Synthesis In Surinam

Glancing away from the usual topics in Amrika, Britain, Canada and the Subcontinent–long before Microsoft was filling out H1-B forms, and even before Sputnik inspired the 1965 Immigration and Nationalization Act*, indentured laborers were crossing from South Asia to South America. At the age of 24 Munshi Raman Khan brought with him a love of all things Indian,  particularly the Ramayan, on which he lectured the children of his Hindu brethren. Why do I have a feeling this guy could have had a great blog if he was around today?

At age 24, Rehman M. Khan (1874-1972), a young Pathan arrived in Suriname in 1898 on the steamship Avon.  . . .this young Khan knew the Qur’an as well as the Ramayana very well. He soon became popular in his plantation and among the surrounding Indians of the other plantations as a Ramayan specialist. He started propagating the Ramayana ideology and taught Hindi to the children of the Indian community. . . .there are many manuscripts available which he wrote in Suriname dealing with the Muslim problems in Suriname, the language issues and his own biography in four volumes. Coming from a middle class Pathan family, Khan was very educated. His knowledge of Urdu and Hindi helped his literary prose. He was also a poet and could compose poetry in standard Hindi “with a flavour of Braj”. . .He used his knowledge to educate the Hindu and Muslim community and to reconstruct the “Indian identity”. Khan kept in touch with India constantly and was also craving for news from his homeland. (Link.)

Khan wrote an autobiography, apparently in Hindi or a related dialect, that was previously only translated into Dutch. (According to one review in The Hindu,  he was even knighted by the Dutch Queen Juliana for his merits.) A translation into English has been popping up in reviews in The Hindu, IndoLINK, and The Tribune. The Autobiography of an Indian Indentured Laborer, by Munshi Rahman Khan, looks to be a fairly new release and seems available for purchase in dollars from Bagchee

*Of which we sadly missed the 40th anniversary.

12 thoughts on “Synthesis In Surinam

  1. Thanks for this post, loved it I must say– next on my “to-get” book list!

    (Though I can hardly ever resist a cavil: What does Chickrie mean by the “Ramayana ideology”?)

  2. “Why do I have a feeling this guy could have had a great blog if he was around today?” May be in america. in india, the liberals would condemn him as communal for propagating ramayana. according to rafeeq zakaria, the most moderate muslim, a muslim can be secular if and only if he sticks to koran. remember how zakaria criticized president abdul kalam because he said he reads ramayana.

  3. The link that Nina pasted was really helpful.

    A good sized hindi-speaking population in Suriname? Whoa.

  4. rafeeq zakaria, the most moderate muslim, a muslim can be secular if and only if he sticks to koran. remember how zakaria criticized president abdul kalam because he said he reads ramayana.

    Rafeeq Zakaria knew his fellow believers. He was not only liberal but practical too. For him model of Indian muslim was Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad. A proud Indian nationalist with equally proud Islamic face of it. No doubt muslims like APJ Abdul Kalam do give secure feeling to Hindu Indians. But perhaps muslims like Abdul Kalam Azad give more assured feeling of Indianness to Hindu Indians. Rafiq Zakaria obviously thought the later face of Indian muslim is more important.

  5. “Why do I have a feeling this guy could have had a great blog if he was around today?” We can only speculate on how he would have weighed in on the Toral Mehta affair.

  6. That’s interesting, Raghav, I have no idea what the etymology of the nation-name is. Thanks, Blokes.

    Nice link, Nina

    Umair, I’m not sure. But tell me when you read it, please!

    SirChes Wittily, I’m sure. ;-)

    Recovering Liberal, let us diagram out your complaint:

    “Why do I have a feeling this guy could have had a great blog if he was around today?”

    You quote me, and let me spell out what my qoute means. This guy is smart and literary and clearly adaptible. If he was around today, I bet he could have learned to use blogger pretty easily. So indeed he could have had a great blog. Unless you address these contentions of mine–smart, literary, and able to use blogger–there are no maybes or buts. My contention stands. Then you write:

    “May be in america. in india, the liberals would condemn him as communal for propagating ramayana.”

    First of all, I didn’t know there was a species called “The Liberals” in India who could so precisely be labelled and so accurately predicted in their behavior. In fact I just don’t believe this. Somehow you seem certain that all the people giving glowing reviews to his book, all the people who helped publish it, and all the people happily buying and selling it, are, in fact, not liberal. I find that highly unlikely. Secondly even if SOME liberals in India condemn Khan, that would hardly prevent him from having a good blog. Sepia Mutineers get condemned all the time, but here they are. Whoever Rafiq Zakaria is, I don’t see how he can possibly speak for all liberals, all Muslims, or all liberal Muslims. I don’t, actually, remember how he criticized Kalam–and I don’t share in his criticism as you state it, that’s ludicrous–but criticism does not prevent anyone from having a good blog.

    I am harping on this point b/c people seem to be confusing criticism with censorship lately, and it’s imprecise. Please be precise.

    Manju, I see that you are merely pointing out the pragmatic dynamics of I whatever Zakaria/Kalam discussion RL brought up, . I just don’t really see how anyone has the perogative to relabel someone, contradicting their self-identification, on the basis of either what is comforting or practical to the wider group OR what the subject reads.

  7. whats ‘sepia’??? i was searching for some stuff, and google kept dishing out this site to me. looking for ‘sepia’ on goole, i found this – Sepia – Safeguarding European photographic images for accesss!!!!!!!!!

  8. i am delighted to read about a person who should have already known to everyone . thanks for all. can we get such a biography in chaste Hindi? gs

  9. To all those who commented on Rafiq Zakaria,

    I’ve had the mischance of meeting him a few times and believe me he was nothing close to ‘moderate’. I am from Lucknow and have spent considerable time there as well as in Kanpur and other places in UP where I’ve met a lot of people who follow Islam – I know what a liberal/moderate person of Islamic faith is like – I have met no other type and I do have a huge sample set. Rafiq Zakaria – may god bless his soul – would have stuck out like a sore thumb among ‘real’ muslims. Mr. Zakaria’s idea of being “secular” – according to his own long winded speeaches to the 3 people sitting in front of him – boiled down to this – A truly secular Muslim follows Islam to the T and never criticizes other religions in public. What he does in private is his private matter. Again, Lord bless his soul, Mr. Zakaria in one word was a ‘hypocrite’ – not moderate – just great at hiding his un-secularness by writing useless rhetoric stuffed books.