The Forgotten Kashmiri
I had previously written about the amazing Munshi Aziz Bhatt Museum in Kargil and the amazing story behind the same. I had mentioned the number of priceless items they have on display and each and every piece has a unique story waiting to be told.
One of the most enchanting piece for me personally was certain carpet made in Eastern Turkistan of the old, Central Asia and inscribed with a name and with figures of Eight Tigers around it. It was made in Bokhara in the early part of the 1800s. A very Indian name. Mohan Lal.
Another name lost in history. Of course at the first glance and the first look I was too lost in the stuff at the Museum but later on the name came into my mind. It couldn't possibly be Mohan Lal Zutshi of Alexander “Bokhara” Burnes Munshi. Or was it. And it turns out it was the same Kashmiri who at the tender age of 19 went with Alexander Burnes on a trip to Bukhara across the Hindu Kush as his official Persian translator. And the same Mohan Lal who due to his good office with the Afghans managed to survive the annihilation of the Army of the Indus as well the killing of Alexander Burnes in Kabul.
And from what Ive read about him he had the looks and the attitude which made him a darling of the Courts of Eastern Potentates as well as the British. And a ladies man as well it seems. And of course he had this habit of making Notes on the Woman of all the lands that he visited. He had a keen eye for the ladies. A true Romantic one would imagine.
Mohan Lal as an explorer/ traveler of Indian origin would and right should rank alongwith Pandit Nain Singh but sadly Mohan Lal’s achievements have all been glossed over. His great Journal that he maintained never got published and he died unhappy and a broken man disowned by his own people as well as by his masters, the British.
I am posting the Preface of the Book written on him “The Life and Work of Mohan Lal Kashmiri 1822 - 1877 “ by Hari Ramg Gupta written in 1943 which I am currently reading :
"Mohan Lal was a great traveller, brilliant diplomat, reputed author, the first Kashmiri to learn English and probably the first Indian to educate his daughter in England. He commenced his travels at the young age of eighteen, and journeyed through the Panjab, North-West Frontier Province, Afghanistan Turkistan, Khorasan, Iran, Baluchistan, Sind and Northern India; and later on visited Egypt, England, Scotland, Ireland, Belgium and Germany. Thus in Asia alone his travels extended from Calcutta to Qoclian and from Bokhara to Poona.
Through all his wanderings he won the approbation of all his companions for "displaying everywhere a rare union of zeal, tact and fidelity. “ Wherever he went, a warm welcome awaited him by high and low, and rich and poor. Dr. Gerard, one of his companions, wrote about him from Kabul ‘‘Shah Kamran of Herat was delighted with his accomplished Persian and unobtrusive address. At Kandahar he was much respected by Sirdar Raheem Dil Khan, who praised his acquisitions, and regretted that his sons could not partake of them. Here he is a favourite with the rulers. In truth, I know not of an exception in our long journey, to the uniform civility he has commanded.”
Mirza Abbas, the Prince Royal of Iran, created him at the age of twenty a Knight of the Persian Order of the Lion and Sun. Shah Shuja-ul-Mulk, the King of Afghanistan, granted him an Order of the Durrani Empire. Maharaja Ranjit Singh presented him with Rs. 500 and a robe of honour consisting of seven pieces. The Mughal Emperor, Muhammad Akbar Shah, conferred upon him a khilat “with some jewels on a turban which his majesty tied with his own hands.”
Such honours were paid to him not only by the Oriental potentates ; but he was “well received in England and other parts of Europe by the very first people, kings and queens not excepted.” Queen Victoria invited him to a royal ball. Prince Albert called him for an interview at the Buckingham Palace. In Germany, Frederick William IV, the King of Prussia, and the Queen, entertained him at a dinner. The King also presented him with a portrait of himself, bearing an inscription in his own hand.
In diplomacy he was unsurpassed. Kaye calls him a ‘‘charmer” 1 of men. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru speaks of him as one, who in a free India “would have risen to the topmost rungs of the political ladder.” His achievements during the first Afghan War, when he was only twenty-six years old, were most remarkable. His charm, his tact, his patience, his lucid intelligence, his incredible grasp of detail, and his clear understanding of the Afghan character, combined to give him an equipment, which was not found to that degree even in those officers who were in charge of the diplomatic affairs in that country ; and who frequently depended upon him for advice in most delicate matters.
He was an author of no mean repute. On his return from Central Asia in 1834, he “published a Journal of his tour, which considered as the work of an Asiatic in a foreign tongue, may be reckoned a most creditable production.” Twelve years later this work was again printed with an additional account of his journey across Sind and Afghanistan and his visit to Europe. At the same time he published his Life of Dost Mohammed Khan, the Amir of Kabul, in two volumes. On reading his article on the Greek antiquities in Afghanistan, James Tod wrote that "this most intelligent Hindu ought to be made an honorary member of every Asiatic Society.”
About his style of English, the Editor of the Calcutta Englishman remarks "He expresses himself with perfect clearness and intelligibility in English, though not with very idiomatic correctness.” His eccentric phraseology, however, is distasteful. He spoke “English with good accent and much idiomatic propriety,” and "with much fluency and readiness.”
Mohan Lai was obliged to retire at the young age of thirty- two on a pension of £ 1,000 per annum. There is no doubt that if he, had been allowed to continue in the British service, he would have won much greater renown.”
Now coming back to the Museum I am trying to figure out that a Rug which was made as a Gift/ or in honour of Mohan Lal ended up in the Kargil Sarai. And the significance of the Eight Tigers.
Well thats another story for another day.
Pic from the Munshi Aziz Bhat Musuem, Kargil.