THIRTY-FIVE YEARS IN. THE EAST
THIRTYFIVE YEARS IN. THE EAST, with its long subtitle, “Adventures, Discoveries, Experiments, and Historical Sketches, relating to the Punjab and Cashmere ; in connection with Medicine, Botany, Pharmacy, & C., together with an original Materia Medica; and a Medical Vocabulary, in four European and five Eastern Languages,” by John Martin Honigberger (1795-1865), physician to the Sikh court from 1829 to 1849, was published in London in 1852. It contains, besides the author`s memorabilia, interesting information about the Sikh rulers and their court as well as about various diseases and their remedies in allopathy, homoeopathy, Ayurvedic and Unani medical systems.
Divided into two volumes bound in one, it covers events up to 1846. The first volume contains, in addition to historical information, lively vignettes of Punjabi life, manners and customs ; the second which primarily deals with medicine and surgery also narrates certain contemporary events. The book includes drawings of the members of the Sikh royal family as well as of the important courtiers. Honigberger`s account is valuable as a historical document for two reasons : he has a matter off act style and is objective in his narration. Second, being deeply devoted to his profession, he has litde interest in politics.
He presents the historical and social situations without prejudice and partiality. For example, he does not allow his personal friendship with Avitabile to affect his objectivity while portraying the man`s character. He frankly remarks that Avitabile “exercised his sway in a most arbitrary manner… The pleasure which he took in seeing people hung by dozens must be attributed to his brain.” He acknowledges that “Ranjit Singh was a man whose talents and prudence had acquired for him a great reputation, whose memory is honoured and whose name will long occupy a glorious place in the history.” Yet, he does not forbear from referring to some of his personal weaknesses.
1. Fauja Singh, ed., Historians and Historiography of the Sikhs. Delhi, 1978
2. Khurana, Gianeshwar, British Historiography on the Sikh Power in Punjab. Delhi, 1985
3. Darshan Singh, Western Perspective on the Sikh Religion. Delhi, 1991