Three Ways To Be Alien (Travails and Encounters in The Early Modern World)

Three Ways To Be Alien (Travails and Encounters in The Early Modern World)

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Item Code: NAF579
Author: Sanjay Subrahmanyam
Publisher: Permanent Black
Language: English
Edition: 2011
ISBN: 9788178243399
Pages: 246
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 9.0 inch X 6.0 inch
Weight 450 gm
About The Book

In this book, Sanjay Subrahmanyam draws on the lives and writings of a trio of marginal and luminal figures cast adrift from their traditional moorings into an unknown world. The subjects include the aggrieved and lost Meale, a “Persian” prince of Bijapur (in central India, no less) held hostage by the Portugues at Goa; English traveler and global schemer Anthony Sherley, whose writing reveal a surprisingly nimble understanding of realpolitik in the emerging world of the early seventeenth century; and Nicolo Manuzzai, an insightful Venetian chronicler of the Mughal Empire in the later seventeenth century who drifted between jobs with the Mughals and various foreign entrepots, observing all but remaining the eternal outside. In telling the fascinating story of floating identities in a changing world, Subrahmanyam also succeeds in injecting humanity into golobal history and proves that biography still plays an important role in contemporary historiography.


About The Author

Holds the Navin and Pratima Doshi Chair of Indian History at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is the author of several books, including The Career and Legend of Vasco da Gama and Explorations I Connected History.



There was a time, some five centuries ago, when restless Europeans headed east, as did many enterprising Iranians, and curious North Indians set out either for Central Asia or for the wild and barbarous lands of the Marathas, Tamils, and Telugus to the south. Most of them were men, though there were also some colorful, adventurous, polyglot women like Nicolo Manuzzi s English-Portuguese wife, Elisabetta Hardeli (or Elizabeth Hartley). The majority of the Europeans were driven — let's face it — by sheer greed, sometimes masked by an assumed missionary zeal or a taste for political intrigue. Some, however, were genuinely curious about the exotic cultures into which they had wandered, although even among this latter group there were figures like Manuzzi who, having miraculously survived some six decades in India, came to detest the place and its peoples. Homesickness, the intimate shadow of wanderlust, affected all of them to some degree and became a predictable topos in their records and letters. Pravara, the prototypical, middle-Indian hero of the sixteenth-century Telugu poet Peddana's novel The Story of Man, though consumed by a burning desire to see the remote places he has heard about, is unable to get through even a few hours in the Himalayas before desperately looking for a safe route home. For most adventurers of the sixteenth through nineteenth centuries, home was a place very far away.

Every one of these individuals carried with him or her a set of mental maps, usually fuzzy and unsystematic and full of gaps, often also dogmatic and condescending, about the outlandish cultural worlds to be encountered. In the works they have left us — travelogues, memoirs, endless letters, histories and pseudo-histories, rudimentary ethnologies, diaries — we find the not unreasonable presupposition that people back home are dying to hear the often self-aggrandizing account of the would-be hero's adventures and more than eager to learn about the peculiar ways of the distant East or North or South. In any case, the urge to report is a staple feature of this vast literature, in which a host of tricksters, charlatans, and operators try, usually unsuccessfully, to hide the true nature of their careers, and the borderline psychotics generally sound, well, insane.

One way to write the history of those centuries is to tell the story of those intersecting mental maps, which, naturally, tended to evolve along highly patterned lines and sequences. Such an integrated work would be one form of what Sanjay Subrahmanyam has aptly called "connected history" (he has published two remarkable collections of essays under this rubric). Connected history envisions a world so densely textured, so profoundly interlocking in causal processes, that even a slight shift at one point will produce change at many other points — a version of the so-called Butterfly Effect (if a butterfly flaps its wings in Beijing in the spring, by late summer hurricane patterns in the Atlantic will be affected). Over a thousand years ago, a school of Indian lo¬gicians, the Nyaya-Vaisesika, discussed the notion of causal connectivity with a subtlety perhaps unparalleled in human civilization. They concluded that such consequential connections depend upon delicate, usually invisible, and always very partial contacts — mostly at isolated points — between complex entities whose internal composition is invariably altered by the contact; ulti¬mately, such causal connections generate a second-order phenomenon, in the sense that a necessary meta-connectivity comes into being whenever some¬thing truly new emerges (they call this "connection born from connection," samyogaja-samyoga). Are modern historians capable of offering analyses of a rigor and imaginative density commensurate with such a description?

