The uprising of 1857 against British rule in India was the first war of independence against colonialism in India and was largely sparked by hanging of Mangal Pandey-a sepoy in British Army from erstwhile state of Awadh. The book is a worthwhile attempt to reconstruct the life story and recount the circumstances that surrounded India’s first freedom fighter.
The first chapter of the book “The North Indian Brahmin Ethos’ provides a detailed analysis of milieu, culture and conflicting influences of the period. The book dwells on multitude of concentric conspiracies in India against East India Company rule to which Mangal Pandey’s valour provided the inspirational fuel. In short it paints biographical sketch of 28 year old bachelor sepoy by referring to folklore, Aalha Mangal Pandey is the oral history reference point, historical records like Avadh Gazette and official records like court martials and pervious related books on the subject that include Faizabad Ka Itihass by S. Misra and Gadar Ke Phool by A.Nagar.
It chronicles our hero’s family life in his native Faizabad; repression suffered by his family at hands of British after his rebellion and recreates an apparently doomed affair between him and a married Bengali woman.
From there it progresses to his rebellion against use of cartridges greased with fats of pigs and cows in army, his unfair court martial, his hanging and finally the rage and humiliation suffered by his regiment that was disbanded shortly afterwards by company. Author than relates this with sepoy mutiny in Meerut and its quick fire spread all over the country that awakened Indian nationalism.
The book scores on two counts. First it helps in expanding our school textbook knowledge about Mangal Pandey and tries to study 1857 revolt in a serious manner as it led to India’s self perception as a modern nation. Second it revisits and tries to reclaim history of Indian freedom struggle through Indian sensibilities as till now we have largely taken recourse in records maintained by Empire.