures of their masters.34 In the older slave
systems
31
Jennifer
Fleischner,
Mastering Slavery: Memory, Family
and
Identity
in Womens Slave Narra-
tives,
New
York, 1996, p.
135.
32
See Francis
Robinson,
Islam and the
Impact
of Print in South
Asia,
in
Nigel
Crook, ed.,
The
Transmission
of Knowledge
in South Asia:
Essays
on
Education,
Religion, History,
and
Politics,
Delhi, 1996, pp.
62-97.
33
See C.A.
Baylys
three-fold classification of the ecumene in
Empire
and
Information:
Intelli-
gence Gathering
and Social Communication in
India, 1780-1870,
Cambridge,
1996, pp.
21-26,
Frances W.
Pritchett,
Marvelous Encounters: Folk Romance in Urdu and
Hindi,
New
Delhi, 1985,
pp. 1-36, 144-78.
34
There are a number of studies which have defined the field for the West and the Central Asian
systems,
chief
amongst
which are Patricia
Crone,
Slaves on Horses: The Evolution
of
the Islamic
Polity, Cambridge, 1980,
M.
Gordon, Slavery
in the Arab
World,
New
York, 1989;
H.
Inalcik,
Stud-
ies in Ottoman Social and Economic
History, London, 1985;
I. Metin
Kunt,
The Sultans Servants:
The
Transformation of Ottoman
Provincial
Government, 1550-1650,
New
York, 1983;
Daniel
Pipes,
Slave Soldiers and Islam: The Genesis
of a Military System,
New
Haven, 1981;
D.
Ayalon,
Islam and
the Abode
of
War:
Military
Slaves and Islamic
Adversaries, London, 1994;
and Samuel S.
Haas,
The
Contributions of Slaves To and Their Influence
upon
the Culture
of Early Islam,
Ph.D.
thesis,
Princeton
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64
which
prevailed
in
eighteenth-century
South and Central
Asia,
as in the Ottoman
Empire,
the exclusion from
literary
or
religious
training
was not
necessarily
a
feature concomitant with
being
a slave.3s
Indeed,
the evidence for
Mughal
India indicates that a
high premium
was
placed
on skilled and trained
slaves,
both male and female. For
example,
in a
Portuguese
account of the
siege of Hughli by Mughal
forces in A.D.
1632,
the
Portuguese
surrendered 90 of their
slaves, but;
The Moor
only laughed
when he saw their small number.
People
of that
kind,
he
said,
were not so scarce .... Let them send him their black
women,
their
clever
cooks,
their
dancing girls,
their
confectioners,
their
seamstresses,
and so
on. Such were in
special
demand.36
Some of these skilled slave-cooks were
working
in the
garden-house
of Asaf Khan
where a
banquet
was
given
for
Emperor Shahjahan .31
The same was true for other
slaves. Ishwardas mentions Murad Bakhshs
eunuch,
Khwaja
Shahbaz
Khan,
en-
titled
Saiyid
Rustam
Khan,
who was
despatched
with a force of
6,000
horsemen to
conquer
the well-fortified town of Surat.3s The skills mentioned in the case of
male slaves and eunuchs are both
diplomatic
and
military.
Their association with
warriorhood,
as well as with
writing
and
reading,
is clear from several accounts.
Shahjahan
wrote to
Aurangzeb
from his
prison asking
for an eunuch to be
placed
at his
disposal
for
writing
his letters.39 Another
eunuch,
Bakhtawar
Khan,
associ-
ated with the
authorship
of MirC7t-i
Alam, according
to the
preface
of the
work,
was fond of historical studies.4 A eunuch named
Yaqut,
titled Mahram
Khan,
University,
1942. For the
persistence of patterns
of enslavement and recruitment to an administrative
corps, despite
the abolition of the
system
of
devsirme,
see Stanford J.
Shaw,
History of the
Ottoman
Empire
and Modern
Turkey, Cambridge, 1976,
Vol.
I, p. 236;
and Y. Hakan
Erdem,
Slavery
in the
Ottoman
Empire
and its
Demise, 1800-1909,
London/New
York,
1996. For
military slavery
in other
regions,
see
Douglas
H.
Johnson,
Sudanese
Military Slavery
from the
Eighteenth
to the Twentieth
Century,
in Leonie
Archer, ed., Slavery
and Other Forms
of Unfree
Labour,
London/New
York,
1988,
pp. 142-56;
and Recruitment and
Entrapment
in Private Slave Armies: The Structure of the
Zaraib in the Southern
Sudan,
in E.
Savage, ed.,
The Human
Commodity: Perspectives
on the Trans-
Saharan Slave
Trade, London, 1992, pp.
163-73. For accounts of adult males enslaved in
eigh-
teenth-century
Central
Asia,
see The Travels of
Filip
Yefremov,
in P.M.
Kemp,
tr. and
ed.,
Russian
Travellers to India and Persia
(1624-1798 ), Delhi, 1959, pp.
45-93.
35
For studies of Ottoman
slave-poets
Fevri and
Yahya Bey,
see Walter G.
Andrews, Najaat
Black
and Mehmet
Kalpakli,
Ottoman
Lyric Poetry:
An
Anthology, Austin, 1997, pp. 64-65, 100-1, 232-33,
241-44.
36
Letter of Father John Cabral in C.E.
Luard, tr.,
Travels
of Fray
Sebastien
Manrique, Oxford,
1927,
Vol.
II, Appendix, p.
405
(emphasis
in
original).
37
Ibid., p.
218.
38
Ishwardas
Nagar, Fut uhat-i- Alamg iri,
Tasneem
Ahmad,
ed. and
tr., Delhi, 1978, pp.
8-9.
39 S. Moinul
Haq, Kh afi Kh ans History of Alamg ir,
Karachi, 1975, p.
106.
40
H.M.
Elliott,
The
History of India
as Told
by
Its Own
Historians,
J.
Dowson, ed., London, 1877,
Vol.
VII, p.
150.
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65
held the
post
of tutor to a son
of Aurangzeb,
Kam Bakhsh. This tradition
appears
to have continued into the
eighteenth century
as
well,
both at the
imperial
court in
Delhi
(where
we read of literate slave-eunuchs like Javed
Khan,
and somewhat
later, of Najaf Quli
Khan and
Afrasiyab Khan,
the slaves
of Najaf Khan Zulfiqar
al-
Daula)2
as well as in other courts like that of the Ruhela rulers of
Katihar 41
the
Bangash
rulers of
Farrukhabad,
and
Awadh,&dquo;
and in Haidarabad.
Documentary
evidence
speaks
of the learned nature of
specific skills,
whether
military
or
literary,
or both. That the
training imparted
to such slaves was
rigorous,
is evidenced
by
an
eighteenth-century
document,
in which an official in
charge
of
the natakshala of the Peshwas
(rulers
of western
India) complained against
the
man who was to train the
slave-girls
in dance. Instead of
training
them for five to
seven
ghatikiis
in the
morning
and for the same
period
in the
evening
as was
required
of
him,
this trainer
only
did ton-ton for one
ghatikii.4s
The letter however
absolved the tutor for music and
literary composition
of such dereliction of
duty:
the
girls
received their
required
hours of
training
in these
departments.
The exist-
ence of skilled
slave-poets
and
slave-composers
is
again highlighted by
a docu-
ment of the
Kishangarh
state.
Discussing
certain stanzas attributed to Rasik Bihari
in the work of the Bhasha
poet, Nagari
Das,
this document states
clearly
that: The
Kavitas and
padas bearing
the
poetic
name Rasik Bihari ... are the
compositions
of his khavasa
pasvdn yan upastri. 146
This kind of
training
is
certainly spoken
of
by Tahmas: training
was
particularly
successful when it earned encomia from the masters social
peers.
Therefore,
Tahmas
recalls that in the household of the
Mughal governor
at Lahore:
The Nawab ordered that we should
spend
our time in
picking up
arts and crafts
at the rate of two months for each craft ....
41
Moinul
Haq, Kh afi Kh ans History, pp.
432-33.
42
Muhammad
Umar,
Muslim
Society
in Northern India
During
the
Eighteenth Century,
New
Delhi, 1998, p. 533;
for the
royal
eunuchs Javed Kh ans and Basant Kh ans
patronage
of
poets,
see
Ishrat
Haque, Glimpses of Mughal Society
and Culture&mdash;A
Study
Based on Urdu Literature in the
Second
Half of the
18th
Century,
New
Delhi, 1992, pp. 24,
38.
43
For Daud
Kh an,
a slave of Shah Alam
Kh an,
who was the
grandson
of
a Qadiriya
saint of the
Badalzai
Af gh ans,
and for the
captured
lad who succeeded Daud
Kh an,
see
Iqbal Husain,
The Rise &
Decline
of the
Ruhela
Chieftaincies
in 18th
Century India, Delhi, 1994, pp. 36-39, 41-60.
Jos J.L.
Gommans,
The Rise
of the Indo-Afghan Empire,
c.
1710-1780, Leiden/Oxford, 1999,
calls Daud
Kh an the
adopted
son of the
saint,
and
only
Ali Muhammad Kh an is referred to as
having
been a
slave, pp.
116-19.
44
William R.
Pinch,
Who was Himmat Bahadur?
Gosains,
Rajputs
and
the
British in
Bundelkhand,
ca.
1800,
Indian Economic and Social
History
Review
(hereafter IESHR),
Vol.
35(3),
1998, pp.
293-335.
45
Letter of Atmaram
Rajaram
in G.S.
Sardesai, ed.,
Selections from
the Peshwa
Daftar (hence-
forth
SPD), Bombay, 1931,
Vol.
IV, p.
147. The editorial
dating
of this letter is 1761. Each
ghatika
is
made
up
of 24
minutes,
so that a
span
of 5-7
ghatika
is
approximately
2-3 hours. I am
grateful
to
Sumit Guha for this reference.
46
Pandit Mohanlal Vishnulal
Pandia,
The
Antiquity of Poet Nagari
Das and his concubine Rasik
Bihari alias Bani
Thani,
in Journal
of the
Asiatic
Society of Bengal,
Vol.
66(1),
1897,
pp.
