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The Ocean’s Own‘ is the third volume of Nandini Sengupta’s Gupta trilogy. I loved the first two parts, ‘The King Within‘ and ‘The Poisoned Heart‘ and was excited when I discovered that the third part was coming out. I just finished reading it.

The Ocean’s Own‘ is not a sequel to the first two parts but is a prequel to the first part. It tells the story of the Gupta emperor Samudragupta, when he was still a prince. The story starts with the newly married Prince Kacha (Samudragupta’s name before he became the emperor) going on his honeymoon with his young wife Datta with their best friend Harisena accompanying them. The young couple are enjoying the first days of their married life together, when they receive news from the palace, which is not good. Soon they are attacked by unknown people in the forest. The subsequent action moves the story fast and we can’t wait to find out what happens next and who these unknown assailants are and as Holmes is fond of saying, what plots are afoot. To find out what happens next, you have to read the book 😊

Historical fiction in English written by Indian writers is typically set in the British colonial era or during the Mughal era. This is probably because many Indian writers feel that these are the eras in Indian history which international readers are interested in and so if they want a book to be widely read, it is better to set the story in these time periods. This is odd, because India has a rich history stretching back to centuries before the Mughal era. The Mughal era started in 1526 CE and the Buddha was born at around 480 BCE (according to one estimate), so that is 2000 years of history out there, for which some kind of evidence is available, even if we ignore the mythical origins of Indian history before the Buddha. But Indian historical fiction writers writing in English have ignored this vast span of time filled with amazing events and have focused only on the past five hundred years. Nandini Sengupta has tried to redress that and has set her trilogy during the Gupta dynasty which was there between the third and fifth century CE. This era was regarded as the golden age of Indian history and culture and it was the time that the great poet and dramatist Kalidasa lived. So Nandini Sengupta has broken new ground here, in terms of Indian historical fiction writing in English, which is inspiring.

The three books in the trilogy focus on three different emperors and this third volume, ‘The Ocean’s Own‘ is about the Emperor Samudragupta. It has all the things that Nandini Sengupta’s fans have come to expect from her books – a wonderful start filled with mystery and intrigue, unknown assassins trying to do bad things, palace intrigue, beautiful friendship, wonderful descriptions of sword fights and battle scenes, passionate romance. And last but not the least, the amazing strong women characters. There are the quiet strong women, like the princess and the empress. And then there is the courtesan, the assassin, the warrior, all amazing women. This book features the Pallava princess and warrior, Angai, who is a fierce warrior like Penthesilea, the Amazon queen who fights Achilles, and who teaches Emperor Samudragupta one or two things about how to fight in a battle, and gives him an education that he never forgets. She is one of the great characters in the story and the trilogy.

I loved ‘The Ocean’s Own‘ and the whole Gupta trilogy. Unfortunately, all good things have to come to an end, and I had a bittersweet feeling when I finished reading this final volume. I can’t wait to find out what Nandini Sengupta comes up with next.

Have you read ‘The Ocean’s Own‘ or other books in the Gupta trilogy? What do you think about them?

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I started reading an anthology called ‘The Oxford Book of Essays‘ and in that book there was an excerpt of an essay by Thomas Macaulay on Robert Clive. I loved this excerpt so much that I went in search of the whole essay. I found it online and it was around 120 pages long. It was a book-length essay. I just finished reading it.

First page of Macaulay’s essay

In his essay, Macaulay gives us an account of Robert Clive’s life. There are some sketchy details of his personal life, a little about his parents, a sentence about his marriage, but most of it is about his work during his time in India. Robert Clive came to India when he was seventeen years old. He worked as a clerk in the Madras office of the East India Company. He worked in the same position for around eight years. When he was twenty five, circumstances thrust him into the forefront, and he distinguished himself by performing amazing deeds and with one thing leading to another, this lowly clerk became the Governor of Bengal and laid the foundation for the British empire in India. It is an amazing, unbelievable story.

Thomas Macaulay was probably one of the three great British historians of the 19th century. The other two being Thomas Carlyle and Edward Gibbon. While Thomas Carlyle’s classic book on the French Revolution continues to be in print, it has been joined by other modern books on the subject. Edward Gibbon’s book continues to reign supreme as the definitive work on Roman history in English, as most historians feel daunted by the subject matter and have avoided coming up with a new interpretation of that time. Gibbon’s book has attained the status of a classic, as described by Mark Twain – always recommended but never read. Beautiful collectors’ editions of the book are available which are snapped up by young collectors to adorn their bookshelves. In contrast, Thomas Macaulay’s classic book on English history has long gone out of print. Today, Macaulay is regarded as a historian who wrote beautiful prose, but who propounded the imperialist point of view and so his books have fallen out of favour. To use a modern phrase, he has been ‘cancelled’. Which is a shame. Because going by the evidence of this essay, Macaulay is good, really good.

By the time Robert Clive died after moving back to England, he was regarded as a bad guy, as an employee of the East India Company who achieved great things and acquired great power, but who used that in unscrupulous and immoral ways to accumulate personal wealth. Macaulay tries putting things in perspective, by explaining both sides of the equation and lets us draw our own inference from it. It was wonderful to read. Macaulay’s prose proves that its reputation is not unfounded – it is beautiful to read. 19th century English prose, especially in the hands of great writers, is like Urdu. Every word, every sentence is beautiful, is a pleasure to read. We can experience that beauty in every page of Macaulay’s prose. It is sad that people don’t write like this nowadays. Even the best writers today write prose which is only a little better than mine. I’m just an anonymous guy who revels in his mediocrity. I can never write like Macaulay or Dickens or Eliot or Carlyle. If this is the best there is now, it is sad how things have sunk.

I enjoyed reading Macaulay’s essay on Clive. Macaulay has written more such essays. I am hoping to read them soon. I also hope to read his book on English history and find out whether it is really an imperialist tract, or whether it is really good, but it got ‘cancelled’ because people didn’t like Macaulay’s face or some aspect of his opinions and politics.

Have you read this or other essays by Thomas Macaulay? What do you think about him?

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