A sixteenth century Vijayanagara courtier, Devadatta is drawn into a strange and intoxicating, even forbidden, friendship with a Persian traveller and a Portuguese trader. In a society driven by caste centred norms and pollution taboos, the stealthy love affair between the courtier and the Persian must lead them inevitably into a horrific doom. Centuries later, the courtiers diary, is discovered quite by chance in the Indian west coast town of Honavar by a student of History, Sharat, who translates the tale from its native tongue to English. Along with his female colleague Nitya, from Delhi University, he sets out on an exciting journey into history through the pages of the diary. What happens thereafter proves to be not only a voyage of self discovery but also an exploration of some of the meanings and lessons in history, in life.
My last read for this year turned out to be a historical fiction, a genre that I always look forward to. Blending history into our daily lives is necessary to an extent as each day rolls into past with passing minutes. I was waiting eagerly for this book as the genre is rare these days when romance and mythology are ruling the Indian readers’ bookshelves. The author being a professor of history, soared the expectations for me before the book’s release itself.
The book begins at present and not past. A history student of Delhi University, Nitya Ramiah is sent to the west coastal town of Honavar in Karnataka by her professor to look up a precious ancient courtier’s diary. Nitya’s senior colleague Sharat, working at Honavar, translates the diary from middle age Kannada to English and discovers astonishing facts from the era. The events that follow build up the story. Excerpts from the diary are written in alternate chapters with Nitya and Sharat’s analyses. I particularly liked the diary portions. Though written in long paragraphs and pages, they exuded an old world flavour with a hint of architecture. I felt that the author wanted to convey more about the clashing Hindu and Muslim architectures of Vijayanagara kingdom, but she cut it short in fear of boredom.