63-75.
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66
One
day
he was
inspecting
some
drawings
and
paintings ....
He then said to
me,
You should
acquaint yourself
with all the arts so that
you
could
please
people
in the
assembly. (kasab-i
kaml kun
ke a~i~-i jahal shui, (folio 58).
Since
people
in the
assembly
were
normally powerful,
success in
pleasing
the
assembly heightened
the honour of the master or mistress because it
displayed
the latters
capacity
to invest in such education. At the same
time, military training
went to
qualify
the household
boys
for
appointments
to the
governorships
such
as those of the
Doba,
four
Mahals,
Multan or Kashmir
(p. 14),
and thus
pro-
vided for the needs of the masters
government.47
Yet even
though
the slaves
training
was to serve diverse
masterly ambitions,
the
elderly
narrator was
emphatic
about the slaves own
agency
in
acquiring
wis-
dom and social
graces.
Hence
Tahmass emphasis
turned this
acquisition
of know-
ledge
into a conscious act of
self-development:
I was
undisceming (hichmanddn),
illiterate
(nakhwandan)
and innocent
(ndn)
.... From the conversations of the
knowledgeable,
and the
company
of intel-
lectuals
(sahibdn-i zfan),
I could derive
good examples ....
I stored in
my
heart the
pearls
of
knowledge gathered
from
reading
books on
ancient and later histories
(kutb-i tawarikh) (folios 8-9).
Though
no historian is
cited,
this
learning
is
skillfully
worked into the
history
Tahmas
writes: there are
large
sections
narrating
events and
processes
to which he
could not have been an
eyewitness.
This includes instances like the events in Tabriz
following
Nadir Shahs death
(folios 17-20),
the affairs in Lahore and Delhi after
the deaths of
Zakariya
Khan and
Emperor
Muhammad Shah
(folios 39-46),
or
even events like the
capture
of the
Afghan
commander Samad Khan
by
the erst-
while
Mughalfau jdar of Jalandhar,
Adina
Beg
Khan,
the Marathas and some Sikhs
47
For this
reason,
the institution of
slavery provided
for a
continuity
of social and administrative
traditions across
political
boundaries and into the mid-nineteenth
century. Examples
are those of
Lashkar
Beklarbegi
the slave from
Chitral,
who served in the Khokand administration till 1841 and
was
reputed
to have established the dominance of Khokand over Kazakhstan
according
to T.K.
Beisembiev,
Farghanas
Contacts with India in the 18th and 19th Centuries
(According
to the Khokand
Chronicles),
Journal
of Asian History (hereafter JAH ),
Vol.
28(2), 1994, p.
126.
Vambery
remem-
bered a Persian slave who had become the commandant of
artillery (topchib ash i)
in the fortress of
Kerki in
1863;
see Armenius
Vambery,
Travels in Central Asia
being
an Account
of a Journey from
Teheran across the Turkoman Desert on the Eastern Shore
of the Caspian
to Khiva,
Bokhara and
Samarcand
Performed
in the Year
1863, London, 1864, p.
229. Another such slave
dancing-boy
of
the
Khojas
in
Khokand,
who rose to the
post
of fort commander
(kil aoch i)
and
eventually
estab-
lished control over
Kashgar
as its Guardian Warrior
(At aliq Gh azi)
was
Yaqub Beg;
see Ram
Rahul,
Central Asia: A Historical
Survey,
New
Delhi, 1996, p.
72. For a number of
gh ul am
bachas sent
by
the
Shu gh nani
chiefs after the
conquest by
the Amir of
Af gh anistan,
and
put
into
military
school in
Kabul to form a
royal army;
see Hafizullah
Emadi,
The End of
Taqiyya: Reaffirming
the
Religious
Identity
of Ismailis in
Shughnan,
Badakhshan&mdash;Political
Implications
for
Afghanistan,
Middle Eastern
Studies,
Vol.
34(3), 1998, p.
109.
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67
(folios 167-68).
It is this sense of
learning,
of both ethics and
history,
that the
author was to invoke
again
and
again
as the marker
distinguishing
his self from
other
personalities,
both slave and
non-slave,
around him.
Hence his
emphasis right
from the
opening
folios on the
reading
of the
Quran,
believed to be the source of all ilm. While an erstwhile
master,
Muin
al-Mulk,4s
is remembered
approvingly
for
having
insisted on the
religious
and moral
training
of the
slave-boys (folios
50-52 and
57-59),
the
reading
and
learning
itself is
repre-
sented as the act that
separated
the men from the
boys:
A tutor
(atdliq)
was
appointed
to train us.
Many amongst
us would miss their
lessons on the
plea
that the Governor wanted us .... Unlike other children I
generally kept away
from mischief and childish
pranks. During
seven
years
I
completed
a considerable
portion
of the
Quran,
while the others could not
even finish one
para (p. 10).
This,
then
comprised training
in a
language (Arabic)
and in a skill
(memorising),
as well as in a manner of conduct and belief characteristic of a
large politico-
cultural realm.49
Remembered
Friends,
Parables of
Betrayal
This
training
was, however,
also one which
simultaneously generated
intra-slave
distinction at the same time that it
promoted political
and cultural assimilation.
This commandeered and
double-edged training
is hinted at thus: We were not to
familiarise ourselves with
Hindustani, only
Turkish. No others were to come near
us
(sivay
zaban-i turki
ba-zaban-i
hindustdni dshni na shavand va kasi ra
nazd-
i ishan na
guzashtah
bashand
[folio 5 1 ]).
The twin
processes
of distinction and
assimilation are
highlighted explicitly
in the
autobiography,
which cites
many
in-
cidents of slaves in the same household
turning against
each other. The
thought
of
constructing
a
community
with other slaves in the new household is remembered
both as a faint
possibility
and as an
ever-present
desire. For
instance,
though
we
three slaves soon
grows
to a
party
of sixteen
boys (p. 10), treachery
from his
fellow-slaves
(p. 40)
and a
continuing vulnerability
to the elder eunuch-slaves
(pp. 48-49, 67)
is the dominant theme of the first
half
of this
text,
the
period
of the
narrators
youth.
What is distinctive however is the
great
value
placed by
the narrator
upon
male
friendship. Thus,
there runs
through
this memoir an adults lament for the friend-
ships
of
youth
and of old
age.
Consider the
response
of the adolescent and
virginal
narrator to the entreaties and taunts of his
young
male friends-all
slave-boys
in
48
Muin
al-Mulk,
also referred to as Mir
Mannu,
was the son of
Qamaruddin Kh an,
the Vaz ir of
Emperor
Muhammad
Shah,
and was
appointed
as
governor
of
Panjab.
He died in 1753.
49
See Francis
Robinson,
Ottomans&mdash;Safavids&mdash;Mughals;
Shared
Knowledge
and Connective
Systems,
Journal
of Islamic Studies,
Vol.
8(2), 1997, pp.
151-84.
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68 /
the same household-to
experience
the
great
boon of sensual
gratification (bshi)
with
courtesan-prostitutes:
I
replied
that these detestable and hateful activities are
shameful,
and
wrong ...
yet,
since
they
were intimate friends and sincere
companions,
not to
comply
with their wishes
appeared ungentlemanly (dur
az
muravvat).
I
accompanied
them
(folio 100).
Individual moral
sensibility
was subordinated to the need to honour the claims
of friends in
enacting
masculine
virility.
The author
appears
to be
underlining
the
moral lesson that it is not as much the acts but the intentions of the individual that
should be
judged.
If the intention is
pure,
no harm
(as
in the loss of
reputation
expressed
in the
phrase
rusvdhi na
gasht)
can ensue. But such bonds
appeared
to
be crucial
precisely
because
they
had serious
political resonances,
as in the narrators
reminiscence
of Qasim Khan,
a
young
and talented man from Balkh: He said I am
also from
your province (vilayet-i shum).
Since we were
very young,
we under-
stood his words to be the truth
(folio 66). Having
made favourable
representa-
tions on
Qasim
Khans behalf to their
Mughal master,
the
slave-boys
ensured his
appointment
to the
governorship
of Panni. When the master
died,
some of the
slave-boys, including
the
author,
accompanied Qasim Khan,
to his
post
with in-
structions to
quell
the ascendant Sikhs.
Having
failed in
that,
as well as in his bid
to set
up
an
independent province, Qasim
Khan was
imprisoned. Again,
the inter-
vention of the
slave-boy
T imur
(Tahmas, Miskin)
ensured a
degree
of comfort for
the
prisoner.
When
Qasim
Khan was
eventually released,
albeit without
any
re-
sources to make a fresh
start,
it was
Tahmas
who advanced him
money (without
a
bond)
on the
grounds
that: If he is a man he will not
forget it;
if he
does,
I will
accept
that I have fulfilled the claims of old
friendship (haqq-i
shni add
sakht[m)
....
(folio 157).
Anxious
masculinity,
and the
honouring
of friend-
ship
are tied
together intricately
in the
representation
of adult male
adabiyat
in
this narrative. The old
friendship appeared
to have been
reciprocated fully when,
as a
freedman, Tahmas
went in search of
employment,
and
Qasim
Khan
spoke up
for him as one of
my
four brothers
(in
ham barddar-i man ast va
myn
chahar
bardarim),
The freedman was
employed by Qsim
Khan as
a jam adar
in the
troop
he raised and maintained for the
imperial army.
However,
this source of
succour soured
quickly.
Not
only
did the old friend and new
employer
not
pay
a
rupee
towards
wages,
worse
still,
he made assiduous
enquiries regarding any jewels
and
precious
metal that the ex-slave
might
have carried with him from the house-
hold of his
previous
mistress.
This outlines a
larger
lesson on the burdens of
intimacy
between a slave/ex-
slave and a master/mistress. In this
narrative,
the treacherousness of male friends
is
contraposed
to the
intimacy
reconstructed
by
the narrator with his master
(and
after the masters
death,
with his
widow).
This
intimacy
is
necessarily
skewed
by
gender-that
between the master and a male slave is intense
enough
for the latter
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69
to dream of the master
(p. 56),
and to
pray
at his
grave.
