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Introduction To

The Eleven Illustrations

Of Ghulam Yahya

Mehr Afshan Farooqi

Sometime during the second decade of the nineteenth century, Robert Glyn, Magistrate and Judge of the District of Bareilly, commissioned one Ghulam Yahya "to write the true details of some of the craftsmen and the names of the tools of manufacture and production and their dress and manners (folio 2, recto)."

Ghulam Yahya, who describes himself as the ‘servant of scholars' and the son of Maulvi Imad-ud-din Lepakni, selected eleven trades/crafts and wrote an account illustrated with drawings of tools and paintings of craftsmen and named the book The Eleven Illustrations.

Whatever could show its face and make itself clear from the canopy of concealment through observation and investigations was entrusted to the tongue of the elegantly writing pen. I regarded this a cause worthy of pride. This book I called The Eleven Illustrations. (folio 2, recto)

Ket¹b-e-ta¬¹v»r-e-sh»shagar¹n va°hairah wa bay¹n-e-¹l¹t--¹nh¹ (The Illustrated Book About Makers of Glassware, etc., and a Description of their Tools) is the title pasted on the hard cover binding of the manuscript. The Van Pelt Library of the University of Pennsylvania, U.S.A. purchased the manuscript from Sam Fogg, a rare book dealer of London. It was advertised in his catalogue as a rare early nineteenth century cookbook, written in Urdu. There was a painting of a man roasting kab¹bs on iron skewers over a coal fire to authenticate the claim of the advertiser. The title pasted on the cover was not mentioned at all. When the manuscript arrived, it was a slim volume in good condition, comprising thirty-five folios, including illustrations. Leafing through it, I quickly realised that it was no cookbook, though it did contain recipes for kab¹bs, and the painting of the kab¹b maker was there. The language of the manuscript is Persian and not Urdu. The calligraphic style is that of ²hat-e-shikastah, and can be classed as average student calligraphy. The text itself is not very difficult to read; but there are seven tables, giving prices of various items of merchandise which seemed almost impossible to read at first glance. They are written with a certain casualness, which would make even an expert of shikastah despair. The prices of the merchandise are given in siy¹q.[1] Deciphering those price lists is like solving a complicated jigsaw puzzle, specially because the author uses a mixed vocabulary, giving Persian names for some commodities and Indian names for others, making the reader unsure of what to expect. There are still a couple of question marks regarding the reading or the meaningful reading of some words. For example, despite best efforts, I could not find out what harv» meant. It occurs twice in the price list, once simply as harv» and again as harv» pØrv», meaning ‘harv»’ from ‘pØrab’ that is the east. The price list is as unique as it is rare, and makes the ms. invaluable for scholars. In none of the official records, survey reports, histories, memoirs, journals or letters relating to the first half of the nineteenth century, do we come across a price list such as this one. But more of that later.

Another challenge presented by the text is reading correctly the list of ornaments manufactured by goldsmiths in those days. Most of these names are forgotten now, and our vocabulary of names of different pieces of jewellery has shrunk considerably. A detailed glossary including these names (which I enjoyed researching) is appended at the end of this work.

The dating of the manuscript did not present a problem because, although Ghulam Yahya does not mention any dates, he does give the name of his patron. While explaining the occasion for writing he says, "Mr. Robert Glyn Sahib Bahadur Magistrate and Judge of the District of Bareilly issued forth an order for this ignorant person to write the true details...(folio 2, recto)." It is thus easy to fix an approximate date for the work by tracing the career of Robert Glyn. It appears that Glyn served as Magistrate and Judge of Bareilly and Bulundshahr from 1818 to 1822.[2] Information about Glyn in the Company’s gazetteers is tantalizingly meagre. He seems to have written a paper on prices and wages in Bareilly District, which was published in "the Asiatic Society’s Journal for 1826."[3] I went through all the volumes of J.A.S.B., and all the volumes of Asiatic Researches[4] but without any luck in finding Glyn’s paper. The information offered by Glyn on maximum and minimum wages is quoted by Conybeare;[5] and we can assume that Glyn used Yahya’s research as raw material for his paper. But there is a little problem. The wages Glyn reports are for the common type of labourers and artisans like field labourers, herdsmen, barbers, blacksmiths, carpenters, navvies, tailors, masons, litter bearers, water carriers, none of whom are among the eleven trades chosen by our author. Still, it is quite likely that Glyn may have had plans of using the information furnished by Yahya for another article on crafts in Bareilly District, or simply as a useful study of resources to be presented to the Company’s Board of Directors for future investment possibilities.

During the second half of the eighteenth century the English East India Company began to assume political roles well beyond its commercial ones. The character of the Company changed from being a private company of merchants to the administrator of huge areas of India with a strong military presence. The mighty Mughal Empire, which had held India's political and cultural loyalties together for at least two centuries had begun to disintegrate. A variety of regional rulers emerged, most of them former Imperial Governors who had entrenched themselves in their provinces and converted their assignments into hereditary possessions. These rulers repeatedly clashed with each other and with the Emperor. Still, ultimate sovereignty, however nominal, was vested with the Mughal Emperor. By 1772-73, the Company moved into the formal position of becoming the official agent of the Mughal Emperor for the Diwani of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa.

In the eighteenth century, the district of Bareilly (now a district of western Uttar Pradesh) was a part of the administrative division known as Rohilkhand. The tract of land forming the subah or province of Rohilkhand was formerly called Katehr/Katiher.[6] In the twelfth century it was ruled by different clans of Rajputs referred to by the general name of Katehriyas.[7] At the beginning of the thirteenth century, when the Delhi Sultanate was firmly established, Katehr was divided into the provinces of Sambhal and Budaun. But the thickly forested country infested with wild animals provided just the right kind of shelter for rebels. And indeed, Katehr was famous for rebellions against imperial authority. During the Sultanate rule, there were frequent rebellions in Katehr. All were ruthlessly crushed. Sultan Balban (1266-1287) ordered vast tracts of jungle to be cleared so as to make the area unsafe for the insurgents.

