17 June, 2021

In Malik Ayaz’s Dreams

A marvellous account of the early firangis who turned Indian is a salad of identities and a mirror of Indianness

In Malik Ayaz’s Dreams

For those studying the enormous cast of characters that populate Indian history of the 16th and 17th centuries, there are further reasons to worry. The field now threatens to implode, with a fascinating group of foreigners masquerading as Indians coming to light. The vicissitudes of their struggle to exist in India simultaneously as insiders and outsiders, as foreign and native, is the focus of Jonathan Gil Harris’s tour de force, the verbosely titled The First Firangis: Remarkable stories of heroes, healers, charlatans, courtes­ans & other foreigners who became Indian.

The word ‘firangi’ has several connotations. This book articulates its many possibilities, from its past derisory context to a more nuanced understanding of the wonderful imprecision the term offers.  Allowing people of varied nationalities to inhabit multiple identities and myriad coterminous worlds, we now view them through another present-day filter—that of ‘time’ in the 21st century.

The period under discussion was larg­ely ruled by...

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