The End of May…..

5 months have already gone by and suddenly, we are in the middle of the year! 2018 is passing and I cannot say I quite regret it; but I must also own, that the Summer has brought much peace and much needed calm to what had been a hectic Winter/Spring! And while the earth is baked under the powerful sun, that blazes down with all its fury in this part of world, I was able to sit quietly at home and read through several nights, drinking glasses of “Shikanji” (Indian Lemonade) and Buttermilk, in an effort to stay cool! Thus, I present to you, a snapshot of all my readings for the month of May –

From Persuasions by Jane Austen

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How quick come the reasons for approving what we like.”

From The Sign of Four by Sir Author Conan Doyle

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The emotional qualities are antagonistic to clear reasoning.”

From The Greatest Knight by Elizabeth Chadwick

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Deeds may speak more compellingly than words,but I believe words have their place too. A man who has both is gifted indeed.”

From Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift

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“This was the great truth of life, that fact and fiction were always merging, interchanging.”

From The Murder of My Aunt by Richard Hull

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Really, this man seems to have been considering the difficulties very intelligently. I wonder if he had an aunt?

From The Uncommon Reader by Allen Bennett

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Books are not about passing the time. They’re about other lives. Other worlds. Far from wanting time to pass, Sir Kevin, one just wishes one had more of it.

From The Sisterhood by Helen Bryan

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It confirmed Mother’s secret conviction that the world had enough trouble without insisting all worship God the same way. There was room before the Throne for everyone who served Him – Baptists and the Hindus, Seventh Day Adventists, Muslims and Jews as well as Catholics.”

That’s my round of May books! Another Summer month beckons and hopefully, it will bring more books and great readings for all!

 

 

 

 

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The Longest Read Along – EVER!

This post is LATE! Like beyond late, it is like late to the power of infinity! However, like I say better late than never and all that! So here goes –

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More than 2 years ago, O, who always sets the bar for heavy weight as well as innovative readings, came up with the idea of doing a 21 Month Read Along of The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, in the chronology it was published. She shared that a friend of hers had advised her to read in that style to grasp the flavor of the original narrative. It was an interesting idea and I was very willing to give this novel a try, since my first reading, in my teens, did not make a significant impression. Besides, I wanted to see if I can control a book binge if hooked. Thus I in the company of many others, set along the path of what could be possibly one of the longest Read Alongs ever!!

The Pickwick Papers, chronicles, the adventure of Mr. Samuel Pickwick, a mature gentleman of independent means and head of the Pickwick Club and his chums; Mr.Tracy Tupman, a contemporary of Mr. Pickwick in age, but lacking the former’s sagacity and quite capable of falling in love, at the drop of a hat. Mr. Nathaniel Winkle and Mr. Augustus Snodgrass form the remaining partners in adventure; they are younger with unique talents – Mr. Winkle is a Sportsman and Mr. Snodgrass, a poet! They set out from London to explore unique and authentic phenomena across England and report them for the club. Thus begins a journey of a thousand miles; on the way, Mr. Pickwick picks up  young Sam Weller as his valet who sticks by his Master’s schemes through thick and thin. They meet the wonderful families and good for nothing confidence men. There is imprisonment on false charges and there are elopements, but nothing dims the optimistic and honorable spirit of Mr. Pickwick and his trusty aid, Sam Weller as they over come obstacles and challenges to find the most reasonable solution for all their dilemmas!

One of his first creations, one can see the brilliance of Charles Dickens coming through in the novel, though he was only 23 when writing it. There is wonderful characterization and gentle satire and sense of fun through all the 800 pages. There is confusion, adventure and rambunctious fun! Yet, despite all this humor, there is a harsh commentary on the 18th century English society. All the laughs he wrote out in the book, cannot take away, the harsh reality of the Debtor’s prison or the horrific conditions of people living without means. The corruption of officials and politicians are clearly called out with a scathing condemnation for a society unable to take care of it’s poorer population. Dicken’s sense of justice is passionate and we see glimpses of things to come in this novel. Some of the characters are really well drawn out, like Mr. Pickwick and Sam Weller and his father, and Mr. Jingle, who talks in hyphens, but others do not emerge all that clearly!  There are times, when you can make out that this was being written in installments, like, how the initial chapters have a story within a story for Mr. Pickwick to capture for the club and then there are no such episodes in the latter half. Similarly, technically, Mr. Pickwick’s chums began as the focal points after Mr. Pickwick himself, but somewhere the brilliance and sheer street smartness of Sam Weller took over and he become the second most important character of the book. Not that I am complaining, all one needs is one Sam Weller in the world, and one can fight through everything! But it does show, a bit of sketchy character development, with Sam coming through clearly and all there friends being clubbed together as muddle heads.

Like I mentioned, the first time I read the book, back in my teens, I did not get it! But sometimes the right book comes at the right time and that was the case, this time round, through it was over a period of 2 years. I could immerse myself in the book after a bad day at work or some other mental irritation and emerge happy and smiling. There were times, when after I broke off reading for one spell, it was difficult to connect the dots and remember all the characters, but these anomalies, resolved as I progressed and did not really impact my absolute and utter sense of joy when reading this novel.

All in all, I am super super glad to have given this book another try! A big shout out to O for coming up with the idea and for Cleo who always kept me on track with her regular posts!

The Cook Investigates

Couple of weeks back, as part of Penguin’s First To Read program, I had the good luck to get a copy of Death Below Stairs by Jennifer Ashley. The book is expected to come out next year and I was glad to get a copy of what seemed like a good, old fashioned crime thriller to take my mind off the unnecessary and pointless events happening around me!

