Online edition of India's National Newspaper
Thursday, Jun 30, 2011
Google



Metro Plus Delhi
Published on Mondays, Thursdays & Saturdays

Features: Magazine | Literary Review | Life | Metro Plus | Open Page | Education Plus | Book Review | Business | SciTech | NXg | Friday Review | Cinema Plus | Young World | Property Plus | Quest |

Metro Plus    Bangalore    Chennai    Coimbatore    Delhi    Hyderabad    Kochi    Madurai    Thiruvananthapuram   

Printer Friendly Page Send this Article to a Friend

Flashbacks on a famine

S.K. Das recreates the Orissa of the times that were marked by ineffective kings, eccentric bureaucrats and the cruel famine



FACT WITH TACT The author merges fiction and history in the narration

History is never short of stories. Writers and raconteurs often take solace in it to bring engaging stories to the fore. S.K. Das, a retired civil servant, like so many others has extracted a story from our colonial history. The writer zooms in on Orissa, his home state, and sets the tale against the Orissa famine of 1866, one of the worst famines to have struck mankind. “The Collector's Daughter” (Rupa Publications) is a gripping narrative of British bureaucracy woven with a clever insight into royal life.

“History is a simple narration of things. It is very linear. You have a framework in which you try to recapture what would have been the societal relationship, why the Commissioner didn't pass an order to get rice for Orissa even in such difficult times… You keep going back and you have to contextualise it. But that's not linear,” states the author over the phone from Bangalore, where he works as Honorary Adviser at ISRO.

Born in a family with its history going back several centuries in Orissa, Das says he grew up listening to such lore in which famine played an integral role.

“All the stories would have a reference to the famine because it indeed was extremely tragic. Nearly one-third of Orissa's population was wiped out. Men ate each other. Some of these stories may be over-stated, some may be exaggerated but they have a core of truth,” says Das whose ancestral history also came in handy in penning down this book. Since there were many civil servants in the family, Das got access to information regarding the functioning of British bureaucracy.

Fiction and truth seamlessly merge in Das' prose, which has a fictional character, Devi, at its centre. Devi was born to Meni and became her illegitimate daughter as Meni was raped by an ICS officer, William Stewart. He is the collector of Puri and Meni's father is one of the personal servants of Stewart. Parallel to this story is the tale of power, conspiracy and selfishness played out at the palace of Orissa. Queen Tripura Sundari is a power-thirsty woman who makes her husband adopt a male heir just minutes before his death. It is just a move to keep the king's uncle away from the throne. The new king, Rudra Pratap, is an opium addict and that gives the queen a good enough opportunity to fulfil her dreams of ruling the state. His son, the young king Purusottama Rudra, has a passion for pigs and so does Devi. He falls in love with her.

Das reveals that there indeed was an ICS officer who impregnated a local and there is truth to the royal happenings mentioned in the book. The well-etched character of the commissioner is also based on the commissioner of Orissa, Thomas Edward Ravenshaw, who refused to acknowledge that there was any shortage of rice in Orissa and completely overlooked the crisis, saying that the government shouldn't interfere with the operations of the market by bringing in rice. But even then Das in “The Collector's Daughter” doesn't seem to be portraying him in a negative light. “He was a slave to what he learnt at their training school. There was this utilitarian philosophy that he was adhering to. Later, Orissa forgave him and there was a college named after him.”

To cull out these stories, Das dug deep into several journals and books like “Desha, Kala, Patra” by Jagannath Prasad Das, Phillip Mason's “Men Who Ruled India” and Mike Dash's “Thug: The True Story of India's Murderous Cult”.

SHAILAJA TRIPATHI

Printer friendly page  
Send this article to Friends by E-Mail



Metro Plus    Bangalore    Chennai    Coimbatore    Delhi    Hyderabad    Kochi    Madurai    Thiruvananthapuram   

Features: Magazine | Literary Review | Life | Metro Plus | Open Page | Education Plus | Book Review | Business | SciTech | NXg | Friday Review | Cinema Plus | Young World | Property Plus | Quest |


The Hindu Group: Home | About Us | Copyright | Archives | Contacts | Subscription
Group Sites: The Hindu | Business Line | Sportstar | Frontline | Publications | eBooks | Images | Home |

Comments to : thehindu@vsnl.com   Copyright 2011, The Hindu
Republication or redissemination of the contents of this screen are expressly prohibited without the written consent of The Hindu