The Exile by Navtej Sarna

Mr Navtej Sarna, an Indian Foreign Service bureaucrat cum writer of 3books – We Weren’t Lovers Like That, The Book of Nanak and Folk Tales of Poland, in this fourth attempt at writing has come out with ‘The Exile’. Mr. Sarna’s sketch of Duleep Singh, the last maharaja of Punjab, is as much about deport within as it is about his rift from his land. In his efforts he has represented the gloomy life of the last ruler of the Sikh State, Maharaja Duleep Singh and has portrayed his life in a very superficial and entirely ineffective position making the reader relate to him and also make him lose his sleep over it.

Maharaja Duleep Singh was the son of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and Maharani Jindan Kaur (fifth wife of the Maharaja) born on 4 September 1838 at Lahore when Maharaja Ranjit Singh had turned 58years. The places occupied by the father and son in history are poles at distant, while Maharaja Ranjit Singh, possibly deservedly is described as one of the greatest Indian leaders of the early colonial epoch in India, his son Duleep Singh is shown to be an powerless émigré who spent the better part of his life as Queen Victoria’s party ribbons. In the book The Exile, Mr Sarna has traced life of pensioned off Duleep Singh, as he went from Lahore to Fatehgarh to his hunting estate in Elveden to Russia and finally to that bitter and deserted hotel room in Paris where he met his end. While on this journey, Duleep Singh turned into a baptized Christian and then ultimately converted back to Sikhism. The author has used 5 narrators as the main characters picked from those closest to Duleep Singh. In some contexts the prince himself has narrated a few incidents. The narrators include – Mangla Mai (the favorite slave girl of Duleep’s mother), Dr John Login (the British officer who served as a father figure to young Duleep), Lady Lena Login (Dr Login’s wife), Arur Singh (Duleep’s confidante) and General Charles Carrol Tevis (Duleep’s confidante in Paris). Other significant characters -Maharani Jindan, Maharaja Kharak Singh, Dogra brothers, Sandhawalia Sardars, Attariwala Sardars, Pandit Jalla, Hira Singh and Maharaja Sher Singh along with Prince’s wives and children.

The book is of 5 chapters divided into two parts, the first describing the splendor of Punjab under Maharaja Ranjit Singh, through the eyes of Mangla Mai and Maharani Jindan. Punjab including Lahore is described as a land of fabulous wealth and magnificence. The society aptly was very assorted and the only reason why it probably holds together is because of the respect the Sarkar (refers to Maharaja Ranjit Singh) commands. After the customary wailing and chest beating following his death collapsed, all hell breaks lose. The Kashmiri Dogras, the family of Ranjit Singh, the Sikh soldiers who fought as armed force, everyone begins to cry for everyone else’s blood. At the time of this chaos, Duleep Singh was a toddler; Maharani Jindan felt that the Lahore of the day was insecure for Duleep. She moved to Jammu along with Mangla Mai. The early years of the life of Duleep Singh, were played out against the rich background of his grandfather’s court and the lavish palaces and gardens. He enjoyed falconry and had the best horses and elephants to ride. He received royal education with two tutors, for Persian and Gurmukhi. He was taught to shoot guns and bows and trained to command. It must have seemed a kind of heaven, a place full of magical enchantment for the boy, but the brutalities of politics soon invaded. Eventually, Duleep Singh was called back to sit on the throne by one of the warring factions.