The novel is set in Victorian England, and opens with Cook Kat Holloway, starting her first day as the cook at the Rankin household at Mayfair, London. Lord Rankin is in some kind of stock brokering business, through which he has resurrected the family’s tottering fortune. He is married to Lady Emily, and resides in the Mayfair house, with her and her elder sister, Lady Cynthia. Lady Cynthia and Lady Emily are the daughter’s of the colorful Lord Clifford, who has done away with most of his inherited fortune, by a wild living and has no money for his surviving daughters. Lady Cynthia, is a bit of an eccentric, dressing up in gentleman’s clothes and doing all kinds of activities, considered to be the domain of men! The household servants are under the tutelage of Mr. Davis, a sleek but kind, efficient and gossipy butler, Mrs, Bowen, reticent but effective housekeeper, several other maids and footman and Ellen who is the assistant cook to Kat. Kat’s first day turns out to be way more than she bargained for; first she has to help Lady Cynthia take care of an injured man, whom she accidentally hurt with her carriage. Then she decides to take up the coffee to Lord Rankin, when the latter asks for the same to be sent up by Ellen, after realizing that Lord Rankin is in a habit of getting sexually free with the maids. Deciding to put a stop to such activities with the servants under her purview, Kat takes up the coffee to Lord Rankin’s library, only to discover an angry master and his guest – the mysterious Daniel McAdams. Daniel McAdams, is a friend of Kat’s who has helped her out in past from sticky situations and is a mystery man , associated in some capacity with the Legal arm of the government, and who usually moves around the city of the London, under the guise of a delivery man and man on hire.  Seeing Daniel at Lord Rankin in formal attire, surprises Kat though, she does not give away her knowledge of Daniel to her employer and makes her suspect, that there is more to things in the household than meets the eyes. Things come to a head next morning, when going to the larder, Kat finds the dead body of poor Ellen. It is now up to her and Daniel to figure who is involved and why, before more violence is committed!

The premises of the books of course intrigued me from the go – Victorian England, a Cook and a murder mystery; what is there not to like. The characters developed by the author are quite enjoyable. Kat is an exceptionally kind, but firm and efficient heroine, who lays no tuck with nonsense or sentimentality. She does good work and takes care of people she loves and cares. The Lord and Lady Rankin are typical of their position, rich and bored and with  minimal interest in the lives whose very livelihood and existence depends on them and whose safety and security are their responsibility! In Lady Cynthia, we find a character who must have seemed at odd with the norms of the then prudish Victorian Society and she seemed capable of understanding and empathizing with the lesser fortunate, despite the difficult situation that life had placed her in. I wish Ms. Ashley had focused a little more into this very interesting character and evolved her a bit more! Daniel McAdam was ….well, Daniel McAdam. Much later in the series I realized why I was not finding much to root for the hero; Ms. Ashley is a RITA Award winning author of several best selling historical romance, and Daniel McAdam seems to have come out of those novels. He is good looking, brave, smart with smoldering attraction for Kat and yet seems to hold back some mystery and yada yada yada! Nope, he seemed to be there to add romance and I would have much preferred a tobacco chewing, fat, married Inspector with a paternal interest or something like that helping Kat out, instead of a hero out of one of Harlequin Romances! This brings me to the part of the novel that I did not like – the writing! Kat’s heart throbs or beats wildly or some such boring cliche. I could not glean any originality of thought or emotions from the novel, and once again I felt, the romantic themes of a historical romance were transplanted into this book, making some of writing, just plain, incongruous with the plot and the setting. The plot however is good and Ms. Ashley had done extensive research to get the finer details right!  One of few books, where the protagonist not only investigates, but also does his/her day job; Kat plans and cooks meals for the Upstairs and we get a very interesting insight into the food and eating habits of the Victorian England. The politics and social structure while not explored in detail, however came across as accurate and adds a fine layer, to the novel setting! The ending seemed a tad bit improbable, but I must confess, this was one of the very few modern whodunit variety, where I could not guess, who actually did it, till the very end!

Finally, to end, I would only say, it a good read, for those nights, when you need a blanket, a bowl of soup/mug of coffee or any other beverage of your choice and curl up with a book, where you do not stress your intellect, and are simply looking for entertainment and an temporary exit from the real world!

 

The Shadow Of The Moon Read Along – The Landscape Of The Mutiny

I know this post is kind of late, but let me just say that work, which I really wish to keep at minimal and as an alternate, often become main stream; way more often than I like. Anyhow, in my previous essay I had shared some insights into what were the key triggers of the revolt. Today, I want to give an overview of how it spread, the key actors and how it was finally brought to an end, so that you are able to follow the landscape of the novel more easily.

On March 29 1857 at Barrackpore, a military cantonment in East India, a sepoy or solder called Mangal Pandey, angry at the inability of his commanders to resolve the issue of greased cartridges, declared he is revolting and open fired at his Sargent Major, who on being informed of Pandey’s behavior, went to speak to him. He tried to incite his fellow soldiers to rebel and though, the latter did not join him, they also did not try and restrain him when their General ordered them to do the same. On failing to recruit the support of his comrades, he tried to take his own life with his own rifle. He failed, was brought down, arrested and sentenced to be hanged. The soldiers who had refused the General’s order were also hanged. The regiment was disbanded and stripped of its uniforms because the senior officials felt that this would serve as a lesson for those regiments, like this one that they felt harbored ill-feelings towards its superiors. Sepoys in the other regiment felt this was harsh and watched their fellow comrades being stripped of their dignity and became even more disgruntled with the English officers.

Several unrest, following this broke out in the cities of Agra, Allahabad and Ambala, the latter a large military cantonment; not of military revolt but rather cases of civilian arson attacks. Finally, on April 24th, in Meerut, another large military cantonment in North East India, of the unsympathetic and prejudiced Lieutenant Colonel George Carmichael- Smith ordered his men to parade and perform the firing drill, that would require the sepoys to tear of the cartridge, smeared with fat from cows or pigs, unacceptable to both Hindus and Muslims.  All except five of the men on parade refused to accept their cartridges of the total of 90 and all of the 85 were court martialled by 9th May and most were sentenced to 10 years of hard labor. The entire garrison was paraded and watched as the condemned men were stripped of their uniforms and placed in shackles. As they were marched off to jail, the condemned soldiers berated their comrades for failing to support them. The next day was a Sunday and some of the off duty Indian Sepoys warned the sympathetic junior English officers that there will be an attempt to free the condemned 85; however the senior officials took no notice or action. There was trouble in the city of Meerut as well, where the civilians berated the other sepoys for not supporting their comrades and some buildings were set on fire. By evening, the Indian troops, led by the 3rd Cavalry, broke into revolt and freed the 85 held in prison. European officers who attempted to quell the first outbreaks were killed by the rebels. Both military and civilians’ quarters were attacked, and four civilian men, eight women and eight children were killed. Crowds in the bazaar attacked the off-duty soldiers there. About 50 Indian civilians, some officers’ servants who tried to defend or conceal their employers, were also killed by the sepoys.

