The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, October 27, 2002

An interesting historical narrative
Padam Ahlawat

The Mangarh Chronicles
by Gary Worthington. Penguin Books, India. Pages 591. Rs 395.

The Mangarh ChroniclesGARY Worthington has produced a historical fiction of epic proportions. The novel is not confined to one period of history. The main story revolves around the Maharaja of Mangarh, a former princely state in Rajasthan. The year is 1975, when Emergency has been imposed and political leaders imprisoned. The Maharaja is also arrested and income tax officials come searching for his fabulous hidden wealth. Interspersed within this story are several other stories. These begin with the Indus Valley town of Kanur and go through different periods of Indian history. The one thread which links all these tales, sometimes remotely, is Mangarh.

The author has produced an immensely readable book and one finds its various stories interesting. He captures the atmosphere of the different historical periods and gives an accurate account of historical events. It is a historical narrative without any great historical romance.

Kanur is a Harappan town whose ruins lie north of Mangarh. For several years members of a tribe who are fair in colour and have large beaked noses have been raiding Harappan towns for cattle and slaves. Harappa, whose boundary walls have been damaged by floods, too, falls to the invading tribe. Many abandon Kanur town and it is invaded by a tribe riding horses and chariots. Shiv, the God of Kanur, fails to protect the people of the town and Sumbri, a young girl, and her brother are carried away by the tribe, which passes on to the East. Sumbri manages to escape along with her brother and walks for two days to reach her home. She finds her father alive. An earthquake dries the river and the frightened people migrate South, away from the Aryans’ path.


The next story is set in 493 BC, and tells the tale of Samudradatta, a Kashi merchant, who is influenced by Buddha’s teachings. One of the most interesting stories is about Jimuta, a young fifteen-year-old orphan, living with his uncle in a village near Mangarh. The Raja of Mangarh defeats an invading army, but one of his elephants runs away. The boy takes the elephant back to the Raja who gives him the job of a mahaut. He is then sent to Patliputra ostensibly to present the elephant to Emperor Ashoka. However, the real reason is to spy in the capital as the Raja of Mangarh and the Raja of Kalinga plot to defeat and depose Ashoka. The journey from Mangarh is slow and on the way Ashoka’s spy Shantanu, posing as a merchant, befriends Jimuta and asks him to work as a spy for Ashoka. Jimuta discovers the plot of Mangarh Raja to defeat Ashoka during the war with Kalinga through sabotage. He informs Renuka, who acts as a conduit. The Raja discovers Jimuta’s betrayal and kidnaps Renuka. Jimuta rescues her and in the process the Raja’s men are captured. Jimuta is in love with Renuka, a low-born woman living with a courtesan. Jimuta saves Ashoka’s life during the Kalinga war, earns a promotion for himself as a writer and wins over his beloved.

There are no loose ends in the story and the plot is well knit. Other stories follow, such as those of Guhasena, a painter of Ajanta caves and Ali Aruzi. Ali is a judicial officer under Sultan Qutbuddin Mubarak in 1320 and faces the uncertainty of living under different rulers who come to rule Delhi. He somehow manages to retain his position. He is a follower of Sufi Saint Shaikh Nizamuddin Auliya and dies in old age near Mangarh, while going to Daultabad, the new capital. The last historical story is about Akbar’s siege of Chittorgarh, where the Raja of Mangarh supports the Raja of Chittorgarh.

The main story has an ironical situation. Vijay Singh, a Dalit income tax officer, comes raiding the properties of Raja of Mangarh. Vijay comes from a village near Mangarh. His father, a freedom fighter, had died in an agitation. He poses as a Rajput and during the raid fears that he may be recognised and his cover exposed. He is recognised and during the raid discovers that his education was financed by the Raja of Mangarh. He feels bad about the raid, and goes about his duty as a job that has to be done. Vijay is the one who finds the treasure hidden underground in the fort. Dev Batra, a Youth Congress leader, is the one who is eager to see results. He is a womaniser and makes obscene passes at several women. Vijay stands up to Dev Batra to save a fellow Dalit woman officer from his attentions. Dev Batra interferes in the search and gets stung by a swarm of bees.