19 January 2009

Review: Confessions of a Thug

The word "thug" comes from the Thuggee (deceivers) who allegedly plagued India prior to the arrival of the British. Though there is some controversy nowadays as to the extent of their existence, tales of their exploits made a strong impression on the 19th Century British and helped justify a stronger colonial presence on the Indian subcontinent.

Confessions of a Thug is the story of one of these men, Ameer Ali, a Muslim thug who led a long and successful career as a Thug before his luck ran out. Ali relats his story to an English interviewer, starting with the death of his father at the hands of thugs and his adoption by the bands leader. Soon, he is grown up and interested in taking up the family trade, which is bravery and cleverness makes him particularly suited to.

Though the interviewer occasionally interjects to render moral observations on his actions, the voice that predominates is that of Ali, who comes across as an interesting anti-hero. With his cunning and boldness and his travels across India in search of those to rob, he comes across as an exotic adventurer-criminal, like some mix of Sinbad the Sailor and Tony Soprano. This is somewhat underscored by his tales of commanding men under the Pindaris, using freebooting armies to extort treasure from defenseless communities. Ali is as proud of his battlefield exploits as of his work with the strangling cloth.

An interesting story of crime and death on the Indian subcontinent, with many interesting local details. Somewhat dated nowadays, especially in its transliterations from Hindi, but still an interesting read.

No comments: