Samiksha Jaiswal

The Ravi Lancers

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Originally published  1972

Author  John Masters
Similar  The Lotus and the Wind, Nightrunners of Bengal, The Deceivers, By the green of the spring, Now God Be Thanked

The Ravi Lancers (1972) is a novel by John Masters. It is part of his series of novels portraying the British Raj through the experiences of members of the Savage family. Many of the incidents portrayed are based on the reminiscences of family-members and veterans in his Gurkha regiment.

Plot summary

The story concerns an Indian cavalry regiment which is sent to the France at the outbreak of the First World War. The Ravi Lancers is unusual in that it is part of the army of a semi-independent Hindu state (a Princely state) attached to British India. It accordingly follows different traditions than the regular regiments of the British Indian Army. These include a semi-feudal relationship between the Indian 'sowars' (cavalrymen) and their ruler. It also means that all officers except for the British regiment commander are Indians, which would not have been the case in a regular regiment at the time.

The book centers on the relationship between the regiment's British commander (a member of the Savage family, though with a different family name) and his Indian second-in-command Krishna Ram - heir to the throne of the state of Ravi. The young Indian prince, originally a naive admirer of the British Empire, increasingly discovers its shortcomings and develops his own awareness of being Indian. The British commanding officer Colonel Bateman, originally liberal minded, becomes a harsh and demanding martinet under the stress of trench warfare. The situation is further complicated by Krishna Ram's secret affair with Bateman's sister.

Finally the two divergent characters and their respective sets of values come to a shattering head-on clash in the midst of a devastating attack on the German trenches. The climax involves what is effectively a mutiny while trapped by the German counter-attack, a daring escape with the Indian soldiers relying on stealth to get back to the British lines, and the suicide of the broken Bateman at his estate in England, leaving the Indian protagonists with a strong feeling of guilt.

At the end Krishna Ram decides that he and his men will remain on active service in France, rather than returning to Ravi, because "we gave our word to serve" and out of a form of loyalty to the dead Bateman.

References

The Ravi Lancers Wikipedia


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