While tuning into a recent episode of the podcast “Puliyabaazi”, I was introduced to the fascinating subject of building accurate maps of India, specifically the monumental task of the Great Trigonometric Survey. The episode shed light on the Herculean effort undertaken by the Survey of India to measure the vast expanse of the country, aiming to study the Earth’s shape and accurately determine the heights of the towering Himalayas.
This piqued my interest and led me to Riaz Dean’s “Mapping the Great Game”, a deep dive into the geopolitical intricacies of the 19th century, focusing on the strategic rivalry between Great Britain and Russia in Central Asia. Dean masterfully intertwines the realms of geography and international politics, emphasizing the significance of the vast, uncharted territories that stretched from eastern Persia to western China.
The narrative is enriched with tales of intrepid explorers, spies, and the indispensable Indian assistants known as “Pundits”. These individuals, equipped with the latest surveying instruments and techniques, braved inhospitable terrains and unpredictable weather to map the region, their efforts often celebrated by the Royal Geographical Society.
Dean’s account is not just a chronicle of exploration but also a tribute to the unsung heroes of the British Raj, the native Indian Pundits. Their tales of courage and determination, from William Moorcraft’s journey to Bokhara to the Trigonometrical surveys of William Lambton and George Everest, resonate with the podcast’s discussion on the meticulous efforts to map India’s vast landscape.
Furthermore, Dean highlights the dual roles many British explorers played, not just as cartographers but also as spies, gathering intelligence on Russian intentions and movements. The geopolitical dance between the two empires, punctuated by wars and diplomatic tensions, is meticulously detailed, providing readers with a holistic understanding of the era.
In conclusion, “Mapping the Great Game” is a masterful blend of history, geography, and politics. Riaz Dean’s meticulous research and engaging storytelling, combined with the insights from “Puliyabaazi”, make it a must-read for anyone interested in understanding the complexities of 19th-century geopolitics in Asia.
Reviewed by Sachin Gaur, Executive Editor, InnoHEALTH Magazine