Doctor Margaret in Delhi by Waheed Rabbani
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Gunfire is all around-only smoke is visible-their carriage is under attack from the plunders of India.
They have native soldiers escorting them- but the robbers were equally matched for the soldiers- and they are heavily armed.
Heated lead has flied past the lady from America-an inch off its trajectory and it would be the life and death determining moment.
A man, like a demon is charging towards her- a devilish looking man with bright metallic weapon.
She closed her eye in fear- how does death feels?
The man is fearless- in the name of goddess Kali they can even die laughing.
Another gunshot- does she have any sensation of blood dripping out of her body?
Is she feeling sleepy?
Welcome to India 1855-when the rule of the East India Company has been established throughout India barring a few native states-which are fighting hard to establish their autonomy on the face of the imperialism!
Doctor Margaret in Delhi by Waheed Rabbani is a chronicle of the lady doctor-one of the pioneers of the American history of medical learning(till then the learning of medical science was heavily gender biased)- in India as a member of the medical service of India . But more than a memoir- it is the story of a white lady whose destiny in her unconsciousness was merged with the destiny of the native states, the soldiers, the great Mughals….
It is a story amid the backdrop of the most turbulent times of the Indian history- within two years there will be a fire erupting out.
for those who are not familiar with the story of Margaret-or have missed the train to ride with her in her fascinating journey – Doctor Wallidad –a modern day doctor had discovered a beautiful sea chest in his hospital lying unclaimed-from where had been recovered princely jewels form Indian native states and the journal of the experience of the life of the lady doctor.
That chest belonged to Margaret- no prize for guessing!
How did the valuables including the crown of Jhansi sneak through to the chest of the lady? In a time machine we have to travel to the days of the company rule- to the days whose mention will always be there in the history of India in blood and tears- those fiery days- smokes of rebellion coiling up against the tyranny of company rule!
Let us come to the story now. The curtain of the story rises on a ship taking the doctor to her trip to Calcutta-the capital of India! She has lost her dear husband in the war in Crimea. The wound is very fresh- especially in the light of the fact that it was sheer backstabbing from his friend!
‘Et tu , Brute?’
In the ship she was introduced to Colonel Humphrey. Remember readers-this name…………..
It was a moment full of emotions when she met her father- the man had travelled the way from his mission to Calcutta to receive his daughter. Destiny took them away –after she got married and destiny took them closer again-after the demise of her husband.
Irony of fate……
The author had made extensive research on the history of the city that is enough to have a visualization of the then capital of India- be it’s skyline, be it’s culture, be it’s tradition, be the oriental life of the native and the Europeans. It is like a picture drawn by Daniel of old Calcutta-no I am a little wrong- more elaborate picture-such is the bold brushstroke- such is the selection of colours.
And when India being a country of snake charmers, Can snakes be far behind?
“I heard a slight hissing and rustling sound from the top of the bed, a few feet away. I turned around and noticed the long, thick tail of a snake slithering on the silk bedcover. It must have spotted me. For it rose about a quarter of its length and displayed its ugly head through the parted mosquito net. It was a cobra.”
Silk bedcover just reminds me that the writer has an elaborate eye for details-an essential ingredient for the picture of the story to float before the eyes.
Soon the tender heart of the lady felt sympathetic with the cause of the Indian- be the imperial policy of the colonial rule or the behaviour of the Europeans towards black natives-she started to found it increasingly difficult to swallow. At the place of work of her father-she got to mix up with a native ruler- but destiny has some other thought for her.
During her stay to Delhi she found herself at the helm of the kingly affairs- the great Mughals –their hope and aspirations- conspiracy and dark side- soon started to moist her mind. And events started to happen. And little Jan- the sign of love of her dear husband comes to her lap!
“Doctor Margaret, what do you think of y son, Jawan?’ she asked.
‘He is a very nice boy.’
‘Do you think he can be the next king?’
‘Not for me to decide, your majesty. I believe it is something king Zafar should discuss with governor general.”
Well readers-can you smell of blood? if you do-you have a good sense of picking things-as soon storm is going to blow-over her life-over he land- over the rulle of company-that will decide the land of India!
All the time – an army officer increasingly started to get attracted to her. But is he merely a bee attracted by the fragrance of the blooming flower? Or his love is as pure as pure as driven snow?
Where the destiny will take her? What the future beholds for her?
An absorbing historical novel glittered by historical facts well navigated by the writer- is how I would love to express it. But suddenly I realised I am forgetting about the plot-which will attract readers as magnet.
And there is no denying the fact that it is one of the period novels where the writer has done justice to the characters-they are so real yet so fictional!
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The child asked with utter ignorance or innocence-sometimes ignorance and innocence are synonymous-to the emperor-‘where is your cloth?’
He was able to do so-because he was fearless- human society till that date was not able to teach him to be afraid!
There is an eternal child within everybody of us who asks often-where is your cloth?
