“The nama is a medieval court history, a chronicle. My nama would chronicle a colonial encounter, the overlap of Europe and India, across seven generations of the Trotter family. The Trotters would embody that history, the history of the Anglo Indians, down to Independence and after.” writes Irwin Sealy about his dazzling epic.
The Trotter-Nama meanders around Sans Souci, the Trotter estate near Lucknow, and teems with multi-faceted characters that are looped into the orbit of the Trotter family as they struggle to hold on to their shifting identities.
Here are 5 unforgettable characters from The Trotter-Nama –
- The Great Trotter
Justin Aloysius Trotter- the octogenarian with a brown and a blue eye- lords over Sans Souci from the west tower with wives stashed away in the other three towers that form the silhouette of his estate. The Great Trotter straddles two worlds- his wig draws attention to his western roots while his choice of clothes makes him a part of the landscape of Lucknow. Perched above his beloved estate in his prized balloon Salamandre, Justin Trotter gives wings to his ambition-
‘But now—here—in the air above Nakhlau what swept over him was the original lust, that suzerain impulse which once shook to his vitals a younger man. Take this city, then all Tirnab, and who was to say what else might follow? Install the Nawab in some petty principality. Drive the British down….’
- Eugene Trotter
Writer by profession and narrator of the Nama, Eugene Trotter- the 7th of the line- is ubiquitous in the numerous asides and interpolations that fill the nooks and crannies of this chronicle. His gaze encompasses the length and breadth of this vast saga as he navigates between space and time and offers a glimpse of the world outside Sans Souci through the slips-
‘The Late Mr Trotter,’ my favourite dentist used to call me. His daughter was less charitable. ‘Lenten Trotter’ was her choice, and when I asked her why, she said: Well, corpu-lent, flatu-lent, indo-lent. She thought the indolent was especially apt even though I said: I’m half Anglo, you know. So. The Late Mr Trotter, Seventh Trotter, pleased to meet you.’
- Yakub Khan
The hazel-eyed baker and balloon master flits around the Great Trotter minding the ladder that he stealthily aims to climb. His unchecked advancement and increasing authority indicate the ambition that he nurtures and shapes as vigilantly as his wick-moustache that he trims twice a day. Sunya, the poulterer, observes-
‘…the young Yakub, the apprenticed baker of fifteen years ago. What was the Muslim up to now? He had watched the wiry youth advance from post to post, improve the ovens, outclass the chief baker, perfect past recipes, introduce new ones, oust the chef, trespass on the cooks’ duties, encroach on the bearers’, perfect a new and sensational bread, create offices where none existed before, appoint cronies… and fill every void with his mercurial presence.’
- Jarman Begam
Justin Trotter’s consort, ensconced in the south tower, aches for her fatherland Germany as she watches her husband- whom she affectionately calls Trot- take his final and fatal flight in the Salamandre. Unaware of the admiring glances directed at her, she harbours a passion for the barber Fonseca who claims loyalty to the Great Trotter.
‘It was not her own face, though she stood directly before the glass: through a forest of red she made out the face of Fonseca himself. The face hovered just beneath the surface of the glass, caught in a kind of vapour, the dyed black curls crowned with a gold wig; in place of the habitual ironic mask was a look of earnest entreaty. Before she knew what she was doing, Elise bent and kissed the glass once, twice, then repeatedly, without restraint.’
- Munshi Nishan Chand
Librarian of Sans Souci and master of fourteen languages, Munshi Nishan Chand sits meditating on the injustice of the glory of the decimal, owed to Indian scholars, having been bestowed upon the Arabs. His soul burns at the ravages his beloved nation has had to suffer at the hand of invaders. The rage at being reduced from esteemed writer to an administrator propels him toward his mission –
‘At every step recall your mission. Study the circumcised foreigner, barbarian though he be; learn his roughcast languages, school yourself in his childish arts, trace out his tactics, duplicate his strategy, mirror his guile, best his success…Then overwhelm him, and with him his house. And after he is gone, restore once more the bright ancestral home, sweep clean the hearth, rekindle the pure flame. Avenge the violate zero.’
About trotter-nama Irvin Sealy observes, ‘Today I realize it’s a book of hyperlinks, only the term had not yet been invented.’ The characters he creates become the links that are threaded through the narrative to bolster the weighty epic.
There are more trotters sauntering inside the pages of The Trotter-Nama waiting to tell their story. Get your copy to meet them!