The Manu Chronicles: From Wajid Ali to Meerabai

(Published in The Deccan Chronicle, July 05 2019)

By Darshana Ramdev

Bengaluru: If the launch of a history book can draw a full house, it’s bound to be a special one. Manu Pillai, the 29-year-old historian who already has a list of awards and two books under his belt, is doing the rounds with the third: The Courtesan, The Mahatma and the Italian Brahmin. Unlike Ivory Throne, the rather weighty tome on the Ravi Varma family and Rebel Sultans, steeped in re-tellings of royalty, his latest is a highly-readable patchwork of tidbits through history, from Wajid Ali Shah the decadent ruler who lost his fortunes to British wiles and his mother, the Begum who is buried in France in a cemetery that also houses Jim Morrisson, the suffering inflicted on Meerabai, who shunned the widow’s garb to a ruminative essay that ponders the question, ‘what if Gandhi were still alive’.

In conversation with author Anita Nair and entrepreneur Lakshmi Prathury, Manu Pillai had his audience rapt, also in part because he is a rather unlikely historian! Why choose history when he has one foot in politics (Pillai formerly headed Shashi Tharoor’s office), he simply said, “I want to do one thing well.” Taking on the recent grasping for tradition in India, he left his readers with a thought-provoking remark, “Tradition is not set in stone, it’s a living, breathing thing.”