Mirza Ghalib

With thanks to Francesca Orsini, Alok Rai and his family, and Fran Pritchett, we have a scan of the only photo portrait of Mirza Asadullah Ghalib. Incredible.

French Tales

Le Roi de Lahore (1877) was the second opera written by Jules Massenet (1842-1912). The tale depicts the romance of the King Alim and the temple girl Sita against the backdrop of Mahmoud Ghazni’s invasion of Lahore.1

Théodore Pavie (1811-1896) the French traveller and writer of exotica for Revue des Deux Mondes studied Sanskrit in Paris, from 1835-39 and went to Calcutta in 1839. He spent two years in India and the stories and sketches of India were published in his 1853 collection Scènes et récits des pays d’outre-mer. One of his stories, “Les babouches du Brahmane”, became the inspiration for Leo Dalibés’s opera Lakmé (1883).2

Pavie also translated the story of Padmini, the fourteenth century queen of Rajputs, from James Tod’s Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan in 1856, La Légende de Padmani, reine de Tchitor. From this Louis Laloy (1874-1944), the French literary critic, helped write a two-act opera for Albert Roussel (1869-1937), called Padmavati (composed, 1914-8).3


  1. Sita is at the temple in Lahore, where Timour, the head priest, jealously guards her while Scindia, her uncle and the minister, also desires her. Sita confesses her love for an un-named suitor, and Timour rabbles up a whole lot of people against her. At the last minute, Alim reveals himself as the lover. Alim is also the king of Lahore. Then, he has to go defend his city against the Muslim invaders. They lose the battle, the King dies. Scindia becomes the King and he takes Sita. Alim, now in Indra’s heaven, pleads his case. He is sent back to earth as a commoner but bound to Sita (and doomed to die). He shows up in time to see Sita’s wedding to Scindia. They run off together, and are chased into Indra’s temple. Where Sita stabs herself and Alim is also returned to heaven. []
  2. It tells the story of British officer Gerald who happens across the beautiful Lakmé and they fall in love. Her father Nilankantha is not so happy with this and he stabs Gerald. Lakmé hides Gerald in the forest and nurses him to health. Once better, he returns to his service. Lakmé chews some poisonous leaves and kills herself. []
  3. I trust you know that story? []

Simon Digby, Historian

Via Naim Sahib comes the sad news that Simon Digby, 79, passed away in Delhi. Anyone who has touched any scholarly/popular work on medieval to colonial India – esp. aspects of religion and art – has seen the fruits of his amazing intellect reflected in those works.

I will try and find a full biography but let me note the following from on-line sources:

SIMON DIGBY is a former fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford and a former assistant keeper in the Department of Eastern Art, the Ashmolean Museum. He continues to serve as honorary Librarian of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, a position he has held since 1971. The foremost British scholar of pre-Mughal India, he has written numerous foundational essays on Indo-Persian Sufism as well as contributing to The Cambridge Economic History of India, volume 1.

In 1919 the Royal Asiatic Society established a formal lecture in the name of Sir Richard Burton, the British traveller, scholar and translator. In 1923 it decided to bestow a medal upon the lecturer. The recipient of the medal is required to have been not just a dry-as-dust scholar but someone who has actually engaged, as Burton did, with Asian societies in the field. Among recipients of the medal have been St John Philby and Freya Stark, both renowned for their Arabian explorations, and more recently W.G. Archer, the Indian Civil Servant who collected Indian village songs and tribal art as well as introducing courtly traditions in the visual arts to the general public, and David Snellgrove, the scholar-traveller in the Hindu-Buddhist worlds of South and Southeast Asia. In 1999 Simon Digby, the scholar of Indian Sufism, was the Burton lecturer.

And his list of publications.

A great loss.

update: More details on his life and times appear in Indian Express: After a lifetime loving India, historian Digby breathes his last: in Delhi (pdf). He was truly the last great orientalist (it is high time to reclaim that word from Said).

update 2: My thanks to Prof. Shahid Amin for sending in the photograph/pdf from Indian Express.

update 3: Photograph from Indian Express, Jan 15th.

update 4: An obit in Telegraph India by Rudrangshu:
Mukherjee: “Simon was one of the last of the truly amateur scholars.”