A JOURNEY FROM BENGAL TO ENGLAND, "through the northern part of India, Kashmīr, Afghanistan, Persia, and into Russia by the Caspian Sea," by George Forster, 2 vols., was first published in 1790 and reprinted in 1970 by the Languages Department, Punjab, Paṭiālā. The book is an account of travels, perhaps the first ever in this part of the world by a European writer. The first volume relates to the author's journey from Calcutta to the Punjab with a section on Hindu mythology, a brief history of the Ruhīlās and a description of the origin and growth of the Sikhs in the Punjab. The narrative about the Punjab begins with sketches in chronological order of the ten Gurūs of the Sikh faith, followed by Bandā Siṅgh Bahādur's career, repression of the Sikhs under Ādīnā Beg and Mīr Mannū and their continued resistance. The invading hordes of Ahmad Shāh Durrānī suffer harassment at the hands of the Sikhs. At this point the narrative ends to discuss some of the salient features of the land of the Sikhs. It is recorded that the extensive and fertile territory yielded a revenue of 24,695,000 rupees. Extensive and valuable commerce was also maintained with Bengal, Bihar and other parts of India.
Forster does not fasten any distinguishing term upon the existing Sikh form of government. To him it bore an appearance of aristocracy (p. 328). The Sikh military force consisted mainly of cavalry, with a negligible artillery. Infantry, according to author, was held in low esteem and more often assigned meaner duties. In the end, Forster predicted with uncommon prescience : "Should any future cause call forth the combined efforts of the Sicques [Sikhs] to maintain the existence of empire and religion, we may see some ambitious chief led on by his genius and success, and, absorbing the power of his associates, display, from the ruins of their Commonwealth, the standard of monarchy" (p.340). The second volume of the book begins with the author's journey through Kashmīr which, according to him, is "unparalleled for its air, soil and a picturesque variety of landscape" (p.1.) and ends with his arrival in Russia through Afghanistan and Persia.
The facts given in the book are, in the main, reliable, except at a few places. For example, the author seems to be unaware of the truce which took place between the Sikhs and Ādīnā Beg, thus erroneously attributing to "the superior power of the Marhattas" and the fear of "incurring the resentment of Adīnā Beg" (p.318) the Sikhs' reluctance to lead incursions into the low country during Ādīnā Beg's governorship of Lahore.
B. J. Hasrat