Academic journal article Pakistan Historical Society. Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society

Hakim Niccolao and the Cannibal Gazi of Lahore

Academic journal article Pakistan Historical Society. Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society

Hakim Niccolao and the Cannibal Gazi of Lahore

Article excerpt

In his portrait Niccolao Manucci has the appearance of a dandy. He is dressed in striped pyjamas, and an angarkha that ill-conceals his paunch. His gait seems hurried and a little unsteady. He is seen carrying a bouquet that reveals a body of shrubbery. It may well be, as someone has noted, a collection of medicinal herbs for making potions. In that case the portrait likely depicts the Venetian's life in Lahore from 1670 to 1678, where he practiced medicine, and went by the title of Hakim Niccolao. It was a pursuit that nearly got him burnt alive for sacrilege.

From a gunner in Dara Shikoh's army, to a hakim in Lahore, to an indifferent historian in his later years, Manucci's life turned in restive spurts. His .portrait has nicely captured this quality: it expresses both physical movement and a shiftiness of character, with the subject's large eyes fixed on posterity.

One can imagine the likely scene when these eyes first beheld Thika Arain, the fierce bandit who 'plundered in all directions in the king's territories.' The Mughal army had finally routed Thika Arain's men in a battle near Lahore, and captured him alive with his deputy. As Thika Arain was the brother-in-law of the gazi of Lahore the citizenry felt a particular attraction for the spectacle.

To show the power the emperor held over the rebel, Lahore's governor, Muzaffar Hussain 'Fidai Khan' Koka, had Thika Arain and his deputy driven on foot between a file of four war elephants led by their mahouts at a quick pace through the crowds gathered at the Roshnai Darwaza.

But the enormous hulk of both Thika Arain and his corpulent lieutenant was not diminished by the pair of elephants fore and aft: they showed to advantage like a pair of precious pearls strung in a colossal necklace.

Manucci's eyes cared naught for this poetry of proportions, though. Following the condemned prisoners as he made his way between the crowd of onlookers, he only saw organisms to be tapped for an essential ingredient needed for his ointments-axungia hominis or human fat.

The same day his missive arrived at Koka's court, who sensed the importance the Ventian attached to the request since he had appealed to him directly, bypassing the protocol. At Koka's orders, the directives were written out to the kotwal of Lahore, granting Manucci's request. The gazi of Lahore would be kept in the dark in the matter. …

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