Thursday, April 17, 2014

Confessions of a Thug - Meadows Taylor

This is definitely one of the the most unusual books I have ever read. First published in 1793, it is written by Meadows Taylor who one can presume safely, was with the East India Company, and who had access to getting information from a thug first hand. Taylor does a fine job of relating the account of the fearsome life of a professional thug and life in the 1700s in India. I must thank Ramesh for insisting that I read this book.

The book starts directly with Ameer Ali recounting his initiation into Thugee, a profession of waylaying, inveigling unsuspecting travellers and robbing and murdering them for money and other goods. As a young boy Ameer Ali's parents are waylaid by  gang of thugs who make them believe that they are soldiers or businessmen. Thugs normally kill every single member of the parties they take after, but here, the gang leader Ismail, takes a fancy to the young Ameer Ali and against all advise, adopts him.

Young Ameer Ali is taught all the tricks of the trade by seasoned thugs and he is a good learner. The profession has strict laws and regulations, signs and systems, roles and responsibilities. Their goddess is Bhavani and they believe that it is because of the permission or grace granted to them by goddess Bhavani, that they are allowed to kill and murder and loot. They do not kill all - some communities and castes are exempt, lame and blind people are exempt. They have a way of seeing omens, send people called sothas to search for victims or bunij, have expert bhuttotes or people who murder the victims by using kerchiefs to strangle them quickly and silently, and lughas who dig mass graves, strip the victims of all valuables and bury them in a fashion that they cannot be discovered by man or animal. So well organised is the entire effort that it is chilling to note the manner in which they get rid of their victims without remorse and go to dispose and share the loot.

From a place called Jhalone the gang moves together towards Hyderabad, murdering businessmen, nawabs, common people, robbers, thieves and collecting booty as they go along. Ameer Ali grows up to be a fine bhuttote and shows all the cunning of a good leader.He also finds love, rescues Zora, whom he loses in Hyderabad. finds another woman Azima whom he marries. His gang members help the young leader as he connives, plots, murders while maintaining the garb of a businessman and a noble man. He joins the marauding Pindharis and learns much from them as he rebuilds his gang.

Towards the end Ameer Ali ignores the omens which are so crucial for the profession of thugs and finds himself in bad shape. He loses his son, his wife, his father, kills his own sister unknowingly, is thrown into jail, driven out of the kingdom, jailed and finally turns approver for the British who are keen on putting an end to this miserable profession. By then Ameer Ali thug has murdered close to 700 people.

It is a fascinating account of the lawlessness of those days. It is obviously all true and recounted so well and in detail. The thugs show no remorse, no mercy, work in superb coordination. Their methods, eating the goor of Tupounee, after every successful outing, and so many others are simply unimaginable. Without doubt it is one of the most unusual books I have ever read, written in a delightful fashion by Meadows Taylor. Here's a book that traverses areas that I know, Maharashtra, Hyderabad (Puttun Cherroo, Karwan, Charminar, Mir Alam tank), Nagpur, Aurangabad and opens up the mind to how a dacoit or a thug can think. It is, my dear reader, chilling to know that there could be some among us who could think in such fashion, who could strangle you to death a moment after receiving help, who would do anything to get the few rupees you may carry on your body. Read it if you can get your hands on it. And if you have the stomach for murder and deceit, looting and betrayal. And certainly if you want to understand the way our country was in those days.

1 comment:

Abhinay Renny said...

Interesting stories sir. Bought it right away :D :D