The
intimacy
between the
widowed mistress and the male slave
is, however,
based on a kind of
personal
torment and abuse which the narrator cannot
describe, except elliptically.
Having
described an
ordinary working day-attendance
on the
Mughal
Em-
peror
and the
Afghan
Vazir in
Delhi,
then
reporting
the
proceedings
in detail to his
own mistress till the third
quarter
of the
night-the
narrator then
digresses:
On some
nights
there was no
permission
to
depart
from the
Begams presence.
Instead certain words and
expressions
would be uttered that were
unimagin-
able.... But she was considered a
mother;
not a
disrespectful
or faithless word
passed
these
lips (b a~-i
shab td alas
sabah
ham az
J;1uzr-i begam
rihai mishud
balke
aksar b a~-i
sukhnha ke
aqal hargiz qab/
na kunad bar zuban mi
avardan ... hamwdr khudrd
bajye
madar ushan
angashtah J;1arafi bajuz aqidat
va fidwiyat
bar zuban nivard
(folio 159).
To one well-versed in the
Qur an,
the resonance of this
passage
with the
story
of
the slave
Yusuf (Joseph
of the
Bible) withstanding
the seduction of his masters
wife, Zulekha,
would have been immediate and
transparent.
The mistresss sexual
manipulation
of the
slave-youth (which begins
with her insistence on his
marrying
a
slave-girl
of her
entourage)
is narrated in the third
person;
the I is
completely
absent from this
passage,
while at the same time a benevolent mother is invoked in
order to evade the
responsibility
of resistance.
Though
enslavement as an infant
had
obviously separated
the child from its
living mother,
a
synergistic
mixture of
fantasy
and
memory
of
unthreatening femininity
was called
upon
to
incorporate
the
demanding
mistress as well.
Perhaps
the
attempt
to conflate the
sexually
active adult woman with an asexual
one was unbearable. This
may explain
the absolute silence on affective relations
with women in the text from this
point
onwards.
However,
it is much more
prob-
able that a code of decorum based
heavily
on the
segregation
of
gender
is enacted
deliberately
in this silence.
Certainly,
it is a code that the adult narrator was to
remember as a
privilege
not extended to male slaves like him: for
instance,
in the
narration of how he
resigned
from the
superintendence
of food
arrangements
as it
was womens labour and hence
unbecoming (pp. 48-49),
and also in the advice
that
he,
the
slave,
gave
to his mistress about not
letting
those with beards and
moustache enter her
precincts (p. 53).
As in the
hinting
at rumours of illicit rela-
tions between the author and the
Begam
which make Ghazi al-Din
conspire
to kill
the slave
(p. 37), Tahmass
narration recounts the costs of the conflict between
intimacy
and moral
personality.
It
explains
that the
price
of the mistresss trust has
to be
paid
in the
inability
of male slaves to maintain the
segregation
of
spaces (and
tasks);
further that it is
precisely
this
trust,
and
intimacy
across
segregated
roles
and
spaces
that is fatal for the slave.
Hence,
in
writing
of the
Mughal
Vazirs
attack
upon
the
Begam
as
attempting
to
right
a moral and social
infringement,
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70
Tahmas
Miskin
clearly places responsibility
for such
infringements (of
sexual and
social
order)
on the
Begam, infringements
for which slaves like him had
paid
heavily.
The narrator
evidently attempts
to tread a fine line in this
representation
of treach-
erous
friendships:
between the claims of an emotional selfhood
(in enacting
friend-
ship
with
young
men who turn out to be
reckless,
evil and the embodiment of
ignorance or jahiliya)
and his historical and social
persona
as the mistresss erst-
while
confidante,
trusted
agent
and administrator. The
years
of
youth
are
repre-
sented as a
struggle
for
separation
and individuation in the
eyes
of his
powerful
mistress;
in contrast to other
slaves,
the narrator has more
understanding
than the
other
boys (p. 34),
is more
ready
to
comply
with her orders
(p. 43),
and above
all,
shows the
greatest fidelity.
At a time when noble and non-noble alike wavered in
their
loyalties, changing
sides
repeatedly
in the fierce warfare in northern India
(pp. 12-13, 54-56),
the slave-narrator never remembers
imitating
them. Even
when other
slaves,
like the eunuch Muhabbat Khan or the maidservant who was
reputed
to be in love with
him,
flee from the
governors
household at
Jammu,
and
the
enraged
mistress turns
upon
the
narrator,
his
loyalty
never wavers
(pp. 82-83).
In the
report
of the maidservant who was beaten to death
by
the
enraged Begam,
a
clear hint is offered for
why
even
impoverished
and
disgraced
slaves like
Tahmas
stay solidly
on the side of the
mistress, refusing
to take
employment
with the rich
eunuch accused of
harbouring
a
runaway.
However, Tahmas
takes this
emphasis
on
constancy
onto a different
explana-
tory path altogether.
It is used to underline
heavily
the narrators
discipline
and
will in the discernment of correct behaviour
(adab).
It is to
embody
moral character
as the fruit of deliberation
by
the
author,
both in
youth
and
adulthood,
and it is
offered as
legitimation
for the authors
emancipation
from
slavery. Having
suc-
ceeded in
bringing away
his mistress and her
daughter, kept
as
hostages
in the
camp
of the
Afghan
Vazir Jahan
Khan,
the slave earns the
gratitude
of his mistress
as well as his freedom
(p. 70).
Yet what does the declaration of his freedman
status mean for the narrator? The narrative itself is not structured as a
protracted
struggle
for
emancipation, though
instances of
soul-murdering
abuse are
plentiful.
There are no effusions
of joy,
and no
celebratory
tone that would lead the reader to
flesh out the
meaning
of this
emancipation.
Instead,
the
point
of freedom is
precisely
the moment from which the conflicts
of the
relationship
between mistress and slave
begin
to surface within the memoir.
Till the
emancipation,
the
relationship
is structured
formally
as one of secret and
intimate violence. After the
emancipation,
the violence is both
open
and acknow-
ledged,
with the
Begam being represented
as a
person
of outer
power,
which masks
her foolishness
(nadani), caprice
and inner
weakness,
while the author is revealed
to be a
poor man,
with reserves of immeasurable inner
strength
and wisdom.
The
culmination, again
a
psycho-sexual
one,
comes when the
Begam,
enamoured
of another male
slave-servant, Shahbaz,
marries
him,
and demands that Miskin
offer
homage
to her new husband. Miskin did not
just
refuse. In a narrative mode
loaded with
irony,
the ex-slave
represents
this
episode
as
yet
another
genealogical
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71
and moral lesson. He reminded his mistress of her
distinguished genealogical
and
affinal
status,
which was besmirched
by
this
lowly
match. The mistress retaliated
with an
attempt
on his
life,
which
was, however,
foiled
by
the intervention of the
ascetic
(ba iragi)
warrior-landlord of the
village.so
Tahmas repeatedly
underlines the
irony
of
life,
both as a slave and as a freed-
man :
intimacy
with a mistress is a murderous burden. While the ex-slaves burden
is that he must
pay
for
proximity
to a mistress with the
currency
of old
friendships
taken
hostage by greed (Qasim Khan),
it is also clear that it is in
speaking
about
ancestry
that freedom is
finally
asserted.
Freedom as Attachments?
Freedom has been
interpreted
to mean different
things
in different
hemispheres
and different kinds of texts.5
Igor Kopytoff
and Suzanne Miers have
argued
that,
in African
societies,
where the dominant social and
legal
unit was the kin
group,
the
rights
over the
acquired person
were in various
ways
vested in the
acquisitors
s
kin
group,
so that freedom involved various
degrees of belongingness
in and to
that or another kin
group. 52 Undoubtedly,
it is this search for
belonging
that unites
all the narratives to each
other, irrespective
of the
hemisphere
one studies. The
striking difference, however,
lies in the different sets of
relationships
that are acti-
vated as markers of
belonging.
In American slave
narratives,
the notion of
belonging
is
always
with a com-
munity
outside the masters and mistresses household and
kinship
circles. This
community, according
to historians of
slavery
in the
Americas,
is recoverable
only
if we
pay
sufficient attention to the
origins
of enslavement within Africa.
Only
then can we recover the
ethnic, linguistic
and
religious
communities that slaves
tried to reconstruct in the face of
attempts by
masters to erode or
marginalise
the
heterogenous
African cultures
by endowing
their bearers with
only
a racist iden-
tity,
that of colour
(black).
In the narratives of
first-generation
slaves in South
Asia,
like
Tahmas Misk-in,
the
attempt
to
imagine
and
belong
with a
community
is
equally important.
How-
ever,
the
attempt
is
fraught
with tension since the authors
memory
of his
origin
is
faint,
and his
experience
of communion in later
years
is remembered as
alternating
between
opposing group
affiliations. Misk-ins text also makes it clear that the
50
Nothing
can be
specified
about the
religious persuasion
of this
figure, though
evidence about
Vaishnava akharas in the
Panjab
in this
period
abound in B.N.
Goswamy
and J.S.
Grewal,
The
Mughal
and Sikh Rulers and the Vaishnavas
of Pindori,
Indian Institute of Advanced
Study, Simla,
1968.
51
For a theoretical overview of the
concept,
see Franz
Rosenthal,
The Muslim
Concept of Free-
dom Prior to the Nineteenth
Century, Leiden, 1960,
pp. 2-30;
and Orlando
Patterson,
Freedom:
Freedom in the
Making of
Western
Culture,
1991.
52
Suzanne Miers and
Igor Kopytoff,
African
Slavery
as an Institution of
Marginality,
in
idem,
eds,
Slavery
in
Africa, Madison, 1977,
pp. 3-81;
also see
Igor Kopytoff,
The Cultural Context of
African
Abolition,
in Suzanne Miers and Richard
Roberts, eds,
The End
of slavery
in
Africa,
Madi-
son,
1988, pp. 485-503.
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community
that is
imagined
cannot be outside the
community
of the
master,
par-
ticularly
in
eighteenth-century
northern
India,
where
people
from
many parts
of
Central and West Asia had settled.
The
impossibility of belonging
to
any one
discrete and finite
community
is clear
right
from the outset of the
autobiography.