Thereafter, some of the revolting sepoys made for Delhi, the honorary capital of Mughal India, where at the age of 82, the once brilliant Bahadur Shah Zafar II ruled under the honorary title as the Emperor of India, but really nothing but a puppet in the hands of the East India Company, whose goodwill and beneficence, allowed this once brilliant court to still sustain in some form, but still revered and loved by all subjects, both Hindu and Muslims. The sepoys reached Delhi on May 11th and standing below the windows of the apartment of Bahadur Shah Zafar, they acknowledged him as their Emperor and asked him to join their cause. The 82 year old Emperor at this point took no action, but the sepoys within the Red Fort, where he resided soon joined the revolt and Delhi was soon under the siege of the Sepoys. Several Europeans were killed and the Delhi Arsenal, that held one of the largest arms dumps for East India Company was blown up rather than letting it fall in the hands of the rebels.The surviving Europeans made their way to the Ridge Forest, hoping for a rescue battalion from Meerut, but after two days of starvation and scorching heat, it became apparent, that no relief was coming from Meerut and slowly made their way to Karnal, further north. Some were helped on by the local populace while others killed. On May 16th, the Emperor held his first court in decades and though uncomfortable with the ruthlessness of the speoys, he nevertheless agreed to support the rebellion.

The revolt now spread to other parts of India and Bahadur Shah Zafar was proclaimed the Emperor of the whole of India, though most Historians agree that he was coerced by the sepoys, his advisers and especially his chief wife Zeenat Mahal who wanted to see her son ascend the Delhi Throne.  Revered by all subjects pan India, across religion, caste and creed, the popularity of the Emperor shook the British to the core, who had long ago dismissed the Mughal Emperors as anything but an expensive annoyance. Mufti Nizamuddin, a renowned Muslim cleric and scholar of Lahore, issued a Fatwa against the British forces and called upon the local population to support the forces of the Hindu leader Rao Tula Ram. In Kanpur, again, north eastern India, one of most vicious battles began to play out. In June, sepoys under General Wheeler in Kanpur rebelled and besieged the European entrenchment. Wheeler was not only a veteran and respected soldier but also married to a high-caste Indian lady. He had relied on his own prestige, and his cordial relations with the Nana Sahib to thwart rebellion, and took comparatively few measures to prepare fortifications and lay in supplies and ammunition. However Nana Sahib the mild mannered and cultured, adopted son of the Peshwa was not recognized as the ruler under Dalhousies’s Doctrine of Lapse and he found himself beggared, exempted by what was rightfully his own, violating the traditions of his culture by a band of merchants. Nana Saheb was now part of the rebel forces and his actions would smear the good name of gentle Indians forever. On 25 June Nana Sahib made an offer of safe passage to the Europeans to Allahabad. With barely three days’ food rations remaining, the British agreed provided they could keep their small arms and that the evacuation should take place in daylight on the morning of the 27th. However once near the boats, which were supposed to carry them to safety, the men were mercilessly hacked to death and then the women and children taken hostage to a small bunglow called the Bibigarh, where in a few weeks they too would be butchered to death though, the Sepoys refused to kill them, and couple of mercernaries were hired to complete the vicious act. This action led a lot of Indians and pro Indians Europeans to abandon the cause; no Indian could justify such an act of violence and many voluntarily withdrew from the rebellion. The English became even more brutal; instances include Lieutenant Colonel James George Smith Neill, ordered all villages beside the Grand Trunk Road to be burned and their inhabitants to be killed by hanging. When the British retook Cawnpore, the soldiers took their sepoy prisoners to the Bibighar and forced them to lick the bloodstains from the walls and floor and were then either hanged to death or “blew from the cannon”, the traditional Mughal punishment for mutiny, though they not taken any part in the Bibigarh massacre

Awadh was another center of brutal warfare. Annexed by under the Docterine of Lapse again, the Awadh nobility as well as the sepoys had several causes of anger against the English, with whom they had always acted with fairness and loyalty. However with the disposal of the beloved ruler Wajid Ali, the city of Lucknow, capital of Awadh became a hotbed of dissent and anger and even the Residency of the great Henry Lawrence could not contain the city’s wrath. The British Commissioner resident at Lucknow, Sir Henry Lawrence, had enough time to fortify his position inside the Residency compound. The Company forces numbered some 1700 men, including loyal sepoys. The rebels’ assaults were unsuccessful, and so they began a barrage of artillery and musket fire into the compound. Lawrence was one of the first casualties and would die as a result of that. The siege of the residency continued for 4 months, before relief came with Sir Henry Havelock who fought their way from Kanpur to Lucknow, defeating the rebels in both the cities.

The final and key theater of war was Jhansi; yet another victim of the Doctrine of Lapse. The East India Company refused the Queen of Jhansi’s request to recognize her adopted son as the ruler, whom she had adopted after the death of natural born son, followed by her husband. Jhansi like Awadh had been a loyal state, supporting the British and this was a sever blow to the warrior queen’s faith in them. Under the influence of Nana Saheb, her childhood playmate and best friend, she and her people gave themselves upto the cause of driving the European’s out of India.  In September and October 1857, the Rani led the successful defense of Jhansi against the invading armies of the neighboring rajas of Datia and Orchha, both allies of English as well the British forces themselves. It was only in March of 1858 Sir Hugh Rose was able to lay siege on Jhansi and finally capture it. The Queen died in the battle near Gwalior fighting of the British till the very end.

