Writer is currently working in Florence, Italy on a project: ‘Earlier Europeans in the Indian Ocean: Stories of Portuguese, Dutch, and English Companies’
On the 25th of October 2023, I had the privilege of attending an in-person meeting with Professor Giorgio Riello, a distinguished scholar in the field of history. Professor Riello is a full professor at the Department of History and Civilization at the European University in Florence, where he holds the Chair of Early Modern Global History. He has authored several notable books, including ‘Back in Fashion: Western Fashion since the Middle- Ages’ (Yale University Press, 2020) and ‘Luxury: A Rich History’ (Oxford University Press, 2016, co-authored with P. McNeil).
During our meeting, Professor Riello generously shared his expertise and insights as my guide-professor for my research project. I am currently working on a book with the working title ‘Earlier Europeans in the Indian Ocean: Stories of Portuguese, Dutch, and English Companies.’ The proposed book aims to explore the inception, organization, and successes and failures of these companies, considering factors such as organizational dynamics, political influences, and the involvement of other actors in the Indian Ocean.
As a gesture of courtesy, I extended an offer to Professor Riello to be a co-editor for the book. However, he politely declined, explaining that as a full professor and team leader, he already had numerous demanding commitments. Balancing his responsibilities as a full-time professor, which include teaching, writing articles, and supervising Master’s, M.Phil. and Ph.D. students, with his role as a project in-charge, which involves producing research reports, monographs, books, and administrative work, already filled his schedule to capacity. Taking on additional tasks would be impossible for him to manage effectively within the constraints of a 24-hour day.
I was delighted that Professor Riello approved of the book’s concept, and he even gifted me a copy of his newly released title, ‘How India Clothed the World.’ Our meeting concluded with an interesting historical anecdote about Winston Churchill’s remarks on Mahatma Gandhi. In 1931, Gandhi had posed for a portrait in a Dhoti at Kingsley Hall in London during his second roundtable conference. Upon seeing the portrait, Churchill famously referred to Gandhi as a “half-naked fakir,” expressing his disdain. Gandhi, in response, wrote a letter to Churchill in July 1944, expressing how he took the remark as a compliment, as he had always aspired to be a fakir who was truly naked.
In the meeting, he suggested me to read Tomé Pires’ ‘Suma Oriental’. I told him that I have read its first part, and shared with him that the full title of the book is ‘The Suma Oriental of Tome Pires: An Account of the East, from the Red Sea to Japan, written in Malacca and India in 1512-1515’. Until now, historians, particularly maritime historians consider his book as a masterpiece on the ethnography, geography, and commerce of the Orient at the inception of the sixteenth century. I also added that he was a kind of diplomat of Portugal in the early 16 c. Later, he died in China in a failed attempt to talk to the emperor there, and his book has been translated into English, together with Francisco Rodrigues’ work.
The meeting concluded on a lighthearted note, with laughter and a cup of coffee. It was a valuable and memorable experience to engage with Professor Riello, and I am grateful for his guidance and the exchange of historical insights. But before ending this note, let me thank Dr. Michael O’Sullivan. He is a historian of South Asia and the Middle East. His interests focus mainly on the economic histories of Muslim communities. His monogram histories of three Gujarati Muslim commercial castes will be published by Harvard University Press in 2024.
Dr. Zaffar Junejo is a historian and a writer, having earned Doctorate from the Department of History University of Malaya, Malaysia. Presently, Mr. Junejo is associated with the European University Institute, Florence, Italy. Apart from scholarly contribution, he also writes for popular media. He could be accessed at: Email firstname.lastname@example.org, Cell/WhatsApp +92 334 045 5333 Skype Zaffar.Junejo Facebook facebook.com/zaffar.junejo