In the early modern period, India played a central role in the structure of the Indian Ocean trade. In part this indeed was a function of the midway location of the subcontinent between west Asia on the one hand and southeast and east Asia on the other. But perhaps even more important was the subcontinent’s capacity to put on the market a wide range of tradable goods at highly competitive prices. These included agricultural goods, both food items such as rice, sugar and oil as well as raw materials such as cotton and indigo. While the bulk of the trade in these goods was coastal, the high-seas trade component was by no means insignificant. The real strength of the subcontinent, however, lay in the provision of large quantities of manufactured goods, the most important amongst which was textiles of various kinds. While these included high value varieties such as the legendary Dhaka muslins and the Gujarat silk embroideries, the really important component for the Asian market was the coarse cotton varieties manufactured primarily on the Coromandel coast and in Gujarat. There was large scale demand for these varieties both in the eastern markets of Indonesia, Malaya, Thailand and Burma as well as in the markets of the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf and East Africa. While it is impossible to determine precisely what proportion of total domestic demand for mass consumption textiles in these societies was met by imports from India, the available evidence would seem to point in the direction of this not being altogether insignificant. India’s capacity to manufacture these textiles in large quantities and to put them on the market at highly competitive terms made it in some sense the ‘industrial’ hub of the region surrounded by west Asia on one side and southeast Asia on the other.
At the root of this ‘industrial’ capability was the availability in the subcontinent of a sophisticated infrastructure of institutions and services which rendered the system of production and exchange highly efficient, dynamic and fully market responsive. The principal constituent elements of this infrastructure were things such as a high degree of labour mobility and the existence of a labour market, merchant groups capable of collective defence and good organization, development of accountancy skills, highly developed and price-responsive marketing systems and a sophisticated monetary and credit structure.
Professor Om Prakash was born in Delhi, India, on January, 1940. He did his M.A in Economics from the Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi in 1961, obtaining a first class as well as the first rank in the University. He did his PhD in Economic History from the same School in 1967 on "The Dutch East India Company and the Economy of Bengal, 1650-1717", written on the basis mainly of original archival source material collected at the Algemeen Rijksarchief (now Nationaal Archief) at the Hague, The Netherlands.
Professor Prakash taught at the Delhi School of Economics between 1965 and 2005 when he retired as Professor of Economic History. He has also been a Visiting Professor at a number of European and American Universities. He has had a long connection with the Netherlands. He was elected a Foreign Member of the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences, Haarlem in 1992 and a Foreign Fellow of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, Amsterdam, The Netherlands in 2000. In April 2005, he was awarded the Royal Decoration "Knight in the Order of the Netherlands Lion" by Her Majesty, the Queen of the Netherlands.
Professor Prakash's association with the IIAS goes back to May 1995 when he was invited to deliver the second annual lecture of the Institute. The topic of the lecture was "Asia and the Pre-Modern World Economy" and it was published by the IIAS. He has also published in the Institute's Newsletter. In 1999, he was invited to serve on the International Review Committee to evaluate the IIAS. He was invited by the IIAS as a Senior Fellow in 2005-06 and again in 2007.