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The Wonders Of Vilayet

Authors: Kaiser Haq

Published by Peepal Tree Press

ISBN: 9781900715157

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In 1765, Mirza Sheikh I'tesamuddin, a Bengali munchi employed by the East India Company, travelled on a mission to Britain to seek protection for the Mogul Emperor Shah Alam II. The mission was aborted by the greed and duplicity of Robert Clive, but it resulted in this remarkable account of the Mirza's travels in Britain and Europe.

Written in Persian, 'Shigurf Nama-e-Vilayet' or 'Wonderful Tales about Europe' is an entertaining, unique and culturally valuable document. The Mirza was in no sense a colonial subject, and whilst he wrote frankly about what he felt accounted for India's decline and Europe's contemporary ascendance, he was a highly educated, culturally self-confident observer with a sharp and quizzical curiosity about the alien cultures he encountered. His accounts of visits to the theatre, the circus, freakshows, the 'mardrassah of Oxford', Scotland, of the racial alarms his presence sometimes provoked and of his impressions of British moral codes (including the 'filthy habits of the firinghees') make for fascinating reading.

There is, too, embedded in the narrative, a touching and cautionary account of the Mirza's relationship with Captain Swinton, with whom he travelled from India and who was his regular companion in Britain. Swinton was evidently kindly and generous, but by the end of the Mirza's stay, the friendship has broken down, chiefly over Swinton's refusal to take the Mirza's Islamic faith and cultural identity seriously.

Kaiser Haq's scholarly, modern translation is the first to appear in English since the original 'abridged and flawed translation' which appeared in 1827. The Wonders of Vilayet is an important document, a salutary addition to Western accounts of the 'Otherness' of India, orientalism in reverse.

Kaiser Haq was born in what later became Bangladesh, for the creation of which he fought as an officer in the war of liberation. He is a poet and translator and is currently Professor of English at Dhaka University.
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