Author: Ghulam Yahya
Editor(s): Mehr Afshan Farooqi
ISBN/UPC (if available): 8173052492
Our knowledge of Indian society during British rule in the nineteenth century has rested primarily on the voluminous records of the east India Company, the works of various Europeans, the writings of many civil servants of the company and the accounts of Indians writing in this period. Interesting first-hand and very useful alternative sources are writings of Indians produced on request or assignment by Company administrators. Such accounts are by no means readily available; they were probably discarded after serving their purpose. Nevertheless, as this codex illustrates, they embody a special middle space in the texts belonging to this genre.
These writings were used by the company officials as research data in writing their own reports, survey, or papers for publication. The Kitab-i-Tasavir Shishagaran Vaghairah Va Bayan-i-Alat-i-Anha (The Illustrated Book About Makers of Glassware, etc and a Description of Their Tools) is written by Ghulam Yahya in a matter-of-fact scientific, observational style. It is an economic and ethnographic description of eleven tradesmen and their crafts in the district of Bareilly in the Rohilkhand area in the 1820s. The text is augmented with detailed drawings, showing tools and processes and coloured paintings in the regional Company style. Of immense interest are the lists of commodities sold by the dry goods dealer, along with details of prices and an inventory of jewellery and ornaments manufactured by goldsmiths.
The codex was advertised by a London rare book dealer as an early nineteenth century cook book written in Urdu. It turned out to be neither a cook book nor in Urdu, but a neat little book in Persian on trade-crafts and their practitioners. Some of he crafts described in the text, for example, crimping and specialized charpoy weaving are now extinct. The book also includes forgotten delicious recipes for kababs!
Goldsmiths are a community who sit in their shops and make gold and silver jewellery in the following manner. First they light a fire in an earthen stove; then a little saltpetre or borax is mixed with gold or silver and (the metal) wrapped in white clay is put in the fire and wood fuel is heaped on top. They blow on it with a phunkni, i e, a blowpipe made of bronze or iron. And melt it well. Then they take it out, put it on a moulding box and stretch it into a long rod; then with iron calipers, cut off a desired length needed for a particular piece of jewellery. The piece of gold or silver is then put on an iron anvil and beaten with an iron hammer, which has a wooden handle. With the other tools mentioned below, depending on the requirements, each tool is put to use and the piece of jewellery is made into the desired shape.
-From the book