The other states remained relatively calm; Punjab though recently annexed had been well managed in the brilliant hands of Henry Lawrence before he moved to Lucknow. Those who tried to rebel were instantly captured and punished by the legendry John Nicolson. Bengal and specifically Calcutta,  the very capital of British East India, in eastern India,  to the relief of English also remained relatively calm, as did the large state of Bihar, though there were isolated incidents of rebellion in both states, they were of nothing like the scale in Awadh or Delhi. Gujrat, in west India also remained in control and the Peshwa (ruler) of the largest principality of Gujrat, Baroda, infact joined the British forces to drive out all rebels from his state.

The hostilities were finally and officially came to an end in July 1859. The brutalities by both sides were significant. Several reports circulated of the killing of European woman, but hardly any documented the rape and violence the Indian women sustained in the hands of British soldiers. Bahadur Shah was exiled to Burma, after watching his beloved son’s brutally killed infront of his very eyes and Queen Victoria assumed the title of Empress of India. With this change, the governance of India passed from East India Company to the British Parliament. The states were assured that their local customs will not be violated and it was the kind and gentlemanly had of Lord Canning, the then Governor General of India that tried to control brutalities and vicious acts against Indians. The biggest lesson that the British took away besides strengthen their military presence, was to ensure that as long as they ruled, they should keep the Indian populace divided under the guise of religion because when a cause united Hindus and Muslims, the country became unstoppable. Acting on this principle, such dissent will be sown, that when India finally became independent, she paid it with her blood and a price of her disobedience more than 90 years ago, a large part of her territory and populace was divided to create a Muslim homeland for Indian Muslims – Pakistan.

As always, while I have not cited any specific source, all my knowledge stems from the following – Modern India by Dr. Sumit Sarkar, The Men Who Ruled India by Philp Mason, A History of India by Percival Spear, Awakening: The Story of Bengal Renaissance by Subrata Dasgupta, The Great Mutiny by Christopher Hibbert, The Last Mughal by William Darlymple, Wikipedia and once more, class notes during my Graduate School days from the lectures of Dr. Tanika Sarkar.

 

The Shadow of Moon Read Along – A Brief History of the “Company Raj”

The Indian History as I had mentioned in my The Home and the World Read Along Historical Overview is vast and it’s simply not possible to summarize all that has happened over 5000 years in 5 paragraphs.  However since I always chose to host books with historical significance, it behooves me to ensure that my friends who come along for the ride, get a better understanding of the complex dynamics at play, to better understand the nuances of the novel that we are reading! Hence I present to you, a snapshot of India in 1857.

To get a more detailed understanding of what happened to India before the British came, I would refer you to the post highlighted above from last year! If you are interested in more details, please reach out to me and I will be happy to share more information.  Now, to 18th century India.

The British company, The East India Company, got its charter or “firman” to trade in India,  after several rejections at the court of the Mughal Emperors, when a fluke chance enabled the East India Company Doctor to cure the then Emperor Jahangir’s son from a long suffering illness. As a mark of gratitude, Emperor Jahangir, granted the company the right to start a factory in Surat, in the Western coastland of India. This was the beginning of British presence in the country! The company soon acquired more rights and established factories in Madras (modern day Chennai) and Bombay, which was a Portuguese colony and was gifted to England as part of dowry for Catherine of Braganza when she married Charles II and finally, Calcutta on the eastern banks of Ganga in Eastern India. At this, point, several companies, including the Dutch, French and Portuguese were all competition with the English to gain supremacy over trading rights in India and the British began to realize that they would have to quickly up their game to survive the trading rights.

Enter Robert Clive, an 18 year old clerk who had a vision which saw England triumph over all her peers. In 1757, through guile and much bribery, he defeated Nawab of Bengal, Sirj-ud-Dula in the infamous Battle of Plassey. Sirj-ud-Dula was an independent minded ruler who was unhappy with the East India Companies free for all trading rules and wanted to Company to pay taxes for its presence in Calcutta, Bengal. Using this as an opportunity to turn a financial enterprise into a military campaign to gain complete land control of East India, Clive bribed some of the Nawab’s closest aids to turn traitor and became the Governor of Bengal, giving Britain an absolute control, economic and political over one of the most economically rich areas of India. He soon followed it up with Battle of Buxar (1864), forcing the then Mughal Emperor to appoint East India Company as Diwan of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. A Diwan is a powerful position; the official revenue collector of the Mughal Court and by this means became the de facto rulers over the populous and rich areas of Easter Gangetic Plains. The Regulating Act further asserted the power of the company by making it the official representative of the British Crown in India. The act also set foundation of making Calcutta the capital of British India by asserting the supremacy  of the Presidency of Fort William in Calcutta (Bengal) over those of Fort St. George (Madras) and Bombay and made the then Governor-General (Warren Hastings)of Bengal, the Governor  General of all Company lands in India.

Over the next 70 odd years, the East India Company would use guile, wars, pretended mis-rule of the local ruler or blatant disregard of Indian customs to annex practically whole of India. The Anglo Mysore and Anglo Maratha Wars saw subjugation of Western and Southern India. Post this came, the outright and blatant annexation of centuries old kingdoms of Rohilakhand, Assam and eventually Punjab. The company also entered into alliances with other Princely states, under which the Indian rulers acknowledged the Company’s hegemony in return for limited internal autonomy; however this treaty was often negated and terms violated per the convenience of the British Company, as was the case in Jhansi and Satara.

