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Fascinating tales of Rajputana told afresh

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History revisited: Writer Manoshi Bhattacharya in New Delhi.
History revisited: Writer Manoshi Bhattacharya in New Delhi.

Manoshi Bhattacharya grew up hearing endearing stories revolving around Rajput kings of Rajasthan. In a talk with Madhur Tankha she tells how she could weave them (stories) in a historical perspective in her latest book….

Her maternal grandfather was an excellent raconteur of folklores about Rajput kings and soldiers. Writer Manoshi Bhattacharya, who as a child grew up listening to these heroic tales, has tried to explore the extraordinary lives of Rajputs in her latest book.

Beginning her career in the Indian Navy following in the footsteps of her father, Manoshi says her latest labour of love “The Royal Rajputs -- Strange Tales and Stranger Truths” took four years of intensive study, research and interaction with those well versed with the subject. To make the book interesting, she has also made sketches to familiarise readers with that period.

Describing herself as an avid reader of history, Manoshi says the book materialised because of her frequent trips to Rajasthan and the host of wonderful stories that abound there. “Even as a 10-year-old girl I used to accompany my parents to Rajasthan. Since my brother studied at Mayo College in Ajmer, I visited a number of cities in the desert State. My maternal grandfather, who grew up in Rajasthan, narrated to me endearing stories revolving around Rajput kings. So I wanted to share these stories with readers by giving them a historical perspective.”

Covering fascinating legends and popular historical tales that draw thousand of people to Rajasthan every year, the book begins with the earliest known facts and carries on into the mid-19th Century. “The book brings to light major Rajput kingdoms and touches briefly upon the modern historical view of the origin of their clans. The history that reflects the consensus view among current historians has been presented in a lucid manner. Rather than making it sound like a book on history, I have made it an interesting amalgamation of fact and fiction.”

Deriving inspiration from the book “Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan”, Manoshi says the author James Tod was Rajputana’s first political agent and lay chronicler. “The book spurred me to go through the Ph.D. papers on that period. I got my manuscript read by Maharaja of Kota Maharao Brij Raj Singh, who is a historian by education. He asked me to explore further why certain historical incidents occurred. So my book irons out the historical glitches of earlier chronicles and presents the complete story devoid of contradictions.”

Unravelling the myth behind the famous legend built around Rani Padmani, Manoshi says many readers will be appalled to know that the famous story built around her was pure fiction. “Rani Padmani’s story was the creation of bards of Rajasthan who wanted to justify All-ud-din Khilji’s attacks on Chittaur. Of course, there was ‘jauhar’ by queens when Khilji was building the trade road from Surat to down South. Khilji had to take over some of the forts that passed that route because the caravans were being looted by the locals. So a story was made that it was the love for a princess that drove him to conquer Rajput lands. So I have built legends around historical facts.”

To avoid confusion between contemporaries who shared the same name, a deliberate difference had been maintained in the spellings of proper nouns. With birth, marriage and death records made available, the scene is set alive with teenagers, mature men and the women of Rajasthan who have until now remained unnamed and forgotten.

Manoshi plans to write a children’s version of this book. “With colourful pictures and illustrations, the upcoming edition will be exclusively for children. I used to sketch in college and after 20 years I have started again,” adds Manoshi, who is practicing as a general physician in Gurgaon.

Shedding light on her first book “Charming the Deep: A History of the Indian Naval Hydrographic Department”, Manoshi says it dealt with the history of the survey and mapping of Indian waters. “Published by the Indian Navy, it covers the history of hydrography and cartography in India since the days of the Indus Valley Civilization to the modern period. The science of survey received a boost during the days of the British Raj when the colonising nations vied with each other to discover trade routes to India,” says Manoshi.

The book gives a historical perspective to the conquest of the great waters, the Indian Ocean basin, cartography, the maps portraying the sub-continent including the Kutchi sea charts of the seafaring Gujarati community.

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