Interview: Roy Moxham on "Malabar Dreams"

May 13, 2006
kamla bhatt

Last week when I was in London I met with author Roy Moxham author of The Great Hedge of India and Tea: Addiction, Exploitation and Empire. He is currently in the middle of writing his third book titled, Malabar Dreams.

You can listen to the audio interview here.

His new book is set against the backdrop of the European arrival to India: late 15th century to mid 18th century. In the audio interview Mr. Moxham talks about the book and his trips up and down the coast of western India: Kerala, Konkan, Goa, Maharasthra and Gujarat. He spent over 6 months travelling the coast and tried to map the places on land to what he had read in various books, essays and travel accounts of Europeans. His belief is that at some point you need to get out of the ivory tower and see for yourself all these places and get an idea of the terrain, the weather etc. That helps in better understanding some of the challenges the early settlers might have had when they came to India.

During his trip down the coast he made some rather fascinating discoveries, especially about the naval history of India. The interesting thing is that when we talk of India in this period we rarely associate it with any kind of naval history. Mr. Moxham argues that the Indian navy was a pretty well-equipped one and did create quite a bit of challenge to the early Europeans. He talks about the "sidhis" the Africans admirals, who worked for various Muslim rulers in India. According to him "sidhis" is a term used to define the sea faring people from Africa, as well as to slaves who came to India from Mozambique. The early slaves were brought to India by the Portuguese settlers.

During our off-line conversation Mr. Moxham mentioned that there are three or four versions of where exactly Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese explorer first landed in Kerala, India. He has been diligently reading up various old accounts about da Gama's trips, including a book written by someone who travelled with the explorer to India.

Apparently there is a monument in Woolich, UK, that was built after the British defeated the Angre navy in India. I believe the monument is called Sevanagar monument. It is interesting that the naval history of India is usually side-lined when one talks about the 16th to the 18th century.

Mr. Moxham's new book is due to hit the book-stands sometime in mid-2007.

If you have not read his first two book, give it a shot. His first book "The Great Hedge of India" is about a customs line that the British built to prevent salt smuggling. This was a Hadrian wall of sorts that ran from the Himalayas to the Deccan plateau. This was a pretty wide and thick hedge and was policed by the British to prevent smuggling of salt between British Indian states and the Indian states (Given the context, now Gandhi's Dandi salt march makes a lot of sense to me.)

The book makes for an interesting read, and what is puzzling is that there is no trace of this huge hedge that ran half-way through India, and there is no mention of the hedge in mainstream British writing of this period (19th century). The lack of any mention of this hedge is very puzzling since the British wrote diligently about every little thing, and had huge commissions and reports that they churned out regularly. An interesting footnote about the hedge is that A.O. Hume, a well-known British bureaucrat (he was involved in the founding of India's Congress Party in the late 1890s) was also involved in looking after this custom's line. Here is another footnote about A.O. Hume according to Mr. Moxham...he was also interested in conserving plants and in fact founded a society in London to conserve plants. I wonder how many more footnotes are there waiting to be be discovered...

Parts of this post have been cross-posted in my own sites.

Kamla Bhatt produces and hosts an Internet radio show The show is also featured on a Silicon Valley-based She blogs at and, a travel blog. Life, People and Ideas is the underlying and unifying theme for her show and blogs.
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May 13, 2006
10:30 AM



HERE is clew's review of the book....roy has a home page HERE which has a map of the hedge and HERE you can read his paper on the salt tax

May 15, 2006
08:53 AM

Thanks Temporaol!


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