New Delhi: A new book revisits the life of John Lang, the Australian writer-lawyer settled in India in the 19th century who fought many cases against the British and also represented Rani Laxmibai in her legal battle against the annexation of her kingdom of Jhansi by the East India Company.

“John Lang: Wanderer of Hindoostan, Slanderer of Hindoostanee, Lawyer for the Ranee” by Amit Ranjan is about Lang’s life, his exploits and his literary works.

Lang (1816-1864) was a fiery journalist and novelist who constantly harassed the establishment of East India Company with his invective and infective wit. He lived in India after the age of 26.

As a lawyer, he mostly fought against the British and won a few famous cases in the company’s own court.

So why is the need for Lang to be resurrected?

Ranjan argues it is not just because he is the first Australian writer, or he is among the first writers of English prose in Indian, and not just because of his important historical location of having lived in the politically volatile 19th century; but also, and primarily because he is a fine writer.

Lang’s body of work is huge – 24 novels (that have been discovered, and more), five volumes of poetry, editorials and articles in his newspaper Mofussilite, editions of which came out from Ambala, Calcutta and Meerut, and numerous apocryphal works presumed to have been written or co-authored or significantly inspired by him.

Most of the novels were written as serials in his newspaper; some were published as books as well from Britain and India. Fifteen of his novels were set in India.

One of the most famous accounts of Lang is his presenting the case of Rani of Jhansi to the British government, defending her right to rule Jhansi, which she had lost owing to the Doctrine of Lapse.

“The Rani had employed him because of his fame amongst the Indians but he lost the case quickly, probably because of his notoriety among the British,” the book, published by Niyogi Books’ Paper Missile imprint, says.

In his works like “Household Words”, Lang, apart from detailing his journey to Jhansi and the circumstances of the case, also describes Rani as a person.

Ranjan says that Lang’s newspaper Mofussilite was for members of public service and thrived on scandals related to them.

“Lang can indeed be viewed as the father of Indian tabloid journalism. The tabloid, of course, had its equivalent of what is now known as ‘Page 3’, but it was very different – in that it was very literary, with an overdose of Lang’s Latin, Boccaccios and Byrons,” Ranjan writes.

Lang’s novels were found to be too feminist for Victorian comfort, and his white male protagonists were often described by the narrator as ‘India he loved, England he despised’.

As a journalist, he was irreverent toward the army and legal systems and as a lawyer, Lang learnt Persian and Urdu fast to be able to argue cases in lower courts.

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