The Company rule was a mixed bag, which tilted more towards negative than positive! The revenue system which had been in disarray because of the broken leadership across India for about a 100 years was systematized and put in order under the Permanent Settlement Act. It introduced a feudal-like structure in Bengal, often with Zamindars, the landed Gentry, who were placed in charge of the lands and had the right to extract taxes from the peasants and after keeping a share of it for themselves, turn the remaining over to the Company. If the Zamindars failed to pay the revenue on time, the Zamaindari right would be taken from them and because it was called permanent, as in the right of the land would exist with the Zamindar and his family for perpetuity, the taxes were fixed at a much higher rate, burdening the Zamindar and most importantly the poor landless peasant who had to starve to pay the gentry those taxes.  The modernization of the Indian Army also began under Warren Hastings, and began recruiting across Northern and Eastern India; most of these recruits were from the Hindu High Caste as well Muslims, and the Army adapted itself to ensure that the Hindu and Muslim practices and customs were not violated during their service! Soon the Sepoys, as in the Indian solider outnumbered the British officers by 10 to 1, the idea being one British solider could take on 10 Indian Sepoys. The Civil service was also reorganized on modern lines and various departments were created to manage affairs of customs, taxes, justice and general civic administration. It was under this new administration, that India was introduced to the modern marvels of Telegraph, Railways and most importantly education. Soon after taking over the administration of India, the British realized that they needed a body of clerks who albeit being Indians, would be educated in the English education system to support the growing multitudes of requirements of the Company Raj. This saw the founding of English style schools and then the universities – University of Madras (1855) and University of Calcutta and Bombay (1857).This was a significant move as it suddenly opened Indians to a world of Western education and Science and the works of Locke and Bentham as well as re-discovering their own Vedic philosophy that began to resonate with the middle class Indians. The education system which sought to provide clerks to help the company business, was suddenly producing thinkers and heralding a profound social movement termed as the Bengal Renaissance leading to abolition of such medieval practices like Sati (burning of widows on the pyre of the dead husband) and child marriage and was vociferous in its favor of education of girls and remarriage of widows.

While all this good was happening, there were other effects of this colonization. India was ravaged with famine after famines, with no support coming from the company to alleviate the conditions of the masses. If there were no famines, the heavy land-revenue assessment in some areas by the British resulted in many landowning families either losing their land or going into great debt to money lenders. Furthermore, fertile lands which were earlier used to grow crops to feed the families were forced to cultivate Indigo, which kills the soil and makes it unsuitable for growth of any food crop. Thousands and thousands of peasants were forced to abandon their farms where they had existed for generations and search for living in the big cities, barely eking out an existence. The indigenous industries were slowly being destroyed through competition from the Manchester Mills. For instance raw cotton was no longer plucked and woven in the guilds of Indian fabric merchant, but sent to Manchester to made into cloth, which was the sold at cheap rates back to Indians, who already on pecuniary existence , could no longer afford to buy the relatively more expensive indigenous guild products. With the coming of the English Memsahibs, the close bonding that existed between the English and Indians disappeared.  The improvement in ship enabled travels, led to many English women to traveling to India. They brought with them their English social mores and suddenly the ‘darkies’  were not fit companions anymore and were only good to be subjugated to a servant class. English men, who had married high born Indian women, suddenly became socially outcasts as were their children. Marrying an Indian was a taboo that not even the strictest Brahmin standards could compete with. Added to this was the missionary efforts of the various sections of the Churches – suddenly the Hindus and Muslims were being told that they were heathens and unless they convert, their afterlife would be spent in the fires of hell! Then came aggrandizing policies of Governor Generals who followed Warren Hastings; with an exception of William Bentinck, none understood India nor its people or its culture. The worst was Lord Dalhousie, who enacted the infamous Doctrine of Lapse that would directly contribute to the 1857 rebellion. Under this policy, any princely state or territory would automatically be annexed if the ruler was either “manifestly incompetent or died without a male heir”. The latter clause especially violated the long-established right of an Indian sovereign without an heir to choose a successor, by adopting someone from his/her family. In addition, the British decided whether potential rulers were competent enough, making the Indian kings and Princes, puppets in their own country, expected to serve at the pleasure of The East India Company. Under this law, the much loved and respected monarchs of Oudh and Jhansi among others were deprived of their kingdoms. Finally came the grievances of the Army, the long pampered and loyal arm of the Company Raj! First, the Army was asked to cross the seas to fight wars for the British Empire; for the Hindus, the crossing of the sea was a grave religious sin that cannot be rescinded in any way or form. There were also grievances over the issue of promotions, based on seniority. Further more, the European officers were given precedence making promotion slow for the Indians who either never reached a commissioned rank or were too old to be effective. The final spark was provided by the ammunition for the new Enfield P-53 rifle.These rifles used paper cartridges that came pre-greased and to load the rifle, Sepoys had to bite the cartridge open to release the powder. The grease used on these cartridges included tallow derived from beef, which would be offensive to Hindus and pork, which would be offensive to Muslims. Despite knowing the reservations the English continued the production of these cartridges and court martialed any Indian solider refusing to use these rifles. The stage was thus beautifully set by the British  for the 1857 rebellion and the spark was ignited by a solider called Mangal Pandey, who refused to bite the bullet and was hanged infront of his peers under the judgement of the Army Court. The Rebellion had begun!

It was in this backdrop that the narrative of Shadow of the Moon evolves. Next week, I will share a high level road map of how the Mutiny happened, the lands that were impacted and its closure.  As always, while I have not cited any specific source, but all my knowledge stems from the following – Modern India by Dr. Sumit Sarkar, The Men Who Ruled India by Philp Mason, A History of India by Percival Spear, Awakening: The Story of Bengal Renaissance by Subrata Dasgupta, The Great Mutiny by Christopher Hibbert, The Last Mughal by William Darlymple, Wikipedia and once more, class notes during my Graduate School days from the lectures of Dr. Tanika Sarkar.

Cleo, Helen and Yvonne thank you for not only joining the Read Along but also reading through this 1700 word essay. As Cleo, knows, I do go overboard when it comes to History! But now that Cleo has the book, I think, we can officially commence the Read Along!!!

The Shadow of The Moon Read Along….

Anyone who has been reading my blogs for sometime now, knows that among my all time favorites, of Austen, Pratchett, Lee, Steinbeck, Tagore and Rowling, is yet another, perhaps lesser known Author, who went by the name of MM Kaye! Many know of her magnum opus, The Far Pavilion, but do not know that she was a prolific writer who wrote many other works including mysteries and non fiction and more importantly, more than 18 years before the publication of The Far Pavilions, she wrote her first historical novel, The Shadow of the Moon – the story of a Spanish heiress, Winter De Ballesteros and the English Captain Alex Randall, in the tumultuous backdrop of 1857 mutiny in India.