If they are, they would need to be someone like Sanjay Subrahmanyam, who has recapitulated in his own life most of the geographical trajectories I mentioned at the outset. Born into a family of Tamil Smarta Brahmins, the intellectual aristocracy of India, he grew up in Delhi and was trained, first in economics, then in economic history, in the remarkably effervescent en¬vironment of Delhi University in the early 1980s. He has lived and taught in Lisbon, Paris, Oxford, Los Angeles, and Jerusalem, to name but a few of the stations. He speaks flawlessly all the languages that were mother tongues to his sixteenth- and seventeenth-century adventurers (I once saw him learn excellent German in less than six weeks). His early work culminated in a his-toriographical masterpiece, The Political Economy of Commerce: South India 1500-1650 (Cambridge University Press, 1990). In that book he focused on early modern southern India seen largely from the intermeshed perspectives of the foreign traders and companies — Portuguese, Dutch, Danish, French, and English — that established footholds along the coasts of the region. These perspectives have remained stable parts of his oeuvre, but quite rapidly, in his subsequent monographs, the center of attention shifted inland, away from the coasts. An astonishing wealth of source materials in Tamil, Marathi, Persian, Telugu, and other Indian languages came to enrich his narratives, now often more directly political and focused on states and state formation no less than on maverick entrepreneurs and "portfolio capitalists." Quixotic adventurers like Yacama Nayaka and Sultan Bulaqi march through Subrahmanyam's pages alongside the apparently endless series of homesick travelers I have already mentioned. Often we are allowed to watch these somewhat shadowy figures flit through sources in all the languages of their time, as if reflected from the surfaces of a vast chamber of mirrors, each mirror fashioned in its own, distinctive cultural matrix. Or, to switch the metaphor: the experience is something like watching a performance in the classical Kudiyattam tradition of Sanskrit drama from Kerala: what one sees, in great precision and slow detail, is the continuous, discordant mingling of incommensurate imaginations. This is the true, recurrent subject of Subrahmanyam s analysis and the real heart of his historical project. He reveals to us an often bizarre amalgam of diverse mental worlds that, in merging, mostly tend to the tragicomic, the ironic, and the doomed.

Some of his heroes and anti-heroes seem to elicit the author's empathy, as if the experience of sliding rapidly through radically distinct cultures, with its attendant incongruities and its occasional alarums and excursions, were very familiar to him. At other times, his tone is skeptical and — when it comes to impostors and con men like Manuzzi or cynical and predatory self-promoters like Anthony Sherley — even scornful. Occasionally, a poignant note creeps in, as when Subrahmanyam writes of "the subtle movement from a father of Turko-Persian cultural heritage" (the Micawber-like figure of Meale, hero of chapter 2 in this volume) to "a son [Yusuf Khan] who is far more Lusita-nized but still of another law' — that is to say, still a Muslim." And, rather like Conan Doyle's famous teasing references, in the Sherlock Holmes stories, to cases that for one reason or another went unrecorded — like that of Mr. James Phillimore, "who, stepping back into his own house to get his umbrella, was never more seen in this world" — Subrahmanyam's pages are filled with brief, tantalizing references to such redoubtable characters as "the Venetian merchant Andrea Morosini, resident in Aleppo, [who] was a major source of rumors" or Giovanni Tommaso Pagliarini, "a knight of the Order of St. Lazarus who had been the cupbearer of the Papal nuncio at Prague," at one point a secretary of Sherley s. One would like to know more about such people, and I am certain Subrahmanyam would indeed be able to fill in the picture with still more juicy details. My only complaint, intimated above, has to do with the inevitable dearth of compelling female characters to set beside the lurid rogues and bewildered innocents who fill the pages of this book.

Two of Subrahmanyam's characteristic methodological devices deserve explicit formulation, though they are not, of course, uniquely his. First, he has happily reversed, or perhaps shattered, the Eurocentric lens that still focuses so much of modern world history. He is writing a history of human civilization, and we can be sure that it will be a history with a great many focal points and shifting perspectives, and that it will not particularly privilege the role of Europe or succumb to the still amazingly resilient, implicit teleology of so much Western historiography. His Iranian and Sumatran entrepreneurs, loquacious Mughal wanderers, and Central Asian millenarian rebels will easily stand their ground beside their Dutch, Iberian, and Venetian (or for that matter, Chinese) counterparts. Second, there is much to be said for foregrounding expressive figures from the intercultural margins, which often provide the historical narrative with a clarity and drama not so readily available in the political or socioeconomic centers of power. In general, it seems, it is the periphery that is the site of lasting cultural innovation. Indeed, Subrahmanyam loves the multi-lingual, usually agitated peripheries and the human anomalies who inhabit them; he naturally gravitates to these interstitial eccentrics, as Jonathan Spence has done in his classic studies of early modern China and Japan. The margins, in short, tend to be at once emblematic and entertaining— no small virtue. In Subrahmanyam's hands, history does not provide moral object lessons, but it definitely has the capacity to fascinate and amuse.