A
specific identity
is erased almost as
soon as the child is snatched from the arms of its brother.
Hence,
the assertion of
identity begins
with the statement:
The home of
my
ancestors is
Turkey.53
There is a
city
known as
Bayazid. Eight
kos east of that
city
is the
village
of Arzat. This
village
is
my birthplace
and
home
(p. 1).
It
very
soon fades into:
.
... I do not remember what name I had been
given.
I have also
forgotten
the
names of
my parents.
... some feel that I
might
have been an
Armenian;
while
according
to some
I must have been a
Karji [Georgian].
Some
say
that I come from the Kurd
stock. Still others
say
that I must be
belonging
to the
I[U]smalu
tribe ....
As I was
separated
from
my parents during my
childhood,
I remember nei-
ther
my origin
nor
my community (p. 1).
Since he had been
deprived
of the
memory
of
original
names,
either of
kin,
clan
or
qaum,
it is
pertinent
to
question
whether the
specific
mention of
Bayazid
and
Arzat in the account cited above indicates a
subsequently
learned
origin story.
In the
eighteenth century,
the
city
of
Bayazid
was
part
of a
long
and
fluctuating
frontier between the Ottoman Sultanate and Safavid Persia.
Indeed,
as
part
of the
vast
province of Azarbaijan,
it was claimed for Persia
by
Nadir Shah once in the
period
1729-30 and
again
in 1742-44.54 While
political jurisdiction
over this re-
gion
shifted between the two
great powers, presumably during
Miskins child-
hood,
its
demographic
and cultural mosaic was
equally complex.55 Alongside
numerous
Tajiks
were considerable numbers of Turks and Turkman
peoples
like
the
Qizlbash,
Afshar and
Qashqais (people
who would be clubbed
together
as
Turani in
contemporary writing), Afg_hans,
Arabs and
Georgians (and
followers
53
The word in the
manuscript
is
Rum,
which had different connotations at different
points
of
time;
see M.T.
Houtsma,
A.J.
Wensinck,
H.A.R.
Gibb,
W.
Heffening
and E.
Levi-Provencal, eds,
Encyclopaedia of Islam
Leiden/New
York, 1987,
Vol.
6, pp.
1174-75. P. Setu Madhava Rao has
clearly
fixed the
meaning according
to the later
meanings
of the word.
Similarly,
in the absence of
short vowels in
Persian,
Rao
may
have misread another term like Usmalu as Ismalu in the text.
54
Peter
Avery,
Gavin
Hambly
and Charles
Melville, eds, Cambridge History of Iran,
Vol. VII:
From Nadir Shah to the Islamic
Republic, Cambridge,
1991, pp. 44,
297-313.
55 For the homelands of Turkic
peoples stretching
from border of China in the east to
Byzantium
in the
west,
see
Iqtidar
Hussain
Siddiqi,
The Thirteenth and Fourteenth
Century
Indo-Persian Sources
of
History
and Culture in Central
Asia,
Islamic
Culture,
Vol.
68, 1994, pp.
31-46.
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73
of the Orthodox Christian
Church)
who were enrolled in the Persian armies and
several Armenians
(followers
of the
Gregorian Church). Besides,
Nadir Shahs
policy
of
transporting
and
relocating specific groups
from the north-western frontiers
of Persia to the eastern frontiers
(referred
to in Misk-ins
manuscript
also
[folio
38])
further
complicated
the
patterns
of
growth, fragmentation
and reconstitution
endogenous
to each
group
of
people.56
Hence the
incorruptible
Turkish
ancestry
that the ex-slave invoked
(in
the
place names)
was
certainly
more
complicated
than the
simple
assertion that it
appears.
Furthermore,
this Turkish
identity
is not
imagined
as an
outright rejection
of a
Persian social
heredity:
in such a
kaleidoscopic period
and
region, multiple
cul-
tural lineages
and
polyglossia
was a distinct
possibility,
even
perhaps
a tradition, 57
Thus,
in
Tahmass
construction
of home,
this
multiplex genealogy
is reflected in
the
diversity
of cultures summed
up
in
Armenian, Georgian, Kurd,
Usmalu
Turk,
all of which
people
lived in the
region,
and moved both within and
away
from it.
This kind of
conflicting engagement
with issues of uncertain
identity
is
hardly
new. For historians of
slavery,
it has been one of the thornier issues around which
debates about the assimilation-resistance of slaves has been formulated. In the
context of the North American
system,
where most slaves moulded themselves
into
being through
their
relationships
with
whites, indigenous Americans,
and one
.
another,
an
important conceptual key
has been the notion of a
diaspora-the
notion
of one
people
bound
by
filial ties to an
original
homeland.&dquo; Earl
Lewis,
in his
analysis
of the African-American
historiography
of
slave-consciousness,
argued
that the tensions between assimilation and
separation experienced by slaves,
should
not be framed within
psychological
studies of
personality,
nor within models of
autonomous
communities,
but instead located within notions of relational and
overlapping diasporas.59
As a historian of the African
diaspora
in America
puts
it:
A
diaspora ... requires
the
recognition
of a
boundary;
those on one side are
associated with the
homeland,
if there is
one,
and those on the other
side,
are in
the
diaspora.
Individuals define themselves in
opposition
to
their,
often
many
and
varied,
host societies
through
the identification with the homeland ... the
diaspora
ceases to have
meaning
if the idea of an ancestral home is lost. 60
The idea of the ancestral home is
present
in
Tahmass narrative,
even
though
its
territorial contours turn
out,
on closer
inspection,
to be somewhat
hazy.
The
attempts
56
Avery
et
al.,
Cambridge History of Iran,
Vol.
VII, pp. 508, 514-15,
530.
57
From the
outset,
the
Mu gh als appeared
to have
practiced polyglossia,
for which see Annemarie
Schimmel,
Islamic Literatures
of India, Weisbaden, 1973,
pp.
24-26.
58
See for
instance,
Alusine Jalloh and
Stephen
E.
Maizlish, eds,
The
African Diaspora, Arlington,
1996.
59
Earl
Lewis,
To Turn as on a Pivot:
Writing
African Americans into a
History
of
Overlapping
Diasporas,
American Historical
Review,
Vol. 100
(3), 1995, pp. 765-87, esp.
773.
60
Paul
Lovejoy,
The African
Diaspora:
Revisionist
Interpretations
of
Ethnicity,
Culture and Re-
ligion
Under
Slavery, unpublished paper,
1997.
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to fix the
territoriality
of the
homeland,
as evinced
by
Arzat and
Bayazid,
are
undone
by
different sections of verse that
Tahmas
himself
composed
and inserted
into the narrative. In one
(folio 35),
revolving
around the
destiny (metaphorically
depicted
as a
river)
that
brought
him from the
Maghrib
to the
Mashriq,
the east is
clearly
named as
Hind,
but the
meaning
of the west turns on a
pun
on the word
Sham
(representing
both
evening
and
present Syria).
These verses
appear,
at first
glance,
as comments on the
dystopia
of the narrators s
present.
In
one, early
in the
narrative, Tahmas
compares
the homeland and
family
of his
imagined past
with his
present:
...
kuja
an maskan o maulid
kuja
in
kujd
an mdar o
pidar haqiqi,
kujd
in wdlid-i wam
shaji-qi
bagardan
rishtah ra
afgand
chan dost
burd
anja
keh
harja khatir-i
ost6!
bagiriyah
madar o
pidaram
cheh
joyid
keh farzandam kuja
shud kas cheh
goyid
agarcheh
man khusham hdlash cheh bshad
beyadam vaye
ahwalash cheh bshad
magar
sabrash
dahad taskin
bahalash
keh
razi
bar
riza
gardad k~dlash
ta ham Miskin
sabr
ra
pesh gardn
hamisha bar
rizyish
bash shadan
sitye
Gildn indn-i rakhsh kun tund
azimat bahr-i roz hast khursand
(folios 22-23)
(There
the
place
of
my
birth and here this
dwelling
There the
rightful parents
and here a
kindly
father on loan
Tying
a
relationship
around
my neck,
he bears me
along
My parents weep,
search,
ask for news of their son
Even if I am
happy,
consider their condition
If
patience
has been their
consolation,
And the will of the Invisible
accepted
You
too,
0
Miskin,
forever content in that be
Wait for the
day
when to Gildn
you
turn
your steed.)
As the mirror
image
of his own inconsolable
longing
for
home,
it is the
epitome
of
mourning.
Yet,
the
poetry
does not seem to reorient its author
(or reader)
for an
actual,
physical
return. It is a counsel of
patience (qabr),
of an
uncomplaining
61
These two lines of verse circulated in Miskins own
text,
for
instance,
in folio
279,
referring
to
the authors move to
Najibabad.
It also
appears
to have been used
by
Ghalib in his
childhood, though
the latters
biographers
attribute this to a classical Persian
poet;
see
Ralph Russell
and Khurshidul
Islam,
Ghalib:
Life
and
Letters,
Oxford
University Press, 1994, p.
24. The translation of the verse is
done
jointly by
Sabir Hasan and Indrani
Chatterjee.
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75
acceptance
of Gods will-a
deeply religious value, according
to which
complain-
ing
about ones misfortune would have been
equivalent
to
complaining against
the Lord.62 At the same
time,
home is referred to not in terms of
place-names
(Gilan is,
spatially speaking,
far-removed from
Bayazid),
but
people.
Far more
important
to
Tahmas diasporic identity,
I
think,
is a sense of affective
geography:
the ancestral home is where he
imagines
he is loved
enough
for his
absence to be mourned. Yet if
relationships
of affect outline a
homeland, they
simultaneously
mark the
memory
of each
stop
on the road between the
myriad
unhomely
lands. Secular
geography
and filial-familial
metaphors converge
as much
as
they conflict,
through
the narrative as well as
through
the life of the child-
captive-tumed-slave. Hence,
the
captor
of the child turns the new loot over to his
brother,
a
captain
in Nadir Shahs
cavalry,
who called me his own son
(farzand-
i khud khwand
[folio 22]),
renamed him
Zakir, sponsored
and celebrated his cir-
cumcision,
and
appointed
two tutors for him. When this
adoptive
father was
captured
in a civil war after Nadir Shahs
death,
the
child-slave,
who
appears
to have been
fond of his
patron
and his wife
(for
whom he uses the term validah-i khud
[folio
27]),
was rescued
by
an
adoptive
brother of his erstwhile master and
eventually
handed over to another Uzbek
chieftain,
who then
gifted
him to the
Mughal governor
of Lahore.