I read this novel for the first time from the school library 18 years ago and somehow my reading of English in India would never be the same. I discovered an English author, who could describe India as an Indian and write about one of violent and most horrific episodes of Indian history, with balance and empathy and a deep understanding of Anglo-Indian relations. The novel, like many others, has been incorrectly termed as a romance, but it is not. It is history, politics and a narrative of the uneasy relationship between two strong, albeit different nations! Ms. Kaye who had spent many years in India and came back to the country, leaving England and her family behind, as she reached adulthood, beautifully captures the identity of those Europeans who were by birth, Europeans, but lived and drew their very identity and roots from a land, far away from their own motherland!

I can keep waxing eloquently about her works, but to get to the point, every May I usually revisit, The Shadow of the Moon, because it’s main action is set the blazing heat of Summers and somehow gives the book an authentic feel as the heat comes bounding inside my house. Furthermore, May seems like an apt month, since the Mutiny or the War of Independence, depending of which version of history one reads, kick started in May, May 10th to be exact, and the book is a fitting tribute to both the Indians and the British to lived and died bravely for the land and their beliefs!

Shadow of the Moon

As always, I knew that  my partner in all kinds of reading adventures, Cleo was interested in reading this novel and with a little bit of temptation, she is on board. Helen from She Reads Novels is also joining the event and I hope some of you would also come along for the ride. We plan to start in June and continue through July if need be, taking it slow and steady. As always, I will be providing a historical overview in a couple of days time to give a context to the dynamics at play during this time.

So without further ado, lets start our journey back in time, 160 years back in time, to the princely states of Oudh and Jhansi as the then India comes alive through the narrative of Ms. Kaye!

The Madness Starts

Couple of minutes left to start! I am all set at the starting line.  Dewey’s Readathon, Bring it on!

Me, the obsessive control freak, has made a list and checked and double checked all items.

  1. E-Book Reader Charged – Check
  2. Snacks set and dinner plans in place – Check
  3. Plenty of Water Bottles – Check
  4. Good Music – Check
  5. Have told Dad and all friends/relations not to call me till Sunday Evening – Check

Seems like I am all-ok to make SOME dent in my reading list!

24hrreading

I am kind of confused as to whether to read The Girl on the Train first or The Land of the Seven Rivers to kick start the event. I will fit in Dombey and Sons somewhere after that, before I am too exhausted and drop off before I know; Dickens clearly is not at his best in this one. I have kept Christie and Austen for the difficult hours (late night and afternoons) and New York and Jerusalem come in when I have revved up my engines well and all set for some ground breaking reading. Thackeray will provide a wonderful diversionary break! Well this is the plan! And now that I am almost there, a though comes to, what the hell was I thinking????

Oh! Well! To late to ponder over those philosophical conundrums. Let’s just plunge in with the Opening Meme

1.What fine part of the world are you reading from today?

India, New Delhi to be exact!

2. Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?

That had to be a toss up between The Land of Seven Rivers and New York

3. Which snack are you most looking forward to?

There are these absolutely melt in your mouth shortbreads that a dear friend from England sent me! That’s not only a motivation but also an indulgence!

4.Tell us a little something about yourself!

Dedicated reader, trying to be a writer, full time Project Leader in a financial conglomerate, amateur historian, devoted blogger, born traveler, occasional  exotic cuisine chef, daughter, sister, friend!

5. If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?

I have read many many times through my life. But reading through 24 hours should be something else. Also I am really really impressed with all the one-world-cyber-cheering and supporting happening; from United States to the Nordics to Australia to closer home in New Delhi! This feeling is totally out of the world!

And now LET’s READ!!!

The Bookish Time Travel Tag

As is usual in my case, I had planned to post a blog about something totally and completely different and instead I am posting this! It’s the festival season in India and I have been quite late in catching up with all the blogs but I finally did catch up and I found myself wondering what I would have answered on a particular post; and lo! Behold, Jane had actually tagged me, hoping I would do a similar post! Now Jane is one of those friends of mine who has introduced me to a number of unknown authors and we share a lot of similar bookish tastes, including a love for Victorian-Edwardian Literature and Golden Age of British Crime. Therefore, when she thinks I will enjoy writing a post, you can be rest assured I will be! Thus, without much further ado, I present to you, The Bookish Time Travel Tag! Originally created, by The Library Lizard, I was introduced to it naturally by Jane’s Post!

  1. What is your favorite historical setting for a book?

This is a very difficult one since there are several periods of History that I love

