Amid the Covid-19 crisis, when the world is in lockdown and worrying news is streaming in, there was a little glimmer of joy as my book finally emerged into the world. In various forms, I have worked on materials that eventually made their way into the book for over eight years. But it was the ERC grant that eventually gave me the time and resources to complete this labour of love.
What a journey it has been. It began with learning Persian in Oxford with Mohammadjavad Ardalan, then training in Persian palaeography in JNU under the care of Prof. Chander Shekhar. My sources were dry, brief formulaic legal documents from the Mughal period (mainly seventeenth and eighteenth centuries), written mainly in Persian, some of which I found in the National Archives in Delhi, some later sent to me by the Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah museum of Kuwait, and some by the actual descendants of my protagonists. From there on, it became an obsession, such that I, and members of my family, began mouthing the formulaic phrases of Indo-Persian legal documents, ‘The reason for saying all this is this, that I, Nandini, daughter of …, wife of …, resident of …, in full possession of my senses and with full free will, do hereby…’
The legal documents were tantalising fragments. They offered glimpses of people, their relationships, their anxieties and disputes, their aspirations and frustrations. What helped me piece that together into one long story was my method of dealing with a single family, a landed lineage headquartered in the district of Dhar, in central India, for over 400 years.
I became so familiar with the members of the family and the protagonists of this book – Purshottam Das, Hamir Chand, Muhammad Mustafa, Muhammad Asad, Puran -that I began to think of them as my friends and companions, each with their own eccentricities, side-stories, success and troubles. And although I had never been to Dhar, that old city, near Ujjain, became the most recognisable Indian city to my little son, just because he had heard so much about it over the years. And then I went to Dhar in 2016, and actually found the descendants of my protagonists, most importantly, my amazing friend, Amit Choudhary. To find out how that unfolded, you have to read the book!
Which, by the way, you can do, for free, here. It’s all open access, so please do download, read and distribute to friends, family and students!