‘The Mendicant Prince’ Author Aruna Chakravarti Explores Bhawal Case in New Historical Novel

Inspired by the renowned Bhawal Sannyasi case and evocative in its recreation of pre-partition Bengal, “The Mendicant Prince: A Novel” presents an intriguing tale of dual identity and the inexplicable quirks of fate.

The book is being published by Pan Macmillan India, and it was written by award-winning author Aruna Chakravarti. It is a fictionalized account of the Bhawal Sannyasi case one of the longest cases ever fought during the British Raj.

The Bhawal court case was a pre-Independence case that revolved around the identity of a Sannyasi (or Hindu religious ascetic), and according to the report, rumored to be the heir of one of the last great zamindari estates in Dhaka (now modern Bangladesh).

“I first heard the Bhawal story when I was only ten years old. But, even at that tender age, it made a powerful impact and stayed with me for decades afterward. Some friends distantly related to the Bhawal family pushed me to write a book on the famous legal case” Chakravarti told PTI.

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“It seemed like too difficult a project, too complex. But in the utter silence and isolation, I was encapsulated during COVID, I was able to find the discipline and concentration needed to undertake the project. Once I decided to write the book, it truly took over my life. I could think of nothing else,” she added.

In 1921, a half-naked and ash-smeared Sannyasi appeared in eastern British Bengal. The residents soon identified him as the Second Kumar of Bhawal – a man believed to have died twelve years earlier. So began one of the most extraordinary and mind-boggling legal cases in Indian and Raj-era history.

Having a long ago written fictional stories, including the likes of critically-acclaimed and bestselling “The Inheritors”, “Jorasanko”, and “Daughters of Jorasanko”, Chakravarti said the “blending of history and fiction has to be seamless” while writing a historical novel.

“Intensive research is a must because facts about well-known persons are out in the public domain. There is no way one can take liberties with them. The fictional component is tricky. The ethos of the period, characters, and situations are conceived within a factual framework to begin with, then allowed to grow and evolve with the flow of the novel.

“The process is not planned. There is no strategy involved. The world the author is recreating, from a partially known past, grows in depth and richness as the work progresses,” explained the Sahitya Akademi Award-winning author.

The Mendicant Prince” is currently available for sale across offline and online book stores.

ARUNA CHAKRAVARTI

Aruna Chakravarti is a well-known academic, creative writer and translator with 14 published books. Her first novel, The Inheritors, was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and her third, Jorasanko received critical acclaim and became a bestseller. Her translated works include an anthology of songs from Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitabitaan, Saratchandra Chattopadhyay’s Srikanta and Sunil Gangopadhyay’s Those DaysFirst Light and Primal Woman: Stories. Daughters of Jorasanko, a sequel to Jorasanko, has sold widely and received rave reviews. Her latest work, the novel Suralakshmi Villa, is due to be published this year. Among the various awards she has received are the Vaitalik Award, a Sahitya Akademi Award and the Sarat Puraskar. 

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