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Coins don't only jingle, they can also tell a tale or two!
During my schooling we did not have the benefit of present day multi-media and other aids, to widen our horizons. To fire our imagination, in the classrooms we had only maps on the walls and a big globe. No internet, no National Geographic, Discovery or History TV channels! Illustrations in the text books were about the only sources which helped us to visualise things, places and events.

Our Irish class teacher, Miss Peggy O' Flynn however had a way of arousing our curiosity in all directions. She urged us to collect stamps, coins, picture post cards, match box labels and even small rocks. Every day we were supposed to bring a sample of what we were able to collect. After the lunch got over, one by one she looked at our exhibits and explained whether that particular stamp depicted the ruler of the country, or the flora fauna of the country or some historical or some national or international personality etc. We were then asked to look up these items in the school library. With the help of Children's Encyclopaedias, we learnt a lot more about the subject of the stamp, than what our text books taught us. Next day we had to submit a short essay on that particular subject. 

The school also had a huge collection of rocks. They all had been millions of years in the making. Some rocks came from river beds and were easy to recognise: for they were smooth and generally oblong. We worship some of these as 'lingas' ! Some rocks came from lava flows of billions of years ago. Some stones of different coloured layers represented, how over millions of years layers with different minerals had settled down over each other! My continuing interest in geology, geography and history is thanks to the way Miss O' Flynn made us ask questions and seek their answers. 

At my teacher's advice when I started collecting coins, I found at home old coins lying in some drawers or in cupboards, but no one in particular was collecting them. They had just been lying around for generations. I put all of them in a box and took them to school. 

I had a copper Paisa with a hole in it. During the World War II days, there was a shortage of copper and it was saved by minting the Paisa coins with holes in them! Introduced in 1943 and discontinued in 1947, the number of coins in circulation was very limited. Besides, with our penchant for jugaad these coins with holes were very frequently used as washers by mechanics. Today, these same copper one-paisa coins with a hole are available as collectors' items and can fetch fancy prices on Amazon, Quickr, eBay etc. Come to think of it, my mother used to give me just two such Paisa coins every day, for aloo ki chat, at the school gate during break. 

It was exciting to know that one thick copper coin in my collection was actually struck by Akbar. It was 'half a Damri'; Dam and Damri being coins of lowest values. Hence the Hindi expression – 'Uske paas to ek Damri bhi nahin hai'!

Those days to identify stamps and coins, in our school we referred to heavy tomes of Stanley Gibbon's Stamp Catalogue or Stanley Gibbon's Coin Catalogue in our school library. But today on internet so much can be discovered. I found that the Reserve Bank of India's Coin Museum in Mumbai has a stupendous display of coins from 1000 years ago to the present! 

About Mughal coinage, the RBI museum website states the following:

'The most significant monetary contribution of the Mughals was to bring about uniformity and consolidation of the system of coinage throughout the Empire. The system lasted long after the Mughal Empire was effectively no more. The system of tri-metalism (copper, silver and gold) which came to characterise Mughal coinage was largely the creation, not of the Mughals but of Sher Shah Suri (1540 to 1545 AD), an Afghan, who ruled for a brief time in Delhi. Sher Shah issued a coin of silver which was termed the Rupiya, ……. and was the precursor of the modern rupee. It remained largely unchanged till the early 20thCentury. Together with the silver Rupiya were issued gold coins called the Mohur, and copper coins called Dam.

Where coin designs and minting techniques were concerned, Mughal Coinage reflected originality and innovative skills. Mughal coin designs came to maturity during the reign of the Grand Mughal, Akbar. Innovations like ornamentation of the background of the die with floral scrollwork were introduced. Jehangir took a personal interest in his coinage. The surviving gigantic coins, are amongst the largest issued in the world. The Zodiacal signs, portraits and literary verses and the excellent calligraphy that came to characterise his coins took Mughal Coinage to new heights'.

Recently a friend sent me photos of both sides of a gold coin. He did not know that I used to collect coins. He only wanted to know if I could decipher the script and inform him the significance of the coin. Was it just worth its weight in gold or it had some historical significance, too. I in turn wanted to know, how he came across it! Correspondence revealed that his father had bought a defunct mine in the eastern coal belt.  There during excavations this coin had been found. It was a family heirloom. His mother had passed it on to him. (See inset)

After one look at the photos of the gold coin, instinctively two search words occurred to me –'Shah Alam' and 'East India Company'. In a jiffy, Google led me to a coin auction website, which described the coin in question as follows:

'British India, Bengal Presidency, Gold Mohur, 12.32g. Murshidabad, in the name of Shah Alam II (1759-1806) - RARE'. ……… Value Rs. 1 lakh!

The story that this coin reveals is sad: 

In 1765, after having lost the Battle of Buxar, Shah Alam II conceded defeat to the British. He was forced to transfer Diwani (all revenue collection) rights of Bengal and Orissa to East India Company. The Company was also exempted from tax. In return, Shah Alam II was to receive from the East India Company, an annual tribute of 2.6 million rupees. And he was allowed to mint coins in his own name! And this was one of those rare coins, whose photo my friend wanted to me to decipher. 

Under the agreement between 'Shah Alam II and East India Company, the king conceded to disbanding his own revenue officials in Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. Instead, Robert Clive the then governor of Bengal appointed English traders and directors of East India Company, whom he described as '"the high and mighty, the noblest of exalted nobles, the chief of illustrious warriors, our faithful servants and sincere well-wishers, worthy of our royal favours, the English Company".

As Willaim Dalrymple puts it: 'The collecting of Mughal taxes was henceforth subcontracted to a powerful multinational corporation – whose revenue-collecting operations were protected by its own private army.' 

Dalrymple in his recent podcast: 'The East India Company: The original corporate raiders' says: 'For a century, the East India Company conquered, subjugated and plundered vast tracts of South Asia. The lessons of its brutal reign have never been more relevant 

One of the very first Indian words to enter the English language was the Hindustani slang for plunder: "loot". According to the Oxford English Dictionary, this word was rarely heard outside the plains of north India until the late 18th century, when it suddenly became a common term across Britain. There are more Mughal artefacts stacked in a private house in the Welsh countryside than are on display at any one place in India – even the National Museum in Delhi. The riches include hookahs of burnished gold inlaid with empurpled ebony; superbly inscribed spinels and jewelled daggers; gleaming rubies the colour of pigeon's blood and scatterings of lizard-green emeralds. There are talwars set with yellow topaz, ornaments of jade and ivory; silken hangings, statues of Hindu gods and coats of elephant armour.' 

This is a sordid page in our history, that an 18th century coin revealed to me!

I also learnt that the Indian term 'loot', became a part of the English language in late 18th century and also found a place in Oxford English Dictionary, thanks to that master plunderer Robert Clive!

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