Glimpses of Old Dhaka, written by Syed Muhammed Taifoor (1885-1972), is one of the most influential books ever written on the subject of the history of Dhaka. And this statement is not an exaggeration in any way. If you read on this topic, you inevitably will come across references to Taifoor's book.
Go ahead. Give it a try now. Open a book about the history of Dhaka. Or open a few articles on Wikipedia that deals with this matter. Now, go to the footnotes or bibliography section. Chances are extremely high that Taifoor's book will appear on the list.
Now that's how authoritative the book is!
It was published in 1952, and an enlarged second edition came out a few years after that.
As you open the book - named 'Glimpses of Old Dhaka: A Short Historical Narration of East Bengal and Assam with Special Treatment of Dhaka' - the very first page draws you in with this couple of beautiful and inspirational lines:
"Fear not if the pearls are scattered unstrung;
They only await to be re-strung in better order."
The foreword had been written by none other than A.K. Fazlul Haq, Governor of East Pakistan.
As you quickly flip through the pages, you will see a lot of writings in Arabic, Persian, etc - poems and inscriptions and verses. Some of them are followed by English translation. These heart-warmingly beautiful words make the book even more amazing.
Taifoor was well versed not just in English and Bengali, but in Urdu and Persian too.
And while you're browsing through, you will also see some visuals; mostly paintings of monuments and different sights of our city, almost all of which were drawn by Charles D'Oyly (1781-1845), who was a Collector of Dhaka.
The book ends with a large map of the city.
With the old map and paintings and poems and the very fact that this book has been written more than half a century ago, Glimpses of Old Dhaka indeed has a feeling of antiquity to it.
It's an useful book. The narration begins from the time of the invasion of Bukhtiyar Khalji in 1204 down to the British rule. From the fiery Sultans to the rebellious 'Baro Bhuiyans' to the glorious Mughals to the aristocratic Nawabs, Glimpses of Old Dhaka deals with the city's political history, monuments and people.
But while you read it, keep in mind that Taifoor had '...written from a Muslim point of view', claiming that 'Non-Muslim writers invariably tried to discredit Muslim rule...'.
Nevertheless, if you are thinking of brushing up on Dhaka's history, this book is what you are looking for. An interesting and informative read, Glimpses of Old Dhaka alone will take you far.
S M Taifoor served as the Registrar of Kolkata. The aristocrat was closely associated with leaders like Nawab Salimullah and A.K.Fazlul Huq. He was also an antiquarian, who later donated his entire collection to Dhaka Museum (now Bangladesh National Museum).
His work, Glimpses of Old Dhaka, continues to be a treasure for historians and enthusiasts of Old Dhaka.
Photocopied version (made available with permission) of this incredibly rare book can be bought from The Bookworm, a bookshop located in Old Airport Road, Tejgaon.