By Amala Poli:
Gayathri Prabhu’s latest novel “The Untitled” is set in the eighteenth century, and takes the reader through one of the key political upheavals in India at the time, the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War. However, the author uses a fresh lens and a perspective that challenges the commonly held perceptions about a historical novel.
Through the painter Richard Dawson’s eyes, we visit the fort town of Srirangapatna in Mysore, knowing the inevitable outcome of the war, and yet lulled into the town’s beauty and Tipu Sultan’s aura and amusements. The intricacies of a historical battle and the defeat of a king are painted in vivid and subtle hues, but with another and much more poignant war in the background.
The Wodeyar women’s tale is told like never before, with plans for ousting a tyranny, a rare friendship between an English painter and his apprentice Mukunda, and attachments of high stakes.
Why is this a must read? If one looks up archival material about the Wodeyar women, a surprising lacuna of information is encountered. Not even pictures of the Wodeyar queens are available, and that is to say little about the silences that surround their story. Tipu has been written about before, but “The Untitled” tells us a story that is not trapped in the usual prejudices against powerful rulers, but is invested in revisiting some of the hearsay and looking at its possibilities for the imaginative capacities of writing. A story of merging loyalties and differing truths, the story promises to shake readers of their certainties about one of the most famous wars in the history of the subcontinent.
Even for those of us who find the eighteenth century to be of no appeal, the novel raises some important questions about art and its relationship to the world, in a style of writing that is quite unique in its crafting.