The lands around the Indian Ocean

The lands around the Indian Ocean

They maybe different in terms of religion and nationality but the lands around the Indian Ocean have more similarities than you can imagine

Vijay Tankha
October 13 , 2014
02 Min Read

For centuries Indians have travelled not only out but also back into the subcontinent. Of these travels there is not one story but as many as there are times and places and people. A Hundred Horizons focuses on the Indian Ocean and the lands circumscribing it.

Bose sketches the circulation of peoples, mostly of Indian origin around the rim of this vast expanse from pre- to post-colonial times with the confidence of a panoptic. Between 1830 and 1930, he estimates, of the 30 million Indians who travelled overseas, only six million emigrated. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Indian presence in and around the subcontinent was considerable.

From wealthy merchants and traders to indentured labour, Indians were found in all walks of life. This was the legacy of the Mughal and Ottoman empires, which were able to give considerable autonomy to port cities like Surat and Aden, allowing them and their people to prosper. The British, by contrast, handed out a particularly fake version of (local) sovereignty designed ultimately to serve their own interests.

Many areas of the Indian Ocean region resisted colonial power with fervour: the Burmese and Arabs against the British, the Malay against the Dutch. India, of course, was the lynchpin in the spread of British imperialism. But India was (and is) central to the whole of the region. This is the story that the author details.

Bose even manages to make trade interesting: pearls from Bahrain, Malaysian rubber and rice flowed across the Bay of Bengal. Though these commodities perhaps lacked the high romanticism (and profits) of the Chinese opium trade, they were economic links across these latitudes.

Later chapters of the book encompass many of the major movements of the time as well as some of the national leaders who straddled the subcontinent (Tagore, Gandhi, Bose), men whose universalism led them to view the region as an extension of their own homeland. Sugata Bose has knit narratives over time to show that the lands around the Indian Ocean, though apparently separated by religion and nationality, are more unified than we might at first imagine.

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