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Through A RoseTinted Lens

Tapan Basu

Translated by Mushirul Hasan and Nishat Zaidi 
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2014, pp. 174, Rs. 650.00


After praises to God and the Prophet here is some good news for the voyagers of endless oceans and wonders of the world, and explorers of desolate and magnificent destinations of deserts and mountains that, in these delightful times... a work known as Tarikh-i-Yusufi is written by a traveller to cities and nations, an honest and truthful narrator, an enthusiastic prose writer named Yusuf Khan Kambalposh ... its second edition reaches its keen audience in the month of February 1898 (AH 1315 in the holy month of Ramadan), from the esteemed Munshi Naval Kishore Press under the generosity of its owner, courageous Munshi Parag Narain Sahib. May his steem remain forever! The ‘Publisher’s Note’ at the end of the second edition of the Naval Kishore Press production of Tarikhi-Yusufi attests to the essentially non-parochial character of this iconic Lucknow-based Indian publishing house run by a Hindu proprietor. The invocation of God and the Prophet to start with and the acknowledgement, a little later, of the sacred auspices of Ramadan under which the book was being issued also testify to the syncretic character of the reading public which the publisher was addressing. A similar syncretism, or perhaps even a far-sighted cosmopolitan outlook, reveals itself, time and time again, through the narrative of the travelogue by Yusuf Khan who, from a very early age, was possessed by a desire ‘to go around the world, especially England, the only country of its kind.’ At the heart of his wanderlust, of course, is the dream of going to England, so much is his veneration of the English people and their ways. It is not surprising therefore that his description of the country, and its inhabitants, after he arrives there, always borders on the hyperbolic. For example, ... I wondered whether I was in the kingdom of London or had way laid into paristan (fairy land) ... or London is an extraordinary city—garden-like, a treasure house of wisdom...  Similarly, he is totally overwhelmed by the sight of Queen Victoria and her mother when the two pass by him in a procession through the streets of London: Her highness Queen Victoria was accompanied by her esteemed mother, the two together looking like the shining moon and the radiant sun. About 18, she is an embodiment of beauty, modesty and purity... When the chariot came closer, I caught a glimpse of the resplendent face. It exuded divinity. I profoundly bowed to ...

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