RECENTLY I happened to read a book about the history of South India and was impressed by the character of Malik Ambar, an Ethiopian slave, and his mastery over the science of engineering and would like to share with your readers what I learnt about him.

Malik Ambar (1549-1626) was born in the Maya tribe in the Alhura village in Ethiopia. His parents sold him as a slave when he was five or six due to being extremely poor. He was sold for a second time in Baghdad and then for a third time in Makkah to an officer of the Nizam Shahi Sultanate of Ahmadnagar (South India).

In India, he showed his talents, got a good education and in the course of time became regent of the kingdom of Ahmadnagar in 1607 and retained the position until his death in 1626; he also held the positions of prime minister and commander-in-chief though still technically remaining the slave of the Sultan.

He proved himself to be a matchless administrator and a great expert of guerilla warfare. He was one of the first to effect revenue settlement which was followed by subsequent rulers for decades.

In my view, his greatest achievement was founding the city of Khirki which was subsequently named Aurangabad and its canal called Nahr-i-Ambari. The canal was brought from a spring on the foot of hills about 24 miles from Khirki.

It was almost a seven-foot-deep underground canal and wide enough for a man to walk in it. It looks like a tunnel. It even crosses a rivulet and runs deep under its bed. It contained about 140 manholes, and a number of them on the bottom of the rivulet it crossed. The manholes were firmly sealed and in course of time disappeared from view.

No one knew from where the canal was headed until it surfaced near the town. The canal worked efficiently and without the necessity of cleaning until 1931 (for 321 years).

In 1931, when cleaning was found necessary, old records were searched to find out the route of the canal and the location of manholes. Fortunately, the original blueprint was found and the canal was cleaned for the first time after 321 years of continuously serving the town.

This canal is a great tribute to the engineering skills of an African slave who was thrice sold in slavery and remained a slave until his death.

SALAHUDDIN MIRZA Karachi

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