Subrahmanyam is a master of wide-ranging collaborative projects, as a look at the notes to this volume will immediately disclose. He has worked closely with the great historian of Mughal India, Muzaffar Alam, with Velcheru Narayana Rao, and with many others, including myself. I don't think I can fully convey the somewhat dizzying effect of writing a book or an essay together with him. One has to be prepared for a continuous flow of witticisms and occasional prickly comments in half a dozen languages; and there is the secondary (or perhaps it is a primary) benefit of consistently excellent Indian cuisine. One thing, in any case, I can say with confidence, after long experience. Subrahmanyam has the historian's instinct for a mode of understanding, or of visionary reconstruction, that Johan Huizinga correctly characterized as transcendent. This mode requires several active metaphysical assumptions.

For example, unlike me, Subrahmanyam still truly believes in the reality of time.

On that same note, let me add that Sanjay Subrahmanyam delivered the Menachem Stern lectures in Jerusalem in early January 2007, to large , typically heterogeneous and multi-lingual Israeli audience very familiar with the shadowy domains of marginality and all the drama, sorrow, and effervescence that naturally belong there.



This is actually an uncomplicated book, which (alas) as usual took tar too long to complete. Visits to Jerusalem have been a regular feature of my life since the mid-1990s, owing largely to my long friendship and ongoing collab¬oration with Velcheru Narayana Rao and David Shulman. Cooking sambar with David and Eileen in their "Kattappomman" residence, and improvising music with Tari, Misha, and Edani — these have been recurrent themes of my visits there, interspersed with some academic and other activities of course. We all recall too the effects of the fumes of red chilies on Narayana Rao's hapless onetime neighbors in French Hill. The visit in early 2007 that was occasioned by the lectures that are at the heart of this book was no exception to our rule, though I did get the opportunity in addition to stay at the splendid Mishkenot Sha'ananim, and visit the old city or Bait al-Muqaddas as often as I wanted to wander its streets, besides going to the opera in Tel Aviv, and taking in many other sights and curious experiences linked to Ta'ayush. I was also almost arrested for jaywalking on King George Street, which I am told is a fairly typical Jerusalem tourist experience (though David and I have also tried this out in Philadelphia, near Thirtieth Street). On this occasion 1 was equally fortunate to receive the very generous hospitality of various persons: Gadi Aigazi, who accompanied me on a splendid day-long visit to the Sea of Galilee or Buhairat Tabariyyah; Omit Shani, specialist of Gujarat's unhappy politics, who eased the not-negligible pains of departure; Fredrik Galtung, who taught me much more about Palestine than I ever dared to ask; Michael Heyd, whose invitation lay at the heart of this visit, and whose hospitality was ever present; Yosef Kaplan, who was ever charm and intelligence combined; Yohanan Friedmann, an enigmatic and legendary character for me, and who lived up to everything I had heard about him; Miriam Eliav-Feldon, an old friend and ever-delightful host; Benjamin Arbel, whom I was honored to meet for the first time and learn a great deal from very rapidly; and many, many others, to say nothing of the familiar pilgrimage to meet Shmuel Eisen-stadt in the Jerusalem version of Tiananmen Square. These were among the busiest two weeks of my recent life.

It was a privilege for me to deliver the Menahem Stern Jerusalem Lectures in January 2007, in memory of a great and prolific historian of the antique world who had been tragically killed there over seventeen years earlier. It was an honor but also frankly a cause for trepidation. For no historian — and certainly none of my generation — can probably feel confident of holding his or her own in a line of past speakers that included such figures as Carlo Ginzburg and Peter Brown (and half a score of others). Further, I am no specialist of the world of classical Western antiquity; but then this was surely known to those who invited me to Jerusalem. Rather my work usually revolves around India, not as a closed civilization but as an open door, a revolving door even one might say, or a carrefour to use the felicitous term of my late colleague at the EHESS in Paris, Denys Lombard. Perhaps my hosts here were inspired then by the phrase Hitbollelutu-temiyah (Acculturation and Assimilation) which appears as the title of a work that Menahem Stern edited together with Yosef Kaplan, and which appeared in 1989. For although the general title I had given to these three lectures (and, with a minor modification of an article, to the book that derives from them) was "Three Ways to Be an Alien," they were certainly concerned with processes of acculturation and assimilation, as well as their limits, and the historical reasons for these limits; and in more general terms, I should underline that my own work as a whole as well as in these lectures speaks to issues of mutual perceptions across cultures in a way that was probably rather familiar to the historian to whose memory they are dedicated.

In the final analysis, my immodest impression is that the lectures went off quite enjoyably, and the audience was kind and even rather generous to me. The discussions were long and engaging, especially after the second lecture. The questions were at times searching and always thoughtful, which has not necessarily been my experience in North America. The separate session with the graduate students was one that I found rather stimulating. Throughout, the efficiency of the staff of the Israel Historical Society was remarkable, and Maayan Avineri-Rebhun was a model of organizational rigor and grace before, during, and after.

