Express press service
MANGALURU: In India’s protracted battle for freedom against the British Raj, history is full of fearless characters whose contributions have been hailed, but India, throughout its beleaguered past, had also fallen between the hands of evil rulers like the Portuguese. Here, the story was unfair and captured only fragments of their indomitable struggle that helped shape India’s history.
In an effort to right the wrong, Tiya Chatterji, a Delhi-based author who is currently working with the Indian Navy in its history division as a researcher, has made a documentary about Rani Abbakka, who is considered the first woman Indian freedom fighter. Chatterji’s approach to recording the life of Rani Abbakka is unconventional – through the prism of India’s maritime history, when it was a country of seafarers engaged in a lucrative overseas trade that led to a cultural fusion.
With a prodigious body of work, maritime history, particularly maritime studies, however, failed to generate interest and appreciation. Tiya came to Mangaluru two years ago to pursue maritime research and started working on the English documentary. She says heritage in India, both tangible and intangible, is vast, but dark clouds of apathy and lack of appreciation threaten their existence.
“A handful of researchers in the maritime field, like me, cannot be responsible for the preservation of our heritage, and therefore, I believe in the power of disseminating knowledge. Sharing information, based on identifying our target audience, can help instill the idea of “shared heritage” and appreciation that will facilitate preservation via the layman, an important actor in safeguarding our heritage” , she says.
Initially, she had decided to write a book, but then came up with a documentary. Rather than books about the colossus of history, audiences are now captivated by documentaries based on their lives. From acclaimed filmmaker Satyajit Ray who made documentaries about Rabindranath Tagore to ‘Summer of Souls’ which won an Oscar this year for spotlighting an epic event that celebrated black history, culture and fashion in n the summer of 1969, the audiovisual medium of depicting history grew more powerful over the years.
Chatterji’s documentary is based on research, oral history and faculty interviews. Rani Abbakka of Ullal, Mangaluru ruled in the 16th century. The prosperous little port of Ullal had trade links with Arabs and Persians and also a governance that considered everyone equal. Until now, she was a forgotten hero but the documentary is about to change that. During his research, Chatterji obtained information mainly from Portuguese and Italian sources and some in Kannada.
Tiya found scattered references in a few blogs and articles that have confusing versions of Abbakka’s story. “All of these variables combined with my frequent travels to Dakshina Kannada inspired me to undertake this independent research project. However, our existing conventional methods of purely academic books, research papers and lectures remain exclusive to scholars and professionals. of the domain, and unpopular among the masses.
Therefore, innovative ways to raise awareness of maritime heritage and history, which not only contribute to its preservation, but also provide an opportunity for interested students to further their careers,” she says. She is of the opinion that although commendable regional efforts are being made to commemorate her, her story remains largely unknown. “To reorient us to the era of the intrepid Queen, I had to navigate through literature, oral traditions and historical relics, and also interact with scholars to piece together the Queen’s story.
The idea was to rediscover the story of the brave queen and build the story from oral traditions and historical remains. This will also contribute to their documentation and preservation. The results are presented via a documentary, aimed at a wider audience. It’s also an attempt to give the Queen the place she deserves in our history books.
The research aims to highlight the importance of intangible cultural heritage in the reconstruction of history since we are still obsessed with tangible history and do not consider oral history as a primary source. It also shows how the biased nature of historical records relegates petty rulers and small towns. Filming was completed last November and the screening of the 95-minute documentary titled “Rani Abbakka – The Indomitable Spirit of Tulunadu” was hosted by Young Indians in Mangaluru on Saturday in the presence of Mangaluru North MP Bharath Shetty.