Saturday, October 08, 2016

ANCIENT TRADE GIANT


Can you believe this:  in the days of the Harappan ports, India was exporting not only fresh fruits, but also pickled fruits and vegetables to Oman!!            
Imagine the heights reached by those culinary masters in food preservation techniques that ghee, and pickles from vegetables and fruits grown in such abundant quantity to make pickles could withstand the long journey from kitchen to ports; across the Indian Ocean, to be traded further on too and still last in the household for enough length of time. Who would buy pickle that went rancid within weeks of reaching your home?
Since Time Immemorial, India exported surpluses and fabled crafted products, first overland with camel / donkey caravans to the Middle East and beyond.   Later as ship making perfected, consignments of goods floated west from the Malabar Coast, Kerala and new markets in the Far East and China from the Comorin coast, Tamil Nadu… uncountable centuries before the Europeans landed, the British happened and finally drained our economy.
Why was Ancient India so popular with the entire world at that time, known or unknown to the White Man?
Apart from the abundant variety she offered, it was the organized systems that enabled regular shipments.  When overland routes were overtaken by political strife en route, as common then as now, the sea routes became dependable:  the northeast monsoon winds would push sails from the Red Sea in May-June; southeasterly winds took over in August for the return journey; trade covered the Makran coast and port cities of Mesopotamia. Overland trade happened after the monsoon rains.
Excavations and research offered more details.  From the number of Indus artifacts unearthed in Oman, it is surmised that perhaps it was the major trading partner.
Trade relies on dependability.  Cubic weights were of banded chert or other patterned stone.  The largest weight found at Mohenjodaro is 10,865 grams. Starting from the smallest, weights would be doubled 1 : 2 : 4 : 8 :16 : 32 : 64 then going to 160; then in decimal multiples of 16 when the next largest weights have a ratio of 160, 200 and 320. The next set consists of 1600, 3200, 6400, 8000 and 12,800.      Measures consisted of a cubit (52 cm) and the long foot (33.5 cm).
Barter system meant reciprocal exchanges of goods for services; there must have been some sort of agreed upon system of standardization for the cubical stone weights.   Possibly use of smaller ones for taxation.
A study of the list of imports and exports leads to an inescapable conclusion:  that craftsmanship was advanced. A variety of raw metals, apart from gold and silver and precious stones would pour into our ports.  Apart from sheer trade, much would later exit in the form of an awesome variety of ornaments, jewelry and other products that laid the foundation of India’s reputation as the Fabled Land of milk and honey. 
What modern products of technical excellence have we added to that repertoire is a question we must ask ourselves.