The Autobiography of An Indian Indentured Labourer by Munshi Rahman Khan is a volume that is the English translation of the autobiography of a first generation indentured worker who migrated from Uttar Pradesh in India to Dutch Surinam in Latin America. He left India in 1898 at the age of twenty-four and died in Surinam in 1972, where his family grew and prospered slowly. His autobiography, Jeevan Prakash, written in Devanagri and more or less completed in 1943, has been translated into English by Kathinka Sinha-Kerkhoff, Ellen Bal and Alok Deo Singh. This translation, published in 2005 by Shipra Publications, is truly the ‘Autobiography of an Unknown Indian.’ The author was born in 1874 in Uttar Pradesh, the descendant of Afghan Pathans, who had settled in Jalalpur. The first part of the autobiography is an account of the childhood and youth of Rahman Khan. It is a valuable text because it provides a glimpse of life in India at the local level. The impression one gets is that life in the locality was strongly influenced by religious and caste identities, but conflict was either muted or absent.
January 2006, volume 30, No 1