In politics, one cannot often say which is the cause and which is the effect—whether weakening of a central or paramount power results in the rise of regional states, or the rise of regional powers leads to weakening of a central power.
The rise of several regional powers during the decline of Mughal paramountcy is a classic example. As Aurangazeb’s empire of zealotry suppressed regional identities and non-conformist (to the state’s) faiths, there arose several regional powers across the subcontinental landscape—the Marathas, the Sikhs, the Rajputs, the Rohillas, the Bundelas and very many more.
This book, Ram Sivasankaran’s second in a series on the Peshwas, is set in that period of chaos—early 18th century when warlords marched their legions across and bloodied the subcontinent seeking territories, wealth, honour and revenge.
The story is about how the Marathas, under the Peshwas, sought alliance with the Sikhs, another rising power, and outsmarted the intrigue and chicanery of the Mughals and the Nizam, and destroyed a fictitious legion of shadowy murderers called Scorpions employed by the Mughals and the Nizam. To that extent the book has its own bias, but that is pardonable in thriller fiction.
But where the author disappoints is in poor construction of his characters. The Scorpions seem to be inspired by the real cult of the Thugs, but have come out as poor imitations. The book has historic characters such as Peshwa Bajirao I, the Nizam Ul Mulk of Hyderabad, and of course Emperor Muhammad Shah, plus a battalion of fictitious also-rans, but all of them look like simple cardboard cutouts who speak and act in Amar Chitra Katha style. The intriguers plot too much, the noble ones are too noble yet very smart, the women are all either virtuous vestas or veeranganas, depending on the role expected of them.
The book is highly recommended for a lazy inflight or train-journey reading; nothing more.
PESHWA: WAR OF THE DECEIVERS
Author: Ram Sivasankaran
Price: Rs 500