Ali Shahamat

ALI, Shahamat. The Sikhs and Afghans, in Connexion with India and Persia, immediately before and after the Death of Ranjeet Singh: from the Journal of an Expedition to Kabul, through the Punjab and the Khaibar Pass. London: John Murray, 1846 First edition of this unusual and uncommon travelogue of the north-west frontier, written by the expedition leader's Indian-born munshi and inscribed by him to the earl of Shaftesbury. A highly desirable copy, unopened, unrestored in the original cloth, and with an appealing association. The title is fairly well represented institutionally, but commercially decidedly uncommon, no copy having been traced at auction. Shaftesbury's "spiritual fervour reinforced his endeavours for national social and moral improvement. He was concerned to sustain the probity of British policy overseas, being critical of military conduct in Afghanistan, and of the opium trade with China. He opposed the annexation of Sind in 1843" (ODNB).

This work was written by Sir Claude Wade's "Persian Secretary" - an elaboration of the role of munshi-a classmate of Mohan Lal. Shahamat Ali was studying Persian at the Delhi College when Charles Trevelyan added an English class in 1827, to which he and his friend Mohan Lal transferred. Thus they were particularly well equipped to serve the needs of the officers of British India. Ali was invited to join Claude Wade's suite in 1832 when he had been made political officer at Ludhiana, Lal had departed a year earlier to accompany Alexander Burnes on his expedition to Afghanistan and Bokhara. The present work covers the period in which Wade led the subsidiary attack on Kabul during the First Anglo-Afghan War, converging with the main force via the Punjab and the Khyber Pass, Ali gives us "an eyewitness account of Ranjit Singh's administration, revenue, army and the principal ministers and officers of state. He gives a brief description of the Khalsa army, revenue of the Sikh kingdom, provincial administration, personal habits of the Maharaja and Sikh and European officers. It is an unbiased description" (Chopra, Maharaja Ranjit Singh and his times, p. xix). Where this entirely atypical, and for this reason intriguing, record drew contemporary attention it seems to have been dismissed for exactly those reasons that it holds interest for us today, that its perspective was non- "western". The Spectator bemoaning the fact that "the luckless 'reading public' [is being] made the victim of the study of English by the natives of Hindostan" (we 4 July 1846, p. 1193). The reviewer identifies three grounds on which the book is "not wanted"; that "both the war in Afghanistan and the character and government of Runjeet Singh have been freely treated by competent persons", that "the particulars that.