The slightest weakening of the central authority provoked acts of defiance from the Katehriya Rajputs. Thus the Mughals initiated the policy of allotting lands for Afghan settlements in Katiher.[8] Afghan settlements continued to be encouraged throughout the reign of Aurangzeb (1658-1707) and even after his death. These Afghans, known as the Rohilla Afghans, caused the area to be known as Rohilkhand.[9] The Mughal policy of encouraging Afghan settlements for keeping the Katehriyas in check worked only as long as the central government was strong. After Aurangzeb’s death, the Afghans, having themselves become local potentates, began to seize and occupy neighboring villages.

Ali Muhammad (1737-1749) captured the city of Aonla and made it his capital. He rapidly rose to power and got confirmed in possession of the lands he had seized. The Emperor created him a Nawab in 1737, and he was recognised as the governor of Rohilkhand in 1740. Ali Muhammad was succeeded by Rahmat Ali (1749-1774), whom he appointed h¹fiz or regent on his deathbed. Under Rahmat Ali Khan, Rohilla power continued to rise, though the area was torn by strife amongst the rival chieftains and continuous struggles with the neighbouring powers, particularly the Nawab Vazirs of Awadh,[10] the Bangash Nawabs[11] and the Marathas.[12] The combined forces of Shuja-ud Daulah, the Nawab of Awadh and the Company’s forces led by Colonel Champion defeated Hafiz Rahmat Ali Khan in 1774. Rahmat Khan died in battle, his death finally closing the chapter of Rohilla rule. Rohilkhand was handed over to the Nawab Vazir of Awadh. From 1774 to 1800, the province was ruled by the Nawabs of Awadh. By 1801, the subsidies due under the various treaties for support of a British force had fallen into hopeless arrears. In order to defray the debt, Nawab Saadat Ali Khan surrendered Rohilkhand to the English.

The change of the power structure did little to soothe the troubled strife torn area; rather the change had the effect to aggravate a precarious state of affairs. There was a general spirit of discontent throughout the district. In 1812, an inordinate enhancement in the revenue demand[13] and then in 1814 the imposition of a new house tax caused a lot of resentment against the British. "Business stood still, shops were shut and multitudes assembled near the courthouse to petition for the abolition of the tax."[14] The Magistrate, Dembleton, already an unpopular man made things worse by ordering the assessment to be made by a Kotwal. In the skirmish that took place between the rebel masses and the sepoys under Captain Cunningham, three or four hundred people died. In 1818, Glyn was posted as Acting Judge, and the Magistrate of Bareilly, and the Joint Magistrate of Bulundshahr.

The city of Bareilly was founded in 1537 by Basdeo, a Katehriya Rajput. The city is mentioned in the histories for the first time by Budayuni who he writes that one Husain Quli Khan was appointed the governor of Bareilly and Sambhal in 1568. The divisions and revenue of the district fixed by Todar Mal were recorded by Abul Fazl in 1596. In 1658, Bareilly was made the headquarters of the province of Budaun.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, we find the Company moving from the position of being ‘official agents' of the Emperor to becoming rulers of the provinces themselves. The Court of Directors now began to evince some interest to inquire into ‘the condition of the people and the resources of the country'. In 1807, the Court of Directors commissioned Francis Buchanan to carry out a survey of the provinces subject to the Presidency of Bengal. Buchanan was directed to collect information about the general topography of each district; the condition of the inhabitants, their religious customs, the natural products of the country like fisheries, forests, mines and quarries; the state of agriculture, the condition of landed property and tenures; the progress made in the arts, manufactures and commerce, and every particular that can be regarded as forming an element in the prosperity of depression of the people. The survey took seven years to complete and its findings were transmitted to England in 1816. Though the findings of the survey were not published, a few copies of the report were "sent to our civil servants in India, especially those occupied in the collection of revenue."[15]

The type of information offered in our manuscript suggests that Buchanan’s survey may have inspired some civil servants to collect information on similar patterns in areas within their jurisdiction. So we have Glyn asking Ghulam Yahya to write an account about craftsmen, the names of tools of manufacture and production and their dress and manners. Yahya chooses eleven trades which must have been the most popular means of livelihood in and around Bareilly in the 1820s. The trades are glass manufacture, manufacture of glass bangles, manufacture of lac bangles, crimping, gram parching, wire drawing, charpoy weaving, manufacture of gold and silver thread, keeping a grocer’s shop, making jewellery and selling kab¹bs.

Ghulam Yahya’s account emphasises the description of tools. The text is supported with meticulous drawings of tools, all neatly labelled. Methods of production are described but not in much detail, "because a complete description would cause a lengthy discourse." The dress and manners of the craftsmen are generally mentioned in a routine and perfunctory style, though the descriptions are occasionally peppered with interesting bits of information. For example, Yahya’s observations on the type of jewellery the women folk of different communities wear gives a quick economic portrait of that community. Perhaps the most important piece of information that Yahya provides is on the prices of the various kinds of merchandise and goods. He gives the cost of manufacture and then the sale prices of each item that he discusses. He also gives us a very good idea of how much a particular craftsman/ tradesman could earn for a days work. With the statistics he provides, one obtains a fascinating picture of the economic condition of craftsmen in a micro-economic zone of India in the first few decades of the nineteenth century.

