Book Review : Mistress of the Throne

Image Courtesy: Google

Image Courtesy: Google

Blurb View:

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.

Review: 

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.

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Book Review : Love & Death in the Middle Kingdom

Image Courtesy: Google

Image Courtesy: Google

Blurb View:

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.

Review:

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.

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