  • The Gupta Dynasty (C.300 AD) in India – This is really going back in time but this was a defining moment in South Asian history – a time of great literature and arts. Kalidas wrote Abhijanashakuntalam and Meghduta. It was also an era in which one of the best commercial comedies and my personal favorite of Sanskrit was penned Mṛcchakaika by Sudraka.
  • King David’s Jerusalem – Don’t ask me for reasons, just that I have a double degree in Middle Eastern Politics and Israel has always fascinated me!
  • Elizabethan England – Amid the squalor and the dirt and the delicate balance of peace between Catholic and Protestants and discovery of new lands, there was brilliant works being penned by Shakespeare, Marlow and jaw breakers like Spenser’s The Faerie Queene (a book I struggleth with!)
  • Regency England, specifically the country side – I am devoted to Jane Austen and I love her portrayals of the rural country lives, divorced from the over the top Regency London and therefore the simple English countryside and plots around the manor born, is and will always remain my favorite!
  • Victorian England – How can I pass up an era of Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Elizabeth Gaskell, William Thackeray, Anthony Trollope, George Gissing, Lewis Carol, Robert Louis Stevenson, Author Conon Doyle, Elizabeth Barret Browning, Robert Browning, Christian Rosseti, Oscar Wilde, to name just a few! I think you get my drift!
  • Late British Raj in India (c. 1870s to 1940s) Also known as Bengal Renssiance, this period saw incredible development in making India a modern nation state and more especially in bringing women out of the “purdah”. The women started to get degrees in Literature, Science and medicine and began to take their rightful place in the world. Not all transition was easy nor was it completely smooth, but it was an epoch making time of Indian history. Some of the best of the Indian literature was penned during this era including Michael Madhusudan Dutta’s Meghnadh Bodh Kabyo (The Slaying of Meghnadh), Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay’s Durgeshnandini, Rassundari Devi authored the first full-fledged autobiography in modern Bengali literature and was one of the first female authors of modern India to do so. Most importantly, this was the era of Rabindranth Tagore as he wrote masterpieces after masterpeices including Geetanjali, The Home and The World, Gora etc.
  • The Bloombury London – I do not like most of authors and their views of this set, however I cannot deny that this era and this intellectual movement, was changing the way we view modern literature and economics etc. It also included in its group the very humane John Mynard Keynes and the very sensitive E.M. Forster as well as other laudable like Virginia Wolfe, Lytton Strachey, Vita-Sackville West etc.
  • The World Wars – Simply to better understand what madness drives men to kill their fellow brothers and how small misunderstandings lead to deaths of hundreds and thousands all across the world!

Now that, this is done, I promise to be more concise with my other answers!!

  1. What writer/s would you like to travel back in time to meet?

Again there are so many of them, but in keeping with my promise, I am limiting myself to three only –

  • I would love to meet Jane Austen and share a cup of tea with her as the country society meets and greets each other and hear her gentle satire and words of wisdom as one individual meets the other.
  • Rabindranth Tagore and travel with him through the streets of 1890s Calcutta and visit all those places which are now iconic but then just a places for the intellectuals to meet and discuss how to work better with the British Masters!
  • M.Kaye and walk with her through the streets of my city of Delhi in 1920s as we explore the old Delhi and Meherauli ruins, especially the latter before it became the current up market residential area. I would also love to visit the then summer capital of British India with her, Shimla and have lunch at the celebrated Wildflower Hall and visit the Governer’s House and do all the things the British did then , before it came back into fashion thanks to The Indian Summer!
  1. What book/s would you travel back in time and give to your younger self?

I have to hang my head in shame and say “The Chronicles of Narnia” by C.S. Lewis when I was may be a 10-12 year old. I would have also loved to have read Margaret Kennedy in my 20s rather than waiting all these years. I also really wish I had started reading Emilie Zola a couple of years earlier, instead of waiting for so long to take up his books!

  1. What book/s would you travel forward in time and give to your older self?

This one is a tough one simply because I keep thinking, and I have every intention of re-reading all most all the books I have loved through the years. But if I have to pick one and since I cannot pick one, I would say it has to be a toss-up between The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling and The Discworld Series by Sir Terry Pratchet. I think both of these two incredibly talented authors manage to remind us of what is truly important, with a gritty plot and humor!

  1. What is your favourite futuristic setting from a book? E.g. Panem from The Hunger Game

I will have to skip this one! I am more of past/history person than a futuristic one!

  1. What is your favourite book that is set in a different time period(can be historical or futuristic)?

Oh!! How in the world can I keep this answer short?????!!!! Let me try

  • The Far Pavillions and The Shadow of the Moon by MM Kaye
  • The Book Thief by Mark Zukas
  • The Conquer Series by Conn Iggulden
  • The War of Roses Series by Conn Iggulden
  • The Source by James Mitchner
  • London by Edward Rutherford
  • New Forest by Edward Rutherford
  • The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Finnigan
  • The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • Mila 18 by Leon Uris
  1. Spoiler Time: Do you ever skip ahead to the end of a book just to see what happens?

No! Nix! Never!!

  1. If you had a Time Turner, where would you go and what would you do?

There is sooooooo much to cover, I would not know where to start and where to end – I would naturally do all the things I mentioned in #Q2.

  • I would also love to visit Rueil and see Edward Manet paint the House in Rueil and The Garden Path in Rueil.
  • I would lIke to follow Sir Author Conon Doyle across the busy Victorian London as he helped clear the injustices against George Edalji and Oscar Slator.
  • I would for sure want to take a voyage to Middle East with Mark Twain as he wrote The Innocents Aboard and visit Yuguslavia, poised on the edge of World War II with Barbra West as she wrote her seminal Black lamb and the Grey Falcon.
  • And of course, I would want to walk the streets of Calcutta and Delhi with Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay and Ahmed Ali respectively, as the last vestiges of a great Hindu-Muslim syncretic culture practically disappeared forever into the horizon!
  1. Favorite book (if you have one) that includes time travel or takes place in multiple time periods?
  • The Source by James Michener that cover the birth of Israel from 9831 BCE to 1963
  • London by Edward Rutherford that tells the story of the development of the city of London from the nascent beginning in 54 BCE to the current commercial hub of 2007
  1. What book/series do you wish you could go back and read again for the first time?

The Conquer Series by Conn Igulden

1500 words and I am finally done!

I do not wish to obligate anyone to do this and I know we all have very busy lives, but there are some people whose posts and thoughts I would love to read and add more on to my TBR  Stefanie @ https://somanybooksblog.com/

Cleo @ http://cleoclassical.blogspot.in/

Brona @ http://bronasbooks.blogspot.in/

Lauren @ https://wheretheresinktherespaper.wordpress.com/

Ruth @ http://greatbookstudy.blogspot.in/

This was a wonderful post and it brought back a lot of memories of books that I would love to revisit. Naturally, I also added quite a few from Jane’s post to my TBR, but that’s what bookish blogs are about! J

The Sisters from the Photoshop

Jane has always always been such a great source of lesser known hidden gems, that I can always rely on her to lead me to books which I would have missed, but in missing them, it would have been a crying shame! She has introduced me to Margaret Kennedy, Hélène Gestern and Margery Sharp and so many others that I can barely begin to enumerate and therefore it was only natural that when she posted about this very little know The Romance of a Shop by Amy Levy, i would add it to my TBR and wait for a right opportunity to explore more! It was however good 2 years before I could actually get my hands on it and get the time to read it and when I finally finished it, it seemed apt that it should be part of my Women Classic Literature Reading Event!

