Dr. Peabody’s forthcoming 3-volume study on Col. James Tod lauded for bringing alive a chapter of Mewar and Rajasthan’s glorious history for 21st century audiences, writes Raju Mansukhani.
It seems only appropriate that a historian breathing-living-and-researching, for over two long years, a subject as complex as the life and times of Col. James Tod in the early 19th century, should be the recipient of an international award named after the doughty Colonel himself!
Dr. Norbert Peabody, presently a Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, has been working since 2016-17 on the reissue of Col. James Tod’s two-volume magnum opus Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan first published in 1829.
On March 1st, 2020, he was bestowed with the Col. James Tod international award instituted by the Udaipur-based Maharana of Mewar Charitable Foundation (MMCF). The Col. James Tod award was instituted in 1996-97 as part of MMCF’s scheme of awards to honour men and women who play a pivotal role on the world stage in contributing to Mewar and India.
At a glittering function held at Manek Chowk, the palace grounds with the imposing City Palace facade as its backdrop, Mr Lakshyaraj Singh Mewar, Trustee of MMCF, presented the prestigious award to Dr. Peabody in the august presence of the chief guest Dr.K Kasturirangan, a veteran astrophysicist of India and Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar, Chairman and Managing Trustee of MMCF.
It was the 38th Awards function for the Foundation and Dr. Peabody joined a galaxy of global academics and thought-leaders who have been previous recipients of the Col. James Tod award. These include Dr. Paul Craddock of British Museum, London; Dr. Andrew Topsfield of Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; Prof Jack Hawley of Columbia University; and Prof Sir Angus Deaton of Princeton University in recent times.
British actor-director Lord Richard Attenborough, French author Dominique Lapierre, British novelist and essayist Sir V. S. Naipaul have been past awardees whose acceptance of this award “has added a distinct measure of honour to the Maharana Mewar Foundation Awards,” as Mr Lakshyaraj Singh Mewar said.
“It is a great honour to receive this award,” said Dr Peabody in an interview, conducted leisurely after lunch at the elegantly-appointed Satkar banquet hall of Taj Fateh Prakash Palace in Udaipur. “Partly because I look at colleagues, previous winners of this award, these are people I have admired and are very accomplished people, like the Rudolphs who were such great sociologists and historians of Rajasthan. To be placed with them is a big thing. Recently, the awardee was Prof Jack Hawley at Columbia University; he is an older mentor of mine. I have admired him and correspond with him regularly now as I work on the Tod volumes,” he said, adding, “To be recognised by the Mewar Family is another big honour.”
Dr. Peabody, as he explained, is working on the re-issue of James Tod’s Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan as part of a collaborative exercise between the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland and Yale University Press. “The two-volume first edition was published in 1829 and it had several original paintings, maps, charts and appendices which the later editions did not publish, probably because of the cost of publishing,” he said.
The re-issue, slated for January 2022, will mark the bicentenary celebrations of the Royal Asiatic Society (RAS) where Col. James Tod was the first librarian. Tod bequeathed his collection of manuscripts, artworks, diaries and papers to the RAS.
“The forthcoming publication,” Dr Peabody said, “is really in two parts and will comprise three volumes: Volume 1 and 2 will be the magnum opus Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan and it will restore the text to its original state, as Tod had written it in the first edition. His original illustrations, the charts of different rulers of Rajasthan’s Princely Houses – a lot of material in subsequent editions was eliminated as it was too costly to print. Over one hundred engravings, beautiful ones based on water-colours that was done by Tod’s assistant when he was here. Those are being reproduced as well.”
“A third companion volume,” he said, “is where I really come in. It consists of series of introductory essays about placing Tod in his times. And one essay which will talk about Tod in contemporary times: It will be called the ‘Afterlives of James Tod’. It will look at the significance that Tod has had in the contemporary political and social life in India.”
Undoubtedly, the three-volume edition will bring the focus back again on historians like James Tod and the Orientalists. As RAS celebrates its bicentenary in 2023, these volumes will be published in advance and “will be the academic centrepiece of their celebrations,” said Dr Peabody.
For us, in India, we look forward to the book launches in 2022 and lectures-talks on the life and times of James Tod, which influenced more than one generation of historians, writers and academics from all walks of life, two hundred years after Tod left Mewar and Rajasthan for the shores of Great Britain.
Photo credits ©Media Office, MMCF, Udaipur.