This memoir then
helps
the historian to
deepen
Orlando Pattersons character-
isation of the slave as the
person
whose
conditionally pardoned
life is to be lived
in terms of
permanent
natal
alienation,
with no
socially recognised
existence out-
side that of the saviour/master.63 Not all such
persons
were denied claims
on,
and
obligations
to,
other
relations,
since an alternative set of kinsmen were available
from within different
groups
of the masters kin. Thus
Tahmas
notes
carefully
that
a woman
among
the
Mughals
who had
brought
him from
viliyet
to Hindustan
thought
of the
young
slave as her
brother,
and that he
responded by adopting
her
as a sister
(hamshira khwandam). During
the detention of his mistress
by
her
political
rivals,
he
stayed
with this
family:
this is the Uzbek sister
upon
whose
counsel he
agrees
to
espouse
the maidservant chosen
by
his mistress
(folio 118),
even
though
his
personal
wish is to
marry
outside Hindustan
(dar
hindustan
shdi-i khud na khwaham
[folio 117]). Having
failed to fulfil his desire as a
slave,
his narrative
suggests
that he was more successful as a freedman. For his second
marriage,
he took as wife the
daughter
of a Kabuli
Afghan
soldier
(during
his
service with
Zabita Khan), noting
as an attribute of the wife that she was one
whose
parents
were
living.
In the affinal network built
through
the
marriages
of
his children
during
his freedman
days, too,
he
appears
to have
successfully
con-
tracted alliances with families
hailing
from
Azarbaijan (p. 132),
Badakhshan and
Samarqand (p. 151 ),
who
were
living
in Hindustan. It is for this reason that he
62
For a similar assertion in
quite
another
context;
see Daniel and Jonathan
Boyarin, Diaspora:
Generation and the Ground of Jewish
Identity,
in K.A.
Appiah
and
Henry
Louis Gates
Jr., Identities,
Chicago, 1995,
pp.
305-37.
63
Orlando
Patterson, Slavery
and Social
Death, Harvard, 1982, p.
5.
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consolidates the
relationship
with his
adoptive
sister
by giving
his eldest
daughter
in
marriage
to her
son,
his
nephew by adoption.
Ties that
began
with
capture
could
very
well be transmuted into a
binding
and affective network of
kin,
especially
if
the freedman was
trying
to construct his own
community
within
overlapping
diasporas.
Having
established these
relationships,
the
history
that he
proceeded
to write
is,
not
surprisingly, acutely responsive
to claims to
kinship,
to
metaphors offamiliality,
and to real conflicts within these
categories
of
people.
For
instance,
the whole of
the involvement of the older
Mughal governors
household with
Afghan
marches
into North India before 1761 is
represented
as a drama in the extended
family.
The
dramatis
personae
are the called-son
of Abdali,
Muin
al-Mulk;
his
widow,
called
daughter by Abdali,
is
represented
as
appealing
to Abdalis
family
honour,
and
asking
for Abdali forces because she had been removed
forcibly
from her
position
and
capital by
her actual
son-in-law,
Imad al-Mulk. The advisers of the
Mughal
Vazir are also
represented
as
having recognised Mughlani Begams
claims of kin-
ship upon
the
Afghan chief,
and even the conflict between the Vazir Jahan
Khan,
deputy
of T imur
Shah, (the
son of Ahmad Shah Abdali and the formal
governor
of
Panjab
after Abdalis
departure)
and
Mughln Begam
is
represented by
Miskin as
one between
siblings.
The
predicament
of the narrator is that the above-mentioned
attempts
to con-
struct a
community,
of
widening
circles of
relatedness,
are
premised upon
memo-
ries of
loss,
absence and
departure. Psychoanalytic insights
tell us that children
who have
experienced
the loss of
parental
love transfer affective value to
objects,
which are hoarded not for
monetary
worth but for a sense of emotional selfhood. It
is also in the
precarious, dependent
nature of a slaves life that this should be so.
This is the
only
strand in the narrative where
Tahmass
vulnerabilities
slip through
the
persona
of the
disciplined,
austere and
high-minded
noble
required by
adab.
The adult narrator is
fully
aware that indifference to
worldly
wealth is a
prerequi-
site of the
independent personality (revealed by appropriate
verses from Sadis
Gulistan),
and
yet
he remembers a fierce desire for accumulation
during
his child-
hood and
youth.
In the
process
of
acquiring
a narrative
identity,
Tahmas
keenly
accumulates
things, remembering
each
theft,
loss and sacrifice of his little hoard.
Indeed,
he even
reports threatening
another
slave-boy
with death and
extorting
two seers
(4 lbs)
of
plundered
silver,
cash and
promissory
notes from his victim
(p. 44). However,
on closer
examination,
it
appears
that the items that the narrator
emphasises
on are
objects
whose
symbolic
and sentimental value are
greater
than
their
pragmatic
worth. A
bejewelled
armlet
(bzband)
or a
pair
of
pearl ear-rings
are
precious
because
they
are
customary
adornments of children in the
imagined
homeland
(dar vildyet-i
ma dastr ast keh dar
aiydm-i tufuliyat
tdviz bar bz o
dar
gosh
mf
andozand) (folio I 10).
Whether
pearls
and
diamonds,
kalgi
and
turra,
names and
titles,
or horses and
houses, they
are all collected and treasured for
being
rewards for faithful
service,
but in all
cases,
as
registers
of relational warmth
and
depth. By relating
to
worldly
wealth in this
way,
the narrator
explains
his own
silence on matters that have hitherto been of
great importance
to
empirically-
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77
- - - - -
inclined historians of India-like the structural details
specific
to the collection of
revenue in
thejczgirs
of Jammu or
Sialkot,
under his
supervision. Tahmas
however
records all the
major expenses
that were incurred
by
a father for the
weddings
of
his
children,
even
presenting
the loans
through
which these sums were raised as
measures of trust.
Appropriately,
it ends with
recording
the
praise
of the
city
for
the
expenditure
that a noble and
forgiving
ex-slave incurred in
restoring
to mate-
rial comfort an erstwhile tormentor fallen into
destitution,
and for the
marriage
of
that mistresss
granddaughter (folio 350).
Selective Communities
If a
jewelled
armband is written of as a
symbol
of culture and of affect simul-
taneously,
there are other
signs
invoked
by
the text of this cultural
community.
Writing
from the
vantage point
of his later
years, Tahmas
was to
suggest
that it
was the Turkish
language
that was the touchstone of the
community. Recalling
the
child-slaves first
impression
of the
Mughal governors
household as one
tinged
with fear and bewilderment
(hairat),
he remarks on the reassurance
provided by
speaking
to a
Turkish-speaking
slave-eunuch. Did
language
retain for him the
sounds of home?
The reconstruction of a
linguistic identity may
have been
particularly important
for the
attempt
of an ex-slave to establish his
origins, particularly
when he could
not remember
anything
else. There were historical contexts for his choice of lan-
guage.
Cultural
self-identification,
as other
aspects
of
self-identification,
is also
engaged
in a
dialogue
with identification
by others;
specific
identities can have
meaning only
when it is
possible
to establish both finite boundaries and differ-
ence. In his work on the
Mughal nobility,
Athar Ali has shown
how, by
the seven-
teenth and
early eighteenth century,
cultural factions of Turanis
(originating
from
Central
Asia),
!ran!
(from
the Safavid
domains), Afghan
and Shaikhzada
(Indian-
bom
Musalmans)
were
clearly
identifiable.~
Though
direct recruitment
of foreign-
bom nobles
appears
to have declined
by
the
early eighteenth century, large
numbers
of
soldiers,
generals,
Sufis and others continued to
pour
into
Mughal
India from
Central Asia.65
Perhaps,
as the
opportunities
for ennoblement
shrank,
cultural
64 M. Athar
Ali,
The Mughal Nobility UnderAurangzeb, Bombay/Delhi, 1966, p.
15; Satish Chandra,
Parties and Politics at the
Mughal
Court, I707-1740,
New
Delhi,
second
edition, 1972,
pp.
242-56.
There is a careful disavowal of
ethnographic fixity
in the discussion of
categories
like
Mu gh al,
Irani
and Turani in W.
Irvine,
Later
Mughals,
Jadunath
Sarkar, ed.,
reprint
Delhi, 1971,
Vol.
I, pp.
272-73.
The cultural attributes of each
may
have shifted
according
to
specific political
circumstances as
suggested by Jagadish Narayan Sarkar,
Asian Balance
of
Power in the
Light of Mughal-Persian
Rivalry
in the 16th & 17th
Centuries, Calcutta, 1975, pp.
11-13. The
possibility
of some Iranis
being Tajiks
is
argued
in
Sanjay Subrahmanyam,
Iranians Abroad: Intra-Asian Elite
Migration
and
Early
Modern State
Formation, JAS,
Vol.
51(2), 1992, pp. 340-63;
and Masashi
Haneda,
Emigra-
tion of Iranian Elites to India
during
the 16-18th
Centuries,
Cahiers D Asie
Centrale,
Nos
3-4,
1997, pp. 129-43.
65
T.K.
Beisembiev, Farghanas
Contacts with India in the 18th and 19th Centuries
(According
to
the Khokand
Chronicles),
JAH,
Vol.
28(2), 1994, pp.
124-35.
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78
differences were enhanced in order to
separate,
more
firmly, groups
that were
otherwise
indistinguishable
in terms of
lifestyle
or habitus.1 What
appear
to be
conflicts between the
Persian-speaking (largely Shii),
lranls and the
Turkish-speak-
ing (mainly Sunni)
Turanis
may
have
actually
been
attempts
at
refashioning,
cre-
ating
and
enacting distinguishing signs,
those of cultural difference.
