The intellectual level of HT City, the no-brain supplement of a rather no brain paper, the Hindustan Times, went up many notches yesterday. They actually had a sort of debate on Empire, history, myth and representation on their front page (instead of a model saying that s/he loves reading √± s/he just couldn√≠t put down the Da Vinci code√ñ)
The debaters √±
Aamir Khan, star and producer of the forthcoming √´historical√≠ Mangal Pandey:The Rising .
Rudrangshu Mukherjee, historian, particularly of Avadh in Revolt.
AK √± It is relevant, alright√ñ The events might have happened in 1857 but we see similar things happening even today in Afghanistan and Vietnam √± where a superpower takes over an alien society, ruling, robbing and claiming it for its own benefit. The film questions the right of anyone to do that√ñ
q. ..Rudrangshu Mukherjee is of the view that nationalism creates its own myths, and Mangal Pandey is part of the imagination of historians. Do you agree?
AK √± That is a valid point of view but it does not take away the fact that Mangal Pandey became an inspiration in the fight for freedom√ñ
But beyond the debate, I have heard rumours that Ketan Mehta√≠s film actually shows Mangal Pandey as the leader of the revolt, who also leads the Sepoys from Meerut to Delhi.
If this is true, this takes artistic liberties with historical veracity to another level altogether. Mangal Pandey was hanged on the 8th of April, 1857 in Barrackpore, Bengal – over a month before the Sepoys in Meerut revolted, on the 10th of May, took Delhi the next day, and started √´The Rising√≠. Mangal Pandey√≠s attack on his British sergeant was just one among many incidents of individual and collective defiance which stoked the embers of resentment into the full-blown ghadar of 1857-58. (It wasn√≠t the first, either √± there was a sepoy mutiny in Berhampore, Bengal that February. ) To glorify one person, and that too, ahistorically, is to do disservice to the memory all the other acts of courage, desperation (and let√≠s not forget) cruelty that were part of the rebellion. And though conspiracy theorists abound, there was no one leader to the rebellion, which unleashed a whole range of democratic and anarchic actions – like the Gujjar pastoralists outside of Delhi burning down Metcalfe House (Matka Kothi) because it had swallowed up their grazing lands. Something I√≠m sure the film leaves out!
But maybe there is some justification for Mangal Pandey in Delhi. Pandey, after all, did outlive his death as a symbol of the revolt. The British soldiers fighting the mutineers saw him everywhere. All mutineers were derogatorily called √´Pandys√≠ by the Brits, and the death struggle of a captured rebel on the gallows was a dance to √´Pandy√≠s hornpipes.√≠
I eagerly await the movie..
August 12, people…