PUNJAB, A HUNDRED YEARS AGO,
PUNJAB, A HUNDRED YEARS AGO, THE, translated and edited by H.L.O. Garrett, and first published in 1935 by the Punjab Government Record Office, Lahore, is a compendium of two travelogues. The first part comprises the portion of Victor Jacquemont`s Journal which deals with his travels through the Punjab and Kashmir. Jacquemont`s description of the condition and administration of the cis Sutlej area after the Anglo Sikh treaty of 1809 is particularly interesting. So is his account of Maharaja Ranjit Singh`s court, and comments on the character and personal habits of the Maharaja who is described as a thin little man with an attractive face, in spite of having lost an eye from smallpox, a lively hunter and lover of horses.
He specially praises Ranjit Singh for his powers of conversation and for his shrewd judgement. He writes: “Ranjit Singh is almost the first inquisitive Indian I have seen, but his curiosity makes up for the apathy of his whole nation. He asked me a hundred thousand questions about India, the English, Europe, Bonaparte, this world in general and the other one, hell and paradise, the soul, God, the devil, and a thousand things besides.” Avarice was, according to Jacquemont, the ruling passion of the Maharaja`s life and he had amassed a treasure worth 8,00,00,000 rupees.
His government had no fixed rules; he ruled as he willed. He was more or less a sceptic. The Maharaja visited Amritsar twice a year to bathe in the sacred pool and made pilgrimages to the tombs of celebrated Muslim saints as well. Speaking of the economic condition of the people, Jacquemont observes that the territory of the Sikhs was the most fertile and better cultivated than anywhere else in India. A man could subsist on one piece a day, a labourer`s wage was 45 piece a day; an infantryman received a salary of 56 rupees a month. Jacquemont describes Ludhiana as a city with a flourishing trade with India and Afghanistan.
Rich merchants and bankers with business connections abroad live in the town which then had a total population of 20,000. Amritsar, the largest city in the Punjab, was rich and affluent, its population being a mixture of races and religions. Jacquemont characterized the Sikh rule in Kashmir as chaotic and rapacious. He furnishes some details about the trade between Kashmir and Tibet. For instance, in 1834, Kashmir imported 60,000 seers of raw wool, 7,0008,000 pounds of tea, gold and silver, musk, dried fruit against export of grain. The second part of the book relates to the travels of Prince Alexis Solty koff which are ten years later in date than Jacquemont`s.
The Prince, who belonged to a distinguished Russian family, was primarily an artist and his journey through India was one long search for `colour`. Among other places, he visited Delhi, Shimla and Lahore. According to the editor of the book, his account of the Sikh kingdom “compares very curiously with that of Jacquemont.” However, many changes had occurred since Jacquemont`s visit. Maharaja Ranjit Singh was dead; the reigning monarch Sher Singh of whose court much detail has been given is described as a “somewhat uneasy figure, very much afraid of George Russell Clerk, the British Agent.” BJ.H.