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Love in the Time of Conquest

Alban Couto

By Eusebio L. Rodrigues
New Academic Publishing, USA, 2007, pp. 611, price not stated.


Love and Samsara is a historical novel set in the sixteenth century. It explores the consequences of the discovery by Vasco da Gama of the sea route from Europe to India.The importance of this discovery has been a subject of revision since the fifties; the quinquennial celebrations of his landing in Calicut were deemed politically incorrect and had to be abandoned.The discovery did initiate the era of imperialism; its end and the decline of Eurocentrism in academia have prompted studies for a balanced and nuanced assessment.These take into account the socio-economic and cultural implications of the encounters between West and East and the changes in the lives in the Indian subcontinent and in the communities on the periphery of the Indian Ocean. The scholar and historian, Ashin Das Gupta (1922–1998) in a follow up of Fernand Braudel’s studies of the Mediterranean, has revealed a distinctive society of trading families that existed and the interactions between merchants in the Indian Ocean from Malabar to Surat that transcended the political boundaries of the hinterland states.   Another important consequence that changed the life of the region was the establishment of the sea-borne Portuguese empire, a unique exercise of sovereign power from control points around the seas. In the first half of the sixteenth century, Portuguese India—the Estado da India of Goa, Daman, and Diu—with Goa as capital, radiated from seaports in Asia and Africa. Though geographically inchoate in terms of land mass, yet it controlled the vast expanse of the Indian Ocean. Sanjay Subramanian and Luis Filipe Thomas, refer to its operations from ‘a complex of territories, establishments, goods, persons, and administrative interests in Asia and East Africa’.   There were cultural implications as well. Prior to the invasive nature of culture and religion by the Portuguese in the wake of the discovery, there prevailed in the region of the Indian Ocean a harmonization of Buddhist and Jain influences transmitted in cultural and trade exchanges in the Arab controlled routes through Asia and Africa into Europe. An examplar is the Arabian Nights, a collection of stories, whose tales of Sindbad the Sailor, Aladdin, and Ali Baba, now form a part of western folklore and are set in a timeless universe. Did Vasco da Gama herald a culture of violence, proselytization, and power that vitiated the cultural homogeneity and delicate balance of Indo-Islamic civilization? Did the Judeo-Christian concept of time ...

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