The first "illustration" is that of manufacturing glass (k¹nch). The account is brief and accurate. We know of its accuracy from the fact that Montgomery Martin’s description of glass manufacture corroborates that of Yahya. But Yahya’s description of the process of making different kinds of coloured glass like grass green, deep blue, mauve, is not as detailed and slightly different from what we find in Martin.[16] It is also uncritical. Yahya could have compared the quality of the indigenous product with the imported expensive glassware from England and elsewhere. Clearly, Yahya is out of depth here. He is more informative about other crafts. Martin describes k¹nch as a kind of coarse glass. From Martin we learn that the cheapest and most easily made glass is black, which is perfectly opaque. Grass green, deep blue and mauve glass are somewhat diaphanous. Glass manufacture was a very important occupation in those parts in the nineteenth century, and this is supported by Conybeare’s report. He writes:

The manufacture of glass is certainly the most peculiar, and after that of sugar the most important. The glassware produced by the manih¹rs finds its way for sale as far as a special depot at Calcutta. Nearly the whole of the Ganges water which myriads of pilgrims yearly convey from sacred Hardwar to all parts of India is carried in flasks made here. In bottles from the same workshops are stored the less palatable draught of the native druggist. The manihar works with tools of the roughest kind, in an amalgam of reh and salt petre. The art of clarifying he has not learnt, and his glass is a brittle compound of a greenish brown hue. But with a little instruction he might produce bottles such as to supplant in expensive articles now imported from England.[17]

The experiment of starting a glass manufacture factory was tried in 1868 by a European; but it failed.[18] Similarly, an attempt by the British Government to produce improved tiles failed too.

Martin says that glass manufacturers can not earn more than two rupees a month and are therefore very poor. Conybeare, giving an average rate of wages at ten years intervals, starting from 1858, shows that glass blowers’ earnings actually declined, from an average of rupees 5/- per month in 1858, to the same amount in 1868, to rupees 5 and 15 annas in 1878.[19] Yahya merely says that k¹nch is sold at the rate of one to one and a half maunds per rupee. He does not say how much the people of this profession actually earn (though he gives the wages of all others) and whether it is the price charged by the glass makers themselves or by dealers and whether glass making and glass blowing (though both are practised by the manih¹r community) should be treated as one or separate professions. He does treat bangle making as a separate profession, more lucrative than glass manufacture. The Census of 1872 does not even mention glass manufacture or glass blowers or glass bangle makers in the list of non-agricultural occupations in the district of Bareilly.[20]

Yahya' s account of glass manufacture is followed by a description of the manufacture of glass bangles (chØÅ»). He says that there are three qualities and about twenty varieties distinguished by different colours; each variety has a distinct name too. On the best quality there is silver work. He gives prices of the different qualities and some varieties. He says that a bangle maker could earn something from one anna to two annas per day and some of them could even go up to three or four annas per day. So an average bangle maker’s wage would be rupees four per month and a skilled artist could earn up to seven or eight rupees in a month.

Yahya’s third illustration and its corresponding description are about the manufacture of lac bangles. He reports the price of a "set" (a set is comprised of thirty to forty bangles) of these bangles as one to two and a half annas. One man in a day could produce up to four sets. A lakher¹, that is a craftsman who makes lac bangles, could earn four annas a day or more. Lac bangles, reports Yahya, are worn by Hindus not Muslims. Lakher¹s are Hindus while manih¹rs are Muslims. The average wage of a lakher¹ is more than that of a glass bangle maker.

Yahya’s choice of describing a crimper and his craftsmanship as one of the eleven crafts has proved more useful to the modern student than what he may have imagined at the time of writing. Crimpers were tailors by profession and training. Crimping disappeared by the late nineteenth century and is not mentioned much even in poetry since then; although references to it are common in the Urdu poetry of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century. The word now survives as part of an idiom used pejoratively.[21] Since the procedure of crimping involved beating or inscribing patterns on cloth with a hot iron rod shaped somewhat like a sword, the idiom is uttu ban¹n¹, to literally beat someone so much as to leave marks on the body; uttu karna ‘to bother someone, to fool someone'.

Musahafi (1750-1824) wrote an entire ghazal using the imagery of crimping with the word uttu (to crimp) as an unusual, quaint rad»f. I translate some shers from the ghazal to illustrate the potential of meaning that the idiom implies:

Is it not enough that wounds have crimped my body

that now the cruel one is crimping my coffin cloth with her sword.

What delicateness, look, a touch from the breeze

can cause the petals and flowers to be crimped.

Why do they brand culprits with a hot iron rod?

ask those who practise the art of crimping.

A warm breeze is blowing in the garden today

its purpose: to crimp flowery patterns on the garden’s cloak.[22]

In the 1820s, crimpers were in great demand and the craft fetched good money. In one day, each of Yahya’s crimpers could earn four to six annas, and if he was good, he could even earn eight annas a day. Eight annas a day would mean an average wage of 12-15 rupees per month. Their women wore gold and silver jewellery, rather than jewellery made of brass, as was common among the poorer classes at that time. The Census of 1872 does not include crimping in the list of non-agricultural occupations in Bareilly District. It seems that the fate of crimping and crimpers was dictated by the fashion in clothes at that time which in turn was influenced by the tastes of the ruling elite. The decline of the local elite and the utter ruin of most of the Afghan chiefs in the ceded provinces (Rohilkhand in this case) must have diminished the demand for crimping to such an extent that it disappeared. Since crimpers were tailors anyway, they must have, one hopes, reverted to their original profession.

