What was an Indian prince doing in the retinue of a French envoy at Constantinople in 1796? When Sultan Selim III, struck by the sight of a fellow Muslim in a French cortège, asked how he got there, he was told the traveller’s extraordinary story.
It had begun in 1772 with the annexation by the East India Company of Broach, a coastal town in Gujarat. Twenty years later, four sons of the town’s deposed nawab headed towards London to seek redress. One of them, Ahmad Khan, reached Paris during the Reign of Terror and told his story to the new Revolutionary regime. Yet, although his tale was true, he was not the man he claimed to be.
Uncovering the elusive paper trail of a group of travellers across early colonial India, the Ottoman Empire, and Revolutionary France, Markovits pieces together an astonishing range of fragments from a vast multilingual archive to illuminate in vivid detail how navigating regimes of protection and assistance was key to their securing a passage to Europe. The petitions the travellers submitted along the way and the stories of travails they contained were instrumental in fuelling their journey. They are also recognisably counter-narratives to dominant Eurocentric accounts of the Age of Revolutions.
Taking readers backstage to challenge them into thinking how these stories can be turned into history, this book – looking at the material world of travellers, “passing” strategies, identification, translation and mistranslation, and the global micro-politics of mobility more generally – represents a brilliant and immensely readable contribution to connected histories.