“Stories forgotten or lying in cold//Find their own time to be told”: The forgotten story of John Lang told by Amit Ranjan

Through Niyogi Books’ latest publication, ‘John Lang: Wanderer of Hindoostan, Slanderer in Hindoostanee, Lawyer for the Rani’, Amit Ranjan has successfully painted an extremely detailed and intricate portrait of a man, who so far was just known for being the English lawyer of the Rani of Jhansi. Despite writing a good number of novels set in India, with addresses to more than one social issue, we have forgotten his identity as a journalist and writer.

The author has added the names of Lang’s progeny, ancestors, friends, idols and a detailed family tree. References to contemporary literary and legal sources-plays, newspaper articles, books and rhymes have brought 19th century Europe and India to life. Besides talking about the convoluted chain of relations that connects Lang to our contemporary lives, the author also traces Lang’s journey from Australia to Mussoorie in India and the lawyer’s lost, but famous case of presenting the Rani of Jhansi to the British Government.

Lang’s writing style has extensively been talked about. The use of Latin phrases, prominence of European history and literature, distribution of personal incidents and autobiographical information among several of his characters, his way of solving a complicated plot,his forte to delve into psychologies of ‘love-stricken’ people, his ‘forward’ sarcasm and wit in criticising the ills of the Company- all of these interest the reader to hunt down his original pieces and read them. One can’t ignore the coloured pictures of the covers of his books added at the end.

Amit Ranjan goes on to let us know, through folklore and anecdotes, how John George Lang, in 1853, went to England, leaving behind a flourishing legal career and newspaper business, and became the counsel of Rani of Jhansi on his return to India. Rudyard Kipling, Charles Dickens, and a host of colourful characters like Lala Jotee Prasad, Margaret Wetter, Tom Taylor, Nana Sahib of Bithoor, Lall Singh and Lucy find mentions throughout the book.

Lang’s biting sarcasm against the actions of the Company found its way into fiction, and was the reason why he was ignored or slandered by the white press. As the author says, ‘On one hand, Lang is bitterly critical of the British administration in India. On the other hand, he paints India as an esoteric land full of vaults and mesmerisers.’ Curious stories narrating why Lang was behind the bars a couple of times, have also been added. The careful execution of framing the chain of events, using names of places, literary accounts as the beads is what makes this book stand out.One can feel the passion of the author towards the subject through the Open Letter to Lang and the last chapter of the book.

Lang’s first piece of writing-the translation of the First Satire of Horace- was the first translation of classics by a “native Australian”, published in Sydney, printed in 1835. Later, Lang published his translations of Persian tales with the title Goolistan in his magazine “The Mofussilite”. The author narrates how Lang visited several royals of India and his knowledge of Indian languages must have impressed them a lot.

Mussorie appears in many of Lang’s literary works, and he often frequented the hill station when the heat in the plain became unbearable. Mussoorie was also the destination of his second marriage with Margaret Wetter, in the summer of 1861. Amit Ranjan has interestingly dissected many of Lang’s novels, short stories and bridged the gap between the readers and 19th century society and politics.

Lang’s interest in mingling with the Indian people could have earned him the tag of an “Orientalist”, if it was 20th century. Amit Ranjan has also carefully talked about Lang’s relationship with the military and about Lang’s legal career- dissecting his various cases, both in India and abroad. Lang passed away, quietly, as his life was, on 20th August, 1864, and sleeps in eternal sleep in Camel’s Back Cemetery, Mussoorie. With interesting names of the chapters and photographs of old documents, the book presents itself with a sense of nostalgia and historical insightfulness,telling the story of a versatile man who lived a life with many facets.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s