ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Chimera of Trans-Imperial 'Imperium'

Muslim Cosmopolitanism in the Age of Empire by Seema Alavi, Cambridge, Massachusetts and London: Harvard University Press, 2015; pp xiii +490, Rs 1,495.

Did imperial frontiers have the solidity that countries have in our times? In an age when a “passport” was merely used to regulate the flow of people who were going to “pass through a port,” such solidity was not even conceived of, let alone strived at. Hence, for all practical purposes, till the introduction of passport regimes on a global scale towards the end of the World War I, it was perfectly possible for people to move across kingdoms and empires in a manner that shows frontiers to have been fairly porous.

What did the people who actually travelled across such imperial frontiers, and operated in the interstices of the empires, make of what they were doing? Were they still trapped by their experiences in their countries of origin, and continued to engage with preoccupations generated by these even after physically relocating themselves? Or were they able to transcend the parochial confines and think of a larger “ecumene”? The book under review is an engaging attempt to address these basic questions in the context of some protagonists from the Indian subcontinent operating in the interstices of the British and the Ottoman empires.

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