Tahmass
text is
trapped
in the
glare
of two
distinct,
and
perhaps contradictory,
searchlights:
one that is trained on him
by
various
(presumably pedigreed)
noble-
men around him who
question
him on his
origins
and his
lineage,
at the same time
that it tries to
negotiate
the loss of it. Another is the inner vision of
identity
that is
derived
entirely
from the
Quran.
There is some evidence-albeit from a different
source-that
Tahmas may
have been uncomfortable with
questions
of
ancestry
and
identity.
In a small book of lessons written for his
young sons,
there is an
imaginative reordering
of the
great
sins
(gundh-i kabira).
The sins included
any
infringement
of the
prohibition
on sakhr or
ridicule,
which vexed or
brought
sor-
row
(fasus)
to anothers heart.6 The
specific ayat quoted alongside (Oh believers,
beware the
mocking
of each other for matters of
qaum)6g
makes this ridicule
spe-
cific to issues of
cultural
and ethnic differences
among
believers.
Though
the
autobiography
does not
specify it,
the
Mughal governors
of Lahore
and Multan whom Miskin
served,
came from the Turani
group
of intermarried and
related families at the
Mughal
court in the first half of the
eighteenth century.61
As
we see from
Tahmas
own
description,
he was enslaved as a
child,
when he would
probably
have little
knowledge
or
appreciation
of either
belonging
to a
particular
qaum,
or of the
specific symbols
and
practices
taken to be the
badges
of that cul-
tural and
political identity.
It is from the
vantage point
of his later
days
as a freed-
man that he fixes
language
as the
sign
of his
ancestry.
It was meant to
provide
both
continuity
and
depth
in communication with ancestors and descendants.
Tahmas
reminds the reader of this
by stating
at the outset that he had written two books-
one on Turkish
grammar
for
teaching (his sons),
as well as a Turkish
autobiography-
previous
to the
Persian-language autobiography. Though
there is
nothing
to indicate
whether this was
Chaghtai
or Usmanli
Turkish,
the
emphasis
on
consolidating
his
knowledge
ofTurki,
and
passing
it on to his
sons,
may
well have been a freedmans
66
I have relied
heavily
on Jo-Ann
Gross, Approaches
to the Problem of
Identity Formation,
in
idem, ed.,
Muslims in Central Asia:
Expressions of Identity
and
Change,
London/Durham, 1992,
pp.
1-23.
67
This is in folio 9b of a 10-folio booklet in
verse,
titled
Asb ab-ul-Nij at,
bound
along
with another
manuscript
in Asiatic
Society Collection,
P.S.C. 922.
Though
it is difficult to fix the date of this
composition,
there are two
important
clues about the author. These are
(a)
the
language
is identical
with that of the
Diw an;
and
(b)
a
self-description
of
a saut-
and
harf- knowing gh ul am
in folio
3b,
i.e. one who knows the recitation of the
Quran.
In this
masnav i,
the word abd is used for
angels (as
servants of
God)
and the term
gh ul a m appears
to have been used for
slave,
as in the
phrase
no
liar,
magician,
woman or
gh ul am
can be a
prophet
in folio 4a.
68
This is the first line
only
of verse
11,
Sura 49 of the
Quran,
of which I have consulted the
Arabic/English
edition;
Ahmed
Ali,
Al-Qur an:
a
Contemporary
Translation, Delhi, 1987,
p.
444.
69
See Muhammad
Umar,
Muslim
Society, pp. 250-304,
for the Turanis.
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79
attempt
to reconcile the social
pressures upon
him to establish an
ancestry,
and to
establish a notion
of belonging
with
overlapping diasporas
of free men of Turani
ancestry living
in Hindustan.
In
highlighting Turki,
he was thus also
constructing
his own
personal history:
(a) by aligning
it with that of the household in which he
spent
the
years
of
youth
and
early
adulthood,
and was
definitively
trained
in,
and
(b) through
the construct
tion of cultural difference from his erstwhile Ruhela and Durraiii
Afghan employers.
At the same
time,
one can notice this
autobiography
itself as an
attempt
to recon-
cile the
apparent
differences between both !ran! and Turani since it is written in
Persian-a
language
that he does not mention
learning-and
hence
aligned
with a
much
larger
cultural
region
between
Hindustan, Persia,
Central Asia and
Turkey.
It thus
signals
the ex-slaves location within the
Mughal
cultural order within which
he
began
this
writing.10
As the text
unfolds, Tahmass
own
absorption
with a
Mughal identity
becomes
clearer. Of
course,
the
meanings
of terms differ between the
eighteenth
and the
twentieth
century:
hence the
category Mughal
in
Tahm~ss
own text sometimes
refers to soldier or
trooper
and sometimes to a cultural
group.
Since
punning
and
playing
with words was a hallmark of
literary
skill,
at some
points,
the ambi-
guity
of the term
Mughalia appears quite
deliberate. It is hard to
pinpoint
what this means for the
narrator;
presumably
this too is an
identity
that is learnt
from the words of others around
him,
that
is,
from the
living
cultural matrix of the
households he found himself in.
Captured by
the Persian armies of Nadir
Shah,
as
a child he
spent
two
years
in the house of a man from
Bukhara,
whose followers
were Uzbeks from there. In the wake of a civil war in
1747,
the
child-captive
passed
from one Uzbek master to another till he was
gifted
to the
Mughal governor
of Panjab,
Muin al-Mulk. So if he had to select his
identity
from
among masters,
it could have well been as Uzbek as it was
Mughal.
Yet he selected one over the other.
Why?
As is well
known,
the
derogatory
stereotypes
about Uzbeks that were dominant in northern-Indian courts from at
least the fourteenth
century onwards,
endured for
many
centuries thereafter. 71 On
the one
hand, constructing
an Uzbek
identity may
thus have meant
inviting
the
70
Though
Turkish
poetry
remained a
significant
cultural artefact
among
the
higher
circles in
Mu gh al India,
and Arabic remained
significant among theologians
and to a
group ofpoets
in
Golconda,
Persian was the most
important language
for
literary
work
throughout
the entire
period.
See Mohammad
Abdul
Ghani,
A
History of
Persian
Language
and Literature at the
Mughal
Court with a
Brief
Survey of the
Growth
of Urdu Language, (2 Vols, Allahabad, 1929-30;
G.L.
Tikku,
Persian
Poetry
in
Kashmir 1339-1846: An
Introduction, Berkeley, 1971;
Annemarie
Schimmel,
Pain and Grace: A
Study
of Two Mystical
Writers
of Eighteenth-Century
Muslim
India, Leiden, 1976;
Muzaffar
Alam,
The
Pursuit of Persian:
Language
in
Mughal Politics, MAS,
Vol.
32(2), pp.
317-49.
71
Mansura
Haider,
Historical Roots of
Uzbeg Nationalism, Paper
read at the
Department
of
History, Aligarh
Muslim
University, 1997, pp. 11-12,
located the
beginning
of the
stereotype
in
Babars time. Recent
scholarship
has
urged
that the
U Uzbek-Cha gh atai rivalry
in Central Asia
notwithstanding, many
Uzbeks were
appointed
to
high
office and emoluments
by
the
early
Mu gh als,
cf. Richard
Foltz,
Central Asians in the Administration
of Mughal India, JAS,
Vol.
31(2),
1997, pp. 139-54.
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80
ascription
of those
negative
attributes,
or
perhaps,
the reason for
rejecting
the
identity
was much subtler. As Feldman
indicates,
Uzbek rule over Transoxiana from the
sixteenth
century
was not associated with a distinctive
literary activity
aimed at
defining
Uzbek as a cultural
entity.&dquo;
For
Tahmas,
a
non-distinctive, perhaps
even
nondescript,
cultural
identity
could not have been
very satisfying, given
the
great
investment in
learning (in
both senses of adab as in
comportment
and in
belles
lettres)
and
rationality (aqo
that his
manuscript
was to
symbolise.
Yet the identification with
Mughal
was
equally fraught
with
danger
in the
spe-
cific
political
context within which
Tahmas
found
himself,
both in his
youth
and
in his
maturity.
While the
governors
household
stayed nominally Mughal,
in real
terms,
as
Tahmass
narrative makes
evident,
it functioned as a
part
of the Abdall
administration from 1752 onwards.
Hence,
the
identity ofMughal
is both em-
braced and
rejected,
and is at least in the first half of the
memoir,
ambivalent.
Despite being
identified as
Mughal by
others around
him,
he cannot be seen to be
behaving
as a
Mughal
when other
Mughal troops
desert masters
again
and
again
(pp. 13-14).
At the same
time,
as a slave he does not have the
privilege
of
enacting
his
affinity
with other
Mughals, especially
vivid in
descriptions
of the recalcitrant
Mughal troops (yik
hazar
mughalia qaum-i
zbik keh sarkr-i nawab
sahib
naukar
shudah
bdand)
whom he has to confront after his masters death
(folio 56).
In the
political quicksand
of the
mid-eighteenth century,
cultural or
regional
affinities
could be
simultaneously,
or
successively,
critical and
treacherous,
with
Mughal
chiefs
turning upon
each other as
suddenly
as
they
could
join
forces
against
the
Afghans,
Sikhs or Marathas. This is
certainly
the sense in which
Tahmas
tries to
portray
the events of
1753-58,
when his mistress is detained in the
camp
of her
Mughal
rival,
and her
(male)
slaves are
employed by
the latter. The
warning given
to the new
employer (Khwaja Mirza) by
his
Mughal
officers invokes both the
potential
of cultural
solidarity
and the
possibility
of its
supersession by
other ties.
They
advised that the
boys
should be
assigned
functions outside the
province,
since
These
boys
are
foreigners (vilayet-i zadyan bacche). They
have been
brought
up
like sons of the household
(misl-i farzandan parvarish ye7ftand) ....
At a
crucial
time,
their
original loyalties might
result in their
switching allegiance.
( ain waqt-i
sar az
mulabaatpechtda
khudha rd be-an
taraf khwanda
kashid.
(folio 106).
