Read The Trotter-Nama: A Chronicle by Irwin Allan Sealy Free Online
Book Title: The Trotter-Nama: A Chronicle|
The author of the book: Irwin Allan Sealy
Date of issue: February 12th 1988
ISBN 13: 9780394563640
City - Country: No data
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Reader ratings: 7.2
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 16.42 MB
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This is one of the most utterly droll and hilarious books I've ever laid hands on, written by an Indian. I've found myself amused with R K Naryanan's Malgudi stories for their simple and insightful outlook on the general Indian population, but The Trotter-Nama by Allan Sealy takes the cake. I thoroughly enjoyed the droll humor and wit ingrained throughout the book.
Trotter-Nama is actually derived from the great historic epics of our times such as the Akbar-Nama and Babar-Nama, written about famous kings that ruled Persia and India. A nama is a chronicle of the times written in the ancient days when kings and rulers abounded; it is a historical piece of biography. The epics are constructed in a narrative style that details in a richly worded manner the lineage of the royal family, interspersed with verses and other learned discourses as seen relevant and necessary. The Trotter-Nama also follows a similar pattern of narration and hence the author gently ridicules his book, terming it a mock epic. There are verses, witty ones at that, and interpolations where the narrator stops to explain diverse subjects as and when they appear in his narration, with scant respect to whether they are really relevant or not. This has lent a colorful richness to the story and I've found myself grinning throughout the book.
The story spans seven generations of the Trotter family. True to its epic promise, the narrative is unclear as to how the first Trotter actually came to be in India and derives its conclusions from "sources," extolling one source and scorning other sources in the most humorous manner. We are introduced to Justin Aloysius Trotter, the Great Trotter if you please, who was an officer and inventor par excellence, and whom we first meet ironically on the last day of his life. He sails up in the sky on his hot balloon with the purpose of admiring his own sprawling lands and unfortunately tumbles to his death on the land below, setting off a chain of events that leave you breathless with laughter.
Trotter, due to his loyal services to Her Majesty's army, is the proud owner of a vast land near Naklau (read that as Lucknow; ha ha) that he named Sans Souci. He builds his home, spreading across acres of land with vast courtyards and four towers (one tower each for each of his mistresses and one for himself), filled with rooms and underground storage areas, especially for his later obsession of ice. The hills are rich in salt petre whereby he manufactures gunpowder. He also cultivates the indigo flowers and opens up indigo baths, experimenting in order to find a permanent indigo dye (his son is the colorful victim of his experimentation, but that is another story altogether), and looks after elephants and camels and chickens as was fitting for a landlord of that period. He built a road to Nakhlau (or Lucknow), thus opening up some route of commerce. To his fortune, the Trotter land grows larger each year as the Moti Ganga river keeps moving further and further eastward, and as per the pact of the land he is allowed all land to the west of the river's bank, thus increasing the land bank for his future family. Land is wealth after all and the Trotters have no dearth of it.
The Great Trotter married just once and the first wife Sultana died after giving birth to son and heir Mikhail, who ran away and spent most of his youth on his own, wandering and seeking commissions in the army like his father, who never really knew him. As a facetious poke to a classic Persian story (Rustom and Sohrab, if I rightly remember), the Trotter father and son too confront each other in battle, but the outcome in this case is more comical than tragic.
The Great Trotter (or Tartar Sahib as the locals called him in their peculiar tongue) did later have three other mistresses, Farida who was brought to nurture young Mik on the death of Sultana which she did for a few years before the boy ran away; Elise, daughter of a German painter (she was popularly know as the German or Jarman Begam by the Sans Souci staff); Rose, daughter of an Englishman, all brought to Sans Souci during various periods in their early teens.
After the Great Trotter's untimely death, a conspirary of sort springs up during which illegitimate sons are born to two of Trotter's mistresses: to Jarman Begam through the yard manager Yakub Khan and to Farida through Fonseca the Ice Manager, the purpose being to contest their rights of staying on at Sans Souci even after Trotter's death. The little tribes of Khans and Fonsecas, though not of true Trotter blood, still manage to hold onto their claims to the Trotter legacy by the simple edifice of attaching Trotter (with the hyphen) to their names. This meant that the Khans eventually became Kahn-Trotters and the Fonsecas became Fonseca-Trotters. This legacy of Trotter-by-default carries on in future generations too, so much so that the Atkins born of relations between a Trotter daughter and an Atkins became Atkins-Trotters, and even more unusually, Mr Montagu who married the Middle Trotter's (Fourth Trotter's) daughter Victoria, actually changed his own last name to Trotter rather than have his wife change her name to Montagu! This was the far-reaching effect of Trotterization at Nakhlau.
As the years and then centuries go by, the Trotter family expands, so much so that, not just the reader, but also the Trotters themselves find it hard to keep up with each other's comings and goings, births and deaths. (A family tree has been kindly and thoughtfully provided by Eugene Trotter at the beginning of the book to help the reader along in this regard.) Times too change and future generations of Trotters face revolt (1857) and wars (the two world wars) and the effects of the Indian Independence, all the while faithfully serving the British Empire and some of them decorated accordingly for their services. They also enjoy the benefits of technological advances such as the telephone, cameras, radios, televisions which shape their characters and lives accordingly. Even the most British amongst them slowly incorporate Indianness in their daily lives so that truly the Anglo-Indians (synonymous with Trotters in this book) become a tribe unto themselves, fence-sitters belonging neither to Britain nor to India.
