Challenging Destiny: A Biography of Chhatrapati Shivaji; Medha Deshmukh Bhaskaran

I was looking forward to this book, after the author’s historical fiction debut. That one was a well-researched book, but the dramatisation in the fiction wasn’t to my liking; it was trite, and often unimaginative.

Challenging Destiny: A Biography of Chhatrapati Shivaji is a non-fiction book by the author, and is a very well-researched book. It refers to many of the various biographies of Shivaji that are in circulation and makes extensive use of extracts from these books. As the author tells you early on, Mehendale’s biography of Chh. Shivaji is the primary source for this book; needless to say, this book borrows heavily from Mehendale’s biography.

4136rg1qgkl-_sx332_bo1204203200_I was a bit surprised that the author has chosen to use an academic (in-text, APA) form of citation, rather than using endnotes of footnotes, especially given that there are numerous direct quotes from other authors. Perhaps, because of this, the texture of reading seems uneven, at times. There are times in the book, where references (like the definition of a gaon, mauja, and kasbah), are completely out of place, irrelevant, and do not fit in the narrative at hand.

Overall, for someone who does not know the life and times of Chh. Shivaji, it is good first book, which covers his life and career, fairly well. For someone with a more serious interest in history, there are other biographies.

I return to my pet peeve. This book is published by The Write Place, the publishing arm of Crosswords. It is a sorry state of affairs in Indian publishing where copy-editing isn’t given the importance it deserves.

It’s not oddicers, its officers. Not tilted, but titled. And, definitely there isn’t a word called agreeded.

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Decline And Fall Of The Maratha Empire; Dr. M. S. Naravane

As far as understanding where the seeds were sown for the decline of the Maratha Empire, and even the roots of the eventual confederate nature of the Marathas, this is a wonderful book.

29740758I couldn’t help thinking, however, that Decline And Fall Of The Maratha Empire does an unintentional disservice to the achievements of the Marathas after the Shivaji era. And I say unintentional with much seriousness. As may be obvious from the title of the book, this book is an analysis of the decline and the fall. It assumes, but not explicitly, that the reader has more than a general awareness of the history of the period between the mid 1600s to 1818. If you pick up this book, without the background to this period, this book will come across as grossly critical, negative, and utterly depressing. Needless to say, that is not the author’s intention.

It perhaps needs pre-reading; on the lines of Rise of the Maratha Power, by Justice MG Ranade, or a similar book that describes this period’s history that is comprehensive and well-rounded.

While it is clear that the intention of the book is not to specifically shine light on the darker side of this history, it is a topical book. The reader should bear that in mind.

The analysis itself, is very well done. It is clear and well referenced. It is not a very long book, and the references are a treasure trove, if you are history nerd. Dr. M. S. Naravane writes clearly, unambiguously, with a good sense of the chronology of the start of the decline, and covers some of the not-so-obvious aspects of the issue.

Highly recommended if you are a student of Maratha history. One star removed, for some references which felt gossipy.

Frontiers of Karma: The Counterstroke; Medha Deshmukh Bhaskaran

I really, really wanted this book to be amazing.

frontiers-of-karma-the-counterstroke-400x400-imadyqbnwftv6pgrIt did start with some promise, I will admit. Deeper into the story editorial fatigue seems to have set in. Without doubt this is a tough history to fictionalise, but this is not the first time it has been attempted (perhaps the first time in English). And any historical fiction brings in a bit of the author and her imagination no doubt. That is what a reader signs-up for, when he picks any historical fiction. Yet, when I consider the possibilities for this story, it fell short.

The book is more of a festival of adjectives, than anything else. Too much of looking at the skies and too many types of clouds. The focus of fictionalising is on embellishments and not the story.

Most of the rating of this book was shaved off because of the typos. In a book of 400 pages, a couple of typos, though unacceptable, is understandable. But after you lose count, especially of typos that can be corrected with a simple spellcheck, it simply makes you sad. Spelling mistakes break the flow of reading; distract attention, and displace you from the engrossed state that a reader should be in. I felt that the author, editor, and publisher have not taken enough care for a book that could have had a huge impact in the historical fiction genre.

I hope the following two books (it’s a trilogy) make for better reading than this one, especially with the spellings.

Maratha Confederacy: A Study in Its Origin and Development; V.S. Kadam

1505964.jpgThe Maratha Confederacy is a chapter in Indian history that guarantees great conversation if you are objective and very heated arguments if you are not. Being a Maharashtrian, my interest in the Maratha Confederacy in general and Maratha history in particular, is often considered to be a matter of blind regional pride. And while I have attempted several times to explain that my interest is curiously academic, I often fail to convince.

And my curious academic interest is why I have been slowly reading this book for a while and finally have a slightly better sense of the Confederacy. Prof. Kadam’s book, while a stellar research on the confederacy, fell short of making an impact in a better understanding of its “origin and the development.”

In recent times I have been seeking books of Indian origin about Indian history to better understand local and cultural perspectives, which may have been absent in the chronicles by foreign writers. Thankfully, many Indian writers, especially academic, have risen to the task and are now re-documenting Indian history. And perhaps there lies the problem: for one, the books read more like research papers than books. Almost every book is a derivative of a Ph.D. thesis, slightly enhanced.

Consider this book: it has in-depth research, micro-level facts (often irrelevant) across the various aspects that contributed to the rise and decline of the confederacy. Yet, because of its structure, it is unable to make a lucid explanation of the “history” of the confederacy. This is not to say that all the research is useless, on the contrary, it provides pointers into the makings of, the coming together and the breaking apart of the, Maratha power. The facts are all there, the analysis is irregular and often missing. It is left to the reader, to laboriously piece together all contributing issues and make sense of the “origin and the development (and the signifiers of the decline).”

It is not very clear whether this books was written as a reference book, a research paper or a history book. If it was the later, it fails, else, if you have an (objective) interest in the study of the Maratha Confederacy, this book is for you.