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Review: Glory of Patan by KM Munshi

In the best tradition of historical fiction, Glory of Patan is a cautionary tale for governments that distance themselves from the masses.

books Updated: Jul 22, 2017 07:47 IST
Pradhuman Sodha
Pradhuman Sodha
Hindustan Times
KM Munshi,Patan,Gujarat
The 11th century Rani ki Vav in Patan, Gujarat.(Shutterstock)

The layperson who looks at our history often finds it obscured by the experience of colonisation. Those who persist with their study find that our history is full of surprises.

Freedom fighter, lawyer, politician and writer Kaniyalal Maneklal Munshi (KM Munshi), who witnessed the glory and the end of the British Raj knew this when he began writing what came to be The Patan Trilogy. Written as classical historical fiction, the first book, Glory of Patan, is a cautionary tale for governments that distance themselves from the masses.

Patan, now a small city in Gujarat, close to the Rajasthan border, was a powerful state going through testing times in the 1150s when this story started. The reader is thrown into the action with the very first lines. As courtiers wait around the kings deathbed, his ambitious wife Minaldevi plans feverishly to become the all-powerful regent until her underage son’s succession. Outside the high city wall the armies of the neighbouring Jain states team up to take on what was then the centre of Gujarat.

The story starts with an apparition. Devprasad, the leader of the feudal lords of Patan, sees his wife Hansa, who has been dead for years. Searching for the meaning of this vision, he falls upon a secret that changes his life. Munjal Metha, the prime-minister of Patan, another pillar of the story and of the state of Patan, is a spy-master, who is aware of everything that happens there. Though devoted to Minaldevi he finds himself bearing the brunt of her ambition.

Munshi thickens the plot with a passionate tale of forbidden love between Devprasad’s son Tribhuvalpal and Prasannmukhi, the Queen’s ward. Where Tribhuvanpal is a young warrior of great capabilities for both war craft and statecraft, Prasannmukhi is not characterised as a damsel in distress. The character who is introduced as a girl changes quickly into a young lady who saves the city of Patan through her guile when the power of swords proves to be useless.

Translated from Gujarati by Rita and Abhijit Kothari, the book seems to have retained the essence of the vernacular. Along with Minaldevi, Munjal Metha and Devprasad, the other fascinating character is Anandsuri. A Jain warrior monk or Jati, Anandsuri has taken it upon himself to spread the power and influence of the Jain saints. Devprasad and Munjal are the obstacles he has to leap over to reach his goal and Minaldevi is his vehicle. Religious fanaticism and religion as a tool of nation building is another major theme of the book. The Jain states with their armies were coaxing the rulers of Patan to become a Jain Kingdom. One of the most vivid and touching scenes of the book is the man to man battle between Anandsuri and Devprasad. Munshi’s description of every element in those panic stricken moments is striking.

Read more: What makes a novel lie

Munshi’s characters have the classical arch. The changes brought about in them by events of the story deepen the reader’s understanding. His writing also explains the importance of honour in the lives of the people of that era. This book is one of a kind. Contemporary readers might feel a little distant from the characters but will not fail to recognise the brilliance of this book.

First Published: Jul 21, 2017 20:00 IST