Sake Dean Mahomet (1759-1851)

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The first Hindustani to write and publish a book in English

By

Toheed Ahmad[1]

He was the first Hindustani to write and publish a book in the English language. Published in Ireland in 1794, the book was called The Travels of Dean Mahomet,A Native of Patna in Bengal Through Several Parts of India While in the Service of the Honourable East India Company, Written by Himself in a Series of Letters to a Friend.His second book, titled The Benefits Resulting from the Use of Indian Medicated Vapour Bath, came out in 1820. He was the first South Asian to set up a desi food business in Europe – called the ‘Hindustanee Coffee House’ located in the posh Portman Square in the heart of London. He fashioned the lowly Urdu word ‘champi’ into the fashionable‘shampoo’, which along with ‘chai’, ‘kehva’, and ‘football’, may rank among the most globalized words today. He sailed into Ireland’s Cork harbour in 1784 at age 25, and never saw his homeland again, passing the rest of his life in the British Isles. Who was this Din Mohammadthat ended up as Sake Dean Mahomet?

I first came across this colourful character in 2005, while reading Muneeza Shamsie’s second anthology of Pakistani English writing, called ‘Leaving Home: Towards a New Millenium, A Collection of English Prose by Pakistani Writers’ (2001). According to the editor, the book explores the Pakistani Experience of Migration through fiction and essays. A short extract from Sake Dean Mahomet’s Travels is the first entry in the book, about which Muneeza says that “I had discovered that the first South Asian English book began with a migration… and I included an extract symbolically as a Prologue”. Reading this extract fired my imagination and I set about gathering more information about this delightful Bihari character. According to a BBC web site the first person to publicly resurrect Sake Mahomet for our times is our celebrated English language poet and scholar Alamgir Hashmi. Recently I spoke with Alamgir who told me that he learnt of this book while browsing through catalogues of the British Library in the 70s of the last century. He was fortunate to read the book and mentioned it in some articles he wrote. One cited by Muneeza is a paper titled ‘Prolegomena to the Study of Pakistani English and Pakistani Literature in English’, presented by Alamgir Hashmi at the International Conference on English in South Asia, University Grants Commission, January 1989, Islamabad.

Alamgir’s paper established the sub-continent as one of the first regions outside Britain and America, to use English for literary purpose. Muneeza notes that this also dates South Asian English literature in the same era when many indigenous and provincial literatures of South Asia began to assert themselves and thus the influence of the court language – Persian- waned. Here it may be worth recalling that the first English language novel written in the sub-continent was Twilightin Delhi written by Prof.  Ahmad Ali first published in London by Virginia Woolf’s Hogarth Press in 1940.

Din Mohammad (1759-1851) gives an account of his life in his Travels, that he was born in Patna, Bihar, to a Muslim family related to the Nawabs of Murshidabad. His father served the East India Company’s Bengal Army with the rank of subedar (captain), the highest that a native could rise in the Company Bahadur’s army.

The late 18th century was a tumultuous time for the largely Muslim rulers of North India who rapidly succumbed to the expanding East India Company. The Company rapidly shifted from a commercial operation to an assertive rule over vast Indian territories. In this environment, Muslim families like that of Dean Mahomet had to make a difficult and potentially dangerous choice about their future and their allegiances. Many chose to serve the English, so did our Dean Mahomet’s father and brother.

Din Mohammed journeyed with the Company Bahadur’s troops up and down the Ganges, as well as to the cities of Delhi, Banaras, Dhaka and Calcutta, and Madras, forcing peoples and states under the British rule.As he traveled, the multiplicity of Indian society meant that each city and region which he encountered struck him as novel. In his book he described each vividly to his British audience. Having limited knowledge of the Brahmin Hindus or other communities in Indian society, Din Mohammed’s book describes his own Muslim community’s internal social organization and domestic custom and festivals and rituals.

