Retelling of the Bhawal Sanyasi Case
Namita Sethi
THE MENDICANT PRINCE: A NOVEL by Aruna Chakravarti Picador, 2022, 296 pp., 599.00
January 2023, volume 47, No 1

The Mendicant Prince spans multiple genres: historical fiction, real-life mystery and a legal drama that inspired a long-drawn-out pamphlet war in pre-Partition Bengal. Aruna Chakravarti breathes life into the Bhawal Sanyasi case that has fascinated generations in Bengal and Dhaka, in yet another novel that demonstrates her mastery over the genre of fiction about colonial Bengal.

The story revolves around the rise and fall of the fortunes of the Zamindari of Bhawal, the second largest and prosperous of the ones found in the eastern part of undivided Bengal and its second Prince Ramendranarayan Roy, referred to as Mejo Kumar. The kingdom spread over 2,274 villages. Mejo Kumar is presumed dead, under mysterious circumstances, on a stormy night in 1909. He resurfaces twelve years later in the garb of a Sanyasi and when he tries to reclaim his family and inheritance, now under the care of the British Court of Wards, he is charged with identity theft, by none other than his wife Bibhavati and her brother Satyendranath.

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