Why would a book on a historical figure - a national hero in the first war of independence - not have a single photo of the man, except for a grainy sketch on the cover? "Because not a single photograph of Tatya Tope is available anywhere. The sketch is an artist's imagination and the only photograph taken by the British in April 1859 can't be real because Tatya had died in January 1859, three months before," says Parag Tope, who is descended from the freedom-fighter.
Parag's "Operation Red Lotus: Tatya and the Anglo-Indian war of 1857" has just been published. He is not a historian and does not claim to be one, but he believes Indian history is too serious a matter to be left to the British. "History is always written with an agenda," says the engineer and MBA who owns a company in San Francisco. Parag worked with five others to research his famous forebear in an attempt to bring out the "truth....We grew up hearing stories about Tatya's life and his bravery from old people in our family but we could not find any of this in history books."
The book investigates the elaborate planning that went into sustaining the war for about two years. It "solves" the puzzle of the mysterious rotis and red lotuses used by Indian rebels as coded messages from village to village across north India. "British officers dismissed these activities as stupid native rituals and modern historians looked at them as folklore," says Parag.
He throws new light on 1857, not least an eyewitness account of Tatya's death in the battle of Chhipa Barod on January 1, 1859. "This dispels the British claim that Tatya was arrested and hanged," says Parag. The book also claims to offer a new explanation for Rani Laxmibai's "so-called escape from the Jhansi port" and the Scindias' politics during the war. Baija Bai Scindia is described as a "pragmatic patriot" and Gwalior is held to have clandestinely supported the revolt even as Baija Bai "faked loyalty" to the British.
This book, which was researched and put together by a bunch of professionals, none of whom is a historian, raises interesting questions about history writing. History is often written by victors and read by the vanquished, says Parag, but this account tries to prove that 1857 was not a sepoy mutiny but a well-planned war for independence.