Shegurfnama-i-Vilayet is a travel-account of mirza sheikh i’tesamuddin, son of Sheikh Tajuddin, son of Shihabuddin, an inhabitant of the village Panchnur in Nadia district. He left India for England in 1179 AH (1765-66 AD) as a Persian munshi of Captain Archibald Swinton, and returned in 1183 AH (1769-70 AD). Shegurfnama-i-Vilayet means wonderful tales of England. In this book the author writes memoirs of his visit to England. The book was written in about 1784 AD in Persian language, it was translated into English by Captain JE Alexander and published from London in 1827; the translation, though defective is not easily available now.
Some scholars identify his grandfather Shihabuddin with Shihabuddin Talish, the author of fathiya-i-ibriyya or The Tarikh-i-Assam, but the identification seems to be incorrect. I'tesamuddin who wrote in 1784 AD, and who probably did not live beyond 1800 AD could not have been a grandson of the author of the Fathiya who probably died not later than 1666 AD (because in that year his book abruptly came to an end). The author seems to have received good education, particularly in Persian and Islamic studies. He was a good friend of Munshi Shaikh Salimullah and Munshi Mirza Muhammad Qasim during the time of Nawab mir qasim. He learnt a little bit of Hindi and Bengali also. He taught Mr Swinton, the Arabic book Kalila wa Dimna and helped the same person to translate the Farhang-i-Jahangiri (a Persian lexicon) into English. This translation was presented to Sir william jones, who later became a Judge of the Supreme Court at Calcutta, and who founded the Asiatic Society of Bengal.
In the Shegurfnama, he gives an account of his journey by ship to England, whatever new things he saw during his stay in England and his return journey. In England he mainly stayed in London, but visited Oxford and met professors in the university there. He speaks highly of both London and Oxford. Mirza I'tesamuddin went to England as a munshi or secretary of Captain Archibald Swinton, who was sent as an ambassador of shah alam II, the Mughal emperor, to George III, the king of England. But for reasons, beyond their control, their mission to England failed, because the letter and khilat (presents) of ten lac rupees of the emperor, that they were supposed to carry to England, were not given to them by lord clive, the English governor. Swinton knew it but he disclosed the news to Mirza I'tesamuddin about a week after their departure.
When Mirza I'tesamuddin could realise that their mission had failed, he decided to return. Swinton and some of his friends tried to persuade him to stay in England for sometimes more as a Persian teacher, they even tried to induce him to marry an English lady, but he did not agree. Nothing is known about his career after his return to Bengal. But he wrote his book Shegurfnama-i-Vilayet in 1784, which has proved to be an important addition to the travel accounts, and leaves some important materials for reconstruction of the doings of the English officials in Bengal.
The Shegurfnama-i-Vilayet was first brought to the notice of the people of Bengal in the last century by Maulana abul kalam azad in 1934 through an interview with The statesman, Calcutta. Later other scholars also wrote articles about the book in Bengali journals. The original Persian manuscript is persevered in the British Museum and the Khuda Bukhsh Library, Bankipore. [Abdul Karim]