The accounts of Tennant, a clergyman, who passed through the area in 1799, and Bishop Heber’s narrative of his journey through the upper provinces of India (1824-25) describe Bareilly as a ruined city crowded with unemployed, restless Rohilla Pathans. Mr. Tennant writes:

Bareilly is a large town and is crowded with inhabitants who loiter or wander through the streets without much appearance of business. It is probable that the want of protection forces a great number into town but how they support themselves there does not admit an easy solution. Few manufactures are vended in a country where the inhabitants are scanty, and where even these are so poor as not to aspire at any of the luxuries of life. Sweetmeats and confections, different kinds of grain and ornaments for the women, seem a great part of the commodities that are offered for sale in the shops. Brazen water pots are manufactured here, but in smaller quantities since the ruin or emigration of all the wealthy chiefs.[23]

Bareilly is a poor ruinous town, in a pleasant and well wooded but still a very flat country. The Rohillas are a clever animated race of people, but devoid of principle, false and ferocious... The country is burdened with a crowd of lazy, profligate, self-called suwarrs, who though, many of them are not worth a rupee, conceive it derogatory to their gentility and Pathan blood to apply themselves to any honest industry, and obtain for the most part of precarious livelihood by spunging on the industrious tradesmen and farmers on whom they levy a sort of "blackmail" or as hangers on to the few noble and wealthy families yet remaining in the province.[24]

It is not surprising to find both Tennant and Heber justifying British rule and directly blaming the Nawabs of Awadh for tyranny and misrule in these territories. Heber’s account of Bareilly and its people is uncomfortably similar to Tennant’s and their prejudices so obvious. While both Heber and Tennant base their judgements on what they were told by the British officers who happened to be their hosts (Boulderson in the case of Heber), they saw only what they decided to see. Their anxiety in laying the blame of the ruin of Bareilly on the door of the Nawabs of Awadh prompted them to make statements, which are not supported by facts. In the eighteenth century these very regions were extremely prosperous. One indication of the prosperity was the brisk trade in the area. A very large number of banj¹r¹s carried items of trade between Bihar and Awadh and Rohilkhand. Agriculture registered a marked improvement. In the Rohilla country in the Moradabad-Bareilly region, the rise in the jama (total revenue as assessed) was almost incredible, over 247%. It is also noteworthy that European merchants rushed to these regions after the Company’s victory over the Mughal Emperor and the Nawab of Awadh in 1764.[25]

Nevertheless, both Heber and Tennant recognise and admit that the ruin or emigration of the local chiefs (who were also the patrons of the local industries) following the establishment of British rule, was responsible for the decline of many of the local crafts. Maybe Glyn was somewhat farsighted when he asked Yahya to write an account of crafts and craftsmen; he perceived the imminent decline of some of these crafts and wanted the procedure of manufacture to be recorded. Whether Glyn was interested in reconstructing aspects of economic life or was investigating the sources and possibilities of returns on capital investments, or was simply interested in local arts and crafts, are questions which Yahya could be addressing, but has not fully addressed.

Gram parchers and their tools are the fifth category of craftsmen mentioned by Yahya. They were, according to him, "lower class people." They earned their living by roasting grain and received no fixed cash payment for their services. Often it was a proportionate weight to the entire load (of grain) to be roasted for a customer. The men folk simply wore a loin cloth and the womenfolk’s jewellery was made of the cheapest metal-tin.

James Skinner"s Tashr»h-ul-Aqw¹m,[26] a voluminous work investigating the origin of the various Indian people, their manners, dress, mode of worship, professions, etc. which he caused to be compiled or translated from "Sanskrit sources into Persian" and presented it to General John Malcolm in August 1825, gives this interesting description of the origin of grain parchers:

A man from the Kah¹r[27] caste disregarding the dictates of religion and tradition married a Sudra widow...the son that was born of this union inherited from his father the art of constructing a furnace and from his mother the skill of roasting grain; in Sanskrit this profession is called ann bharjak...and in Bhaka, bharbhujah and bhujwah, that is gulkhan[28] afroz. People of this caste are by nature deceitful and irritable, they wear extremely dirty and torn clothes, blackened by the smoke from the furnace.[29]

Buchanan, Tennant, and Heber all pale in comparison to what Skinner’s Tashr»h has to say about people belonging to different professions. Blacksmiths are reported to be "selfish," goldsmiths are "cheats" and "quarrelsome." Yahya’s language does not contain the hubris of social critique indulged in by the Europeans, nor does he speak pejoratively of any of the eleven communities he has described.

Yahya’s report is extremely important for yet another reason: the seventh illustration of a pans¹ri’s shop and the description of the goods sold there, includes a unique price list of one hundred and four items. A methodical price list giving prices of groceries, so varied as to include figs, plums, apricots, asafoetida, honey, gentian, turmeric, mercury, amber, etc., when all we had so far were prices of grain or at best sugar, salt, butter or meat.

A pans¹ri, in modern terms, is a vendor of unprocessed (mufrad) spices, herbs and groceries. Yahya writes:

Pans¹ris sell minerals and dried greens, which are used in medicines and eaten directly too; and also dried fruits, except those which are sold by fruiterers... Items from the various parts of the world have been listed, each separately, and the cost price and selling price of each item has been brought to the tip of this pen (folio 15, recto).

The price list comprises 104 items, all listed under separate categories, arranged into seven tables. The different categories of merchandise are determined on the basis of the part of the world the item comes from: merchandise from the Deccan, from the East, from the mountains, from the West, and finally items which are grown locally. This kind of categorisation is not only useful in determining from where those goods are being brought for sale in the markets of Bareilly, but also offer a comparative study of prices. For example, the prices of nutmeg, mace, white cardamom, cinnamon, bamboo manna when categorised under merchandize from the Deccan (See Tables I & II), are considerably higher than the prices of the same spices as given in Table IV, and listed as merchandise from the East. Almonds from Kabul and Dostpur, (now in modern Afghanistan) raisins, currants, figs, plums, apricots, pomegranates, liquorice, pistachio nuts, asafoetida, quince and salep were some of the goods from the West. Honey, wax, turmeric, gentian, catechu, rock salt, and red pepper came from the mountains. From the East came chewing tobacco, nutmeg, sulphur, mace, cardamom, cinnamon, betel nut, sandal wood, coconut, gum, talc, amber, yellow arsenic, mercury, etc. Exclusive to the Deccan are tea, coffee beans, black pepper, cloves, and blue vitriol.

