In 1839, Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab, one of India's greatest rulers, died and his vast empire was plunged into chaos. Less than a decade later, weakened by internecine rivalry and intrigue, Punjab fell into the waiting hands of the British. Theruler who signed away the kingdom and its treasures, including the famed Koh-i-noor diamond, was an eleven-year-old boy, Duleep Singh, the youngest of Ranjit Singh's acknowledged sons.
In this nuanced and poignant novel that draws upon true events. Navtej Sarna tells the unusual story of the last Maharaja of Punjab. As the British annexed his kingdom, Duleep was separate from his mother and his people, taken under British guardianship and converted to Christianity. At sixteen, he was transported to England to live the life of a country squire – an exile that he had been schooled to seek himself. But disillusionment with the treatment meted out to him and a later realization of his lost legacy turned Duleep into a rebel. He became a Sikh again, and sought to return to India and lead his people. But the attempt only dragged him into the murky politics of nineteenth-century Europe, leaving him depleted and vulnerable to deceit and ridicule. He died a lonely, defeated man in a cheap hotel in Paris.
Told in Duleep Singh's own voice, and the voice of five characters based on his contemporaries, The Exile is a compelling and deeply moving portrait of one of themost tragic figures of Sikh and Indian history. It is, equally, an unsparing examination of British imperialism, and the greed and shortsightedness of the Indian princes that fed it.
Extracts from Reviews
"A dexterous mix of fact and fiction by a master storyteller that holds the reader spellbound."
"There are nuanced descriptions of life in the harems of Lahore that are fascinating and rich. Sarna's grasp of the language is assured and his feelings for the cause are strong….(Sarna) puts Duleep Singh's cause forward compellingly and his work is undoubtedly soundly researched."
Anjana Basu, The Statesman
"The novel, fast-paced and complete in detail, moves from Lahore to Jammu, Fatehgarh, Mussoorie, England, Aden, Moscow and Paris. Sarna, to his immense credit, captures the sights, sounds and smells of each of these places perfectly. The minutest detail is well captured in the book, a result of some painstaking research undertaken by Sarna…..A better story on the Punjab's first family could not have been told."
Bhupesh Bhandari, Business Standard
"The details and the narrative that emerge are rich and make good reading because of the five pairs of eyes that take you through the tragedy of Punjab as it splintered after Ranjit Singh's death. Even the account of the maidservant, the charming and ambitious Mangla, details an important segment of Indian life in the 19th century. It is almost Manto-esque, with descriptions of Lahore, Hira Mandi, the punkahwallahs, the kanjarkhana, and the deep desire of a girl there to escape the gullies and bazaars and make it to higher quarters. The Exile deals with much more than just the estrangement of a failed prince from Punjab, who found both his father's legacy and the hostile circumstances unbearable."
Seema Chisti, Indian Express
"The Exile is an engaging compendium of insights into royal psychologies and colonial politics recreated in post-colonial angst, expressed through multiple narratives from a deposed king on his deathbed and some of his closest associates…….History breathes and dies along with the fall—and fall— of this hapless king-in-exile, and Sarna is to be commended for fashioning this fine marriage of fact and fiction in print."
Brinda Bose, India Today