Wednesday the 27th of November–time again for Shelf Control. Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles/mountains. To participate, simply pick a book from your TBR pile and write a post about it. Link back to Lisa’s page, and do also leave your links in the comments below as I’d love to check out your picks!
Since I had picked mysteries and that too Golden Age ones to feature in my last two posts, this time I thought I’ll pick something a little different, in fact very different. This is a travelogue cum history Modern India by William Eleroy Curtis. The book essentially compiles the letters the author sent to the Chicago Herald during the winter of 1903-04 during his travels in the country. I found this simply by chance, when browsing on Project Gutenberg.
Containing 30 chapters, the book begins with the author’s journey to India by sea, on which he makes his observations about the differences between British and American travellers, as well on other notable fellow travellers who caught his eye, or perhaps whom he interacted with. He arrives at Bombay (now Mumbai) greeted by the sight of the (then) new Taj Hotel, and travels to various other parts of the country including Jeypore (Jaipur), Ahmedabad, Agra, Delhi, Calcutta, Cawnpore (Kanpur) and Benaras (Varanasi). The chapters are not focused on the cities alone but some of them also make observations on other aspects of life like ‘Two Hindu Weddings’, ‘Snakes and Tigers’, ‘Cotton, Tea and Opium’, besides generally on Education, Mughals and Mughal architecture, and the Army, among others. It also has maps and photographs from the time, of places and people.
The one review I found of this book on Goodreads is critical of it for being colonial in its approach as well as patronising and too judgmental. But like the author of the review says, this is something one can expect from a book written at the time and from the perspective that it is. It also mentions (something I have noticed from glancing through the book) that there are whole sections devoted to statistics on demographics and salaries and various other such things which might be interesting from an academic perspective but not so much to a casual reader, for whom a lesser dose would have sufficed. But I’d still like to pick it up just to get an idea of what the country was like back then, even if the picture is a coloured one. While I will probably skip some of the statistics, I am looking forward to reading his observations on different cities, even religions, and rituals. And yes, also looking at the pictures (which I know I don’t need to actually read the book to do but still :)) There is a rather interesting one of a monk and a young boy, titled ‘Kim the Chela, and the Old Lama who Sought the Way and the Trust and the Light’. Kipling’s work come to life? May be…
Have you heard of or read this one? What did you think of it? Or have you read any other histories or travelogues of India or of your part of the world written long ago? Any you’d recommend? Looking forward to your thoughts!