A peep into the 18th century India
Posted October 14, 2016on:
According to the 1891 census, the number of widows in India was 2,26,57,426. Out of them 1,94,53,586 belonged to the Hindu and Jain communities while 32,03,846 were Muslims and Christians. Maulvi Syed Mazhar Ali further notes in his diary on June 11,1902 that the number of widows comprised roughly 20 per cent of the country’s total population. In view of their large number (and) plight, the problem can be solved to a large extent if the reformers of the country can persuade (them) and popularise their second marriage.
The census of India was completed on February 26, 1891. The population of India stood at 28 crore, 10 lakh persons. Out of them 22 crore, five lakh persons lived in British India and six crore five lakh persons in the States. The Maulvi records the caste-wise population as: Hindus 2,07,50,000; Muslims 57,50,000; Christians 25 lakh; forest population 9 lakh; Parsis 89,989; Jews 17,188; atheists 389; Brahmo 2,401; Aryas 4600; and followers of unknown religions 39,765.
Maulvi Mazhar Ali (1839-1911) belonged to a zamindar family of Sandila town in Hardoi district of (present) Uttar Pradesh. At the age of about 28, he developed a passion for writing a diary. He writes: ‘I, despite my shortcomings and limitations, was thinking for the past several years to write a daily diary containing information about different events correctly without any break so that it may prove useful for the general public. After considerable thinking, I ventured to start this work in Persian from January 21, 1867. I made it a point to include all the events and important news of the world without any interruption or break.’ In November 1887, he realised that ‘Persian is losing its popularity and very soon it will become a dead language and people will not pay any heed to my labour. Therefore, from December 1887, I started its Urdu translation and employed a young man Syed Mohammed Zaki to prepare a fair copy of my dictation.’
The Maulvi’s diaries, covering the period from 1867 to 1911, are spread over 7,800 pages. Dr Noor-ul-Hasan Hashmi, Professor of Urdu and Persian in Lucknow University and a grandson of the Maulvi, edited the diaries and got these published by Khuda Baksh Oriental Library, Patna, in 1990. Abdul Aleem Qidwai, a retired IES officer recently culled up some prominent events from the diaries and translated these into English. This compilation has been published under the title of ‘Ek Nadir Roznamcha’ (A Unique Chronicle).
Maulvi Mazhar Ali was a keen observer of the events taking place not only in his town of Sandila or Hardoi district but all over the world. His diaries give a wide view of the happenings in the world in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries not as seen, interpreted and recorded by a reporter or a historian but from the perspective of a layman engaged in public service. He has recorded every happening on this planet, be it death of Lord Mayo (Governor General of India) who had gone to see a jail in Andaman Island on February 8, 1872 and was fatally stabbed by a prisoner named Sher Ali; or the epidemic of red fever in the country; or the salaries of Viceroys and Governors; or the sighting of a comet; or rainfalls, famines and floods in various parts of the country; or the prices of food grains; or the harvest of mangoes; or the fights going on in Europe.
Here are glimpses of some of the interesting diary entries:
April 13, 1885: On 30th march at Panjda near Kabul a pitched battle was held between Afghans and Russians in which 500 afghan soldiers were killed. Russian Army chief was General Comroof.
February 25, 1889: At present the tallest man in the world is Hasan Ali of Egypt. He is 26 years old and his height is 7 feet and 9 inches. He was invited to an exhibition held in Berlin, capital of Germany, to show his height.
July 31, 1891: today I purchased English dictionary giving words and meanings of English and Urdu for five rupees (July 31, 1891)… I am convinced that the mullahs of maktabs (pre-primary schools) make their students dull. I have come across 7-year old students of maktabs who are unable to write a letter. I totally condemn this type of education.
August 23, 1892: A Parsi gentleman Dada Bhai Nauroji has been appointed first Indian member of British Parliament.
May 5, 1899: In Sandila town and its rural areas about 12 to 15 marriages are solemnised every day. (There was) such an abundance of marriages after the 1857 mutiny.
July 25, 1899: Today a new Mahadev temple was set up by Raja Durga Prasad with great pomp and show. In the night, music was played and fireworks were arranged. This is a great achievement of Raja Saheb.
March 11, 1900: it is reported that Bombay V.T. station is the most beautiful and costly railway station in the world.
May 16, 1900: Provincial Government has passed a resolution and published it in its Gazette dated 18th April about compulsory introduction of Devanagari in government offices.
August 26, 1903: Today a high quality English fountain pen which can be used for writing for hours was sent to Syed Iltifat Rasool. This pen Mustafa Ali purchased in London for three rupees.
June 27, 1904: I received an instrument to monitor temperature from Bombay costing rupees 4 plus 9 annas as postal charges. This instrument is placed in underarm of human body and shows his body temperature. If mercury shows 97-98 degrees then it would be called normal temperature of healthy man. If it goes below it or shoots up then it indicates that person is sick and weak.
August 13, 1905: Today Raja Durga Prasad sent me a beautiful cup in which a piece of sponge is kept. If one touches it by finger and seals the envelope, there is no need of any adhesive. This is a new European invention. For such new invention, the rich persons pay high prices to European traders and thus the country’s money is flown out of the country.
January 26, 1906: Kumbh Mela in Allahabad came to an end. It was attended by two million people. In a stampede on 24th January, 10 persons were killed and 18 seriously injured.
March 10, 1906: I have decided to arrange re-marriage of my grand-daughter who became a widow at an early age of 19 years. This step is against old tradition but I like it.
May 21, 1907: Lala Lajpat Rai, a prominent and rich lawyer of Lahore, is imprisoned in Mandalay Fort, Burma.