Review: Keki N. Daruwalla’s For Pepper and Christ

As schoolchildren we have always been taught that Vasco Da Gama discovered the sea-route to India. That momentous event led to the establishment of European companies in India. The companies fought amongst themselves and with the Indian kings. Commercial establishments soon began to harbour imperialistic designs.

Prior to reading Keki N. Daruwalla’s For Pepper and Christ, thus, I had no idea that the Arabs had a flourishing business relationship with India much before the coming of the Portuguese. In fact, it was an Arab sailor, Taufiq who steered Vasco’s ships towards India. The book promised to be a chronicle of the voyage of Vasco but Daruwalla is more in love with Egypt under the Mamluks [and to be fair to him, it is such a fascinating place to be that I too have become enamoured of it] and thus the novel stays in that territory rather than charting unknown waters.

I know of Daruwallah primarily as a poet and his poetry imagination is on display in many a passage. Sample this:

It is through maps that oceans know where they slosh and mutter to themselves, and winds get to know their own names as they whine over the seas…it is through them that dreams come to know where they blow…and if dreams didn’t blow on the seas there wouldn’t be any voyages.

and this:

…the pursuit of a legend can be pretty thankless, but it catches human imagination by the forelock.

Had the Portuguese not landed in India, would Indian history be something different? Perhaps not. As Daruwall says in his concluding line:

There’s something inexorable about history – also about gunpowder and gunboats.


First Line: Those were the good old days – time itself took ages to move its ass.

Title: For Pepper and Christ

Author: Keki N. Daruwalla

Publication Details: ND: Penguin, 2009

First Published: 2009

Pages: 354

Other books read of the same author: Some poems and short fiction


The book can be purchased on the Net. I bought it from a shop at South-Ex.


Submitted for the following challenges: A-Z (Titles), Mount TBR, South Asian, TBR Pile, Unread Book.

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