A Brutal Punishment – Ahmedabad, 1638

Johan Albrecht de Mandelslo (1616–1644) was a seventeenth-century German adventurer, who wrote about his travels through Persia and India. In this passage he describes a party given by Areb Khan, who served as governor of Ahmedabad and other provinces in the reigns of Jehangir and Shah Jehan. A chance pleasantry and the entertainment that followed swiftly turned into an horrific display of brutality.

The Governor of Ahmedabad was a judicious understanding man but hasty and so rigorous that his government inclined somewhat to cruelty. It happened one day that the two principal Directors of the English and Dutch trade there, being invited by him to dinner ; a young gentleman that waited upon the former, comes into the hall to attend upon his master. He had on a slashed doublet, much after the fashion which was worn about thirty years since, which the Governor thought so ridiculous, that he could not forbear laughing at it, and asked the English President, in what quality that slashed gallant served him, since that according to his habit, he conceived he kept him for his Fool. The President made answer, not without some confusion, that he waited on him in his chamber, and that he had opened his doublet in that manner to make way for the air, the better to avoid the excessive heats of the country, which the Europeans could not well endure. Whereto the Governor replied, that that reason gave some satisfaction, but what he most wondered at was that the Christians, who are a wise and understanding people, had not yet found out the way to make their doublets of several shreds, rather then cut and mangle whole pieces of stuffes to put themselves into that mode. This jesting with the English merchant put him into so good an humour, that he would needs devote the remainder of the day to sport and divertisement, and thereupon sent for twenty women-dancers, who as soon as they were come into the room fell a singing and dancing, but with an activity and exact observation of the cadence, much beyond that of our dancers upon the ropes. They had little hoops or circles, through which they leaped as nimbly as if they had been so many apes, and made thousands of postures, according to the several soundings of their musick, which consisted of a tumbeck, or timbrel, a haw-boy, and several tabours. Having danced near two hours, the Governor would needs send into the city for another band of dancers, but the servants brought word, that they were sick and could not come. This excuse being not taken, he sent out the same servants, with express order to bring those women away by force ; but they returning the second time with the same excuse, he ordered they should be cudgelled. Upon that, the women came and cast themselves at the Governor’s feet, and acknowledged that it was indeed true, they were not sick, and that they denied to come, because they knew well enough he would not pay them. He laught at it, but immediately commanded out a party of his guard to bring them to him, and they were no sooner entered into the hall ere he ordered their heads to be struck off. They begged their lives with horrid cries and lamentations; but he would be obeyed and caused the execution to be done in the room before all the company, not one of the Lords then present daring to make the least intercession for those wretches, who were eight in number. The strangers were startled at the horror of the spectacle and inhumanity of the action ; which the Governor taking notice of, fell a laughing, and asked them what they were so much startled at. Assure your selves Gentlemen, said he, that if I should not take this course, I should not be long Governor of Ahmadabad. For should I connive once at their disobedience, these people would play the Masters, and drive me out of the City. ‘Tis but prudence in me to prevent their contempt of my authority, by such examples of severity as these are.

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