May 13, 2017

The Story of My Life by Meadows Taylor

The Story of My Life by Meadows Taylor is one of my favorite books. The 382 page book divided into 19 chapters covers Taylor's life from 1808 to 1876 - Taylor has spoken of events covering his life time. Of 19 chapters, 16 chapters are about his life in India.

His journeys in India starts in 1824 and ends at Mumbai in 1860. With a two-year break from, Taylor has spent 34 years of his 68 years in India that's half his life time. He arrives in India as a 15 year lad in search of employment with a friend's help he obtains commission in Nizam's army. He goes on a short break to England and returns in 1840 to rejoin service under Nizam. He's appointed as a political agent at Shorapur Kingdom (present day Surpur, Yadgir district, Karnataka). Taylor's objective was to bring in some order in the troubled Shorapur Kingdom. Taylor's efforts brings in order and prosperity to Surpur Samasthan; roads are constructed, water tanks are built and agriculture and trade thrives. Taylor's life at Surpur wasn't easy; his life was in constant danger; he himself designs and builds, a house away from the town, on a hill. The house has a warning system if anyone tried forcing into it. The house has survived till day, and its known as Taylor Manzil.

sketch showing a view of Shorapoor town featured in the book
A good part of this book is dedicated to his stay at Surpur.. kind of proportionate to the number of years he spent there. He was very close to the royal family; lot of details of happenings in the family is detailed, it covers almost the life time of the last king of Surpur. When Taylor is put in charge of Surpur, the throne was vacant and heir prince was a child. Taylor takes control of state administration on behalf of the prince and also takes over the role of a guardian. The prince was under Taylor's care until he attained majority. The prince and his siblings were so close to Taylor that they addressed him as Appa. Taylor was also close to ordinary people who called him Mahadev Baba. People trusted in his ability to maintain law and order.

Taylor was a multi-talented- he was a self-made engineer, an artist, an author, an explorer and had interest in archaeology too. He develops his own method of land survey and accepted by higher authorities. About 15 kms from Surpur is Bohnal lake; Taylor developed the lake and increased its capacity. He designed and built a sail-boat which was used for joy rides for himself and the royal family members.

After successfully placing the prince on the throne and handing over the administration, Taylor is transferred to Nuldurg and then to Berar. Taylor is once again put in charge of Surpur when the king has lost control over his kingdom and held at Hyderabad for trail. The king is sentenced to imprisonment at a fortress near Chennai. During the initial stages of the journey, the prince accidentally shoots himself with a revolver belonging to the military officer who was in charge of his transportation. The prince had not completed 24 years at the time of death. The prince's death had been predicted by a Brahmin astrologer at Surpur; the prediction which finally comes true. If one wishes to know about Surpur Sansthan, this is the book. Personally, I trust the information to be true.

The language is simple, it easily takes the reader to the past; as I read, I could visualize the life in 19th century. Taylor's story goes through several places I'd visited.. I try to imagine the look of the place back then. Some of the places mentioned are.. Vanadurga, Mudgal fort and Mudgal church, Lingsugur, Humnabad, Kulliane (Basava Kalyan), Raichore, Kanakagiri, Kookanoor, Anegundi and Hampi, few others. Taylor has spent few days at Anegundi, he was a guest of the king there, a descendant of Vijayanagara kings. The Raja himself takes him on a tour of Anegundi, a coracle ride in river Tungabhadra and a tour of Hampi.

During his explorations, Taylor had visited several prehistoric sites and documented them in his book titled "Megalithic tombs and other ancient remains in the Deccan." Some of the sites mentioned are-
Megalithic tombs of Rajan Kollur
Prehistoric Ash Mounds of Budihal
Prehistoric Stone Alignment of Vibhutihalli

Taylor has referred to different communities such as Hindoos, Lingayaths, Brahmins, Beydurs, Musalmans, Rohillas, and Arabs. I'd read the word Rohilla in 'Sri Sai Satchartitra' and thought it was a name of a person. The book is truly a source of historic information.

Tatylor though married and being a father, hardly tells anything about his family. He mentions about his injuries and health issues due to warm climatic conditions. After his tour of Hampi, he camps for several days at a hill called Ramandurga near Sandur. He chooses the place because of its cool weather where he regains his lost health.

The story also describes the tense moments during the Indian Mutiny; how the British dealt with the situation. During his last year in India, i.e. 1860, while talking about his journey from Hyderabad to Mumbai, Taylor mentions that a railway line connected Solapur to Mumbai.

The little book is hardbound and costed me Rs.765.

Besides Taylor's bungalow at Shorapur, some of his personal belongings have been preserved at the Government Museum at Gulbarga. Though not in great condition, one can get to see his pallakki (palanquin), table, chair, sofa sets and few other smaller items.


Siddeshwar said...

Today is Taylor's death anniversary.

kalsakri said...

The book is here in PDF format ...