When Evans Baker decided to leave the army and return to his native Ireland, Dean too resigned and decided to accompany ‘his best friend’ to see the world. Late in 1784, seven years after KuntaKinte’s slave ship docked at Annapolis, Maryland, USA, and weeks before Dr. Samuel Johnson breathed his last in London, Din Mohammed landed in Cork, Ireland. Here the ranking Evans family sent the 25 year old to school where he acquired an impressive command over the English language and its literary traditions. He married one of his classmates, the ‘fair and beautiful’ Jane Daly who belonged to a rich Cork family. Jane was his class fellow who agreed to elope with Sake Dean as she feared her parents would not consent to their marriage. The wily young Sake took her to the western hills where they hid for over a year in a state of marital bliss. The Daly family tracked them down and finally relented to accept an outlandish Indian for a son-in-law.

It was here in Cork in1794, that Dean published his Travels. In Ireland, I picked up interesting details of how this poor immigrant managed to publish a book. He came up with an ingenious idea of pre-selling the book, a business model we see increasingly in vogue around us, especially in the high rise construction sector. Pre-selling requires the manufacturer to have the respectof his prospective buyers. Sake Dean did this by putting advertisements in the Cork Examiner daily,a remarkable feat for an immigrant. I visited the office of Examiner daily, where I was told that they did not carry copies of their 18th century issues. I was told that two copies of the first edition of Travels were available in local libraries which I did not have the time to reach.

Publication of Travels (from Fisher’s book)

Dean Mahomet’s most lasting representation of himself as an Indian living in Cork remains his book Travels. In March 1793 (at age thirty-four), he took out a series of newspaper advertisements proposing to publish Travelsby subscription, as was usual at the time. He apparently supplemented his public advertisements with personal visits to many of the leading families in southern Ireland. Testifying to his acceptance as a literary figure, a total of 320 people entrusted him with a deposit of 2 shillings 6 pence each long in advance of the book’s delivery.

Dean Mahomet clearly appealed to the social elite of Ireland, both men and women. Of the 238 males who subscribed, over 85 percent were gentlemen distinguished by a title, rank, or the epithet “esquire” (the rest bore the label “Mr.”). Included among the male subscribers were 17 members of the nobility, 10 military officers (up to Colonel), 17 clergymen (including 3 Bishops), and 3 medical men. The 82 women, over a quarter of the subscribers, included a Viscountess, 5 Ladies, and several Honorables (i.e., daughters of titled families). In addition, the Catholic Ursuline Convent purchased a set (which still remains in their library over two centuries later). A number of Protestant Irishmen who had served in India and held estates in southern Ireland also appeared prominently among Dean Mahomet’s patrons; he dedicated his book to one of them, Colonel William AnnesleyBailie (1740/41–1821).Having drawn great wealth from India, such officers continued their bonds to it, sponsoring Dean Mahomet and, sometimes, naming their estates after places in India: for example, William Popham’s “Patna.”

According to Fisher, HomiBhabha, Henry Louis Gates, Edward Said, and other scholars have shown that Asiansand Africans regarded their power to narrate and represent their own experiences in their ownterms as powerful modes of resistance to European cultural domination.For example,former slave OlaudahEquiano (and other antislavery activists of Dean Mahomet’s day)explicitly argued that his autobiographical book, The Interesting Narrative of the Life ofOlaudahEquiano…The African, Written by Himself (1789), proved the humanity of Africans andhence the immorality in trafficking in such humans as if they were mere property. Indeed,Equiano toured Ireland, including Cork, publicizing his autobiography in 1791, just three yearsbefore Dean Mahomet published his Travels.The existence of such nonEuropeanperspectives on, and participation in, the imperial process exposes the multilaterality of thatprocess. Nevertheless, while Dean Mahomet’s book demonstrates the existence of longneglectedIndian voices in the colonial process, the limited impact of his book on Britishattitudes toward India suggests European lack of openness to his narrative”. And this while Equiano’s book became hugely popular as a testament for the anti-slavery movement and made the author rich. It seems that Equinao too was a Muslim kidnapped by white slave traders from his coastal village in West Africa and baptized (salvaged?) on one of his several ship journeys. Equinao, KuntaKinte and Sake Dan Mahomed – three Muslims dehumanized at the altar of Christian colonialism. To this list we can add Ibrahim, the Ethiopian slave, known to history as Abram PetrovichGannibalof  Peter  the Great’s Court in St. Petersburg, and the great grand-father of Pushkin, the national poet of Russia.

