Sunday, 13 December 2015

Book Review : Chhatrapati Shivaji

Chhattrapati Shivaji stands as one of the most celebrated medieval heroes in Modern India; it is a name that touches a chord in almost every Indian, and is a powerful force to reckon with even today, three centuries after his death. He is present everywhere you can see; he is one of the few to withstand the onslaught of naming everything in sight after the Nehru family. A Chhatrapati square her, a Shivaji Terminus there – many cities have honoured themselves with some landmark, statue, street or square in his name. Such is his current followership, and so powerful is his presence.


This makes reviewing any book related on this personality a big responsibility, a tough task  – and not one to be taken with insincerity, or with bias,  or attitude. I had always thought of The Chhatrapati as a tall personality, a commanding and great Indian; but had never given a thought to the pull, the deep connect and the powerful influence this genius had on me; as I read the current book, as I turned its pages – I learnt something of myself, and of my deep respect and devotion for this great man and Indian leader.


THE BOOK

The current book is my first Hindi language book, titled “MAHAAPARAAKRAMI VEER MARAATHAA CHHATRAPATI SHIVAJI”, and is published by Tulsi Sahitya Publications. It is a book based on the great Chhatrapati, the one and only – and how he become a household name; it is a book that tells his life story in detail, and with love and affection. The prose is surprisingly easy to read and assimilate, given that I am not used to reading Devanagri; and this comes as a definite surprise. This book has opened up a treasure trove  of possibilities for me and my reading...


The book traces the entire life history of Shivaji from his birth till his dehaavsaan in 1680 at a young 53 years of age in a fluent and fast paced narrative of just 192 pages, touching the highlights – and yet missing nothing of note that I could gauge. This makes for a fast and entertaining reading, and highly absorbing content; which means a great reading experience overall. Most important points of his relatively short but eventful life are touched upon, although I did feel that a few points could have been gone into in greater detail. That said, there is more than enough to give a complete picture of this great man, this gift to our India.


THE ANALYSIS - PLUSES

This book gives you a relatively deep insight into how Shivaji became such a powerful name, and of how he achieved his following; into exactly how he started and then expanded his empire, leaving you awestruck at his sheer chutzpah and courage, as well as his determination. The way he expanded his empire town by town, fort by fort; the way he built up his army and his strength; the way he dealt with his enemies has been well covered.


The most famous events of his life find detailed mention, giving you a ringside seat at those momentous events of his life; events like Afzal Khan, His escape from Aurangzeb etc which are a part of folklore, and songs. Most importantly, you learn the full story here – which answers all questions, and comes across as highly believable and logically accurate; which is a powerful point. Not only that, you learn a lot of the man that Shivaji was – practical, down-to-earth, astute, sharp as we all know and love. But beyond all of this, you understand the genius of Shivaji in this short book, and are humbled by his humility, his immense sense of practicality and his innate sense of instinct.


You get to understand Shivaji – and you get to understand his sacrifices, his ability to accept defeat with quiet surrender; his placing of his people above his own pride; his innate sense of fairness and more. The way Shivaji, at numerous times, faced defeat, accepted it, and clawed back with sheer determination and awe-inspiring courage make for invigorating reading, in addition to leaving both a role model as well as an inspiration for all us. The way he managed conflicting demands, having his way at times, sacrificing his interest at others, leave a deep impression. Truly, this man was a one-of-a-kind, and a true leader if there was one.


We only know of Shivaji in India; some Marathi people know of the role of his mother Jijabai through folklore, songs and films {Rajmata Jijau starring Milind Gunaji, as an example; or the iconic song by Vaishali Mhade – Maay Maajhi Bolate Taapte Havaa; Maay Marathis Aaz Arth Ye Nawaa}; the current book takes you deep into the role of Rajmata Jijau and his Grandfather Kondev as well as other formative influences in a deeply engaging first few chapters that give a deep insight into why and how he went on to become what he did. All in all, this is a complete life history of the genius we know as Chhatrapati Shivaji



As the icing on the cake, the book is a veritable treasure trove on the normal life in the 1600s; unlike other books, which focus on the big man or personality, this book gives indications of [mainly] the political as well as [in minor indications] normal life in those tumultuous days. You get a deep insight into the ways and means of operation of the Mughal Dynasty, Adilshahi and the overall political landscape of North, West and South India, of the political interconnections, interplays and the methods of operation of the kings and emperors of those times.


