Wednesday, April 27, 2011

1857: The Real Story Of The Great Uprising - Vishnu Bhatt Godshe Versaikar

The Uprising in the year 1857 , triggered by the Indian soldiers under the British Army, later supported by few kingdoms in the mid-north of India is considered as the first 'organised' struggle for Independence against the British Rulers in India, by many historians. More widely known as "Sepoy Mutiny" in the school history books are known to every Indian student. The names Nana Sahib, his deputy Tantya Tope and the legendary Queen of Jhansi, Lakshmibai are few heroes in the freedom struggle in the 19th century.

While the history text book gives us the story of these leaders and the struggle in detail, they are all have been the result of various studies and set to appease the Indian masses. Here is more closure account ( though I refrain to say accurate) of the events as they are unfolded to the traveller in those part of India during the turbulent times.

Vishnu Bhatt, a poor Maharashtra Brahmin, undertake a journey to the North (Hindi speaking areas) with his uncle, to participate in few religious ceremony at the rich and rulers thus earn some money to help the staggering debts that the family endure at the point of time. Little did he know that nhe is going to witness one of the most significant milestones in the history of India. With a promise to his weeping wife and brother that he will return within an year, the eventful journey took him nearly three years to retun back home safely.While Vishnu Bhatt did not participate in the struggle directly, he was also been part of the receiving end more than a couple of times, by the victorious British soldiers, and been mugged on a few occasions by the thugs on his way.

What is important to us is that he documents ( from memory and after 24 years of the events) the journey and the actions as he is witnessed to the rest of the world. As it is already known, the revolt started after the roumer that the new ammunition and guns procured and distributed by the British Army to the soldiers ( of Indian Origin) are "greased with cow fat and lard from Pigs". This agitated both the Hindu and Muslim soldiers for respective reasons, and the thought that "this was a deliberate ploy by the cunning white rulers to first get them to disgrace and pollute themselves by breaking the religious taboos and after they had been debased and cast out of their religion, to try and convert them to Christianity". However, the Britishers did not understand the reason of resentiment by the soldiers and they were pressed and forced to take up these arms. Refusal was treated with harsh punishment. The collective sentiments against this caused the uprising, at various part of the country starting at Meerut, Kanpur and Calcutta.

Large number of soldiers left the barracks and were wandering in the vastness of the region, who was looking for a leader to guide them. Tantya Tope, the ruler of Bisthur, thought it is his obligation to protect the religion and the state and was ready to lead the assault. The team had a few success initially, managing to defeat the white army at a couple of battles. As we are now aware, the trend soon reversed and eventually most part of North India coming under the control and rule of British East India company.

Jhansi rani Lakshmibai had different reasons to join the fight. The royal family deprived of a legal heir was refused permission to adopt a boy and thus to continue the regime. The king married thrice ( Lakshmibai being the third) died at an early age, leaving the kingdom at the hand of the resident British ruler. Being restricted to the inner circles of the palace, and having to obey the Britishers triggered the rebellion in the Queen, who soon declared herself as the ruler and started gathering troops. Joining forces with Tantya Tope and Nana Sahib, she continued the fight against the white leading the battle from the front, until her sad death in the battle.

Now, the book is not written as a history text. This could be called a travelogue or a memoir. He is not a 'qualified writer' and that reflects in the text and narration. While he was travelling in these part of the country, not every event is from the eye witness. Many are based on the hearsay by fellow travellers or people whom he meet. There are also evident of exaggeration of few numbers and amounts ( at least that is what I felt) and glorification of feats. Barring that, this is a good read and gives us the glimpses of the events from closure quarters.

Vishnu Bhatt is a keen observer and a listener. He is able to recall the events after many years to the precise details. He do not hide his admiration to the rulers and his meetings with Jhansi Rani and the other rulers are that of a typical brahmin looking for monetary favours and stomach full of delicious food. He also wanted to demonstrate his skilled and knowledge in religious scriptures and test himself against the scholars. He is also intelligent and calculative. His learning from the events and his analysis are very insightful and not that of the typical of the poor brahmin looking for daily food ( though he claims to be a wandering sadhu at many places).

He also captures some of interesting facts about Jhansi Rani, which are not seen much earlier. Rani likes to dres in man's attire ,trousers and jackets ( this was her attire during most of her battles) and used this as disguise while travelling in the country side. On the other hand, her husband likes to cross dress in woman's dress and spends great amount of time in the women's quarters.

Mrinal Pande's translation is worth mentioning. She claims to have translated this from the original text in Marathi and used the occasional reference to the earlier Sanskrit translations. The book reads with out much hiccups or difficulties to a non-hindi / marathi speaker and not using many of the local idioms. The language and style was maintained closure to the orignial ( to the kind of language and narration you see in the books from 19th century).
1857: The Real Story Of The Great Uprising ( 1907)

Vishnu Bhatt Godshe Versaikar ( translated from Marathi by Mrinal Pande in 2011)

Harper Perennia

229 Pages

Rs 250
Other reviews : Mumbai Boss , Pioneer


Vishal Kale said...

Nice succint review. I have read it, and my observations tend to tally with your in the large part. Please feel free to visit my effort @

Saurabh said...

Mr. Jayan please let me know how and where I can find this book?
my mail id is