In 1921 a travelling sadhu appeared in appeared by a river bund in Dhaka. He was there every day. Soon, people began to identify him as none other than the Second Kumar of Bhawal, a young zamindar who had died twelve years earlier.
His wife denounced him as an impostor. His sisters welcomed him back. This resulted in one of the most extraordinary legal cases in Indian history: it held the entire country’s attention for several decades as it unwound in courts from Dhaka and Calcutta to London.
This is possibly the most riveting work of history ever written in the Indian subcontinent. Ever since it first appeared, Partha Chatterjee’s A Princely Impostor? (2002), a telling of the notorious “Bhawal Sannyasi Case”—among India’s best-known legal disputes—has been recognized as world-class narrative history in a league of its own. Chatterjee has written a book as spell-binding as any great Victorian or Russian novel, a story replete with courtroom drama, sexual debauchery, family intrigue, and squandered wealth.