Irfan Habib is the closest we get to Marc Bloch among Indian historians. True, the focus is much narrower but there is the same magic with the documents, and a similar talent to piece together the material living of a people. Irfan Habib has moved from a masterly analysis of the Mughal agrarian structure to a wide-ranging search after medieval technology. And now he gives us an incom¬parable atlas of the Mughal Empire based on minute knowledge and presented with complete honesty. With this atlas we may celebrate a landmark in Indian historio¬graphy. There are thirty-two sheet-maps of the empire drawn to a scale of 1:2,000,000, apart from three insets in the Intro¬duction. Of the thirty-two, as many as twenty-six are devo¬ted to northern India, with six presenting the south in large agglomerates. That, I suppose, is fair enough con¬sidering that the Mughal Empire was a northern pheno¬menon and the Aligarh exper¬tise still tends to think of the Deccan as a special case. The imbalance will doubtless be corrected eventually, as southern historiography comes into its own.
The empire in its totality is presented in the first two sheets, political and economic, and then with this rhythm the rest present different regions in sets of two. The regions are so chosen that we may com¬pare modern positions with the situation earlier. This attempt to place Mughal India in the context of later times and thus understand both a little better is central to Habib’s thought. The Intro¬duction not only explains how the atlas is to be used, what its data-base is and to what extent it is ‘reliable’, but also, and quite clearly, the attempt to compare Akbar’s India with of Curzon.
After the maps we get massive notes on each sheet. Habib does his best to explain why he has marked the maps in the way the reader sees them, and what his authorities are for doing so. This is a distinc¬tive feature of this atlas: it is very much a historian’s atlas, with no attempts to conceal ignorance or slur over difficul¬ties. Lines and dots on these sheets are not the gestures to the gods which they tend to be in historical maps of India. And there is a wealth of detail in the notes to which an ins¬tant review can do scant justice.
The atlas, therefore, is not so much a collection of maps as a major historian’s patient research over many years, pre¬sented cartographically. Each will look for his own favourite in the assemblage, and I would commend the effort to trace the suba boundaries the most. Naturally the lines are drawn across the unknown and they can at best only separate two places known to have belonged to two different administrative units. The strength of the atlas lies in the heartland of the empire but, clearly, knowledge of Rajasthan has been grow¬ing in recent years and the maps of the west are more satisfactory than those of the east. None the less, the maps of Assam deserve a special mention. The economic infor¬mation is very full, and ranges from a most help-ful mapping of the Mughal mints to the attempt to assist historians of Indian fauna by plotting the distribution of wild life.
Comparisons will inevitably be made with Schwartzberg’s Historical Atlas of South Asia, critical acclamation of which has still not died down. There are echoes of Schwartzberg in Irfan Habib. I was delighted to come across Habib’s defence of the use of ‘India’ as distinct from the vogue word South Asia. ‘The reader’, says Habib, ‘is not likely to take kindly to ‘Northern South Asia’ in¬stead of ‘Northern India’ ‘. This is the limit of levity that Irfan Habib permits himself. But, more seriously, the com¬parison is difficult to make as the two works are conceived so differently. Schwartzberg’s grand sweep and lavish, almost coffee-table production are absent in this relatively austere and singularly purposive effort. For Mughal maps, of course, Irfan Habib now defi-nitely re¬places Schwartzberg, but those of us who can will still look to Schwartzberg for his religious and cultural map and the con¬temporary cartography he re¬produces.
Irfan Habib advisedly sticks to the areas he knows, but the study of the Mughal Empire will benefit if others were now to follow him in areas he does not cover. Historians of south¬ern India may now be tempted to expand on what Habib has achieved, and historians work¬ing in regional-language sources — Marathi comes easily to mind—may try to map the mind of India, or at any rate, India’s changing society.
This atlas will undoubtedly fuel further research, and each one of us as we pore over it will discover our favourite grumble. Unusually careful for the most part, it lets us down on occasion surprising¬ly. The first two maps of the entire empire are based on the information displayed in the other sheet maps. But the area called Malabar excludes Travancore in map OA, whereas the information on which it is based, shown quite correctly in map 16A, stretches the area out to the Cape. The route from Gujarat to Agra and Delhi is shown only along the western way via Rajas-than, leaving out, unaccount-ably, the east road via Ujjain. No one should rely on this atlas to discover the areas under European control, as no distinctions have been made between Goa, which was direct¬ly and absolutely administered by the Portuguese, Cochin, where the Dutch shared the administration only from the 1660s and, say, Anjengo and Cannanore, where several European powers had their settlements but no European claimed any sovereignty. Map OB suggests the existence of an active ‘shipping area’ in Malabar, which is misleading, the Malabar ports never being distinguished for shipping. The major shipping of Mughal India clustered at Surat, Masulipatam and Hooghly. And poor Masulipatam has changed its spelling from map to map, figuring within the same set (maps OA and OB) as Masulipatam and Machhlipatan. Such a list of small grievances could be multiplied, but I would say generally that Irfan Habib, like the Mughal mansab-dar he knows best, is essentially a land animal and he feels unsettled by salt in the air.
Ashin Das Gupta is Professor of History, Viswa Bharati, Shantiniketan.