For nearly two centuries the book was forgotten, till its republication by University of California Press, in 1997, edited with notes by Michael H. Fisher. This is the most detailed study of Sake Dean Mahomet available to date.  Let’s see two quotations from the book to get an idea of the high quality of Dean Mahomet’s prose.The book is dedicated to Colonel William A, Baillie, who was his unit commander in the East India Company Army. The Dedication goes like this:

“Sir, Your distinguished character both in public and private life, is a powerful incitement for soliciting your patronage; and your condescension in permitting me to honour my humble production with your name, claims my best acknowledgements.

Though praise is a kind of tribute due to shining merit and abilities; yet, Sir, even envy must confess, that your well-earned laurels, the meed of military virtues, obtained in the service of the Honourable the East India Company, have been too eminently conspicuous, to receive any additional lustre from the language of Encomium.

Your respectable name prefixed to these pages, cannot fail to shield them with the armour of security, as the judicious must be highly gratified with the peculiar propriety of inscribing them to a Gentleman so perfectly conversant with scenes, which I have attempted to describe.

Allow me to request, Sir, your indulgence for any inaccuracies of style, or other imperfections, that may arrest your judgment in glancing over this Work, as my situation in life, and want of the literary attainments, that refine and polish the European, preclude me from embellishing it, with that elegance of expression, and those fine touches of the imagination, which always animate the performance of cultivated genius.

However, Sir, I have endeavoured, at least, to please; and the sincerity of my intention, will, I trust, in some degree, make even an inadequate compensation for my deficiency in learning and refinement. I have the Honor to remain,

Sir, with the most profound veneration, your much obliged, and devoted, humble servant, Dean Mahomet,Cork, South-Mall, Jan. 15, 1794.”

Dean Mahomet chose the fashionable English genre of the epistolary travel narrative for presentation of his life in India. Constructed letters (38 in all), addressed to a fictive European friend, enabled him to establish a personal relationship with his readers. According to Michael fisher, ‘The sophisticated genre he chose, allowed him to scope for allusions to high English literature and Latin quotations (which he did not translate into English, thus presupposing the erudition of both his readers and himself). Since this literary genre held great popularity in Britain at the time, but was unknown in his native land, his choice recapitulated his self-location as an intermediary drawing upon an English form to represent his Indian background for an elite Anglophone audience”.

Let’s read a part of his Letter No 1: ‘(I) most ingeniously confess when I first came to Ireland, I found the fact of everything about me so contrasted to those striking scenes in India, which we are wont to survey with a kind of sublime delight, that I felt some timid inclination, even in the consciousness of incapacity, to describe the manners of my countrymen, who, I am proud to think, have still more of the innocence of our ancestors, than some of the boasting philosophers of Europe… The people of India, in general, are peculiarly favoured by Providence, in the possession of all that can cheer the mind and allure the eye, and this the situation of Eden is only traced in the Poet’s creative fancy, the traveler beholds with admiration the face of this delightful country, on which he discovers tracts that resemble those so finely drawn by the animated pencil of Milton’.

To havea better idea of the phenomenal memory, eye for detail and his facile pen, let’s read this Letter No XI in full, where Sake Dean talks about his stay in the famed city of Murshidabad:

