Brahmaputra and Lachit Barphukan by Aneesh Gokhale


I have been keen to read about the Brahmaputra and the valley it nurtures. I picked up books on the history of Assam when I visited North East, but never really got to read them. So, this small little book sent by the author was tempting enough, though it still took me almost 2 years to pick it up.

Brahmaputra by Aneesh GokhaleWhen I read the subtext, I realized it is the book on Lachit Barphukan – an Assamese leader who has finally received some acknowledgment lately. The author compares him to Shivaji Maharaj of Maharashtra. It is understandable as he comes from the region and Shivaji would remain his greatest hero and a reference point. The foreword written by his uncle goes to the extent of calling Shivaji the Lachit of Maharashtra.

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This raised my curiosity. We are mostly ignorant of the history of our country is something I anyway knew. It began dramatically with the murder of a reigning king and the reins of Ahom kingdom passing on to his cousin. It raises your emotion when you learn that his six-year-old daughter is to be presented to the Mughal harem as part of the treaty.

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However, the narrative that follows this initial build-up leaves a lot of wanting. Lachit stays a small character for almost half the book. Even when we see him in action, we hardly get to know him as a human being or even as a warrior. We read about the conquest of one fort and then simply move to Guwahati. The strategy that made him win against the mighty Mughals is what I wanted to know. I wanted to know how the knowledge of his own land and people helped him win.

I wanted to see the divine connection he had with Kamakhaya on Nilachal Parvat. The last scene the way it is narrated looks more like a Bollywood climax than a real battle’s climax.

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There are long chapters on Shivaji that capture the episodes from his life. They make interesting reading but have no relevance in the story of either Lachit or Assam. Mughals were the common enemy and they lived around the same time is the only thing common. If they were even aware of each other is a question that needs exploration. The author has obviously grown up listening to tales of Shivaji, so he is more aware and as well as invested in him emotionally. These chapters are much better written than the rest of the book.

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There are lots of terms used like Kurnisaat that I could not understand. Initially, I thought they are local Assamese terms but then some of them seemed like Marathi terms. I wish the author keeps a pan-Indian reader in mind and explains these terms in upcoming editions. The Brahmaputra has been captured well in the story. I enjoyed reading about the war that was fought as much on water as on land.

Since there is a lack of content on the region, time period, and the region, it is still a good book to read and get yourself acquainted with the region.

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I think a good editor would have helped the book a lot. The narrative oscillates between fiction and facts. Lachit needed far more space in the pages, probably far more research.

Take your call.

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