‘Panipat’, a 1988 book on the real-life loss for the Marathas is now available in English
It was dismissed as a Novel of Doom. Rejected by nine publishers before the manuscript found a taker in Rajhans Prakashan, Panipat was six years in the making. Once it took the shape of a book, Vishwas Patil could sleep in peace. The book and his first child arrived at the same time, in 1988. He was 28 and anxiety gripped him. What if his “project” sank. Within a week he became a mini celebrity. Rave reviews triggered huge sales and Patil was hailed as a trend-setter in writings on history. In the years that followed, it is counted among the five best selling Marathi novels of all time, selling more than 2,50,000 copies in six Indian languages, with 42 reprints in Marathi alone. Now, the book is available in an English translation, published by Westland.
The third battle of Panipat is a stirring saga of a bloody battle between the Marathas and the king of Afghanistan, Ahmad Shah Abdali. “It was the bloodiest battle ever. In the span of 12 hours, 1.5 lakh men died on 14 January, 1761. This is their tale,” said Patil. Among his works, Mahanayak (translated into 14 languages with 25 reprints in Marathi), a biography of Subhas Chandra Bose, and Sambhaji, the story of the Chatrapati Shivaji’s eldest son, are rated as classics. In 1992, he won the Sahitya Akademi Award for Zadazadati, a novel on people displaced due to projects like dams.
Panipat, documenting the Maratha defeat in the battle, was aimed at a populist audience. For Nadeem Khan, who has scripted the 575-page English translation, the challenge was to tone down the hyperbole, accepted in Marathi literature, but not in English, without tinkering with the story line. He says he knew he “had to stay as true to the original as possible. Patil gave me a complete free hand. I had to ensure that it read not like a translation, but like a standalone book.” In this quest, he had even suggested a new title — Panipat The Epic. “I will be happy if the readers like the effort,” says Khan, who taught English at Shri Shivaji Science College, Amravati, and has translated the novels of celebrated Marathi writers Avadhoot Dongre and Bhau Padhye.
Patil was generous in his response to the translation. “Nadeem Khan has done a superb job. Just as Keerti Ramachandra has (with Mahanayak and Zadazadti). Panipat is not an everyday story. Like my other novels, it is based on historical facts. When I was writing the novel, I was possessed with it. I travelled far for the research and am glad that the battle of Panipat is now seen as a huge victory in big defeat.”
Panipat, according to Patil, reflected his love for history. “I always visit history with this perspective: What happened, happened. That history will live. Concocted history has no life,” he says. “I wrote the novel to project a national incident. Like the Ramanayana and Mahabharata, this is also an epic. It shows the vices and virtues of the Maratha race. I gave eight years of my life to the novel — six for the book and two for the play I wrote on it. Even today I sometimes wonder if I wrote it.”
The novel takes the reader on a racy track. There are three sections. The journey (1,300 kilometres) of the Marathas to Panipat, the enemies locked face to face in Panipat, and the great drama that followed involving three great characters, Abdali, Sadashivrao Bhau and Najeeb Khan. “For me, Bhausaheb was a villain when I started, but my impression changed after my research. He was an extraordinary soldier who fought destiny. Few books recognised the strength of Najeeb, but I found many threads from books in Arabic and Persian,” says the 60-year-old Patil.
He still goes back to visit Panipat often, and though the city has grown into another urban centre, he does stand at the site of the battle and marvel at the men who travelled such a distance to fight a battle they believed in.
Available for preorder online, or in bookstores from December 9 onwards; from Westland, at ₹899
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