Table VII gives prices of "items which are grown here and lists anise seeds, coriander, chicory/endive, ajw¹in, garlic, white cumin seeds, tobacco, gum from the Babool tree, red rose petals (dried), amalt¹s seeds, cowach (red) and lodh (dried). An important omission is the price of sugar/jaggery. Sugarcane was the favourite crop in the environs of Bareilly. There were as many as thirteen recognised. The fact that tobacco was locally grown is corroborated by Heber; and Glyn attests to the cultivation of the red rose. Heber makes the following observation:

Within these two days I have noticed some fields of tobacco, which I do not think is a common crop in the districts through which I have hitherto marched. The Hindostane name is "tumbucco," evidently derived as the plant itself, through the Europeans, from America. How strange is that this worthless drug should have so rapidly become popular all over the world, and among people who are generally supposed to be most disinclined from the adoption of foreign customs.[30]

Glyn, giving the highest and lowest monthly earnings, writes:

Field labourers (Lodhas, Muraos, Kisans and Kurmis) earned from Rupees 2 to Rupees 6 and even Rupees 8, when tobacco, roses or cotton were the subject of culture.[31]

In 1826, a rupee could fetch approximately twenty-three sers of wheat, thirty-four sers of barely or twenty-seven sers of b¹jr¹. I give below the quantity of some important commodities that could be purchased for a rupee.[32] This gives us an idea of the purchasing power of the rupee in the 1820s:

23 Sers
1.66 Sers
3.07 Sers
6.66 Sers
0.22 Sers
Coarse Cloth
(in 1858) 4 yards
Gold (in 1858)
0.082 Tol¹
Silver (in 1858)
1 Tol¹
(Chikn» Sup¹ri)
0.8 Sers
32 Sers
1.33 Sers
66 Fruits, w/milk
57 Fruits, dry

We have information on the average wages paid to artisans in 1858. Conybeare provides a list of 22 artisans, ranging from field labourers to butchers, blacksmiths, tailors, washermen, glass blowers, dyers, goldsmiths, field labourers, who are at the lowest end of the scale, earning something like rupees 3.75 per month. Goldsmiths who are at the highest are earning only marginally better, i.e., rupees 6.32 a month. Glyn gives the following highest and lowest monthly earnings in his paper on prices and wages.[33]

Rs 2-6, sometimes 8
Rs 2-6
Rs 4-8
Rs 5-20
Rs 5-10
Rs 4-5
Rs 9-10
Rs 4-7
Litter Bearers
Rs 3-4
Water Carriers
Rs 2-4


Although the price differentials shown by Conybeare do not carry much conviction to the modern reader, one fact is obvious: so many years of Company rule (32 year to be precise) had helped depress not raise wages all around. A wage of Rs 2 was barely enough to keep one alive.

An extremely unusual source of prices of luxury goods has been explored by Professor Naiyyar Masood.[34] He has put together price lists of different varieties of cloth, clothes, bedspreads, quilt covers, ink stands, jewellery, sweets, chewing tobacco, etc. current in Lucknow in the 1890s from the occasional advertisement that he came across in some books in his personal collection of rare books and manuscripts. I have appended a translation of the lists, for not only do they provide us with a flavour of those times but also a parallel to Yahya’s list, and a valuable price index. According to Masood's list, a bolt (than), fancy dress material with gold and silver embroidery, cost Rs 15 to Rs 25 in Lucknow in 1888. A quilt made of muslin cloth cost Rs 3, a shirt about a rupee and a pair of paij¹ma or trousers also around one rupee. Since wages do not show a significant increase from 1858 to 1878, we can assume that an ordinary man could only dream of quilts and blankets as does Halku in Premchand’s (b. 1880 – d. 1936) famous story PØs k» ek R¹t (A Cold January Night). In the story, Halku, a poor peasant is torn between the choice of buying a blanket or paying his debt. Coincidentally he has three rupees which was what a blanket cost at that time, and he had saved the money pice by pice to buy a blanket.

Yahya’s description of charpoy weavers and their tools (which is the sixth illustration in the manuscript), also mentions the several styles of charpoy weaving and the wages current for them. The styles are lagpah¹r, chaukar» and guld¹r. Chaukar» may have been a pattern involving a grouping of four, or something to do with squares and guld¹r (which means ‘spotted/flowered') a floral one, but we have no clue of what kind of pattern lagpah¹r was except that it was more complicated than chaukar». Farhang-i-Istil¹h¹t-i-Peshavaran,[35] a compendium of the various crafts of India and the vocabulary and idioms associated with them, an invaluable asset for finding descriptions of such terms, unfortunately does not mention styles of charpoy weaving. Strings used for weaving charpoys were made from beb, mØnj or k¹ns. All these grasses were found in plenty in these parts of Rohilkhand. Yahya mentions the prices of beb and mØnj. He says that k¹ns was so plentiful that it was not sold in the market, but obtained free from the fields. Charpoy weavers seem to fascinate Yahya. He describes their clothes, jewellery and the food served at their marriages. In a somewhat enigmatic tone, he writes "only their men drink wine." The charpoy weaver’s (or khatbun¹ as he is called in the local parlance) "call" is like a voice from childhood. String beds, which were rewoven every summer, have been replaced by modern ‘folding beds’ with a nylon weave. The charpoy and perhaps the khatbun¹ too, still survive in the villages, but the fancy style of weaving described by Yahya has long been forgotten.

Another useful skill and an important, economically viable occupation was drawing wires from iron, brass, silver and zinc. Wire makers were either ironsmiths or goldsmiths who could be Hindu or Muslim. The manuscript describes the procedure of manufacturing wires of different kinds, and there are sharply made illustrations of the tools involved. There is a painting of a wire maker (t¹r kash) at his work. Iron wires were used for making needles, stringing musical instruments like the sitar and the tambura. Silver wire was used for making silver thread for embroidery, etc. The craftsmen bought the raw material directly and sold the finished product at a price, which was just double their cost price. Yahya quotes the cost price of the material and the selling price of different qualities of wires.

