Language – Marathi
“And the plains of Panipat were not more fatal to the Maratha Empire than the early end of this excellent prince..” These famous lines by British historian Grant Duff aptly summarise the reign of Madhavrao I. “Swami” – Ranjit Desai’s celebrated novel on the life of this excellent prince is a perfect blend of history and literature.
I think Madhavrao I is one of the most remarkable yet relatively unknown figure in Indian history. He became Peshwa (Prime Minister) of Maratha Empire when he was hardly 16. He inherited an empire devastated by Panipat, whose carefully crafted edifice over 40 years in the North India had crumbled. Its enemies in South, Nizam and Hyder Ali were strong and sensing Maratha rule in shambles, quick to compound their gains. But during his 11 years of reign Marathas once again attained their former glory. Madhavrao constantly wedged battles against Nizam and Hyder forcing them to accept Maratha supremacy. In the meanwhile Maratha generals in the north extracted their revenge by defeating Rohillas who were chief architect of Panipat. They also imposed heavy penalties on Jats and Rajputs and helped Shah Alam to the throne at Delhi.
Madhavrao was a fair and strict ruler sparing not even his family members for their wrong deeds. He was a good general and an even better administrator with an eye for minute details. He was an astute judge of human character and brought forth many young generals who led the Marathas to their valour. At a time when most kings and generals in India were self centred, he was foresighted enough to appreciate the spreading tentacles of East India Company and rebuke the British.
Like Shivaji and Bajirao, Madhavrao also had to fight his own clan. His internal fighting with his uncle Raghunathrao and continuous efforts to tie Maratha generals to his common cause extracted their toll on this young prince who succumbed to tuberculosis at the young age of 27.
Ranjit Desai has done a great job at setting the entire political and family turmoil of the times. Swami scores due to its ability to portray not only the political mechanisations of various players but also by creating characters that are highly believable, showcasing their nature, ambitions and the historical contexts in which they operate and are forced to operate. The endearingly loving relationship between Madhavrao and his wife Ramabai is touching and is sure to bring silent tears in your eyes.
Swami won many awards including Sahitya Akademi Award and catapulted Ranjit Desai in the higher echelons Marathi authors.
Thank you for reading. I appreciate your time.
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