“Dear Sir,Our stay in Calcutta was so short, that I have been only able to give you some account of the town, forts, and environs; and am concerned that I could not contribute more to your entertainment, by a description of the manners of the people, as we received too sudden orders to march to Barahampore, where we arrived in the year 1773, having met with no extraordinary occurrence on the way. The cantonments here are situated on the banks of the river Bohogritee [Bhagirathi], and consist of twenty-two barracks, besides a magazine, stores, and offices. There are two barracks on the south near the river, in which the Colonels and Majors reside: six on the east, and six on the west, occupied by the other Officers: in the northern direction, the privates of the Artillery and Infantry Corps dwell: the Commander in Chief has a superb building, about a mile from the barrack of the privates; and the intermediate space between the different barracks, which form a square, is a spacious plain where the men exercise. Barahampore is very populous, and connects with Muxadabad [Murshidabad] by an irregular chain of building, comprehending Calcapore [Kalkapur] and Casambuzar [Cossimbazar], two famous manufactories of silk and cotton, where merchants can be supplied on better terms than in any other part of India. The city of Muxadabad, to which I had been led by curiosity, is the mart of an extensive trade among the natives, such as the Moguls, Parsees, Mussulmen, and Hindoos; the houses are neat, but not uniform; as every dwelling is constructed according to the peculiar fancy of the proprietor: those of the merchants are, in general, on a good plan, and built of fine brick made in the country; and such as have been erected by the servants of the Company, near the town, are very handsome structures. The city, including the suburbs, is about nine miles in length, reaching as far as Barahampore; and the neighbouring country is interspersed with elegant seats belonging to the Governors, and other Officers; among which, was the Nabob MamarahDowlah’s [Mubarak al-Daula’s] palace, finished in a superior style to the rest, and surrounded with arched pillars of marble, decorated with variegated purdoes—over the arches, native bands of music played on their different instruments, every morning and evening—on one side of the palace flowed the river Bohogritee in winding mazes: on the other, stood the Chouk, where people assembled to sell horses, wild and tame fowl, singing birds, and almost every product and manufacture of India.

Soon after my arrival here, I was dazzled with the glittering appearance of the Nabob, and all his train, amounting to about three thousand attendants, proceeding in solemn state from his palace to the temple. They formed in the splendor and richness of their attire one of the most brilliant processions I ever beheld. The Nabob was carried on a beautiful pavilion, or meanah, by sixteen men, alternately, called by the natives, Baharas, who wore a red uniform: the refulgent canopy covered with tissue, and lined with embroidered scarlet velvet, trimmed with silver fringe, was supported by four pillars of massy silver, and resembled the form of a beautiful elbow chair, constructed in oval elegance; in which he sat cross-legged, leaning his back against a fine cushion, and his elbows on two more covered with scarlet velvet, wrought with flowers of gold. At each side of his magnificent conveyance, two men attended with large whisks in their hands, made of some curious animal’s tail, to beat off the flies. The very handles of those whisks were of silver. As to the ornaments of his person—he wore a very small turban of white muslin, containing forty-four yards, which quantity, from its exceeding fineness, would not weigh more than a pound and half; a band of the same encompassed his turban, from which hung silver tassels over his right eye: on the front was a star in diamond of the first water: a thin robe of fine muslin covered his body, over which he wore another of cream-coloured satin, and trousers of the same, trimmed with silver edging, and small silver buttons: a valuable shawl of camel’s hair, was thrown negligently about his shoulders; and another wrapped round his waist: inside the latter, he placed his dagger, that was in itself a piece of curious workmanship, the hilt being of pure gold, studded with diamonds, and embellished with small chains of gold.

His shoes were of bright crimson velvet, embroidered with silver, and set round the soals (sic) and binding with pearls. Two Aid-du-Camps, one at each side, attended him on horseback; from whom he was little more distinguished in splendor of habiliment, than by the diamond star in his turban. Their saddles were ornamented with tassels, fringe, and various kinds of embroidery. Before and behind him, moved in the pomp of ceremony, a great number of pages, and near his person slowly advanced his life guard, mounted on horses: all were clad in a stile of unrivalled elegance: the very earth with expanding bosom, poured out her treasures to deck them; and the artisan essayed his utmost skill to furnish their trappings.

His pipe was of a serpentine form, nine cubits in length, and termed hooka: it reached from his lips, though elevated his situation above the gay throng, to the hands of a person who only walked as an attendant in the train, for the purpose of filling the silver bowl with a nice compound of musk, sugar, rose-water, and a little tobacco finely chopped, and worked up together into a kind of dough, which was dissolved into an odoriferous liquid by the heat of a little fire made of burnt rice, and kept in a silver vessel with a cover of the same, called Chilm, from which was conveyed a fragrant cool smoke, through a small tube connecting with another that ascended to his mouth.

