At a time when history is polarising and there are changes occurring as a part of cultural appropriation, Manu S. Pillai has released his latest work in historical non-fiction. Titled The Courtesan, the Mahatma and the Italian Brahmin, the book is a collection of sixty- one essays the author penned for various periodicals and news papers. With charcoal illustrations by Priya Kurian, the book opens a window to the lesser known facts and richness of the past which one is unaware of.
With stories packed with action and drama about the pre colonial era and the colonial period, we meet a mixed bag of characters. From a Maratha prince who parodied caste to a Muslim deity in a Hindu temple; from a courtesan who became a warrior princess to another who sang for the gramophone; from a woman with no breasts to a goddess with three, we learn the lesser- known tales of victories and foibles.
The author presents a different dimension of a rich and complicated history which is more than dynasties and battles. With narratives sprawled across multiple periods, these anecdotes acts as a guide to making history accessible and creates awareness about their lives. It presents to us layers of history through women whom we least expect to. As we unravel the stories they speak to us the perspectives of the present, showing us what was, and what might have been.