Review: End of Nana Sahib by Jules Verne

by 21cstories


It indeed comes as a surprise that the classic sci-fi writer Jules Verne should have written a story centered around a political figure  of the mutiny of 1857 in India.  Nana Sahib was a much wanted man after the mutiny, and could never be found.

The story is made interesting by its other major thread – the steam powered elephant chugging along two full houses to traverse the route from Kolkata to the base of the Nepal hills. The Frenchman Maucler, an adventurer, Colonel Munro, engineer Banks, Captain Hooks who is obsessed with hunting, and three of their subordinates thus take us along their intrepid journey through historical Indian cities of Gaya, Benares, Allahabad, Kanpur and Lucknow.

The prime mover of the plot is the strange connection between Colonel Munro and Nana Sahib. It was Munro who killed the Rani of Jhansi, the friend of Nana Sahib. And it was Nana Sahib who was involved in the killing of Munro’s wife at the infamous massacre of Bibighar at Kanpur. We thus have a twofold plot running through, though only one of which, the end of Nana Sahib, is brought to a conclusion.

The story was published in 1880, and Verne’s descriptions of the superstitious and other-worldly Hindoos, on the ghats of Gaya in Bihar and at the Ganges,  isn’t very different from the common view of the natives. The story begins with riveting personal rivalry, but drags on with the account of the expedition (though it makes for an interesting reading, to see old India from an outsider’s perspective). The climax thrills with the account of the mad woman roving in the terrains of the Sahayadri hills with a torch in hand. Another highlight of the story is the encounter with the arrogant Indian prince who loses his wager after three of his elephants are dragged around by the steam elephant!

Verne took the trouble to go into many geographic and cultural details of the sub-continent, and it is a thrill to see the plot unfold in many disparate parts of India. The story amuses and entertains and informs us of what has gone behind us a century ago. A fact-mixed-with-fiction telling of history that stimulates but makes us think.

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