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A new lens-view

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Pages of history Boria Majumdar and Montek Singh Ahluwalia at the launch
Pages of history Boria Majumdar and Montek Singh Ahluwalia at the launch

The latest book on 1857 looks at the event through a fresh perspective

“In society, there is space for more than one history,” said pioneering social scientist Ashis Nandy. The historic event of 1857 is understood through movies, cartoons and cricket in the recently released Roli Books collection, “Revisiting 1857 – Myth, Memory, History,” edited by Sharmistha Gooptu and Boria Majumdar.

“Our concern is to understand 1857 through new lenses,” said Rhodes scholar, Boria Majumdar, during a panel discussion that followed the release of the book at Oxford Bookstore.

The essays on 1857 by writers who don’t claim to be “experts on 1857” attempt to understand the historic episode through modes of popular culture.

“The aim is to understand the common man’s memory of the event,” said Majumdar. Popular culture – be it Aamir Khan’s Mangal Pandey, the Amar Chitra Katha series and cricket matches – all give a fresh perspective of the historic occasion.

“Political scientists be damned. The multiple private histories on politics and cricket give the society vivacity,” said Nandy.

Sharmistha Gooptu, the co-editor of the book and the author of the article, “Nationalist Spectacle, Authenticity, Historicity: The Registers of 1857 in Indian Cinema”, asked, “Is history something only historians can mediate?”

The young authors also explore the various myths about 1857 and also go back in time to dig out lesser known facts. A result of research and at times personal experiences, the book not only makes 1857 relevant on the 150th anniversary of the event, but also projects it from a different point of view.

Touching upon his contribution to the book, “When the Sepoys Batted: 1830-50 on the Playing Field,” Majumdar said, “The sepoys played competitive cricket with the British between 1830-50.”

“It is like taking Lagaan a few years backwards,” he pointed the connection between popular movies and reality.

Identifying 1857 through cartoons is what Nalin Mehta has done in his “The Amar Chitra Katha of 1857: The Nation in the Comic”.

“When I think of Mangal Pandey, I remember the figure in the Amar Chitra Katha comics,” he said, adding his knowledge of history is mostly linked to his memory of the cartoons.

Releasing the book, the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia said, “I don’t think we have had enough films on the subject. There should be more.”

P. ANIMA

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