TAG[BOOKREVIEWSTART] Tiger: The Life of Tipu Sultan’, Kate Brittlebank, English, 130, Juggernaut, 978-8193237298 TAG[BOOKREVIEWEND]
Contemporary researchers have failed to recognize the significance of Khawb-nam because they ignored the historical and cultural context of its production: Kate Brittlebank
Leadership is a quality which only a few possess. It can make or break a nation. Of all the traits a leader must possess, bravery is perhaps the most important as it paves way to achieve the heights of this mortal world. In the modern history of Indian subcontinent, it was Tipu Sultan Fath Ali Khan who was an epitome of bravery.
The very short (130 pages) and lucid read titled ‘Tiger: The Life of Tipu Sultan’ by historian and a leading authority on Tipu Sultan, Kate Brittlebank, gives a brief overview of life and politics of Tipu Sultan and the internal politics of the south India, especially of Tiger’s city, Mysore. The book makes a must read for misrepresentation of history.
The book gives a vivid description of Tipu Sultan’s lineage, tracking it back to the Arab world. He was born on November 20, 1750 and through paternal lineage his ancestry was Arab, especially Navayat. The Navayat had been in south India for several centuries by the time Tipu’s father Haidar Ali was born in 1920.
Tipu Sultan’s first assignment came at the age of 16 when he was sent on a diplomatic mission to persuade Marathas and Nizam of Hyderabad to switch their alliance towards Mysore during First Anglo-Mysore War in 1767.
The author in unambiguous terms says that to terrorise his enemies was Tipu’s goal and in that he succeeded not only through his actions but also by his clever use of imagery and symbolism. The symbol that Tipu used since his birth was - the Tiger. The animal became associated with Tipu Sultan’s legacy.
Rising to power
When Tipu was 32, his father Haider Ali, died of sudden illness; the author says that most certainly it was the food poison that killed Haider. However, the death was tightly guarded secret till he was called back from an expedition.
Tipu took the complete control of Mysore kingdom on December 29, 1782 and titled himself Nawab Tipu Sultan Bahadur.
Brittlebank writes that, Tipu following the footsteps of Mughals, in November 1785 sent a mission to Istanbul to seek blessing from the Caliph to establish his rule in totality, which the Caliph readily accepted.
Blessings from the Caliph were used to legitimise the rule of Muslim kings around the globe. In reaching out to Caliph, Sultan Abdul Hamid I, Tipu also sought assistance in combating the rise of British power in the Indian subcontinent.
To defeat the British, Tipu throughout his life had to face two adversaries with which he had tumultous relation; the two southern power centers - Marathas and Nizam of Hyderabad. Both the southern power centers proved highly detrimental for Mysore kingdom which later led to the killing of Tipu Sultan as well. The book provides a vivid description between the relationship between Tipu, Marathas and the Nizam. The war both the kingdoms, especially with the Marathas was one of the main reason why he could not completely defeated the British.
After struggling for many years, Tipu’s end finally came in 1799 at the hands of General Harris troops. Brittlebank writes that in 1799 Tipu was possibly most famous Indian if not villain in the United Kingdom.
The author says that we know that British victors painted picture of Tipu as religious bigot and tyrant but we also know that contemporary evidence does not support such a portrayal of the Tiger.
With Tipu out of political scene, the East India Company was able to get foot hold ever deeper in the Indian subcontinent.
Book of dreams
‘Tiger: The Life of Tipu Sultan’ has also thrown light on the important aspect of Tipu Sultan. Brittlebank writes that among the many items the British found at Tipu’s Sririangapattna palace in 1799 after he was killed was book containing a record of Tipu dreams, written in his own hand - the Khwab-nam. The dreams - 37 in all - date from April 1786 to 16 January 1799.
The author says that a close analysis of its content has now revealed that the register is directly connected to the final years of Tipu.
Brittlebank also criticises the contemporary researchers, arguing that they have failed to recognize the significance of Khawb-nam because they ignored the historical and cultural context of its production.