Fresh look at heroic Indian women

Noted Indian author Sutapa Basu is always looking for women in Indian history who have challenged traditions and breached male bastions.

Her first historical fictional novel Padmavati: The Queen Tells Her Own Story, published in 2017, tells the story of the famous Rajput princess, saluting her fortitude.

Last October, the 66-year-old came out with Parvatibai: The Forgotten Witness Of The Battle Of Panipat.

It gives a fresh perspective on the tumultuous events surrounding the Third Battle of Panipat in 1761 between the Afghans and Marathas through the eyes of Baisaheb Parvatibai, the wife of Maratha general Sadashivrao Bhau.

“For me, they are the heroic women of India,” Ms Basu said during a visit to Singapore this week. “Parvatibai was a witness and a survivor of the Third Battle of Panipat, which is significant because, had the Muratha army won, the British would never have been able to get a foothold and enslave India for the next two centuries.

“There are many chronicles and analyses about why the Marathas were defeated. But nobody ever asked her opinion. There was probably a reason why her voice was suppressed. There were betrayals on the Martha side, and maybe they did not want her to divulge the details.

“I found this intriguing and learnt that she was one of those who strategised much of that battle. She tried to make the Marathas win. They were defeated, not because of her, but because of the betrayals by the other leaders.”

Ms Basu, whose professional life of 47 years includes working as an editor and publisher with Oxford University Press (India) and Encyclopedia Britannica (South Asia), said she researched for about five months.

“When I’m writing a historical narrative, I continuously research because if I want to draw my reader into that historical ambience, I need to know what kind of food they ate, what kind of language they spoke, what kind of clothes they wore and what kind of weapons were used,” she said.

“I have explained the battle in all its totality. It was an eight-hour battle that the Marathas were actually winning. What turned the tide in the Afghans’ favour is also in the book.”

To Ms Basu, who lives in Delhi and has written 10 books including Dangle, The Legend Of Genghis Khan and The Curse Of Nader Shah, “history is very important and should be told the right way”.

“History is not dead, it lives all around us,” she said. “If we want to understand today, we need to go into the past. My mission is to make people, especially the young, more interested in history. I want them to learn about their roots and feel proud.

“I want to bring out the stories of the unsung heroes, especially of heroic women about whom nothing much has been written about.”

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