1631, the Empress of India Mumtaz Mahal has died. Yet, rather than anoint one of his several other wives to take her place as Empress of India, Mughal King Shah Jahan anoints his seventeen-year-old daughter Jahanara as the next Queen of India. Bearing an almost identical resemblance to her mother, Jahanara is the first ever daughter of a sitting Mughal King to be anointed queen. She is reluctant to accept this title, but does so in hopes of averting the storm approaching her family and Mughal India. Her younger siblings harbor extreme personalities from a liberal multiculturalist (who views religion as an agent of evil) to an orthodox Muslim (who views razing non-Muslim buildings as divine will). Meanwhile, Jahanara struggles to come to terms with her own dark reality as the daughter of a sitting King, she is forbidden to marry. Thus, while she lives in the shadow of her parents unflinching love story, she is devastated by the harsh reality that she is forbidden to share such a romance with another. Mistress of the Throne narrates the powerful story of one of Indias most opulent and turbulent times through the eyes of an unsuspecting character – a Muslim queen. It uses actual historical figures to illuminate the complexity of an era that has often been called India’s Golden Age.
Historical fiction is one of the most difficult genre to delve into. You can’t have too much of history or too much of fiction. Any extreme will turn it into a drab history book or a complete fiction. Much kudos to Dr. Ruchir Gupta for choosing a very unusual subject – Jahanara Begum for his book. A quick recap into history and you’ll find that Jahanara was the daughter of Shah Jahanand Mumtaz Mahal, elder sister of Aurangzeb and the first crown princess of India.
The book covers Jahanara’s journey from teenage till her last days. It is a very comprehensive account, more intriguing as its written in first person. The reader feels like residing inside Jahanara’s heart and brain all the time. I must say I’m very impressed in the way Dr. Gupta has approached the subject. The fine line between fact and fiction is so well blurred at places that readers would doubt their own knowledge of history.
Jahanara Begum has been a fairly neglected character in history. Many of us might not have heard her name at all. But her importance in Indian and Mughal history is brought up beautifully in this book. Readers traverse through Jahanara’s life with each important incident beginning with her mother’s death. After Mumtaz Mahal’s death, Shah Jahan was devastated and became a loner. Jahanara held the family, her brothers and father together, and as a result was crowned the Princess of India, on the throne of the dynasty. Her life became important than anybody else in the kingdom, but at the same time, she was forbidden to marry any man according to Mughal rules.
Jahanara went through heaven and hell in her life. In the book, the character of a British physician falling for her is fictionalized to add a humane touch to the Begum. The tensions between her and younger sister Roshanara, her equation with brothers Dara Shikoh and Aurangzeb, her care for father Shah Jahan and his kingdom – these become the key point of the book. Jahanara’s spiritual side is also mentioned, when she had joined Mullah Shah Badakshi, following her brother Dara Shikoh. Jahanara handled Aurangzeb’s raw passion for religion better than Shah Jahan did. The debauchery in the emperor’s harem has been sketched adeptly.
Ruchir Gupta has done a commendable job in covering every aspect of Jahanara’s life, fictionalizing some of it to make it more interesting. I liked his style of simple writing and his choice of words. However, editorial glitches are still a sore to the readers’ eyes. There are a few facts in history, which probably clash with Dr. Gupta’s research, creating doubts. But his effort to pen down Jahanara is worth applauding, when even Dara Shikoh had gained the importance of an epic novel in Bangla by Shyamal Gangopadhyay.
Recommended for everyone to brush up your history. It is worth your time and attention.
My Rating: 4.25/5
About the Author:
Dr. Ruchir Gupta is a graduate of Upstate Medical University and currently practicing medicine in Long Island, NY, where he lives with his wife and daughter. He has authored several books on anesthesiology. His interests include reading, blogging, traveling and learning history. This is his debut novel.
Language: English, Genre: Fiction/History
Author(s): Ruchir Gupta
Publisher: Srishti Publishers and Distributors, Year Published: 2014
Binding: Paperback, Edition: First, Pages: 324
ISBN-13: 9789382665076, ISBN-10: 9382665072
Reviewed for: Author