#DesiCraftChat: Manu Pillai on spotlighting those who’ve been footnoted in history

Desi Books Ep 64 w/ Manu Pillai Desi Books


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Hello and welcome to Episode 64 of Desi Books—news and views about desi literature from the world over. I’m your host, Jenny Bhatt. Thank you for tuning in.

In today’s #DesiCraftChat, we have Manu Pillai discussing his latest book: False Allies: India’s Maharajahs in the Age of Ravi Varma. In this conversation, we talked about deromanticizing the past, spotlighting those who’ve been footnoted in history—and much more.

#DESICRAFTCHAT WITH MANU PILLAI — INTRODUCTION

Manu Pillai is the author of the award-winning The Ivory Throne: Chronicles of the House of TravancoreRebel Sultans: The Deccan from Khilji to Shivaji, and The Courtesan, the Mahatma & the Italian Brahmin: Tales from Indian History. Formerly the Chief of Staff to Dr. Shashi Tharoor MP, Pillai has worked at the House of Lords in Britain, with Lord Karan Bilimoria CBE DL, and with the BBC on their Incarnations history series, assisting Dr. Sunil Khilnani. For three years, Manu Pillai also wrote a weekly column for Mint Lounge. His work has been published in The HinduOpen Magazine, the Times of India, Hindustan TimesThe New Statesman, and other publications. He is an alumnus of Fergusson College, Pune, and is currently enrolled as a PhD candidate at King’s College, London.

False Allies: India’s Maharajahs in the Age of Ravi Varma tracks the travels of the iconic painter Ravi Varma through five princely states—from the 1860s to the early 1900s—and uncovers a picture far removed from the clichés in which India’s princes and maharajahs are trapped. The world is not of dancing girls but of sedition, legal battles, the defiance of imperial dictates, and resistance. We meet maharajahs obsessed with industrialization and rulers who funded nationalists. These men were anything but pushovers for the Raj to manipulate. Outward deference aside, the princes, Pillai shows, forever tested the Raj—from denying white officials the right to wear shoes in durbars to trying to surpass British administrative standards. Good governance became a spectacularly subversive act, by which maharajahs and the ‘native statesmen’ assisting them refuted claims that Indians could not rule themselves. For decades, this made the princes heroes in the eyes of nationalists and anti-colonial thinkers—a facet of history we have forgotten and ignored. By refocusing attention on princely India, False Allies takes us on an unforgettable journey and reminds us that the maharajahs were serious political actors.

On a personal note, I’ve followed Manu’s work since I discovered his Mint Lounge column, which he wrote for three years. All his books and essays are well-researched and, as he elaborates in this interview, focus on those who’ve been footnoted in history. This latest book was not just a page-turner but also an eye-opener for me. I was left wanting to read entire books about not just all the major personalities but of all the minor ones too because of Manu’s engrossing sketches of them all.

Here’s Manu Pillai now.

#DESICRAFTCHAT WITH MANU PILLAI

[Audio]

You’ve been listening to episode 64 of Desi Books—news and views about desi literature from the world over. I’m your host, Jenny Bhatt. Thank you for tuning in.

Today’s #DesiCraftChat was with Manu Pillai discussing his latest book: False Allies: India’s Maharajahs in the Age of Ravi Varma.

Episode 65 will be up shortly. Follow on Twitter @desibooks, Instagram @desi.books, Facebook @desibooksfb. Tag the accounts if you have requests or suggestions. Please go to the website if you’d like to sign up for the free, weekly newsletter. That’s desibooks.co. And please share this interview via social media so we can keep raising the tide of desi literature.

Stay healthy, keep reading, and write well.

A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats.™
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