John Lang unsung hero of India, Australia : By Raju Gusain from Dehradun
Regarded as the first Australian born novelist, John Lang was among those rare white men who provided support to Indians during the 'First War of Independence'. Yet, writer and lawyer Lang remains an unsung hero both in India and Australia.
John Lang is a forgotten man in Australia and not even one annual function takes place there to remember this literary figure, whose life was lived in a revolutionary spirit much ahead of his times. The situation is no different in India. The grave of Barrister John, who fought the famous case of Rani Laxmi Bai against the annexation of the province of Jhansi in 1854, remains in neglect at the Old English Cemetery here.
John George Lang was born on 19 December 1816 at Parramatta in Australia. After completing his legal studies at the Middle Temple in England (1841) he returned to Australia to be admitted as a barrister at the Sydney Supreme Court. In 1842, Lang left for India. He practiced law and did journalism in India.
Head of the English Department at the Flinders University (Adelaide) Dr Richard Hosking informs HT, ("There are no ceremonies or programmes held annually in Australia in the memory of John Lang. I have discussed this matter with the chairperson of the Australia-India Council. Let's hope they would take interest in it.")
Lang published at least eleven novels, one/two volumes of short stories, two plays and a travel book 'Wanderings in India'. He launched a newspaper, 'Mafasilite' (as originally spelt) from Meerut, which was later on shifted to Mussoorie.
As a lawyer, Lang fought the case for Rani Laxmi Bai against the British rulers and he provides detailed a commentary of his meeting with the Jhansi Ki Rani in his book 'Wanderings in India'.
As John Lang is also associated with this hill station, local people here are of the view that the Indian government should approach the Australia government to jointly commemorate his memory.
Local writer Jai Prakash Uttarakhandi asserts, "We Indians should consider him a hero and give due respect to this great soul for supporting Indians during the British rule. As his newspaper 'Mafasilite' carried anti-government reports, its file copies were destroyed. Similarly, other records related to Lang were deliberately tampered with." Jai Prakash has now taken upon himself the task of publishing the 'Mafasilite' as an English/ Hindi weekly to keep alive the memories of John.
It will be recalled that John Lang mastered the Hindi and Persian languages during his stay in India. While fighting the case of the Queen of Jhansi, he was able to argue in court and to converse with Rani Laxmi Bai without an interpreter. He also used this talent for his newspaper by translating some 'serious' poetry from Urdu to English. John Lang died under mysterious circumstances here on 20 August 1864. Besides the cause of his suspicious death, John Lang has left many questions unanswered.
'Mafasilite' copies missing
Even the India Record Office (IRO) of the British Library in London does not have the complete file of John Lang's newspaper, the 'Mafasilite'.
Hedley Sutton of the reference service (IRO) informed via email, "We have microfilms of the 'Mafasilite' issues from 2 August to 22 November 1845 and from 1 January 1847 to 24 May 1876." So, the 1846 issues of the 'Mafasilite' are missing. And the million-dollar question is, were they destroyed for reporting against the British?
First reported by Rau Gusain in Hindustan Times, Dehra Dun