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In 1995, at an Upper Primary School, in a countryside in Kannur district, Kerala, South India, a young boy felt the dire need to know what mutiny was. They had History as a subject, but as the tradition of that school was, the teachers for some subjects would always be in ‘coming soon’ mode, as some of those Bollywood movie posters read. The History teacher was on leave forever, and a substitute teacher, who generally taught mathematics, was called for.
The mathematics teacher always told them to remember dates, and the boy wondered what if one day, someone changed some dates. The history and the present would be shaken, and there will be a chaos.
It was in one of her classes on Indian History and Freedom Struggle she mentioned the word, mutiny. He munched on the word for some time. The sound of it was especially intriguing. “Tue-ti-ti”. He hummed in an alternate sound track. “Tue-ti-ti….tue-ti-ti.”
“An open rebellion against an authority,” the math-turned-history-teacher explained the literal sense of the word. The boy felt that there has to be a better word to explain the war. It was after all, Indians fighting against the ruling British, for something that always was theirs.
“Why is it called a mutiny, teacher?” the boy inquired. The teacher looked at the boy, in return, and said something inaudible. The boy shook his head as if he understood what the teacher had said, when the sound of the teacher’s words hardly reached within five feet of the boy, sitting in the third bench.
Later at home, he asked his mother about the mutiny. She was a teacher of History, at a college. The mother was happy to see her son asking questions on his subjects. She calculated that the boy might be able to do really well in the year-end exams, if she could deliver a detailed lesson on the mutiny. Finding time among other household chores, the mother sat down to narrate one of the bloodiest episodes of Indian history. The boy was happy with awe and wonder, satiated. The mother addressed both his hunger for knowledge and the passion for stories.
The history teacher did not come. The substitute teacher now had reasons too, which though, she did not reveal to anyone, kept her away from the class of the boy. No one taught them History, anymore. Some girls in the class grew agitated, as they assumed the reason of the substitute teacher’s absence was the questions of the boy. No one knew which version of the reason was the truth. In the year-end exams, though, the boy scored full marks in history. Teachers as well as the Headmistress appreciated the boy saying he knew things even the tenth graders did not.
The boy grew up. He is particularly interested in reading fiction, novels. Somewhere in this journey into the world of fiction and the craft of writing, though, he realized that his mind was searching for the reassurance of facts. He was seeking answers to questions that haunted him in his writing journey. In 2013, he found this silent urge was burning in his mind. It directed him towards a quest into History.
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How an individual’s story is tied up with a nation’s!
The mutiny of 1857 is now dubbed as ‘the First War of Indian Independence’, since mutiny was derogatory in its implications towards the grand ideals the war upheld for the nation’s past and future. When there is more to know on such a topic, a reference book on history is the best tool to rely on. Therefore, I chose, The Great Mutiny, India 1857 by Christopher Hibbert.
Have you heard of the massacre in Cawnpore River? Bollywood, apparently, has not made a movie on this incident, yet. Many other events and references are equally important, but an old painting, given in the central pages, along with a few of other crucial paintings and photographs, hooked me to this book.
The door was open, and I turned my head inside to look. I saw ghosts and bloody wars, treason and patriotism, struggling to purify themselves with the blood of many. I saw people, many, with pride and self-pity. I also saw kings and emperors clutching to what little they had been left with.
Unlike the previous book reviews, in which I had prioritized novels, this one, would be purely non-fiction, in fact a book on history. I am expecting that this would be useful for academicians, students, as well as general enthusiasts of Indian History. There is one more thing. I will tell you later.
This is history. It isn’t over, yet. So, Wait.