The part which the attendant held in his hand, contained at least a quart of water: it was made of glass, ornamented with a number of little golden chains admirably contrived: the snake which comprehends both tubes was tipped with gold at each end, and the intermediate space was made of wire inside a close quilting of satin, silk, and muslin, wrought in a very ingenious manner: the mouth piece was also of gold, and the part next to his lips set with diamonds.

A band of native music played before him, accompanied with a big drum, conveyed on a camel, the sound of which could be heard at a great distance: and a halcorah or herald advanced onward in the front of the whole company, to proclaim his arrival, and clear the way before him. Crowds of people from every neighbouring quarter, thronged to see him. I waited for some time, to see him enter into the temple with all his retinue, who left their shoes at the door as a mark of veneration for the sacred fane into which they were entering. The view of this grand procession, gave me infinite pleasure, and induced me to continue a little longer in Muxadabad.”

Fisher also notes that Dean Mahomet’s generally sympathetic representation of Indian peoples and their Islamic beliefs distinguished his work from those of contemporary Europeans in revealing ways. He, after all, wrote as someone from India for an audience of Europeans whose image of India stemmed from their position as the colonizer not the colonized. He dared to present Indians as human beings worthy of respect on their own terms. They had virtues, he pleaded, superior in some ways to those of Europeans. In his book, Dean Mahomet assessed the virtues and flaws of both the British and the Muslim Indian culture, each of which did much to shape his own identity. He stood between them, rather than as wholly apart from either. A Post colonial in colonial times!

Therefore our Sake Dean Mahomet plays a remarkable role as a cross-cultural communicator. His deftly crafted study of India and Europe, can serve as a useful text in today’s Dialogue of Civilizations. The roguish British elite, while devastating the ruling Muslim elites of India, did not approve of the cultural scholarship of Dean Mahomet. At that time, Lord Macaulay was still a piddling civil servant. No wonder that London’s magazines and newspapers refused to take notice of the Travels. The book did not earn a single media review, while the colonial Britain’s media generously covered even the poor quality “Imperialistic” accounts of India. Fisher notes, “Despite the unquestionable fact of Dean Mahomet’s authorship of his Travels, many Westerners of his day believed Asians incapable of authoring such a polished work of English literature. Even today, some readers may cling to similar doubts and look for a British hand behind Dean Mahomet’s pen. While he clearly borrowed—in today’s terms, plagiarized—brief sections of his descriptions from European authors, he nonetheless clearly retained his own voice throughout”.(Transcription of local place names into English was not standardized in Sake Dean’s time, so he made his own phonetic transliterations).

In his review of The Travels, written for The Spectator magazine, the oldest continuously published magazine in the world (founded 1828), the celebrated author William Dalrymple said:

“The Travels of Dean Mahomet is of more than merely biographical interest: it is a fascinating travel book in its own right. Mahomet is an observant writer, who paints a wonderful picture of the surprisingly Anglicised landscape of Northern India in the late 18th century (…..) Mahomet comes across as an extraordinary figure: constantly charming and infinitely adaptable, intelligent and sharpwitted, part charlatan and part Renaissance man. Even Professor Fisher’s plodding academese cannot quite take the bloom off this amazing man.”

Another Indian, a Lucknow-born Mirza Abu Taleb Khan (1752-1806), went on a three-year visit to Ireland and England in 1799. Upon return he published a book in Persian titled TheTravels of Taleb in the Regions of Europe. Another cross-cultural product, but in many ways the reverse of Dean Mahomet’ book, as it aimed at giving its readers an account of the arts and sciences, mechanical inventions, the lifestyles of the different classes and the system of government in England. While in Cork, Mirza met with Dean Mahomet, and notes in his book, “Dean Mahomet has several beautiful children. He has a separate house and wealth and he wrote a book containing some account of himself and some about the customs of India.”

