India and the Heartlands: An Eighteenth-Century World of Circulation and Exchange. By GAGAN D. S. SOOD. Cambridge: CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2016. Pp. xvii + 338. $99.99, [pounds sterling]64.99.
In 1748, during the French-British war, a British man-of-war stopped the S. Catharina, a ship flying Armenian colors, near Nagapattiman. The officer leading the inspection crew saw that a bag had been thrown over board. He fished it up and found that it contained a collection of documents and letters. The ship, with French passengers and goods aboard, was seized; fortunately, the "suspect" papers were preserved in the British Library. This book under review is based on this collection of letters, receipts, certificates, and depositions in Arabic, Persian, and Ottoman Turkish. In eight chapters Gagan Sood tries to recapture the world of the letter writers, their business, their families, their culture, their networks--in short, their life.
Chapter one is a useful overview of what Sood calls the cognitive patterns of the world in which the letter writers lived. This means that he discusses their "spheres of communication," by identifying their building blocks (ethnicity, social status, occupation, business customs and practices, weights, measures, administrative and trading infrastructure) not only by their sociological markers, but also by way of the terms in the languages used in the letters. Although the chapter does not offer any new insights, it provides a context for what follows. The second chapter focuses on the spiritual world of the letter writers, less by discussing their religion than by providing an idea of "the vernacular understanding of the cosmos and mankind's relationship to it" (p. 65). Basically, this means a discussion of the religious terminology and expressions used in the letters and what concerns these expressed. The third chapter is all about the importance of family relationships, in particular within the household--advice that is given, and concerns about members of the immediate family. Also, was close kinship more important than lineage? All this is highlighted by excerpts from the letters.
Chapter four deals with relationships outside the kinship group, i.e., with intimates and strangers. It discusses the importance and hierarchy of these relationships and how they were maintained. By extensively referring to the letters, Sood gives couleur locale to these interactions and the bonding that took place not only through...