Hunnerkhanni Chadai- Hindustan Upar (An Invasion of the King of Industry on India), is one of the most popular works of the 19th century Gujarati poet Dalpatram. The poem was first read in the presence of about 150 distinguished men, including intellectuals and reformers, at the Andrews Library in Surat
in 1851. The poem was an instant success and it influenced the Gujarati public for almost half a century. The first 2000 copies printed in a litho press were soon sold out. Later the government bought the copyrights to the poem for Rupees 200; the poem became a high school text and in all it had 40 editions and 150,000 copies were sold. The poem was in fact a public lecture in verse and it even ended with an appeal to the newspapers to spread his views to a larger audience.
Consisting of 160 verses in various Gujarati metres, it is in a way a recasting of an old Akhyan form for narrating the contemporary issue of the British industrial invasion and its effect on the indigenous industries in the allegorical mould. The poem is an appeal from an intellectual to the people to awaken and introduce industries and to make the country prosperous again. It is an excellent description of the political economy of Gujarat
and as such a major statement of what the presence of the British in nineteenth-century Gujarat precisely meant.
The poem makes a brilliant argument on how the drain of wealth can not only be arrested but can actually be reversed. It describes how Gujarat has been a land rich in resources with Vanraaj or raw cotton as its ruler and opium and Majith, a fruit used for dye and medicine, as his younger brothers, Goddess Lakshmi
was the ruling household goddess and she is the supreme queen of the gods whom even Lord Indra
serves. However, this country has now fallen into ignorance, decadence and superstition and is increasingly looted by the other countries of the world. The poem narrates how Hunnerkhan attacks the kingdom of Vanraaj and abducts Lakshmi from there. His minister Yantrakhan or Mr Machine warns him of the power of Vanraaj and his brothers but Hunnerkhan claims to be more powerful because he is equipped with superior and sophisticated armed forces like the railways, steamboats, aeroplanes, and printing presses.
He claims to be of Indian origin in the past but is now residing in the West and his only desire is to abduct Laksmi and increase his power and prestige. This is an opportune moment to attack the land of Vanraaj, since the people are fast asleep and he can deploy a divide-and-rule policy by seeking the help of `Vahemkhan` or Mr Superstition, who would persuade people not to pursue knowledge or visit foreign lands, these being considered a sin. Laziness and ignorance, his other well wishers, would also assist him. His only enemy is the British sahibs who have been concerned about the people there and are starting schools and libraries at their own expense and letting out his secrets to the people regarding machines.
Hunnerkhan is determined and plans first to invade India with the help of China through the export of paper, glass, silk, sugar, silk and other goods. India retaliates through the export of opium. Disappointed at the failed attempt, the minister Yantrakhan vows this time to achieve his aim with the help of the sahibs. He collects an able army of colourful clothes, many weapons for making fine cloth like spindles, weaving and sowing machines and succeeds in ravaging Udyampuri, the capital of indigenous industry. He loots many bazaars of illustrious people; many pedhis (financial houses) are destroyed; people are scared and Vanraaj, Opium and Majith flee with fright. Handlooms are rendered useless by the import of cloth; the tools of the ironmonger become useless in contrast with imported iron tools. In such a situation, it is the voice of the poet/intellectual/reformer that can save the people from and stop the wealth of the Hindus from going abroad. He screams aloud to wake the people up, exhorting them to bring Yantrakhan from England, distribute his weapons among themselves, conquer Hunnerkhan and establish the `Udyam gram`(business capital) once again:
In many ways Hunnerkhanni Chadai is the representative poem of nineteenth-century Gujarat, and more specifically of Ahmedabad
. In his collected poems Dalpatram included this poem in the section containing poems on Swadesh Vatsalya (Love of the Native Country). Dalpatram could not have better illustrated the close connection between the poet/intellectual and the ruling elite, between literature and wealth, between Saraswati and Lakshmi. The decisive shift that occurs in Dalpatram`s poetry is that Gujarati literature
is almost entirely identified with the interests of the ruling class, as perhaps never before, or after, in the history of the literature.