Pramod K. Nayar talks about his fascination for the British Raj and how it led to him editing a series of novels titled ‘Mutiny Novels’, which will be releasing today
Jhansi Ki Rani and Mangal Pandey, warriors of the first battle of Independence in 1857, have been eulogised in movies, poems and books. But the Revolt of 1857, which the British Raj referred to as the Sepoy Mutiny, had many unsung heroes and heroines. There are few works of fiction or films about them and events connected to the revolution. Now, in an attempt to fill in the blanks in history, DC Books releases a series of novels titled the ‘Mutiny Novels’ in English that have been edited by Pramod K. Nayar. The series narrates the events that led to the revolt, the people involved, and its aftermath.
A lecturer of English at the University of Hyderabad, Pramod came to history via literature. “Reading colonial fiction led me to colonial history, and other forms of colonial writing,” says Pramod, who adds that he is deeply fascinated with the British Raj, right from the first Englishmen in India to the end of the empire in 1947.
The dynamics of the rebellion, the British responses, the responses of the rest of the world, the heroes and the events were what fascinated him as he read up on the period.
He collected material on the Raj during his stints in Cambridge, Cornell and other Universities abroad. The Indian archives and libraries such as Salar Jung Museum Library, Hyderabad, the Nehru Museum and Library, New Delhi, and the National Archives, New Delhi also helped.
The Mutiny Series (six texts), although fictional, draw upon historical events and people. The series includes Alice F. Jackson’s A Brave Girl, R.E. Forrest’s Eight Days and Maxwell Gray’s In The Heart Of The storm.
“History itself, as we know it, is the building of narratives around events, linking them, finding cause-effect sequences, attributing intentions and so on. Further, I believe novels also contribute to historical knowledge. Our knowledge of, say, Indian history also comes from supposedly ‘fictional’ texts by Sarat Chandra and Chandu Menon, just as our knowledge of 18th century British mercantile and nautical history comes from novels like Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. History is one more form of story-telling, just as novels are. Novels offer us the best point of access into social history.”
Pramod adds that he has not interfered or edited what the English authors wrote. “My job has been the selection of novels from the collection I have, to do the introduction, both for the series and the individual titles, and oversee a glossary. I believe these should be read unedited so we can get the flavour of the age in which these were originally written and read.”
Asked how well the Mutiny series will fare in the age of Harry Potters and Twilight and Pramod replies: “Some of these are as thrilling, dramatic and adventure-filled although there are no vampires or broomsticks! It must be remembered that these Mutiny novels were popular texts in 19th century England. We see them today as classics or ‘serious’ literature, but they were, like Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes tales, meant as mass entertainment.”
Apart from the Mutiny Series, Pramod has already released several books on the period: The Penguin 1857 Reader (as Editor), The Trial Of Bahadur Shah Zafar (Editor) and The Great Uprising: India (as author).
He will be releasing a five-volume set titled Women In Colonial India: Historical Documents and Sources that is a collection of British writings on sati, female infanticide, Indian women’s education, health and marriage, shortly.