‘One day, a stable boy was strung to a tree and skinned alive on suspicion of stealing a horse. Three thousand people from neighbouring villages stormed the fort, torching Yale’s palace, the homes of white settlers, the warehouses with cotton bales, spices and goods from England, the ammunition store, the offices together with records and files, the treasury and much else. Even Beri Rangappa’s house was not spared. His body was so charred that the family priest declared no cremation rites were possible. Rangappa’s wife was pregnant with Vijayappa’s father at the time. Since that day, locals hear plaintive cries of, “Spare me governor ayya! Spare me. I did not steal your horse. I am innocent. Spare me ayya please, I beg you!” through Fort St. David from time to time.’
I have no prior experience with historical or heritage fiction. As a former free-lance journalist and barrister in India I have encountered real human stories all my life. People and their stories have always inspired me. Their creativity in the face of odds and their struggles have taught me much about the meaning of life.
My love for fiction goes back to early childhood. My grandfather was a great story-teller and instilled in me a love for stories. The East India Company confiscated the lands of people from our ancestral village because they sheltered Tipu Sultan’s general in the Second Mysore War. I always fantasised about writing historical fiction. This project gave me an opportunity to learn about historical fiction.
I loved everything about the project. I met wonderful people. I learnt about historical fiction writing. I got to know London city and about East India Company sites in ways I could never have done on my own. I loved the different London city walks, the library and exhibition visits. The project was superbly conceptualised and managed. I have lived in London for nearly ten years. This project’s focus on history helped me to establish a bond with the city. I joined the project as an immigrant and I left the project as a Londoner.
In my native Tanjore district in Tamil Nadu there is an Ayyanaar temple on the outskirts of Tanjore city. Folklore about the temple has it that Robert Clive was severely wounded during a battle and brought by the locals to the Ayyanaar temple for healing. Legend has it that Clive’s life was saved by the goddess of the temple. Clive survived and went on to become the founder of the British Empire. When crossing Tanjore city limits I always wondered about the story. What might the destinies of India and Britain have been like if Clive had not survived? Why did the goddess save him? Was there a divine purpose? How are we to understand her divine intervention considering the death, destruction and devastation of an entire way of life that the British Empire brought upon the people of Tanjore she was supposed to protect? The ‘Human Stories’ project provided an opportunity to explore the folklore.
B r i c k L a n e C i r c l e