The Fourth Peshwa (2019)

The Fourth Peshwa (2019) is the English translation of a 1962 Marathi language epic written by Ranjit Desai. The Marathi version of the novel is called Swami. The translation is by Reshma Kulkarni-Pathare.

Cover of the book, The Fourth Peshwa

I got this book from the Apla Granthalay (Your Library) in Pune. The library has books in Hindi and Marathi. They also have some books in English. I saw that the library has a collection of books from Eka, an imprint of Westland. Since I live in Pune, I thought I would pick up a book related to Pune. This one made sense.

While the librarian was checking the book out to me, I asked her for suggestions for books to read in Marathi. She looked at the book I was checking out and said that the book would be a good place to start. She said that Ranjit Desai was a Marathi writer and had written a book called Swami. When I turned the book around, it said that this was the English translation of Swami. I said that reading the Marathi original after reading the English translation would make sense.

The book is based on the life of Madhavrao Bhat. The story is a fictionalized version with elements such as statecraft, court and family politics, romance, and campaigns that the Peshwa undertook in his lifetime and ends with the death of his wife, who committed sati. Madhavrao I died at the young age of 27.

During his reign of about 11 years, Pune became the seat of power of the Maratha Confederacy which stretched from Delhi in the North to Mysore in the South, with the Mughals, Mysore, and Hyderabad being under Maratha suzerainty.

The book begins with the immense loss that the Marathas faced at the Third Battle of Panipat. Madhavrao I grapples with internal and external opponents as he sets about consolidating power of the Maratha Confederacy in Pune with the Peshwas. He is constantly troubled by his uncle. He has enemies at home and beyond the borders. His health suffers immensely as well. In the end, he wins the external battle with the Nizam and Hyder Ali. His generals also free Delhi as he is on his death bed.

His use of both western medicene and Indian medicene to treat his tuberculosis also interested me. I have recently been seeing that people largely use both systems interchangibly to treat themselves and their family members. When to move from the Indian system to the western medicene has been a topic of debate in our home as well.

I enjoyed reading some of the romantic flourishes as well. The one I particularly liked was when Madhavrao I tells his wife, Ramabai:

Whenever I see anything beautiful I am reminded of you.

pg 263, The Fourth Peshwa, Ranjit Desai (Tr. Reshma Kulkarni-Pathare)

I finished reading the book in about 4 days. I was reminded of how I read books when I was in school. I used to read the book at all times. I enjoyed following Madhavrao I on Google Maps through the various cities of Karnataka, as he chases Haider Ali for a year. I enjoyed reading the words the translator uses for some of the Indian elements – mujra (for payment of respect and not for the dance), cummerbund, flamebeau, etc. I enjoyed reading Wikipedia entries to understand this part of the history of the city that I now called home. I also realized that a Marathi movie I recently enjoyed watching called Pawankhind (on Amazon Prime) was also written by the same author.

But, above all, I enjoyed holding a library book in my hand. Note the cover over the book, the sticker with the library book number, stamp on the inside of the book with a cover inside to put the book card, with a record of all the souls that read this book before me.

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