The Romance of a Shop is set in Victorian England and the novels opens with the death of Mr. Lorimer who has left his estate sadly tangled with mounting debts all of which would have to be paid by the sale of his house and the belongings. This leaves the Lorimer sisters, daughter of the late Mr. Lorimer, Fanny, Gertrude, Lucy and Phyllis extremely poor. They have the option of residing with friends and relatives in ones and twos and go to India as part of fishing fleet in search of eligible husbands, all of which mean separation from each other and dependence on someone else for their welfare! They resolve against all such schemes and under the leadership of Gertrude (the artist and the creative sister) and Lucy ( the clever and pragmatic sister), they decide to open a photography shop, much to the consternation and horror of their noble relations. This is 1880s England and girls from well-to-do gentle background do not become shop girls, even if it is their own shop! Despite all the oppositions, the sisters who had been amateur photographers for a long time, decide to pursue their aims and to that effect find small accommodations at Upper Baker Street, where the ground floor would serve as their workshop and the upper floors as their apartments.Chang in economic situation, brings in new changes in their lives as the sisters cope with making the ends meet and gain a respectable foothold in the new age of artists and writers. While most of their old friends abandon them, some stick through the Lorimers including the Devonshires, Constance the daughter being a particular friend of Gertrude and Fred, her brother who besides having a sympathetic heart for all the sister, also holds a secret love for Lucy. Soon their old friendships are tested and mixed up with new relations as the Lorimer girls from new circles  – Frank Jermyn, an artist who lives across and provides some commission work for the sisters and who becomes a part of their inner circle; Lord Watergate, a brilliant scientist with whom they become acquainted when the he wishes them to take a picture of his dead wife and Sidney Darrell, a member of the Royal Academy, who also commissions some work and makes Gertrude extremely uncomfortable.As the sisters adapt to the new social circle and have to change their traditional mores of interactions, they have to look inside themselves for what they truly want and what they really wish to achieve, especially when threatened by storms that promises to shake the very foundations on which their lives have been built on!

This is not one of the best novels that I have read, the plot while it flows, seems at places to meander and sometimes, there is no logic for sudden actions. The end ties up the lose ends far too easily and the writing seems at times a cross between a Jane Austenish social manner book meets Virginia Woolf. But then why consider it a classic? Because despite all these flaws, it is. The novel published in 1880 clearly calls for empowerment of the women, especially economic empowerment and stands against all masculine mores of “women needing to be looked after”. In the four sisters, we find the perfect examples of modern women , Wikipedia tell me that this concept was called “New Women” – women who were not delicate darlings, who fainted at the very sound of a harsh voice (even Fanny who seems to have been created to form a parody to her non-traditionalist sisters, has more strength of character than what was usually given credo to women of that era!), but rather strong independent women, who were not afraid of hardwork, of keeping their own house and yet managing to maintain a certain about of intellectual culture! The sisters are far from perfect, and at times can come across as selfish in their own needs, but they are constantly striving the better themselves and their lot and when the world comes crashing, instead of finding solace male arms, they band together find strength and battle their demons head on! Considering Ms. Levy wrote about these characters nearly 140 years ago, the modern reader will find much to identify with and that in some significant feat! The society of London is also very well portrayed in the novel and there are characters and events which encourage and provide platform for the girls to explore their talent and build their business, there is enough gossip and malicious whispering to make the portray real and ring in the true nature of the socio-econiomic paradigm of late Victorian England. At the heart of it all, it is a great story. There is wit and a sense of mirth though the book, even at some it darkest passages and the reader is involved and concerned regarding the fate of Lorimers until it plays out to the very end, most to the satisfaction of all. The epilogue is a wonderful touch giving an insight into the lives that carry on and leaves you feeling safe after being hailed by a multitude of storms! Ms. Levy wrote a marvelous work with such promise, and it seems such a shame, that she would die, two years after this book’s publication!

May-ish Reads

Ah! May…..the fire breathing months on Indian plains, where the sun burns and earth scorches and you wonder if hell is like this! Joy! Naturally, so joyous a month will begin with something depressing and nasty and it did – to celebrate the May coming, the weather here turned nasty and between pollens and pollutants, my lungs practically gave away! I have spent the last two weeks in bed, trying to work from home for projects that will not wait and read on books that required little if any brain work! Needless to say I am completely and disastrously behind all my reading schedules!

I have not read a single page from Murder at Rue Morgue by Edgar Allen Poe for my April reading for the 12 Months Reading Challenge and here is May where I had committed to reading Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis for the theme of An American Classic. I have not turned a page in my Women’s Classical Literature Event cum Classic Club Spin 12 reading of Willa Cathar’s Death Comes to the Archbishop and I am not even getting started on how much I have to catch up on my Reading England Project or my epic read alongs like The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien and The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser and Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens! I am behind, behind and way far behind in all my reading plans! The plan for May is therefore to re-group and catch up! I am not starting any new book until I finish all my spill overs from March and April. I am not even going to start on Arrowsmith, till I have finished everything else. But there are exceptions and I am only human with absolutely no self control when it comes to books and this I have committed to read along with Cleo and Hamlette for Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, but the good part is that it does not start until the end of May, so I should have made some significant inroads to my overloaded pile. And knowing its May and it is the anniversary of The First War of Independence in India, I will for sure go back and read one of my most favorite and one of the best work of fiction based on the event – The Shadow of the Moon by the inimitable MM Kaye! Like I said  I have enough and I mean ENOUGH to read on my plate and this one time I really really need to stick to the schedule!

Therefore I bid adieu and head back to plunge in the tottering pile of books! Hopefully I should find my reading rhythm again, but until I plough through the significant amount of that pile, I keep my post short and well, I cannot really do sweet!