The ninth craft described by Yahya is the manufacture of various kinds of fancy thread. According to him, thread for gold and silver embroidery were manufactured by Hindus and Muslims of good family. People of "low" communities were rarely taught this art. He describes six types of silver thread and mentions prices of different types of thread and the current wages of the thread maker. The measure for these threads is described as dira', which was less than a yard. A thread maker could earn from four to ten annas in a day’s work. Skinner’s Tashr»h describes thread makers as jul¹h¹s (weavers).

The manuscript now offers an interesting diversion. It shifts to a description of the various types of kab¹bs and methods of cooking them. What follows are recipes for the different varieties of kab¹bs (it was probably the inclusion of these recipes that caused the misunderstanding leading to the manuscript being described and advertised as a 'cookbook'.

Yahya says that, in addition to the kab¹bs described by him, there are numerous other varieties. He mentions the names of some of them too – but regrets that "this book does not have the capacity to describe each and every kab¹b in detail (folio 28, recto)." The following is a list of the names of kab¹bs mentioned by Yahya. The recipes for the first ten are given: dampukht, m¹h» kab¹b, kofta kab¹b, pasandah kab¹b, sh¹min kab¹b, g»l¹ni kab¹b, mur°h kab¹b, sh¹h pasand kab¹b, b¹ndhnØ kab¹b, baizah kab¹b, kab¹b-i-Husaini, biranj» kab¹b, miy¹nah paz kab¹b, mo­» kab¹b.

Yahya now clarifies that the kab¹bs described by him are prepared by cooks of wealthy people and are not sold in the market. Why he digresses to include recipes is a question which may admit of several answers, none of them quite satisfactory. It is an anomaly, just as the anomaly of having the book titled as Kit¹b-i-tas¹v»r-i-shish¹gar¹n..., while the latter are only one and not a very important class of people described here. Yahya brings in kab¹bs perhaps, because (a) Mr. Glyn was fond of kab¹bs; (b) as a connoisseur of kab¹bs, he knew the recipes and could not resist the impulse to include them; (c) kab¹b making was so different from glass making, wire making, etc., that he felt it required special treatment in the text; (d) he included the kab¹bs to make the ms. more interesting (which is true); (e) the kab¹bs sold in the market are of such low quality compared to these exotic varieties that he could not resist the temptation of impressing his reader. This last explanation, that since high quality kab¹bs were not sold in the market, and the future reader could not known about them, seems to be the most plausible. Yahya clearly wrote with an eye to posterity.

After giving his special recipes, Yahya describes the ordinary kab¹b, which is simply cow or goat meat ground into a paste with a liberal mixture of red chillies, salt and, perhaps, other spices. The paste is stuck on iron skewers, roasted and then sold. Incredibly, he says that from one ser of meat, one hundred fifty kab¹bs can be prepared. (This sounds somewhat incredible given that a ser is roughly two lbs., but perhaps those kab¹bs were smaller than what they are now.) Fifty cow meat kab¹bs and thirty goat meat kab¹bs are sold for one anna. He omits the price of the meat.

The last illustration is of a goldsmith and his tools. There is a painting of the goldsmith at work. Yahya distinguishes between a son¹r and a s¹dahk¹r. Both are goldsmiths but son¹rs are generally Hindus and s¹dahk¹rs, Muslims. S¹dahk¹rs also craft things other than jewellery, like fancy boxes and p¹nd¹n (a special box to keep the various condiments for preparing p¹n, i.e., betel leaf). They are also expert in working with precious stones. From Yahya’s account it seems that the "making" charges were different for different ornaments. For a silver kar¹ and hansl» the charges were a quarter anna per tol¹; for a gold kar¹ and hansl» two annas per tol¹. For a silver arsi, challa, pahunc», b¹zubandh and t¹wiz, one anna to two annas per tol¹ and for the same ornaments in gold it was four to six annas per tol¹. In 1858, the average "making" charges were one to four annas per tol¹ for silver and eight annas to a rupee per tol¹ for gold.[36] A very nominal increase in "making" charges in a period of thirty-eight years. Unfortunately, Yahya does not give the price of gold and silver in 1820. Gold was Rs 16 per tol¹ and silver one or one and a quarter rupees per tol¹ in 1858. One can assume that prices would have risen during this period, but this is not reflected in the wages earned by the craftsmen.

Yahya concludes his report on goldsmiths and his "eleven illustrations" with a list of names of ornaments and current weights. This list consisting of fifty-two names, half of which are perhaps no longer a part of either a modern woman’s or jeweller’s vocabulary, are certainly of great interest to the historian and linguist. The technical differences denoted by the different names for ornaments have been elaborated in the glossary.

Our knowledge of Indian society during British rule in the nineteenth century has rested primarily on four sources: (1) the voluminous records of the East India Company; (2) the works of various Europeans; (3) the writings of many Company employees; (4) the accounts of Asians writing in this period. An interesting first hand and very useful alternative source is accounts of Asians writing under British patronage or, as in our case, on receiving orders from a British administrator. The Kit¹b-i-tas¹v»r-i-sh»shagar¹n wa°hairah wa bay¹n-¹l¹t-i-anh¹ occupies a special middle space in writings belonging to this particular genre. Compared to other accounts relating to professional crafts in the early nineteenth century, such as Montgomery Martin’s detailed History..., and James Skinner’s description of the various communities in his Tashr»h, Yahya's account is brief. It was probably limited by orders from his patron Glyn, because Yahya often justifies his brevity by saying that he wants to avoid a lengthy discourse or that it is not in the nature of this work to give more details. The scope of Yahya’s work is quite different from that of Martin or Skinner. Unlike Buchanan and Martin, he does not talk about the "smallness" of wages, the "wretchedness" of the dwellings of the wage earners, the "scantiness" of their food or clothing, the superstitions which "pervade" their minds, and the "immorality" that debases their character.[37] His account is dispassionate, matter-of-fact and nonjudgmental. ro-economic zone, the district of Bareilly. The account is dispassionate and matter-of-fact. His emphasis is more on providing a description of the tools, which he does through drawings and by naming each tool and implement used for manufacture. This is an important deviation from Martin’s approach. Martin’s description of manufactures is certainly more detailed, but he does not describe the tools used by the craftsmen. Skinner’s Tashr»h is beautifully illustrated with the most meticulous and endearing paintings of almost all the craftsmen at work. These paintings show a large number of tools. But they are not labeled. Most of the tools in the paintings in the Tashr»h can be easily identified from Yahya’s illustrations.

