From Medicine, the Army and Mediation to the Mughal Court – The New Indian Express
Express news service
“No European traveler had lived in India for so long. Normally, firangi trips to India lasted no more than two or three years,” says author Marco Moneta. Perhaps this is what fascinated him to deepen and learn more about the life of Nicolo Manucci. Moneta’s work, A Venetian at the Mughal Court -The Life and Adventures of Nicolo Manucci, traces the life of a European who made India his homeland for more than seventy years.
This non-fiction work is a detailed account of the traveller’s life in the land when it was under Mughal rule – during the time of Shah Jahan, Aurangazeb and Shah Alam (Bahadur I). From an inexperienced teenager eager to travel the world to becoming a renowned self-taught doctor and diplomat, the book tells the story of a man who witnessed and saw India’s power struggle in the 16th century. rise to power in an unknown world.
How did you know Nicolo Manucci?
I was particularly interested in Indian culture because it was a different encounter from the one Columbus experienced in the New World at the end of the 15th century, a world totally unknown until then.
The Indian world was certainly not unknown to Europeans, because of relationships dating back to Antiquity (Alexander the Great, the Roman Empire…). However, until the first European ship, that of Vasco da Gama, reached the coast of Malabar, the European presence in India had been practically nil.
The European presence in India only became relevant from the beginning of the 16th century. Many have written accounts of their travels and stays in India. It was while reading these stories that I came across Nicolo Manucci and his Storia do Mogor.
What prompted you to write non-fiction?
It immediately dawned on me that Manucci’s figure, his manuscript, and his Indian experience stood out from those of other European travelers. Mainly because of the length of his stay in India. Second, Manucci’s manuscripts stood out for the breadth, quality and richness of the stories in the Storia do Mogor.
The manuscript consists of thousands of pages and further contains an extremely articulate account of Manucci’s life as well as the historical vicissitudes of his period, i.e. during the regencies of Shah Jahan, Aurangzeb and Bahadur I. They also distinguished themselves by the strong personality of Manucci, which is reflected in the pages of the manuscript.
As I wrote, it is “an absorbing tale, brimming with exuberant, uncontrollable subjectivity and represented as one long uninterrupted take, of the experiences, thoughts and emotions of an extraordinary firangi”.
Tell us about your research.
I was involved in this project for about four to five years, which took up over 50 percent of my time. Reading of Manucci’s manuscripts (which had been partially transcribed by William Irvine and published in 1910 under the title Storia do Mogor), comparison of his two drafts (the one sent to Catrou in France and the one sent to the Senate of Venice), and review by literature criticism, I traveled several times in India in the footsteps of Manucci, following the many routes he had traveled and stopping in the places where he had lived: Goa, the Deccan, the North, and in Tamil Nadu.
It was not always possible to cross the words of Manucci. When talking about himself, Manucci often tends to exaggerate his own adventures, his successes and the role he played in events. He probably thought very highly of himself. But when he talks about real events, his testimony seems to be substantially reliable.
One example concerns the house and garden in the black city of Madras (ie the part of Madras inhabited by European Catholics, Armenians and Hindus); this is where Manucci claims to have lived with his wife Elizabeth before moving to the Big Mount (or St. Thomas Mount) house. If we consult the plan of the city made by Herman Moll in 1726 on the basis of that commissioned by Governor Thomas Pitt in 1710, the place where Manucci lived with his wife is clearly indicated as “Manoucha’s Garden”.
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