PETER W INGTY’s book is a interesting exposition of certain historical truths writes ANANYA S GUHA
Is fiction a historical or is it embedded in personal histories? Is there anything such as the historical novel? Does it elude a stereotype, a ‘ definition ‘ thereby meaning that historical facts must colour such fiction, or is it a nuance of fact and fiction? How do fact and fiction coexist in such novels?
Bhaskara: The Last Of The Varmans is a very interesting exposition of certain historical truths, told in the style of a fable. The hitherto unexplored North East region of India, in the vast and stupendous canvas of Indian history, is given its due. Bhaskara the last of the Varmans after his father’s death rules an undivided kingdom with the help of his friend and mentor Harsha Vardhana whom he had met in Nalanda as a co student. They keep in touch and Bhaskara establishes rapport with Kanauj and Thanesar the two citadels of Harsha Vardhana’s ancient kingdom. Through the aegis of Yuan Xang popularly known as Hieun Tsang there is cultural, political and social contact with the China of yore. Hieun Tsang after visiting Harsha Vardhana’s stately court also comes as as guest of Bhaskara, to find that Buddhism and Hinduism co exist in Kamrupa.
The town Kamrupa is known as the ”City Of The Eastern Light” and the river Songdu an epistemology of Tsangpo, now known as the mighty Brahmaputra flows ceremoniously through the kingdom of Bhaskara. In between the alliance of Harsha and Bhaskara to extirpate the ruthless and cunning Sasanka of Gaur ( Bengal) is highlighted. The bonds are further cemented by the emissary of Bhaskara’s visit to the Chin nation. Bhaskara’s friend’s son remains there to marry a local pretty lady and the progeny one assumes are a lineage to this amalgam of cultures. Throughout the narratives it is a racy history which establishes a connection between the eastern, north eastern, central and western of what we now call India. This historical intersection of east, west and central show a broad unification of the concept that is India.
The constant reference to the rivers Songdu and Jinjiram, expose the myth of rivers, and their time immemorial locus standing. ”The City Of Eastern Light” acts a poetic metaphor throughout the novel, light symbolizing the resplendence of a culture and a kingdom. Things flourish here as it were- whether it is food, water, fruits, or beasts. The town of Kamrupa is a beautiful sight.
After Bhaskara’s death his successor Sanathamba marked for his piety continues the good work silently, but a modern day Tsunami destroys the kingdom. A pivotal plot of the narrative is the tri colour- Hieun Tsang, Harsha Vardhana and Bhaskara, and their interactions through decades. Again, after Bhaskara’s demise the kingdom cannot continue, it will not. Floods inundate the civilization, and those who remain are compelled to move on to a new place. The interesting feature of the novel is Buddhism, both Harsha Vardhana and Hieun Tsang are avowed Buddhists, in fact as history tells us the Chinese pilgrim came to India to specifically study and meditate on the scriptures. Bhaskara on the other hand is not a Buddhist, but history has taught him to be eclectic perhaps. Even as a young man when he chased the elusive tiger, he learnt how to accept realities. Bhaskara had imbibed Buddhist ideals in his visit to Nalanda, and in the midst of his academic pursuits met his friend Harsha Vardhana.
This is a novel not of design but having in its trap door a history which is now extant. We all have heard of Harsha Vardhana, Hieun Tsang and even Sasanka, but how many history texts recapture the arcane myth of friendship, between Bhaskara and Harsha Vardhana? The novelist has re written history and given us its captive imagination. Again, the periphery that was North East India still remains so…?!
The ”Sequel” to the novel underlies my last question, in the first paragraph of the review: how do fact and fiction co exist (in fiction)? The very fact that the Archaelogical Survey Of India field workers and researchers excavate an ancient civilization, reminiscent to this one induces the trajectory: ”Was this fortified city the location of the legendary City Of Eastern Light in the ancient kingdom of Kamrupa” after the Brahmaputra changed course? The excavation took place in 1992, fact and fiction are blurred. A wonderful historical novel! It is subversive and challenges historical myths and archetypes.
Name: ” Bhaskara: The Last Of The Varmans”
Publisher: Strategic Book Publishing And Rights Co. ( Houston USA)
Price : 13 US Dollars