What prompted Yahya in selecting these particular eleven crafts/trades is a question that needs to be addressed. There could be several answers, the most obvious is that in his eye these were the most important crafts in that area. But if such was the case, why then include gram parchers? They can be found everywhere – even in present times and strictly speaking grain roasting can not be called an important craft of any area. The same is true for kab¹b making. A kab¹b maker or a kab¹bch» hails from the bavarch» community of cooks, and has recipes for kab¹bs, but professionally a kab¹bch» is as different from a bavarch» as a crimper is from a tailor. Kab¹b making and selling is not an important trade, but a special one. This explains Yahya’s choice of a crimper instead of a tailor and a kab¹b specialist instead of a mere cook. If glass manufacture and glass bangle manufacture are important enough to merit inclusion, why omit glass blowers or makers of glassware like bottles, phials, etc. which was by all accounts an important industry in that area. A possible explanation could be the quality of the product, which was poor, compared to the European glassware. Yahya decides to include the bangle maker and exclude the glass blower. The charpoy weaver’s craft is as commonplace as a gram parcher’s. Yahya himself says that in the village people of other communities can weave charpoys too. Perhaps his choice of a charpoy weaver was justified because beb, mØnj, and k¹ns, which are grasses from which the strings to weave charpoys are made, grow abundantly in this area. In fact, k¹ns was so plentiful that no one paid for it. Yahya’s inclusion of a wire drawer, instead of a blacksmith and a thread maker instead of a weaver are in conformity with his pattern of selecting the specialist sub-trade instead of the commonplace one. The choice of pans¹ri may have been directed by Glyn’s interest in native drugs (there is a one-line reference to Glyn’s role in setting up the local dispensary in Conybeare’s report), or his interest in prices. Goldsmiths and pans¹ris are among the well-to-do traders.

The Eleven Illustrations therefore presents a random sample of crafts practised in the Rohilkhand area. From glass making to grain parching and from crimping to selling kab¹bs and spices and making gold ornaments, Yahya has covered a wide ground. His cool, scientific, observational style, make his account so much more reliable in the bargain. Its apparent lack of human interest is perhaps its most important asset today, because his text addresses the "Indian" from a reporter's perspective, and not that of a person setting up judgements and "standards."


[1] Siy¹q is a system of numeration in which a simplified Arabic alphabet is used but the symbols employed have no connection with the actual alphabetical order or the numerical values of the letters of the Arabic alphabet as described in various systems such as the rule of abjad or jumal and so on. It was mostly used for book-keeping.

[2] Glyn, Robert Thomas. Date of rank as Writer: September 27, 1804. 1807 March 11: Assistant to the Registrar of the Provincial Court of Benares; 1807 September 25: Assistant Magistrate of the city of Benares; 1810 August 27: Registrar of the Civil Court of Benares; 1813 April 23: Officiating as Judge and Magistrate of Bundelkhand; 1814: at home; 1817 August 27: returned to India; 1817 December 16: Additional Registrar of Meerut; 1818 February 10: Acting Judge and Magistrate of Bareilly and Joint Magistrate at Bulundshahr; 1819 February 12: Judge and Magistrate at Bareilly; 1823: at home; 1828: out of service. Cf. Alphabetical List of the Bengal Civil Servants; ed. and compiled by Ms. Dodwell and Miles, London: Longman, Orme, Brown & Co., 1839.

[3] Statistical, Descriptive, and Historical Account of the North-Western Provinces of India; compiled by H. C. Conybeare, and edited by E. T. Atkinson; Vol. 5; Rohilkhand Division, Allahabad, 1879; p. 633. Conybeare gives a footnote on p. 634 in which he says that "those who would pursue further the subject of prices and wages in this district should refer to Mr. Glyn's paper in J. A. S. B., I, 467"; page 467 of the J.A.S.B., Vol. I does not contain this paper.

[4] Asiatic Researches; or Transactions of the Society Instituted in Bengal, for inquiring into the History and antiquities, the Arts, Science and Literature of Asia, London. The first volume in this series appeared in 1788 and the second followed in 1790. The journal continued to be published until 1839 and them was abandoned. From 1832 onwards, The Asiatic Society of Bengal began publishing its proceedings as the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal. It was published from Calcutta.

[5] See Conybeare; op. cit., p. 633.

[6] For more details, see Iqbal Husain, The Rise and Decline of the Ruhela Chieftaincies in 18th Century India, Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1994, chapter 1. "Katiher by and large consisted of the two sark¹rs Badaun and Sambhal. Najmul Ghani says that Katiher consisted of the modern districts of Bareilly, Muradabad and Badaun," p. 4, fn. 25.

[7] When the Ain-i-Akbari was compiled (c 1595-6), Katiher was largely held by Rajputs of different clans such as Bachal, Gaur, Chauhan and Rathor. See Iqbal Husain, op. cit., p. 6.

[8] Iqbal Husain, op. cit., p. 97.

[9] Bahadur Khan Ruhela and Diler Khan Ruhela were important nobles at the court of the Mughal Emperor Shahjahan. As a reward for defeating the Katehriyas a perpetual grant of 14 villages was conferred upon Bahadur Khan who asked his brother Diler Khan to lay the foundations of a new city. Shahjahanpur was established in 1647. It became a strong Afghan township where 9,000 Afghans settled, migrating from Roh, the mountainous area south of Khaibar. They were invited to come and settle by Bahadur Khan.