We listen and then tell that child- now go to sleep, darling….it is still not the time to wake up!
We never listen to the eternal child called human conscience- because we are afraid. If we have to listen to him- we have to stand in front of the mirror- to have a look at us- we will see our ugly faces-covered by a cosmetic facade!
Because we are humans- the only animal on earth who can think rationally!
And whose rational thinking has created all the irrationality the world!
sometimes a stormy wind dares to enter our stubborn world- in the form of that ignorant child-or innocent child-or rebel child- in whatever name you can call it – tries to give us a wake up call-‘still not time to rise……’
In the form of a writing, a speech, a movie. ….
‘From where I see’ by Ajay Yadav is such a rebel child- which dares to enter our sleeping soul- like a fresh wind –like a splash of shower-like a beam of sunlight. This just shows us how loosely woven our social fabrics are- how rational we are- how civilisation has given us progress to be ‘civilised’…….
in an recently released Bollywood blockbuster- an alien landed in earth and watches with utter inquisitiveness the customs-the behaviour- the social structure of species Homo Sapiens- but was unable to discover any logic behind. It was a comedy-perhaps with a drop of tears. The same feeling that I had, while watching the movie, Seems to be coming back while reading the book- his humorous way of writing- asking some innocent questions- and never getting the answers……
Or, perhaps getting the answers-which have been dubbed by the writer as a journey towards a Utopian world!
There is a skeletal story in this book- a murder mystery story. it is the story of a doctor- a namesake of the author-finds himself in an awkward situation inside a police station where he finds himself a suspect-or perhaps the prime suspect n a murder case. The murdered woman-was a childhood friend of the doctor- who was not in touch with the author for many, many years after a meeting unpleasant or rather cold- in the college of the lady. Then life had diverted their ways-until they discovered each other in social networking sites. Then there is a frequent journey in the time machine- from past to present and past- revealing the past and the present of the protagonists- partly through flashbacks- partly through direct interactions! And the doctor discovered that she is infested with problems all around-from his near and dear ones, from society, even from the strangers.
Let us discover where this problematic journey takes us!
This is an age of uncertainty, an age of suspicion. Words like faith and trust are completely alien world in this small island called the earth. And our lady protagonist is a victim – rather a victim of a usual enemy. This is a world where love can be considered a sin-if it is done between persons with socioeconomic differences, or with caste or religion being the demarking force. Love jihad has found its mention in the narrative
“He married a girl from his own gotra they were lucky to have escaped from their village and take shelter in this village otherwise people would have slaughtered them. Such things don’t remain hidden for long. When people in this village realised it, they decided to expel them.”
If you consider they were lucky,’ picture abhi baki hai’! Social unrest towards such marriages often ended up in marital relations getting sour and this was no exception. Nobody can understand that a loving dad, or a caring brother how can suddenly becomes hostile towards their darling daughter in the name of religious, caste, creed, or economic barriers. It is the problem of attitude- the teaching of the paternalist society that gives rise to evils such as Khap panchyat.
The bureaucratic behaviour of the babus has been attacked with sharp arrow like satire-a society where corruption and bribe is considered as a propelling force towards progress needs to be attacked rightly. ‘This is the problem with our government sector; no one sees the efficiency before promoting. ‘not on seat’ is the only offence here,’ not on work’ doesn’t make a difference”
In a society marred by unsympathetic, unresponsive, corrupt bureaucrats and politicians the mango man has to live a life of a toad-who has to live within a cocoon- if you dare to step out of your periphery- you will get struck! Black money, parallel economy all has found their places of mention in this context. In the narration of the author-“this is the problem with our government sector, no one sees the efficiency before promoting.’ not on seat’ is the only offence here. ‘Not on work’ does not make a difference.”
the mango man are living merely a living of existence here- a life of frog of the well-who has to live within a cocoon- if he dares to step out of his periphery-he is struck. Man is born free but everywhere is in chains.
The context of the book does not confine itself to a story and a chronicle of the contemporary times-it is a pious attempt to capture the history in transition. The freedom movement of India to the Sino Indian conflict to the tussle with Pakistan- all have been discussed with artistic precision. Naturally all the honourable men have also found their due places of mention in the book.
India- is traditionally been a country of idol worshipper has a tremendous affinity towards person worshipping. we sometimes forget they are mere blood and flesh mortals- with both positive and negative traits-even if he is as great a person as the father of the nation.
In this fiction-story and essay is complimentary to each other-it’s a hybrid- an innovative genre. The language is easy flowing, narratives are mind catching and opinions are strong.
But who killed our protagonist?
May be a person did- but she was killed many years before she was murdered. Disbelief killed her, distrust killed her, dishonesty killed her, pain killed her, grief killed her, despair killed her…….
Like many of us who still walks on the earth like the phantom……
And who will continue to be killed…….
unless as the writer has envisaged we take our first step towards an Utopian dream.
And yes-what the cover tells you?
Just look it at and it will whisper you …….
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