THE DEVIL'S WIND: Nana Saheb's Story by Mahonar Malgonkar

THE DEVIL'S WIND: Nana Saheb's Story

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Malgonkar's latest recalls the violent side of India's history with a key figure from the Sepoy Rebellion who is remembered in the West now, if at all, as the very emblem of princely license and brutality. In India, needless to say, Nana Saheb is considerably better regarded; but Malgonkar's version, while not necessarily a whitewash, concentrates so heavily on justifying him that it nearly sacrifices all heroic proportion. Before the blood is allowed to flow we are shown the intolerable (but tolerated) accumulation of grievances -- subordinated at first to Nana's private life and youthful amours but gaining the fore with the annexation of Oudh -- and then, when British provocations seem to leave no friendly option, we are given painstaking demonstrations of his conscience, his large-minded sympathy with the West, his persistent hope of mediating the dispute. Even after he has been drafted king, or peshwa (a precolonial title that the rebels restore to him), heading the ranks that storm Kanpur (Cawnpore) he hesitates in distress at the warlike face of war. Perhaps he did take his historical place just that inadvertently -- and the weight and color here carry some conviction -- but if so a little less on the reluctant prince and more about the sepoy spearheads might be in order. Still this engages with the fidelity of its muted exoticism and the dark suspense of a foregone conclusion.

Pub Date: May 24th, 1972
Publisher: Viking