I became interested in the topic of this story - the life of a rescued sati - during my historical studies at SOAS. Satis were wives who were burnt on the funeral pyres of their husbands. I often came across the trope of the wretched Indian sati rescued by the heroic EIC official: the story that the wife of the EIC official who founded Calcutta, Job Charnok, was a rescued sati; the convoluted attempts to legislate against sati by the EIC; and fictional representations such as in Jules Vernes’ Around the World in Eighty Days. None of these representations, however, voiced the feelings of the rescued sati herself and this became the kernel of my story. I wanted to give voice to the conflicts felt by a woman who was almost killed because of the restrictive gender codes of her own culture and country and yet owed her rescue from death to the British who in their turn oppressed her countrymen and women.
I recently completed a Masters in South Asian Studies at SOAS, where I focused on the history and literature of Bengal, a region closely connected to the East India Company. I have a lifelong interest in literature. My first degree was in English literature and I studied Bengali literature during my Masters and I am currently training as an English teacher.
I often attend Brick Lane Circle events as I am very interested in the history and culture of Bengal. This project seemed a fruitful way of combining my interest in Bengali history with my love of literature.
I enjoyed the many trips to museums and archives that are related to the history of the British in India. These included visits to the British Museum, the National Maritime Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum as well as a London walk looking at buildings and monuments from the history of the EIC. The vast amount of material about the British presence in India made me fully aware of how their colonisation of India from the 16th century onwards is a significant part of British history. I also became increasingly aware of what little general knowledge there is about this part of British history: whether this is to do with trade links, the shipbuilding trade, the position of Indian bibis and maidservants, the tea trade or the lives of the indigenous rulers of India at this time. The project gives voice to many aspects of this untold history through a historical fiction perspective.
‘As a girl, I avidly followed the hero Rama’s adventures, his forays into foreign kingdoms and other worlds. Yet even then the most telling image for me was the circle drawn around his queen Sita’s dwelling. Ostensibly the circle was to keep out those who might harm Sita. To avail herself of the circle’s protection, however, she could not venture outside it. In effect, Rama imprisoned his wife to safeguard her from danger. Now, centuries later, men continue to lovingly bind us into the circles of daughter, wife, mistress.’
B r i c k L a n e C i r c l e