A LOCAL HISTORY OF POONA AND ITS BATTLEFIELDS
COLONEL L W SHAKESPEAR
[MACMILLAN AND CO. LONDON 1916]
Reviewed by Vikram Karve
It was indeed my good fortune to chance upon this engrossing book on Pune (Poona), the city I was born and live in. I enjoyed reading this book. Let me tell you about it.
Dear Reader, before you read on, please bear in mind that this 1916 vintage book was written for “present-day residents” of Poona by Colonel L.W. Shakespear, who at that time, in 1916, was the AQMG 6th Poona Division, and apparently an eminent military historian who also wrote “History of the 2nd KEO Goorkhas (sic)” and “History of Upper Assam and the North-East Frontier”.
Things change, a lot of water has flown down the Mula and Mutha, the anglicized Poona is now known as Pune (its original Maharashtrian name) and if you want to truly enjoy this delightful book, close your eyes for a while and transport yourself ninety years back in time from the chaotic Pune of today to the Poona of 1916 in order to enable you to lucidly see in your mind’s eye its glorious heritage so vividly portrayed by the author.
Eschewing long-winded prologue, the author, a military man, succinctly states his objective right in the beginning on the first page: “ It is not intended to go deep into dynastic matters, but only to touch on the locality’s earliest days, and then turn to more modern times; calling up items of interest which may make their sojourn here, and perhaps their outings, of greater value to present-day residents.” This is not a definitive work and the reader must keep in mind the author’s intent and point of view for a better understanding of this book.
Tracing the genesis of Poona, Shakespear concludes: “From about A.D. 230 to A.D. 500 no specific information is found concerning this locality; but there is reason to believe that … Poona was ruled by the Ratta clan, which… became sufficiently powerful as to be styled “Maharashtra”, or country of the greater Rattas, from whence the… name Maharatta. The next few pages sketch, in a perfunctory manner, the period till the advent of English troops in 1722 and building of the first Residency west of the Mutha river, at its confluence or Sangam with the Mula river, for Mr. Mostyn, the first British Resident. There is an illustration, of an old-time painting by Henry Salt, depicting the Mula-Mutha Sangam, the City, and Parbatti (Parvati) Hill in the background that gives a good idea of the extent of Pune city before the Bund was built across the river followed by a wooden bridge near the Sangam.
“This brings us to the period when Poona began to possess a personal interest for the English” the author writes and than takes the reader on a series of “rides” or “outings” to vividly describe important historical events against the backdrop of geographical topography. The narrative, interspersed with apt illustrations, is very interesting and even today it would be worthwhile to walk the “rides” and see the various landmarks of heritage value and historical importance like Ganeshkhind, Bhamburda Hills and Plain, Lakdi Pul Bridge, Parvati, Panchaleshwar, the Poona and Kirkee cantonments, Garpir, Ghorpuri, Wanowri, Yerawada, Katraj, Sarasbagh, Gultekdi, Hadapsar, Saswad, Chinchwad, Induri, Talegaon, Lonavla and Peths of Poona City. There is an interesting description of the underground water ducts and conduits from the springs and lakes at Kondhwa, Katraj and foothills of Sinhagarh to bring water to Rasta Peth and ensure pure water supply to the city.
The meticulous account, embellished with maps and sketches, of Poona and its Battlefields, and the battles that took place thereon, has been fluently narrated in easy readable storytelling style and this makes the book gripping and unputdownable once you start reading it. However, the reader must remember that this book is written by a British Army Officer in 1916 and depicts his version of events and point of view and the perspective of that period.
The book describes the defining events in the evolution of the cantonment town of Poona, which was the precursor to the modern day Pune as we know it today. It is an entertaining and informative book, a unique and rare piece of writing about an important period of the history of Poona (Pune) and would be of interest to Punekars and students keen on learning about the heritage of Pune.