The lost legacy
Posted: Oct 09, 2008 at 0011 hrs IST

Navtej Sarna’s The Exile, a novel based on the life of Maharaja Duleep Singh, goes beyond historical facts to present the tragedy, trials & tribulations of the Maharaja

The man used to wear the Kohinoor on his arm and reached a point in time in life when he was forced to sell eggs on a farm. Separated from his family, kingdom and country, here was a Maharaja who was forced to live the life of a country squire in exile, in an alien land and made to change his religion twice. Defeated by destiny, put down by conspiracies, deceit and ridicule, this is the story of Maharaja Duleep Singh, who died a lonely, defeated man in a cheap hotel in Paris.

This is a painful past that has not escaped many, “but whenever I heard the story I felt we had not been able to tell his story, fathom his pain, emotional state of mind, tragedy of his soul,’’ Navtej Sarna’s second novel (We Weren’t Lovers Like That, 2003) The Exile, published by Penguin, was released today in Chandigarh, is an artistic mix of fact and fiction. More than the bare bones of historical aspects, the emotional, psychological aspects of the Maharaja, his feelings, personality, misfortune...form the soul of the book and only a novel, in which you had the freedom to encompass the fictional aspect in known history could do justice to the life of Maharaja Duleep Singh. With as many as nine years of extensive research, voracious reading on the subject and frequent breaks, Sarna, a bureaucrat, has written a novel, which he says does not distort history, romanticize or glorify Duleep Singh. As for bringing out the emotional quotient and tragedy of the man, the author says while staying within the borders of possible, he has strived to reach out to Duleep Singh and his feelings by reading and sensing Duleep Singh’s personal letters, proclamations and also memoirs. “You discern the tone of his voice, the anger, courage and the outcome is a personality which has been duped, a life filled with unjust and mitigating circumstances and so much loss,’’ Sarna, who has a keen interest in Sikh history discovers a human character in search of recognition, stability, a will to do the right thing, but ending up losing it all. “The theme is universal and at the end of it all you feel his tragedy and are moved by it,’’ Sarna reflects.