For
Misk7in,
double consciousness takes the form of
seeing
himself
through
the
eyes
of others as a
foreigner,
and hence as
potentially disloyal,
while assert-
ing
both Turki
ancestry
and
personal fidelity
in his interactions. What motivates
behaviour at this
stage
in his
life,
or so he
suggests,
is both his alienness in terms of
birth as well as the fact of his
familiality,
that
is, being brought up
in the house-
72
Walter
Feldman, Interpreting
the
Poetry
of
Makhtumquli,
in
Gross,
Muslims in Central
Asia,
pp. 167-89, esp. p.
171.
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81
hold of the Nawab. Since the
scripted Mughal identity suggests loyalty
as-a-slave
and truculence
as-a-non-slave,
this
script
has to be
reinterpreted
and rewritten
again
and
again throughout
the narrative-first when in the
military employ
of
Najib
al-Daula and
Zabita Khan,
the
Afghan
rulers
of Ruhelkhand,
and then when
in the service
(as
a
freedman)
of the
enemy
of his former
employers,
the
Mughal
commander,
Najaf Khan Zulfiqar
al-Daula.
Indeed,
the narrative
suggests,
claim-
ing
a
Mughal identity
in the
opposing
Ruhela
Afghan stronghold
made him an
object
of
suspicion,
and led to his dismissal from
Zabita
Khans
employ.
How
could this freedman with a
long
record of
military
service with Abdali and Ruhela
Afghan chiefs,
subsequently signify
his moral
worth,
and
dependability,
to his
Mughal employer,
while
constructing
an
identity
of a free
cavalryman
for him-
self ?
Perhaps
the
polyglossia
and the
poetry,
as well as the demeanour of adab and
the cultured
mien,
constituted one
way
of
signifying
a
Mughal identity. Becoming
Mughal,
in
turn,
may
have been a
way of rising
above the differences
of manners,
style, language
and institutions
through
which traditional
patriots distinguished
each
other,
as well as of
embedding
oneself into Hindustan.&dquo;
The
absorption
into the
category
of the
Mughal nobility by
virtue
of Tahmass
military intelligence
and
prowess,
as noted in the narration of the battles of Kol
(Aligarh), Dig,
Govardhan and
Ghausgarh-all
in the 1770s-had another
import-
ant
aspect.
For
Tahmas,
without an established
genealogy
either to the
Khalifas,
or
to other
distinguished nobles,
the need to
legitimate
and confirm his claim to no-
bility
is as
pressing
as it is difficult. Sunil
Kumar,
in his
study
of
slavery
in the
Delhi
Sultanate, 74
had
argued
that the
military deployment
of male slaves had
provided
conditions for the
empowerment,
and not
ennoblement,
of a deracinated
elite.
They
lacked the freedom which men who were rooted in autochthonous
kin and
lineage groups
in the
provinces possessed,
and the roots which allowed
these individuals a host of
options.
For the
Mughal
noble
too,
he
suggests,
the
co-ordinates of freedom
lay
not in ennoblement
by
the
padshah
but in the
ability
to
generate,
and
consolidate,
a network of kin and
corporate groups
centred around
himself. It is
precisely
from within this intertwined
complex
claim of
nobility
and
kinship
that
Tahmas
asserts his freedom. The
autobiography suggests
that
Tahmas,
s
claim to
nobility
arises not
simply
from his
military prowess,
but from the
nobility
of his
personality.
Similarly,
the Diwan-i Miskin rendered his claim to
nobility by
virtue of the
perfection
of his
ibddat,
and hence
proximity
to the
Divine, equally
clear. Miskln s
autobiography
is written as an
attempt
to
belong
to the widest
possible
commu-
nity-the
devotional
group-and through
that
belonging,
to claim both
nobility
and
freedom. While it is almost
impossible
to
separate
the
metaphorical persona
of the
supplicant pauper
at the threshold
of Allah,
the Bdshh-i
bikas,1s
from the
persona
73
The
phrase
is from C.
Bayly, Origins of Nationality
in South
Asia,
New
Delhi, 1999, p.
4.
74
Sunil
Kumar,
When Slaves were Nobles: The Shamsi
Bandagan
in the
Early
Delhi
Sultanate,
Studies in
History (ns),
Vol.
10(1), 1994, pp.
23-52.
75
The
phrase
is from Diw an-i
Miskin,
folio 11a.
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82
of the
narrator,
it is made obvious to readers that there is little in the material world
that
justifies
this
humility.
The narrative ends with the author
having
received the
title of Muhkam al-Daula
Itiqad Jang,
married twice with a
gap
of 34
years
be-
tween each
marriage,
fathered 14 children of whom five sons and three
daughters
were
alive,
and
registered
the
respect
and esteem of other courtiers and the
grati-
tude of the descendants of a former master
(folios 349-50).
The
persistence
of an
impoverished
self
(as
in the takhallus
of Miskin)
is not
just
a mask. It is a
sincerely
held belief that those without
humility (miskini)
will not be welcomed into the
house of God
(folio 1).
It is with this destination in mind that he
adopts
this name
and
persona.
In
sharp
contradiction to all that he
says subsequently
in his autobi-
ography
about his
religious training, Tahmas
was to
suggest
that his devotional
antecedents,
at
least,
were more stable than his human
pedigree.
When asked about
his
ancestry
and
origins by
his
contemporaries,
the mature narrator invokes an-
other
core, which,
he
suggests,
was
primordial:
... This much I
know,
that from the
day
of creation
(azal)
I am Musalman. The
qaumiyat
and household
every living thing
is born into is destined ... it is of no
consequence.
A human
being
should entreat God
(Rabb-al izzat),
with
pure
heart and firm
belief,
that from the moment of his birth
(waqt-i widiyat-i hayt)
till his
death,
he
may
remain a devout Musalman
(folio 13).
The
Community
of the Devout
A remarkable feature of this narrative is that
despite
the author
being
almost con-
stantly
in battle
against
other non-Muslim
groups (like Sikhs,
Jats and
Marathas)
in northern
India,
there is no
antagonism expressed
in terms of
religious
denomi-
nation. What is
equally
evident-in the
way
a dramatic
dialogue
between Ahmed
Shah Abdali and Muln al-Mulk is written to
explain
the truce between them-is
the authors
disquiet
about war between Muslims as
contrary
to the commands of
God and the
Prophet (folio 78).
It is therefore consistent that the devotional self
represented by Tahmas
stands above
particularism, playing
little even
upon
the
divisions between Sunni and Shii
among
his
contemporary
Muslims,
but woven
through
with the veneration of saints and
holy
men.76
His successful search for a
pir (spiritual guide
and
patron),
at the
age
of
20,
takes the form of a
painstakingly
detailed dream
sequence.
When his mistress
refuses him
permission
to become the
disciple (murid)
of a
particularly
renowned
76
For a discussion of such
figures,
see P.M.
Currie,
The Shrine and Cult
of Mu in
al-din Chishti
of
Ajmer, Delhi, 1989,
pp. 1-19;
M.
Geijbels, Aspects
of the Veneration of Saints in
Islam,
with
Special
Reference to
Pakistan,
The Muslim
World,
Vol.
LXVIII, 1978, pp. 176-86;
for a list of
important
Sufis who were
contemporaries
of the
narrator,
see Muhammad
Umar,
Mirza Mazhar
Janjanan:
A
Religious
and Social Reformer
of
the
Eighteenth Century,
Studies in Islam
(hereafter
SII ),
Vol.
VI, 1969, pp.
118-54;
for a later
period,
see Sarah F.D.
Ansari, Sufi
Saints and State
Power: The Pirs
of Sind, 1843-1947, Cambridge, 1992, pp.
9-35.
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83
saint,
Muhammad
Ghaus&dquo;
and the latter dies within 15
days
of that
refusal,
the
potential disciple
is visited in a dream
by
the deceased
saint,
who takes his hand
and bestows it in that of his
successor, Saiyid
Abid.
Thus,
the thwarted slave finds
himself
incorporated
as a member of the silsilah of his choice
(folios 160-61 ),
and
is
taught
the
remembering (zikr)
of the attributes of Allah.
The narrators
familiarity
with
oneiromancy,
the tradition of dream
interpreta-
tion,
is a
very important
clue to his devotional self and to a free and noble inner
world.
Yusuf/Joseph,
it must be
remembered,
had been redeemed from his bond-
age
because he had been
gifted
with the
ability
to
interpret dreams,
a skill that also
contributed to his
attaining high
office in the land of his erstwhile
captivity.
Dreams
have had a
special
resonance both in lived and in textual Islam: in the
Quran
it is
said that the
spirits
in their
sleep
are taken
by
God into His
presence.&dquo;
The
power
of
dreams,
both as consolation for the
past
and as
guides
to action in the
future,
is
invoked time and
again
in this text. It is the
periodicity
of dream-work that
guides
the reader to the truth of the soul that Miskin has constructed: dreams alone
reveal his
blessedness,
and
good
dreams of old
men,
prophets
and saints
signal
both the
personality
of the dreamer and his deliverance and sacredness in the
conscious world. When
captured by
the Sikhs in a skirmish at
Sialkot,
he
prays
to
his pir
for
deliverance,
and is
again
visited in a dream
by
an old man with a white
beard who assures him that
help
is at hand. When he wakes
up,
a local zamindar
offers to
help
him
escape,
in
exchange
for some
money (folio 222, p. 97).
The
Freudian
understanding
of dream-work as
distortion,
or the
hiding
of some latent
truth,
is not the issue here.
Rather,
the Khalduni sense of
discovering
in the con-
tent of dreams the
knowledge
of the souls
future,
a future about which the soul
cares,
is the actual issue. The real end of
writing
dreams into Miskins
history
is in
77 The
manuscript
is silent about the
particular order&mdash;Naqshbandi, Suhrawardi,
Chishti or
Qadiri&mdash;
to which either Shah
Awani,
mentioned as the
guide
of two of his
sons,
or Muhammad
Gh aus
belonged, except
that the latter was the descendant of the renowned
Gh aus.
This
may
be a reference
to the Shattari
Sufi,
Muhammad
Gh aus;
for the
biography
and the beliefs of
Shattariyya,
see Aziz
Ahmad,
Studies in Islamic Culture in the Indian
Environment,
reprint,
New
Delhi, 1999,
pp.
137-38;
and S.A.A.
