| MANGAL PANDEY: BRAVE MARTYR OR ACCIDENTAL HERO |
by Rudrangshu Mukherjee
Price: Rs 150; Pages: 109
| MANGAL PANDEY: THE TRUE STORY OF AN INDIAN REVOLUTIONARY |
By Amaresh Misra
Price: Rs 95; Pages: 106
Irrespective of the commercial fate of Mangal Pandey-The Rising, the nation owes a debt of gratitude to Aamir Khan and Ketan Mehta for resurrecting the uprising of 1857 in our collective conscience, just two years before the sesquicentennial of the tumultuous events. Though the timing of both Rudrangshu Mukherjee and Amaresh Misra (or, at least, their publishers) may have been motivated largely by commercial intent, their concise booklets deserve commendation even if they fit in the category of pop rather than scholastic history.
Mukherjee, who studied the 1857 uprising as part of his DPhil at Oxford at a time when classical Marxist historiography ruled the roost, has clearly been unable to shed the blinkers of that age. Besides, he appears not to have updated his research and has produced what is essentially a quickie version of a study undertaken more than two decades ago. That, however, is the lesser of the problems. The bigger quandary a reader is certain to confront is the glaring disconnect between his narrative and conclusions.
| PICTURE SPEAK |
|PERCEPTION VS REALITY: Aamir Khan as Mangal Pandey |
In his frenzy to deny the existence of an Indian "nation" in 1857, he ends up all but dismissing Mangal Pandey's individual act of courage as an isolated phenomenon, probably undertaken under the influence of bhang. "Nationalism everywhere makes its own myths and Mangal Pandey has become part of that imagination," he contends.
Mukherjee-contradicting his own narration of the role of circulating chapattis (predictably, he leaves out lotuses) and rumours that abounded at that time, prognosticating a great upheaval and imminent collapse of British rule-insists that the soldiers who mutinied at Meerut just six weeks after Pandey's rebellion at Barrackpore "did not look towards Mangal Pandey, if they knew of him at all". In making this sweeping assertion, the historian-turned-journalist overlooks the fact that Pandey's regiment was disbanded shortly after his mutiny. And the disgraced soldiers trudged back to their villages in Awadh, seething with rage and humiliation. Meanwhile, a multitude of concentric conspiracies were already afoot throughout north and central India. Surely, the news of Pandey's valour would have added inspirational fuel to an already explosive scenario. Mukherjee's inability to rise above his ideological constraints, thus, devalues his work and fails to locate Pandey in the appropriate historical context.
Although significantly less scholarly, Misra's "true story" of 1857's first martyr is a more realistic assessment. Misra draws on folklore and Awadhi texts such as Aalha Mangal Pandey and Faizabad Ka Itihas to try and recreate the romance of Pandey's character. He even refers to an apparently doomed affair between the 28-year-old bachelor sepoy and a married Bengali woman. Misra, in fact, tries hard to sketch a personality profile of Pandey although too much myth-making appears intertwined with facts. Several intimate personal details, probably apocryphal, help us imagine Pandey much better as a volatile, romantic and devout individual.
Misra's work oscillates between attempted scholarship and popular mythology, but his perspective is clear: Pandey was unabashedly a revolutionary and qualifies as freedom's first fighter. His contextuality is superior to Mukherjee's even if it stretches the imagination to acknowledge it as a "true story". However, both works contribute to extending our school textbook knowledge of Pandey that hardly went beyond his heroic defiance of authority to defend caste and religion by refusing to accept greased cartridges. The booklets should serve as gateways to a serious, unblinkered study of 1857, the year that marks the beginning of India's self-perception as a modern nation.