Monday, September 6, 2010

Review:Besieged Voices from Delhi 1857

The 1857 uprising has been described as a Sepoy Mutiny by the Britishers , Gadhar (a time of turbulence) by Indians and post Independence historians as first war of Indian Independence. 1857 was an epoch event in the Indian history.  Howsoever these events are known as and described one thing that comes clearly out of it is that this event was the turning point that changed the dynamics of the British rule in India. After this uprising India became a direct colony of the British crown rather than being governed by the East India Company. Nowhere was this event more impactful than in the city of Delhi. Delhi was the most affected as it was the seat of the erstwhile Mughal Empire. The Mughal Empire was a pale shadow of its former glory and was ruled by the almost 80 year old Bahadur Shah Zafar whose writ ran within the four walls of the Red Fort (Lal Qilla) .The mutinies soldiers camped in Delhi and Zafar became the rallying point of these mutineers.

Mahmood Farooqui in his book presents the first extensive translations into English of the Mutiny Papers –documents dating from Delhi’s 1857 siege, originally written in Persian and Shikastah Urdu. The translations include such fascinating pieces as the constitution of the Court of Mutineers, letters from soldiers threatening to leave Delhi if they were not paid their salaries, complaints to the police about unruly soldiers, and reports of troublesome courtesans, spies, faqirs, doctors, volunteers and harassed policemen. The book manages to shift the focus away from the conventional understanding of the events that took place in 1857.

The 1857 Uprising is widely written about by British historians from their point of view but there has been no definite account from the Indian perspective. This book is a very successful attempt by Mahmood Farooqui to bridge that gap.The book has been extensively researched  managing to give the reader a glimpse of the daily life & times in the city of Delhi during that period. The book gives the reader interesting insights such as the largely unacknowledged Sikh participation in the mutiny, Bahadur Shah Zafar’s defence trial in 1858 after being arrested when the mutiny came to an end and also how the uprising affected the residents of Delhi, the common people who suffered the most.

A definite, interesting and marvelous guide for anyone interested in history especially the history of Delhi.

About the Author:

Mahmood Farooqui studied history at St. Stephen’s College,Delhi, and at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. He has been a journalist and a newspaper columnist and, over the last few years, has effected a major revival of dastangoi, the art of storytelling. Farooqui is the co-director of the Hindi feature film, Peepli Live, and lives in Delhi with his wife Anusha Rizvi.


  1. Very Interesting ....I'm trying to get a copy of this book. I live in Princeton (USA) and am having trouble finding it at Barnes and Noble. Can someone help?

  2. Hi Sajid. I will check with the publishing house, Penguin,about its availability in the US or if it could be shipped there. Will keep you posted.