Rizvi,
A
History of Sufism
in India: From 16th
Century
to Modern
Century,
Vol.
2,
New
Delhi, 1983, pp.
151-73. The
Shattariyya
belief structure seems to be echoed in the
prose-autobiog-
raphy (for instance,
in the
complete
silence about the desire for
pilgrimage,
but the
strong emphasis
on
nam az)
as well as in the
poetry.
For
veyses
recommending
the
company
of
mystics,
or
kh asg an-i
kh ushdili in the Diw an-i
Miskin,
see folios
36b,
48a and 90a.
78
For the
historicity
of
oneiromancy
in
pre-Islamic
and later
traditions,
see Gordon E.
Pruett,
Through
a Glass
Darkly: Knowledge
of the Self in Dreams in Ibn Khalduns
Muqaddima,
The
Muslim
World,
Vol.
LXXV, 1985, pp. 29-44;
Zeina
Matar,
Dreams and Dream
Interpretation
in
Faraj
al-Mahmum of Ibn
Tawus,
The Muslim
World,
Vol.
LXXX, 1990, pp. 165-75;
and Simon
Digby,
Dreams and Reminiscences of Dattu Sarvani A Sixteenth
Century Indo-Afghan Soldier,
IESHR,
Vol.
2, 1965,
pp.
52-80,
178-94. For the
reputation
of one such oneiromancer in the court of
the
Mughal emperor
Muhammad
Shah;
see Zahiruddin
Malik,
Some
Aspects
of
Mughal
Culture
During
the First Half of the 18th
Century, SII,
Vol.
II, pp.
17-44. For the
significance
of dreams in
Islam,
see also Annemarie
Schimmel,
Deciphering
the
Signs of God:
A
Phenomenological Approach
to
Islam, Albany, 1994, pp.
123-24.
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84
fact to
signal
the
uniqueness
of the soul
always
and
already prepared
for
mystical
learning
and divine
knowledge.
It is the
contemplation of,
and
by,
this soul that is
the theme of this
history.
If the emotional and
psychological
sustenance
required by
Miskin to survive a
slaves life
appears
to be moulded and directed
by
divine
forces,
his flesh and
blood
pir
was also
expected
to take a hand in such matters. When the
Afghan
forces under I imur Shah were
being
driven out of Lahore
by
the forces of the
Marathas and Adina
Beg Khan,
and some of his own
slave-colleagues
ran
away,
Tahmas
turned to
Saiyid
Abid for
guidance
in order to
prevent
the
discovery
of
their
flight. The pir
counselled the
agitated
slave not to flee himself but to return to
his house in the
besieged city. Tahmass
narrative does not rue this lost
opportunity
for
flight;
instead it
suggests
that his faith in his
pir
was rewarded
amply. Though
there are no references to his
pir
henceforth in the
text,
his devotional self is re-
vealed
subsequently
to be
fully merged
with that of the
ummat,
again through
a
dream.
At
Najibabad
as a
freedman,
insecure in the esteem and
employ
of his
recently
acquired (Sunni)
Ruhela
Afghan patrons,
the future is foretold in a dream wherein
he finds himself in a
congregation
of the
faithful,
led
by
the
Prophet,
and at the
mosque
in Medina. From that
day, says
the
author,
his
employer, Zabita Khan,
began
to take a
special
interest in him
(folios 265-66, pp. 114-15);
the freedman
soon found himself
appointed
to the
post
of the
Superintendent
of the
Diwdnkhana,
Farrashkhana and Shutarkhana.
However,
at the
point
at which he wrote this
memoir, Tahmas
was in the
employ
of a
Mughal commander, Najaf Khan,
who
was no
supporter
of the Sufi
pirs,
some of the most
prominent
of whom he is
reputed
to have
persecuted .79
Miskln narration
of pacifist
and
loyalistpir-related
episodes may
have
subtly
addressed this
hostility:
as
though
to differentiate him-
self from his
staunchly
Shii
patron,
to assert that the
blessings
of
spiritual
elders,
and not
gracious worldly
noble
patronage,
had enabled this
slave-boys
transfor-
mation. Yet these transformations and
multi-positionality
are covered over com-
pletely by
the claim of a
primordial
devotional
identity
fixed for
every being
in the
universe.
The
significance
of this erasure of
sectarianism,
and the
accompanying
asser-
tion of an
unchanging
devotional
universe,
lies in
outlining
a sacred
geography
which destabilises the search for
belonging
within territorial
regions,
and
being
subjects
of
earthly potentates
or sectarian
regimes.
That sacred
geography
is
bounded
by
the sound of
prayer-so
that even after
having joined
the
Mughal
army against
the
Afghans,
the freedman can learn to recite a
prayer against danger
from an
Afghan
mulla in the
enemy contingent.
It is a
space
where to become
79
Muhammad
Umar,
Mirza Mazhar
Janjanan, pp. 149-52;
for
Najaf
Kh ans
hostility
to Shah
Fakhruddin of the Chishti
silsila,
see
Nagendra
K.
Singh,
Islamic
Mysticism
in
India, Delhi, 1996, p.
104;
for the
theological
and historical reasons for the conflict between Shia and
Sufi;
see Richard M.
Eaton, Sufis of Bijapur,
1300-1700: Social Roles
of Sufis
in Medieval
India, Princeton, 1978;
this
edition New
Delhi, 1996, pp.
64-66.
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85
Gods slave is the
highest possible
rank that a human
being
can
aspire
to or reach.
It is a terrain
where,
unlike the rewards and
gifts
of service to
earthly potentates,
ibczdat va
bandagi (devotion
and submission to
Allah) guarantees
the
permanent
wealth of an afterlife or
sarmy-i dqabat (folio 35 1).
It is this sense of an abso-
lute
dependence upon
a
single
Lord
(rather
than the lived
vulnerability
at the hands
of
multiple
masters of his
lifetime)
that is embraced
by
the author of
Qissa-i Tahmas
Miskin
(in
the
hamd
and
sand
in folios
2-5)
and that of the Diwan-i Miskin.10
Certainly
the verses of the latter cannot be read
mimetically
for his attitudes
towards the
world,
even
though
there are references to the zor
(coercion) zulum
(oppression)
and zillat
(insults)
suffered in the world. These verses can
only
be
understood from within the
history
of Sufism. Read with a more nuanced and
better informed lens than
they
have been in the
past,
these verses
appear
to
bring
home the real attraction of devotional Islam for the slave-as-alien. For the
figure
of the cruel beloved for whom the
poet yearns,
a
trope
so familiar to readers of
mystic
and Sufi
verse,
is
only
one of the
figures
that God takes for Miskin. More
usually,
it is the
loving,
merciful and
compassionate
God who is invoked in these
verses.
Sometimes,
and
unusually
for this
time,
that love is
represented
as 70 times
greater
than a mothers.11 To one
deprived
of the
memory
of a
living mother,
this
God is the ultimate
promise
of
intimacy,
nourishment and
succour;
the
Quran
and
hadis
are inviolable
guarantees
of the fulfilment of that
promise.
And in this
very
faith,
may
lie
many parallels
with the
way
slaves elsewhere related to the
Bible,
to
a
gentle Madonna,
and to the
sufferings
of her son.
,
Conclusions
Clearly
slaves
responded
to the erosion of their
origins by constructing
a sense of
selfhood that would allow them to
identify
with the
largest
number
of people.
This
is
possibly
what freedom did mean: a
fully
related
self,
which could find itself
enmeshed in a
range
of vertical and horizontal
relationships, delving deep
in terms
of time and
ranging widely
in terms of
space.
The effort in
Tahmass
narrative is
indeed to construct
multiple
and
overlapping
networks
of relationships,
of
succour,
of blood,
of
language, of province,
and
finally,
of faith.
Only
then could the shock
of
being strangers (gharib
in
Persian)
in another mans home and land be trans-
formed into a full-scale
acknowledgement
of
humanity.
That
Tahmas
achieved
this is a
significant
comment on the fluid conditions of
eighteenth-century
Hindustan.
The
Qissa-i Tahmas
Miskin is
certainly
not the recorded
attempt
to return to a
mythical
homeland that the Travels is. But the latter
may
be read as closer to
history
writing
than
anything
else,
a
history
which reveals itself to be as much a
product
80
See
particularly
a
gh azal beginning khud avanda,
mara
hargiz
makun ba
kh alq muht aj (folio
92b of the
Diw an),
which is a
prayer asking
never to be rendered
dependent upon
the
worldly.
81
The
phrase comparing
Gods love to a
mothers,
haft ad
mihr-i
madar i recurs in
many
of the
gh azals
in Diw an-i
Miskin,
for which see folios
11a, 42a, 57a,
91a and 147b.
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86
of
disciplined learning
as Miskins text. Both texts
represent
the
learning
and
the
letting go, invoking
a sense of
getting
over a loss of home and of
getting
along,
in a
strange
environment. One
maps
a
memory
of the self
by travelling
through
the books of unnamed
others,
another
maps
it
through
a more aural
route,
the sound of
prayer.
Both
are,
in that
finally
ironic
way,
records of
journeys.
But
Qis,~a-i
Tahmds Miskin is distinct in that the
journey
marks out a clear sacred
terrain,
where the slave dwells
among
the
highest
elect,
and to which he
belongs
by
virtue of his
proven
devotion. Before historians ask what
happened
to that
sense of
space
and self when the location shifted
yet again-to Britain,
to the
Cape
of Good
Hope,
St. Helena or wherever that a different
slave-holding regime
took
such
people-it
is
perhaps necessary
to establish a framework within which one
can understand how narratives of
history
written
by
those with
genealogical
certi-
tude,
like
Mir,
differed from those written
by
those
without,
like Miskin. This task
cannot
begin
if we
perpetuate
old
marginalities~f
the alien slave and slave-
born,
of the
personal
and
ethical,
of the
poetic
and
imaginative-from
our consider-
ations of the
eighteenth century,
and from our definitions of
history.
This
essay
constitutes an
initiative,
albeit an
incomplete one,
in
questioning
the
very premise
upon
which
genre-making
has been conducted in the
past,
both of the
eighteenth
century
and of slave narratives.
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