New Login   

Profiling India's Commercial Capital

Mariam Dossal

By Amar Farooqui
Three Essays Collective, Gurgaon, 2006, pp. 111, Rs. 350.00


Amar Farooqui’s contention that it was early nineteenth century Bombay’s opium trade which was ‘the defining feature’ of its economic world and its business class, is a provocative statement that takes us straight into the heart of a controversy. Does Bombay really merit the title of ‘Opium City’? Was it really opium, as opposed to cotton or ‘white gold’, that led to Bombay’s growth as the leading port-town of western India? Shock value apart, is there enough evidence to corroborate the statement that ‘Modern Bombay, in a sense, has its genesis in (the) poppy fields of Bihar’, or that the ‘…destiny of Bombay as a great commercial and industrial centre was born of its becoming an accomplice in the drugging of countless Chinese with opium’? While we have to thank Farooqui for drawing our attention to the importance of opium, it does seem to be a case of bending the stick too far to the other side to straighten the record.   The three essays in this book entitled, ‘Bombay : A Colonial Port in Search of Business’; ‘Bombay and the Trade in Malwa Opium’; and ‘Urban Development in Early Victorian Bombay’, deal with (a) ‘the problems of early colonial Bombay that were responsible for its relative obscurity till the end of the eighteenth century’; (b) ‘… the place of opium in the network of commercial and economic relationships of Bombay in the early nineteenth century’; (c) `…the prominent features of urban development in Bombay during the early Victorian era…’ Of the three essays, the second occupies centre-stage and is the most closely researched . The other two play the role of supporting actors, which seek to expose ‘the sordid underside of Bombay’s colonial past.’   The first essay describes pre-nineteenth century Bombay as a trading settlement struggling to survive. While the problems of transport and communications, threats from Indian and European powers, inadequate supplies of essential commodities were real, and Bombay’s rise to economic importance by no means inevitable, the eighteenth century did see Bombay emerge as a port-town of considerable importance, well-known for its dockyard and ship-building capabilities. The struggle for control of the India and China trade post-1780 created added opportunities for both European Agency Houses and Indian merchants based in Bombay. This, as the author rightly points out, had direct implications for urban planning and urban development in Bombay.   Farooqui recognizes that raw cotton played a ‘...

Table of Contents >>
Please or to Read Entire Article

Free Access Online 12 Back Issues
with 1 year's subscription
Archive (1976-2011)
under construction.