In 1807 Dean Mahomet and his family moved to London where he found employment at a vapour bath establishment where he added an Indian treatment, ‘shampooing’ (champi) to the menu. Not content with his station in life, soon he moved on to set up his own enterprise. Called Hindoostanee Coffee House, located in the fashionable Portman Square of London, here he offered several Indian dishes and a ‘real chilm tobacco’ in a veritable Oriental ambience. Apparently, the Coffee house was decorated with a range of paintings including some of Indian landscapes, showing scenes of sporting activities. The sofas and chairs in the coffee-house were made of bamboo. With that and the presence of the hookas, for patrons to smoke tobacco mixed with Indian herbs, it must have been a very exotic location in which to eat a meal.

The business ran well; in fact so well that within three years Dean Mahomet ran out of finances to keep the Coffee House running. His business collapsed under the weight of its success. According to a British web site dedicated to the life, times and work of Jane Austen, austenonly.com, “The failure of the coffee house meant that Dean Mohamet had to file for bankruptcy and had no further association with the business. (An advertisement in The Times, 20 April 1813, shows Mahomed advertising for employment as a butler in a ‘gentleman’s family’ or as a valet ‘to a single gentleman’, giving his address as 36 Paddington Street, Baker Street).The Hindostanee Coffee House continued to trade and eventually did manage to generate a loyal clientele. It is thought that it continued to trade from its original premises at 34 George Street until 1833.

The set of amazing entrepreneurial skills that Dean Mahomet had included an astonishing understanding of the value of publicity. The skillfully crafted advertisements for his Coffee House must have created a stir in the aristocratic and parvenu circles of London and beyond. Publication of his book on Travels in India must have already set him up as a curiosity. His second book on Vapour Treatment came out in 1820, six years he had moved to Brighton set up his own Vapour Clinic. To have an idea of his mastery over the publicity process let’s see the advert he placed in London newspapers for the Hindoostanee Coffee House:

Hindostanee Coffee-House No. 34 George Street Portman Square- Mahomed, East-Indian informs the Nobility and Gentry he has fitted up the above house , neatly and elegantly, for the entertainment of Indian Gentlemen, where they may enjoy Hookha, with real chinesetobacco,and Indian dishes, in the highest perfection, and allowed by the greatest epicures tone unequalled to any curries ever made in England with choice wines and every accommodation, and now looks to them for their future patronage and support,and gratefully acknowledges himself indebted for their former favours and trusts it will merit the highest satisfaction when made known to the public.

Again, let’s see this lusciously worded ad for his Brighton business:

SAKE DEEN MAHOMED,

SHAMPOOING SURGEON,

INVENTOR OF THE

INDIAN MEDICATED VAPOUR AND SHAMPOOING BATHS;

NO. 39, EAST-CLIFF, BRIGHTON.

The soothing efficacy of the application of steam to the human body has been long known in the eastern parts of the world. Medicated with fragrant herbs of peculiar virtue, the vapour is rendered more beneficial, whilst the addition of Shampooing the various parts of the body enveloped in steam, augments its sanative energies throughout the whole animal system. In Rheumatism, Parylitic; Gouty Affections, Asthma, Roughness and Diseases of the Skin, Stiff Joints, and Old Sprains, it is a safe and certain remedy; and in all cases of corporeal weakness, or where the circulation is languid, or the nervous energy debilitated, its effects have excited astonishment. Scarcely any disease, to which the human frame is liable, but may be relieved by the use of these Baths. They have been sanctioned by the first medical men in the united kingdom; and have been patronized by many of the nobility, both of England, France, and other places on the Continent, who have received relief from them in many hopeless cases, and whose written testimony of approval may be seen at the Baths.

