Protests over Rani Jhansi political: ‘Rani’ author Jaishree Misra

February 16th, 2008 - 1:00 pm ICT by admin  

By Dipankar De Sarkar
London, Feb 16 (IANS) The London-based author of a part-fictional account of the Rani of Jhansi that has been banned in Uttar Pradesh says protests over her book are politically motivated and probably led by people who haven’t read it as a work of fiction. “Without a doubt it’s political. But what surprised me is that it is the Congress that has objected, rather than the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party),” Jaishree Misra told IANS.

“People who have read the book and reviewed it, in fact, have criticised me for being too soft on Laxmibai,” said the author of “Rani”, which has been banned by the Uttar Pradesh government on grounds that it insults India’s freedom struggle heroine.

Protesters have mainly objected to Misra’s imagined account of a romance between the Rani Laxmibai and Maj. Robert Ellis, a real-life East India Company officer. Ellis was the heroic Englishman who advised Laxmibai in her appeal in London against the decision by Governor General Lord Dalhousie to annexe the state of Jhansi under the Doctrine of Lapse - when there are no heirs - in 1854.

“Ellis did lay his career on the line to help her - this is documented. What I have done is to develop this theme - it’s the novelist in me. There was deep admiration and deep love.

“I have her being aware of his attraction - she was widowed at a young age. There is some sort of reciprocity - going riding along the lake. But then the Mutiny breaks out. It’s a human portrayal.”

She was only 24 when her husband Raja Gangadhar Rao Niwalkar died in 1853. “What is important is that this romance is meant as a metaphor for the British Empire in India. A lot of Englishmen who came initially also had deep admiration and love for India. And that too changed with time.”

“The people who are protesting haven’t got this.”

Misra, who works at the British Board of Film Classification in London, said protesters should realise that “people are allowed to say things in historical fictions. Maybe they were expecting a documentary?”

The author thought one problem was the relative unfamiliarity of many Indian readers with works of historical fiction - in contrast to Britain and the US, where the genre routinely spawns bestsellers.

“We don’t have many books of popular history or historical fiction. In my author’s note I have clearly laid out that some of it is historical fact, some imagination.

“People shouldn’t be taking umbrage,” Misra said.

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