In an interesting mix of non-fiction and fiction woven together, “The Brown Sahebs” by Anupam Srivastava is unlike any book I’ve ever read. It has a bit of everything, like many pieces to a grand puzzle that will only reveal itself when you have finished and lean back to savour it in its entirety. History, politics, socio-critical analyses, a dash of romance with a clever love triangle, economics, religion and philosophy all make an appearance. Sometimes it is almost a bit too much to take in. I certainly didn’t breeze through the book the way I often do it, but the ‘effort was worth it, for each chapter held hidden delights. I like the way the father-son dynamics between the Raja of Teekra and his son Pratap were handled, and the way Pratap, Malati and Kavita were thrown together was a masterful stroke too.
I am by no means an expert on India’s history, though I know enough about Gandhi – who also makes an appearance – and the British Raj followed by the pre- and post-Independence struggle to understand the value of this novel. I have to say this is exactly where the strongest and weakest point of the book lies: In the unapologetic and complex way it handles the broad subject, assuming the readers know enough to not lose their way and to enjoy every detail. I’m sure I missed quite some subtleties, and I am left with a few questions, but I like it when a story makes me think. The characters were well-fleshed out, especially Vidhya Babu the freedom fighter.
Overall, I appreciate the clean, neat style and language of the novel and that it seems jam-packed with knowledge. The prologue and first chapters had me hooked and I never lost interest in the story. I can recommend this book to anyone interested in India’s past, stories with historical flair and sharp-brained insights into the human mind, and books that involve well-known personalities. It is no easy read, but a commendable feat from the author’s side.