The Lascar is a novel set in the 1860s, written by Shahida Rahman and inspired by stories passed down orally through the generations about one of her paternal ancestors who was one of the early lascars (sailor/seaman from East India) to work aboard the British steamships of the 19th century.
Shahida was born in Mill Road Maternity Hospital and is of Bangladeshi descent, both her parents are from Fenchuganj, Sylhet Division. Her late father, Abdul Karim, was orphaned at a young age, and moved to Cambridge from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) in 1957 and her mother, Fultera Banoo Karim, arrived in 1963. Their story ‘From East Pakistan to Cambridge’ is here.
The Lascar is a novel set in the 1860s. Although the word ‘Lascar’ is presently outmoded, it points to a rich and unique aspect of world history. Translated directly, the word means ‘sailor from East India’. However, the term bears a wider applicability and was regularly used in reference to non-Europeans that served on British sea vessels. Lascars were recruited for work aboard British ships from Bengal, Yemen, Assam, and Gujarat. The Lascar experience was defined by two overriding factors: performing work at a servile capacity and remaining in ceaseless activity while at sea, be it maintaining a particular vessel or working on a variety of crafts.
The story that follows expresses the essential, spiritual truth of the Lascar experience, using a fictional modality. On display will be the characteristic harshness and dislocation of the typical Lascar experience, illustrated through the narrative of a Bengali man named Ayan. Ayan Miah’s older brother is being ravaged by cancer, so Ayan takes to the sea as a Lascar in the hope that he will earn enough money to help his ailing brother. What Ayan doesn’t realise is that his dark skin could very well be his death sentence.
The Lascar is a Radio Play, written by Shahida Rahman and directed by Pablo Robertson, is part of the Heritage Lottery Funded Lascar Heritage Project.
More details about Shahida’s work can be found at www.shahidarahman.co.uk
Cambridge South Asian History Month was launched by Cambridge City Council on 15 June 2020. Join the conversation on our facebook page @CamSouthAsianHistory
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