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Wanderers, Kings, Merchants by Peggy Mohan: book review

The story of India through its languages

I have grown up in a very typical Bengali household, like the one stereotyped in pop culture. My grandparents were almost like that. They shoved/ showered, depends how I took it as I grew, with books, written by the authors who hold god-like stature in my literary world. Yes, I grew up reading Tagore and Saratchandra and Bankimchandra and Mahasweta Devi and Ashapurna Devi among others. No, they weren’t trying to make me some literary expert, but because why would you buy children books which she would outgrow in a couple of years! This also means most days, I didn’t even understand what I was even reading. The language although it's mine, it felt so distant, something from lost time. I read most of these authors at least a dozen times while growing up, and that’s how literature finally entered into my veins. Those words, and phrases from the yellowed books, with their metaphorical meaning, showed me a history of Bengali evolution. I remember getting confused in differentiating between textual and verbal languages.

That’s not all, I have a hard time understanding some of the words or dialects in general used by my cousins who live in north Bengal or in the rarh region. To them, I sound like a snobbish city breed, and to me, they talk in a “funny” way. language, as I understood, changes not just with time but also horizontally.

Often times when I interact with friends and family members who live outside Bengal, I see how slowly the language of the place slowly trickles into their speeches. Almost like my ears are so sensitized to listen only “perfect” Bangla, get alerted to anything deemed “off”.

This brings the topic of how Hindi slowly invaded the native languages of Bihar. This video by Mohak Mangal explained it critically and I would highly suggest you watch it.

Peggy Mohan is an expert in her field of linguistics and through her book, she explained how languages in India, have multiple stories to tell us. The story of its movements and evolutions with time and also along the social ladder. The language is almost like a living being, shifting and changing constantly. Language, be it mine Bengali or yours Hindi or Urdu or Tamil, aren’t giant monoliths as rightly pointed out by the author. It got different faces, depending on one’s point of view.

It's like a nine-yard saree, every region got its signature draping style, each one of them is true and perfect in its own glory.


One of India’s most incredible and enviable cultural aspects is that every Indian is bilingual, if not multilingual. Delving into the fascinating early history of South Asia, this original book reveals how migration, both external and internal, has shaped all Indians from ancient times.

Through a first-of-its-kind and incisive study of languages, such as the story of early Sanskrit, the rise of Urdu, language formation in the northeast, it presents the astounding argument that all Indians are of mixed origins. It explores the surprising rise of English after Independence and how it may be endangering India’s native languages.


Peggy Mohan was born in Trinidad, West Indies. She has taught linguistics, been an expert witness in terrorism trials, and made television programs for children, besides creating animated calligraphs, painting, writing songs, and doing stone mosaics. She is married and has a daughter, and teaches music at the Vasant Valley School, New Delhi. Peggy has also authored the novels Jahajin and The Youngest Suspect.

This post is a part of Blogchatter Half Marathon

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