Indeed, this is the crux of the matter dealt within the book -- the plight of the Anglo-Indian. With hard-won independence to the country, most of the Anglo-Indians (i.e. Trotter tribes) defect to Britain. Those left behind, willingly or unwillingly, find themselves deprived of real rights that are granted to the locals, such as jobs and other benefits as they are not considered true Indians. This is the other extreme of the racial spectrum when previously in the old days of the British rule they were refused commissions in the army and other posts because they were half-breeds, not pure British. The author treats this subject with insight and humor, and though we laugh aloud at the sardonic take on the experiences of the characters, we cannot help but sympathize with their pain and confusion caused by being neglected pieces of Indian society.
The author has also captured with great sensitivity the various subtle rivalries that went on between people of different religions and castes during various time periods. This is quintessentially Indian. Though charming and polite face to face, the characters of different religious backgrounds have a tendency to abuse each other in the choicest manner behind each other's back. They also have the arrogance to feel the righteousness of their own actions and thoughts while looking down their noses at those of other backgrounds. It provides for some amusing moments. As the author rightly observes, these subtler humors are best appreciated by Indians who have been exposed to this sort of environment. Though the book is an utter delight to anyone with the patience to go through almost 600 pages of this mock epic, its nuances are better appreciated by people who know India firsthand. An example would be the constant exchange between the Narrator and the person (the mysterious Cup-Bearer who has to continually quench the Narrator's thirst with offerings of the choicest wines or juices in order for the narration to continue) listening to the story; this is rather reminiscent of the Panchatantra and other Indian folklores where there is always a story within a story within a story, that would always come back with the listeners asking questions to the narrator about the story the narrator is narrating, if you get my drift.
The epic or nama form of the book is portrayed beautifully. The actual narration is done by Eugene Aloysius Trotter or the Seventh Trotter, of our own generation. He begins the narration with a wordiness such as is seen in actual epics, constantly praising or declaiming the protagonists of the tale and constantly interjecting with phrases like "praise God" and "give great thanks to God" when concluding a description of a procedure or process or other historic aspect such as "a note on the crocodile of Hindoostan" or "how a gypsonometer is made" or "mango-fool (a drink invented by the Great Trotter)" or "how Trotter ice is made" or a recipe on Trotter curry (its origins are utterly funny!) and so on. These notes and other declamations and elegies and verses are interspersed within the narration, offering great comic relief. There is a change in the tone of the narration too that is very noticeable as generations are crossed; while in the beginning the narrator (Eugene Trotter) ends all digresses with the pious incantation to Praise God (as was the oriental way of ending conversation at that time), some impatience can be detected building up as the narrative progresses over future Trotter generations, and finally he abruptly announces, rather disrespectfully, at the end of one of his notes: God is -- well, God. There is also a constant advertisement to visit J.C. Solomon's situated by the Residency for all material needs.
Another hilarious scene (my favorite) is where Thomas Henry, amiable Fourth Trotter, is sitting in the reading room of the British Museum in London and about to write his book on Trotters "that would change the world" and he finds himself "sandwiched between two grave black-coated men; the man to the left , the more bushily bearded of his neighbors and cursed with a bulging forehead, was proof-reading his Critique of Political Economy (read Karl Marx!) and already making notes towards his Capital; the man to his right stroked a long straggling beard in a vain attempt to conceal a prognathic jaw and gibbered softly to himself over the proofs of his Origin of Species (read Charles Darwin!). This is just a sample of the immensely delightful witticisms that abundantly abound the book. The very play of words, especially the flattering and the derogatory ones, would vastly improve the readers' vocabulary, at least the quantity if not the quality. There were so many words I hadn't even heard of!
The characters are very colorful and have their own personalities that are enhanced or put down according to the times. Their beliefs and views and fortunes change with the changing tides of Indian history. In the end, like most old crumbling decrepit buildings owned by the offspring of rich gentry, generations removed, the Sans Souci is finally converted into a ramshackle hotel by the current generation of impoverished Trotters in order to make something of it and fill their pockets. I feel the climax of the book is the shock delivered to the Trotters when after a month of torrential rains in the mid 20th century, the Moti Ganga suddenly turns course and swallows up four-fifths of the Trotter land! A fitting conclusion.
I would recommend this book to anyone and everyone. It is richly creative, a sheer delight with its insightful observations, capturing the essence of the British Raj perfectly. This book needs to be read several times over a stretch of time in order to assimilate and appreciate it fully. One day I shall add this timeless masterpiece to my growing collection.
This review was written by Deepika
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Read information about the authorOne of India's post-Independence writers, Allan Sealy was born in 1951 in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh. After schooling in Lucknow, he attended Delhi University, then studied and worked in the United States, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. Now he spends much of his time in Dehra Dun. His eye for place and his evocative descriptions are apparent in all his novels and in his travelogue, From Yukon to Yukatan. Sealy's first novel, The Trotter-Nama: A Chronicle, is a tale of seven generations of an Anglo-Indian family. His more recent novel, The Everest Hotel: A Calendar, gained him an international following after being short-listed for the Booker Prize in 1998.
According to Alex Tickell of the University of York, Allan Sealy has introduced "a memorable cast of characters in The Everest Hotel [and] his talents are equally evident in the luminous descriptive passages in the text, and in his feel for the lighter brushwork of natural detail, and shades of color and texture."
Allan Sealy has won a number of awards for his writing including the Commonwealth Best Book Award in 1989, Sahitya Akademi Award in 1991 and the Crossword Book Award in 1998.
The Library of Congress has four works by him.
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