This book gives a peek at the base of power in those days, of the almost feudal loyalties and interconnections – and is a definitive proof of the myth of Muslim Rule, and of how Sanaatanis [aka Hindus – Hinduism is a British Term; the real name of our religion is Sanaatan Dharm] cooperation extended to even evil acts of violence against their own kith and kin – [read this book of the treachery of Indian against Indian and of Sanaatani against Sanaatani] - ; of how there were people from all religions on each side of the force – whether Shivaji or Mughals or Adilshahi. This is a deep plus for Shivaji – who was focussed on eradication of Adilshahi and Mughal overlordship over Aryavart, as we all know fully well. Despite this, it is noteworthy that he made no religious discrimination.


THE MISSES

This is one time I wish I weren’t such a fair and clear book reviewer; this is once I want to write a fully biased book review, and rate the book 5 stars. Just this once, I want to state this is a perfect book with no misses and no minuses; that there is no flaw or miss in the entire narrative. I wish, I wish, I wish... but, if wishes were horses then beggars would ride. So, with a heavy heart, and deep regrets let me launch into what the book has missed.


First, at many places the brevity and short concise narrative leaves you wanting more, like the rule of Shivaji and his policies in his Kingdom; his economic trade and other policies. There is very little on this; at least not enough for me. But then, this is a short life-history, and not a deep analysis. But there are other misses – his interactions with the British and the Europeans, his maritime adventures and his attempts to build a maritime fleet of ships and protection to merchants find only a short mention here.


Second, the complete and total absence of any bibliography, reference material, source credits, original sources used and referenced, endnotes etc is a very, very serious shortcoming. At more than a few places, letters & correspondence has been quoted or referenced; events mentioned in surprising detail etc- leaving you wondering at the source of this material. Given that at times even dialogues between players have been quoted; you are left wondering at the authenticity; it is only when the logic prevails and the precise nature of dates and details get into the narrative that you begin to give credit to at least the correspondence. Some sort of end-notes, or bibliography would have helped in establishing credibility faster.


Third is the mention – the clear and emphatic mention of Shivaji as an Avataari purush, a missive of God sent to rescue Aryavart through the means of a direct dialogue between Jijabai and Maa Bhawaani. This was apparently overheard by some people – again the original source or citation of the original source would make it a far more powerful claim! As it stands, it sounds hard to believe – even for me, a devoted bhakt of Shivaji and his greatness.


IN CONCLUSION

In conclusion, I rate it 4 stars; I am docking it one star for lack of citations and the one hard-to-believe claim. Further, this book, as I stated, has exposed me to Hindi writing for the first time – opening a new world for me. It uses a clear anti-Mughal theme, but the angle of anti-Mughal falls flat in the narrative when a Sanaatani noble sets about wrecking Sanaatani people and their cities and villages in order to hunt for Shivaji. This is not something that is common knowledge. What anti-Mughal? Throughout history, it has been the same; it is the Jaichand we should blame! This exposes it for what is was : politics, and nothing else.



Sad part is, Shivaji had it right; at that point, had all the non-Mughal kings united against them, we would once again have had a strong central power in place; the way he used even Adilshahi in that sense was noteworthy. Had that happened, the British and the Europeans would not have found it so easy, as they would then have faced not a declining Mughal force and fragmented nation, but a strong central force in the form of a Maratha power. With a strong Sikh presence, what would have happened is anyone’s guess; but the British would not have found it so easy. We are to blame; and the treachery of people among us; the problem is that these traitors were in large numbers...

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