The title of the lectures, as Michael Heyd was quick to spot, derives from the first and best-known book (dated 1946) of the Hungarian writer and humorist George Mikes (1912-87), who on occasion did write serious work on the Hungarian secret police and other subjects. (Mikes also once wrote: "It was a shame and bad taste to be an alien, and it is no use pretending otherwise. There is no way out of it.") It follows a sort of case method, and focuses on a few individuals in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries who found themselves in awkward situations of intercultural communication, the "travails" of the subtitle. It seemed an appropriate subject for the place where the lectures were delivered, a fact that was clearly not lost on the audience (as Richie Cohen dryly pointed out in discussion that followed the last lecture). I should stress the appropriateness of the subject too for a resident of Los Angeles. Since 1 have come to live in that city in 2004, a constant question to me by friends living elsewhere and visitors to LA has been of whether I feel somehow "alienated" there. My response, which no doubt informs this book, is that whatever alienation 1 feel has less to do with the place than the people; to my mind, social relations must always lie at the core of the answer to such a question.

The individual chapters that make up this book have had varying gestations. The work on Miyan 'Ali bin Yusuf 'Adil Khan of Bijapur, which occupies the second chapter, goes back to various stints 1 had in the Torre do Tombo in Portugal in the late 1990s, when I was laboriously mining the Corpo Cronologico collection maco by mac,o rather than calling for individual docu¬ments using their often unreliable summaries. Jose Alberto Tavim and Jorge Flores helped me obtain reproductions of a few documents later, and Jorge has been a ready interlocutor as these texts were written. The collaboration with my old friend Maria Augusta Lima Cruz on editing and annotating the Decada Quarta of Diogo do Couto also helped me clarify many thoughts. The third chapter on Anthony Sherley stems from conversations with Decio Guzman and Serge Gruzinski on the subject of the past of "connected histo¬ries," and a very rough first version was presented at Gruzinski's seminar at the EHESS; later, and more polished, versions were also presented at various occasions at UCLA, at the Australian National University, and at the ECMSAS in Manchester. (A second section of that lecture, on Francois le Gouz de la Boullaye, has not been included here and will be developed on a separate oc¬casion.) It also reflects, in an ironic way, on my own family and its ongoing engagement with realpolitik. As I was completing the book, I was fortunate enough to find a new edition of Sherley's Peso politico as well as of another minor text by him, but these did not alter my conclusions significantly. The fourth chapter, on Nicolo Manuzzi, is again based on a rather old project of mine, which 1 initially presented at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin in 2001. It has undergone much modification since then. My greatest debt here is to Piero Fakhetta of the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana in Venice, who was very helpful to me when I used that collection in the summer of 2006. Ebba Koch was most encouraging with regard to this project, as was Velcheru Narayana Rao when he heard the first version of the chapter a decade ago in Berlin. Audiences at Duke University, the University of Delhi, the Scuola Normale superiore (Pisa), and Cornell University also made useful comments on draft versions of this chapter.

I owe much to several other people in putting this book together, many more than the size of the book possibly warrants. Muzaffar Alam has always been there when I needed him. Carlo Ginzburg was there too as a sort of for-midable taskmaster who did not even know that he played that role. To him and Luisa Ciammitti, I owe many thanks in relation to my visits to Venice, Pisa, Siena, and more. Caroline Ford graciously accompanied the work and tolerated its author's eccentricities, which were surely not a few. Fernando Rodriguez Mediano helped me with a crucial text at the closing stages of the book.

While writing this book, I have naturally puzzled as usual over the real nature of the audience for which it might be intended. My intention here remains to go beyond a simple academic readership, and that — if no one else — at least nonacademic members of my own family might read it. But it is also owes much to my many friends who have taught me that it was necessary to reach beyond the usual frontiers of which academic convention makes us prisoners. They include Ken McPherson, an old friend of twenty-five years standing from Australia, who sadly passed away as this book was nearing completion. Ken encouraged me enormously when I was but a young scholar in the mid-1980s. I think too of the late Jean Aubin, whose shadow falls across these pages, as it surely does over all those who write these kinds of histories.

The book is dedicated to a friend who is an omnivorous intellectual, but not really a historian; and who welcomed me to Vancouver at a time some years ago when I too was a sort of alien. He shares a bit of his name and some qualities with Arun Kolatkar’s Yeshwant Rao.




  List of Illustrations: viii
  Foreword by David Shumlan ix
  Preface xv
  Introduction: Three (and more) Ways to Be Alien 1
  A Muslim Prince in Counter-Reformation Goa 23
  The Perils of Realpolitik 73
  Unmasking the Mughals 133
  By Way of Conclusion 173
  Note 179
  Index 213


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