[10] The Nawab Vazirs of Awadh who clashed with the Rohillas were: Saadat Khan Burhan-ul Mulk (1720-39), Safdar Jung (1739-56), Shuja-ud Daulah (1756-75). The combined forces of Shuja-ud Daulah and the British defeated Hafiz Rahmat Khan in 1774.

[11] Farrukhabad was the seat of the Bangash Nawabs. Muhammad Khan Bangash was the founder of the settlement. The jagir was conferred upon him by Farrukhsiyar (1713-19)in 1713 as reward for services rendered by him in the war of succession.

[12] Nawab Safdar Jung of Awadh enlisted the help of the Marathas against the Bangash Nawabs. The Bangash Nawabs sought help from the Rohillasl. The latter were defeated in 1750. The Marathas again invaded Rohilla territory this time attacking Bijnor in 1759.

[13] See Conybeare, op. cit. p. 677.

[14] Ibid.

[15] In 1837, Montgomery Martin was permitted to inspect the manuscripts, with a view to selection from them for publication. Martin edited Buchanan's survey report and published it in five volumes with the title The History, Antiquities, Topography and Statistics of Eastern India in 1838. It's first Indian reprint is by Cosmo Publications, Delhi, 1976. See Martin's Introduction in Vol. 4, pp. 3-5.

[16] See Martin, op. cit., Vol. 1, p. 332; also Vol. 2, pp. 250-252.

[17] See Conybeare, op. cit., pp. 334-335.

[18] Ibid. p. 727.

[19] Ibid. p. 336.

[20] The census report of 1872 for Bareilly District lists the following non-agricultural occupations pursued by more than fifty males. The occupations have been listed in the descending order, i.e., the maximum number of persons were servants, then labourers, shopkeepers, weavers, shoemakers, beggars, purohit (or family priests), water-carriers, tailors, bricklayers, goldsmiths, butchers, potters, pandits (or doctors of Hindu divinity and law), sweepers, carpenters, merchants, washermen;, clothsellers, blacksmiths, grain-dealers, wire-drawers, confectioners, persons of unspecified trade, including probably many bad characters, cotton-cleaners, grocers, dyers, grain-parchers, flower-sellers, fish mongers, blanket-weavers, oil-makers, peddlers, singers and musicians, tobacco-sellers, green grocers, lac-workers, money-changers, betel-leaf sellers, milk and butter sellers, cart-drivers, inn-keepers, doctors, school masters, cooks, tinmen and tinkers, and moneylenders. Cf., Conybeare, op. cit., p. 717.

[21] See John T. Plats, A Dictionary of Urdu, Classical Hindi and English (originally published in 1884 by Clarendon Press, Oxford), Indian Reprint, New Delhi, 1993, p. 17.

[22] Cited from Kulliyat-i-Musahafi, Vol. I, ed. Nur-ul-hasan Naqvi, published as Majlis-i-Ishaat-i-adab, Delhi; Delhi, April, 1967.

[23] W. Tennant, Indian Recreations, London, 1799. Cited from Conybeare, op. cit., pp. 674-675.

[24] See Reginald Heber, Narrative of a Journey Through the Upper Provinces of India, Vol. I, London, 1849, p. 243.

[25] Cf. Muzaffar Alam, The Crises of Empire in Mughal North India, Awadh and the Punjab 1707-1748, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1986. See pp. 247-254. For more details see Chapter VII.

[26] Tashr»h-ul-Aqw¹m, manuscript no. ADD. 27255 PS/2/6493 at the British Museum. Rotograph no. 216 at the Library of the Centre for Advanced Studies in History, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh. Tashrih comprises three books or fasls. The first book describes the conditions of the rulers of India – Shah-i-Hind. The second describes the condition of the Hindus. This is again divided into four parts. The first part is a general description of the four varnas. The second has four sub-sections each devoted to one of the four varnas. Third and the most important part from our point of view describes the origin of the various professional castes aulad-i-vishvakarma. The fourth part focuses on other mixed castes of Hindus like mendicants and sadhus. The third book deals with the condition of the Muslims – the ordinary or worldly people, and those who have renounced the world like fakirs etc.

[27] Kahar is a caste of Hindus whose profession was to carry palanquins, etc. and to draw water. It seems the author is confused between kumhar i.e., a potter, and kahar.

[28] Gul-khan is furnace, fire-place or stove. Gul-khan afroz is one who lights the furnace.

[29] See Tashrih, op. cit., Bk. II, Rotograph p. 84.

[30] Heber, op. cit., p. 240.

[31] See Conybeare, op. cit., p. 633.

[32] The prices for coarse cloth, gold and silver are from Statistical, Descriptive and Historical Account of the North-Western Provinces of India, Vol. 3, edited by A. T. Atkinson, p. 78. The rest of the prices are from Yahya's account.

[33] See Conybeare, op. cit., p. 633.

[34] Naiyyar Masood, Awadh ki Tahzibi Tarikh ki Jhalkiyan Puranay Makhazon Se in the Urdu monthly Naya Daur, Lucknow, Nov. 1991, pp. 12-20.

[35] Farang-i-Ishtilahat-i-peshvaran compiled by Malvi Zufar-ur-Rahman, published by Anjuman-i-Taraqqi-i-Urdu, Delhi, 1941.

[36] See Atkinson, op. cit.

[37] Martin writes in his Introduction "That a survey containing such materials, offering so vivid a description of the social aspect of millions of fellow subjects, and corroborating every useful fact by minute statistics, should have remained so long in obscurity is indeed to be deplored, and can only be accounted for by supposing that it was deemed impolitic to publish to the world so painful a picture of human poverty, debasement and wretchedness..."