Around 1814, Dean Mahomet moved to the popular beach resort of Brighton as a ‘shampooing surgeon’. Adding the prestigious ‘Sake’ (Shaikh) before his name, he was back in business, setting up his own distinctive establishment: the Indian Vapour Baths and Shampooing Establishment. Like any shrewd businessman, he relied on marketing and publicity to build up clientele for his exotic cure, as shown by the many very many advertisements he placed. He collected a collection of what he called testimonials – discarded leg irons, crutches, and other paraphernalia thrown away by patients who no longer needed. He also received the ultimate accolade by being appointed ‘Shampooing Surgeon’ to both George IV and William IV; other clients included Lady Cornwallis, Sir Robert Peel and several members of the aristocracy. No surprise that his huge success aroused envy; he was constantly dogged by greedy white competitors backed by outraged British physicians and surgeons whose clientele the Sake was hogging. With some emotive effect, he came to be known as ‘Dr Brighton’.

Sake Dean Mahomet retired from active work in 1834, aged 75, handing over to his son Arthur. His other son Horatio was managing a London branch of the Vapour Baths. A financial blow in 1841 spelled the end of ‘Mahomed’s Baths’, which was auctioned off. Today on that sea front site in Brighton stands the Queen’s Hotel. At age 91, he died in February 1851, his wife Jane died earlier in December 1850. A simple tombstone in St Nicholas’s churchyard records his identification with ‘Patna, Hindoostan’.

In our Sake Dean, we have an interesting parallel with Kunta Kinte (1750-1822), the Muslim slave abducted from Gambia by white traders and taken to America in 1767, and sold to landlords to work their immense plantations. In his memorable account of Kunta in the classic book Roots, Alex Hayley, who claims that he is seventh-generation descendent of Kunta, says that as long as he lived, Kunta kept up his faith and counted his prayers by a set of beads he always kept about him. Like Sake Dean Mahomet, Kunta’s children all grew up in his wife’s faith. While some records mention of Sake Dean’s conversion to Anglicanism in Cork at the time of his marriage,no records mention Kunta’s renunciation of Islam.Today there is a Kunta Kinte-Alex Hailey Foundation in Maryland, USA, managed entirely by Christians.The state holds an annual Kunta Kinte Heritage Festival.Perhaps Kunta Kinte lives on in the USA as a part of the bad American conscience for the unconscionable slave trading of their white ancestors, while our Sake never impinged on the British conscience where the colonial episode of their history needed no rubbing out.

Sake Dean had five sons,William, Dean Mahomed, Horatio Mahomed, Arthur Ackber and Frederick Mahomed; three of whom followed the father’s profession. Frederick Mahomed’s son,Frederick Akbar Mahomed (1849-1884), worked at St. Guy’s Hospital, London where he earned membership both of the Royal College of Surgeons and Royal College of Physicians. He is said to have invented the sphygmograph, a non-intrusive method of measuring the pressure of the pulse (for which he received no mention in medical literature).He presented a paper on his invention to the Pupils PhysicalSociety of St. Guy’s, where the manuscript lies unpublished. (www.black-history.org.uk). My internet search led me to a useful web site for information on our Sake’s progeny:http://www.movinghere.org.uk/galleries/roots/asian/tracingasianroots/dean_mahomed5.htm#. Here it is said that “Today Mahomed has faded from memory, his remarkable career and achievements almost forgotten. His descendants, however, still live in Britain,” and that “Mahomed Family research is on going…”

Isn’t it time to revive this exotic and romantic figure? I believe that a play based on his life was staged in London by a desi group a few years ago in London a few years ago. On 29 September 2005 the City of Westminster unveiled a Green Plaque commemorating the opening of the Hindoostanee Coffee House. The plaque is at 102 George Street, close to the original site of the coffee house at 34 George Street.

I believe that more can be done to celebrate this pioneering flag carrier of Indian Muslim culture to the British Isles.  He built businesses and used all the tricks of business communications, including writing high quality English language books, and that too in a culturally hostile Britain, and at a time when Indian Muslims, were plain paupers, sightless sufis, or passionate poets.

[Michael Fisher’s introduction and analysis, together with the full text of Din Mohammad’s Travels, can be accessed at:

http://publishing.cdlib.org/ucpressebooks/view?docId=ft4h4nb20n&brand=ucpress).


The author is a former Ambassador of  Pakistan