Author: Thomas Hoover
Publisher: Fireship Press
Price: Rs 1,308 (for the Imported Edition); free on Kindle
Posted on Mumbai Mirror on Friday, December 16, 2011 at 02:50:23 PM
The small naval Battle of Swally that took place on November 29-30 in 1612, off the coast of Suvali, a village near Surat in Gujarat, is the little-known event that turned the course of Indian history. The victory of four English East India Company galleons (multi-decked sailing ships) over four Portuguese ships and 26 barks (unarmed rowing vessels) paved the way for British dominance over South Asian trade and gradually the colonisation of India.
By drawing from the diaries of the early English tradesmen who came to India aboard ships, braving such Portuguese attacks, Thomas Hoover has crafted an intriguing tale of an envoy of the English East India Company whose goal is to get a permit for trade from the Mughal Emperor in India and wrench the control of the trade in the Indian Ocean from the Portuguese. The protagonist of the story is Captain Brian Hawksworth, whose experiences in this mystical land are based on the true accounts of William Hawkins, the first envoy of the English East India Company who sailed to the port of Surat in 1608 and of Thomas Roe, who, as ambassador of King James I to Emperor Jehangir's court, obtained permission for the company to set up factories in Surat and get their toe-hold into India.
As Hawkworth makes his way from Surat to the Moghul's court in Agra, he discovers a country of contrasts, where the sword is revered and so is the pen, where men of valour wear jewels and perfumes and build monuments dedicated to love, where delicate noblewomen plot against powerful heirs to the throne, where caste and religious prejudices run deeper than bonds of love and friendship and where passion is nurtured and repressed. As he absorbs the customs and manners of India, the rough English seaman veers away from his commercial interests and begins a new quest for sensuality in music and the love of his life.
The fictional characters of the opium-addicted Arangbar, the wronged heir, Jadar, the great Akman, the scheming Jahanara and the clever prime minister Nadir Shah in The Moghul are loosely based on Jehangir, Shah Jahan, Akbar and Nur Jahan and her brother Asaf Khan. Travellers and writers from the West are often intrigued by Indian politics. Hoover is no different. He layers the text with multiple sub-plots, adding new characters to the ensemble cast, much like a rich and colourful tiered cake. You have to cut it, bit by bit, layer by layer, so that you can finish it off. And that requires patience. But if you love historical fiction, this tale of blood and lust, love and war, music and poetry and commerce and politics is a must-read.