Almost two years ago, when I reviewed The Ranee of Jhansi, D. V. Tahmankar, I had expressed a strong desire to lay my hands on Vishnu Bhatt Godse’s MaAlmost two years ago, when I reviewed The Ranee of Jhansi, D. V. Tahmankar, I had expressed a strong desire to lay my hands on Vishnu Bhatt Godse’s Majha Pravas (My Travels), published in 1907, by Chitrashala Press, Pune. While I was quite determined to get my hand on the book - I'll admit, I wondered if I'd be able to ever get to read that book - it was in Marathi.
I was happily surprised when I saw 1857: The Real Story Of The Great Uprising at Crosswords in Pune - the English translation of Vishnu Bhatt Godse’s Majha Pravas (My Travels). Since I do not take the effort of reading Marathi books, I had to make do with the translation. Some of you may know my thoughts on translations. Having read this book now, I feel the need to go back the beautiful book by DV Tamhankar.
1857: The Real Story Of The Great Uprising is a well-translated book. Given that I haven't read the original Marathi book, this statement is open to conjecture. Yet, I have heard about this book and its content from family and friends who have read the original - that's the first premise. The fact that the original was actually written in the Modi Script and translated into Marathi, with some liberties and that Mrinal Pande alludes to using the original, is the second premise. Finally, my own understanding from reading of the book and the uneven granularity of the book, makes me believe that the English translation has not taken (m)any liberties.
Vishnu Bhatt Godshe Versaikar (the original author of the book) doesn't come across as a very good writer (at least not in the English version, the original may some fantastic idioms and nuances that cannot be captured in English), however he has done a great service to history by this book. The book follows his travels for the most part - and therefore the accounts in the book may be treated as authentic. At times however, he seems to rely on hearsay, and it may be worth noting that these are the parts which actually provide the necessary links to the story of the mutiny - and causes the bumpy texture of the presentation.
Having said all the above, it is a great read - especially if you are interested in history beyond a story (though this one is written more like a story; a travelogue). The text creates stunning visual imagery, which, in my opinion is very necessary when writing historical accounts. Facts and dates may be gleaned from Wikipedia, but a visual presentation is key for non-fictional historical presentations.
That - this book achieves with great aplomb. ...more
One of the many books that I have finished a single or two sittings. While the obvious genre of the book would be historical analysis or biography, I
One of the many books that I have finished a single or two sittings. While the obvious genre of the book would be historical analysis or biography, I would happily put this on the storybook shelf.
The story of the Rani of Jhansi is one that most of us have heard in our childhood – without the details and the context of the circumstances prevalent during the Revolt of 1857. We heard the story of being brave and being patriotic – to an extent the passion of freedom - Mai apni Jhansi nahi doongi! (I will not give up my Jhansi).
This book was written by D. V. Tahmankar (d. 1982) and first published in 1958. Little information about Tahmankar is available on the Internet. According to the book, he:
[…:] was a correspondent of the Marathi newspaper Kesari before becoming the UK correspondent for the Deccan Herald till 1980. He set up the Lokmanya Tilak Memorial Trust and also wrote the biographies Lokamanya Tilak: Father of Indian Unrest and Maker of Modern India (1956) and Sardar Patel (1970).
His stint in the UK undoubtedly helped in the writing of the book (though it isn’t clear if he was in the UK when this book was published), however, according to the Open Library, this book was first published by Published in 1958, MacGibbon & Kee (London). He acknowledges the ungrudging help from the Librarian of the Commonwealth Office Library
The premise and the purpose of the book has been defined right from the first page. The story of this character has been biased by accounts of the British officers, and Tahmankar is out to ensure that
her career [which:] has borne a blemish all these years as a result of one-sided accounts of the massacre at Jhansi of English men, women and children.
is cleared through the reference of other sources and a deeper analysis of existing sources. And he does it well. I only regret the lack of a formal bibliography, and cross-references are embedded in the book rather than listed at the end. The references to Vishnu Bhatt Godse’s Majha Pravas (My Travels), published in 1907, by Chitrashala Press, Pune is something I’d like to lay my hands on. One clear assumption, when reading the book, I had to make, was that the references were valid.
More often than not, when an Indian writer picks up a story to be presented in the “correct context”, it usually leads to a blanket negation and grandiloquent discrediting of all British accounts and the glorification of all Indian historical personalities as heroes – usually, without valid references. This is not to say that the British accounts were in any way accurate – however an argument loses credibility without necessary support and references.
Tahmankar, on the other hand, presents a very balanced view of the personalities in his book. Whether it is Tatya Tope or Nana Saheb or Sir Hugh Rose, he relies on multiple references and their verifiable actions to present the true character of the personalities. Where necessary he is surgically analytical and boldly critical without being under duress of presenting a pompous or glorious Indian edition of the story.
The language he employs is simple and clear, with interesting shades of Indian English would have been prevalent at that time. It flows without interruption and each word is well-placed like a jig-saw puzzle that has been gently sand-papered to create a picture without the distorting grooves. He writes, for example:
This economic impact of British rule changed the even tenor of Indian social life with brutal suddenness. The process of disintegration was accentuated by the disrupting aspects of Lord Dalhousie’s administration which showed little respect for religious susceptibilities and political sentiments.
All through the book, Tahmankar makes precise use of adjectives to set the mood for the story. There is an uncanny tension that prevails throughout the book, and keeps your opinion balanced without making the book an effortful academic read.
Immensely enjoyable, I wish for more writers to take up the challenge of writing about Indian history that comes close to Tahmankar’s cogent presentation.
The Maratha Confederacy is a chapter in Indian history that guarantees great conversation if you are objective and very heated arguments if you are noThe Maratha Confederacy is a chapter in Indian history that guarantees great conversation if you are objective and very heated arguments if you are not. Being a Maharashtrian, my interest in the Maratha Confederacy in general and Maratha history in particular, is often considered to be a matter of blind regional pride. And while I have attempted several times to explain that my interest is curiously academic, I often fail to convince.
And my curious academic interest is why I have been slowly reading this book for a while and finally have a slightly better sense of the Confederacy. Prof. Kadam's book, while a stellar research on the confederacy, fell short of making an impact in a better understanding of its "origin and the development."
In recent times I have been seeking books of Indian origin about Indian history to better understand local and cultural perspectives, which may have been absent in the chronicles by foreign writers. Thankfully, many Indian writers, especially academic, have risen to the task and are now re-documenting Indian history. And perhaps there lies the problem: for one, the books read more like research papers than books. Almost every book is a derivative of a Ph.D. thesis, slightly enhanced.
Consider this book: it has in-depth research, micro-level facts (often irrelevant) across the various aspects that contributed to the rise and decline of the confederacy. Yet, because of its structure, it is unable to make a lucid explanation of the "history" of the confederacy. This is not to say that all the research is useless, on the contrary, it provides pointers into the makings of, the coming together and the breaking apart of the, Maratha power. The facts are all there, the analysis is irregular and often missing. It is left to the reader, to laboriously piece together all contributing issues and make sense of the "origin and the development (and the signifiers of the decline)."
It is not very clear whether this books was written as a reference book, a research paper or a history book. If it was the later, it fails, else, if you have an (objective) interest in the study of the Maratha Confederacy, this book is for you....more