Tag Archive | Mughals

The Feast of Roses- Indu Sundaresan : 3/52 ( A Trilogy)

And the soap continues…

Actually, this book ran in my head as a Rajnikanth movie. Rajni is Prince Khurram and Mehrunissa is the classic arrogant female antagonist who stands up against him. And in the end, Khurram wins the story and mouths a punch dialogue ‘Adhigama aasai padra pombalai nalla irundhadha sarithram illai’ and rides away into the sunset on a white horse, with Arjumand clinging onto him. But Mehrunissa has the last laugh anyway. Read the book to know why.

The romantic Mehrunissa from The Twentieth Wife becomes the power hungry Empress of Hindustan in this book. She has Jahangir under her thumb and is the Sonia to Jahangir’s MMS now. She rules the empire from behind the veil. I’m not sure if I should like such a woman though. I liked her competitiveness at first, the way she was determined to become an expert hunter after that failed hunting trip where she lost to Jagat Gosni in shooting a drugged lion ( ugh. *that* was how those people hunted? What bravery ) I even liked that junta she formed, clever woman. And the way she got her way with the Portugese and sided with the English too. But when she pimped her daughter out to marry Khurram, Khusrau and finally Sharyar, she crashed from that pedestal I had put her on. Woman, is power that important to you? Ok. Maybe such relationships were allowed in that era, but your daughter marrying your husband’s son , the one who is the husband of your own niece? Ewwww. I felt sorry for Ladli, such a gentle thing , resigned to her fate. Who in the end just wants her baby to be a girl so that it will not be involved in the ugly game to the throne. And when Mehrunissa expressed such resentment when the baby turned out to be a girl, a fresh wave of anger swept over me. I hated her a little more.

Two scenes in the book that were so big budget that I would love to see them on the big screen. The live chess scene with baby elephants where she checkmates a nervous Mahabat Khan had so much attitude. Whatte woman, I thought. And the Feast of Roses scene where she walks on a bed of rose petals and allows Jahangir to forgive her ( apologise). That reminded me so much of a certain politician who had the roads paved with flower petals when she visited the Nilgiris in 1993, bringing traffic to a halt. I saw the same ego, arrogance and god complex in Mehrunissa in that scene.

The book got a little draggy when the Portugese and English came in. It took away the beauty of the Mughal empire and became dry and political. (Would history have been different if Nur Jahan hadn’t supported the English like she did?) Same with the wars, I rushed through those parts. But it got back on track again with the unintended coup and the final chase to the throne. Survival of the fittest. Who would have thunk that the romantic Shah Jahan could execute his competitors in such cold blood. But hey, all’s fair in love and war.

I’ll give it a short break before I start the third book, The Shadow Princess. I don’t want to OD. But I’m ready for a Darlymple again now. Mughal history has me hooked.

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The Twentieth Wife- Indu Sundaresan :1/52 ( A Trilogy)

16th century Soap Opera

But I mean it in a good way.

The book came highly recommended by @_viju and since I usually like his taste, I started the book without any pre-Googling. Somewhere in the book, Salim smells roses on Mehrunissa and she says that her mother adds rose petals to the bath water. And then it hit me. This is the story of Noor Jahan, the Mughal queen whose mother discovered attar. It wasn’t pure fiction anymore and it just got even more interesting. Of course, it was highly embellished and glossy and I knew how it would end. It had all the elements of a big budget Bollywood movie and I could close my eyes and picture a zenana dance scene if I wanted to. But it was a story that flowed so smoothly, like a bolt of silk that was unrolled in the bazaar, that I finished it in three sittings. The first day of the year well spent.

A child born to a refugee, abandoned in the desert, finds herself back in her mother’s arms through some twists of fate. At eight, she looks at Emperor Akbar’s son on his wedding day and dreams of becoming a princess herself. Seventeen years, nineteen wives, innumerable concubines, a husband and a daughter later, she finally marries that  man she flirted with in the zenana corridor while she was a teenager betrothed to someone else. Mehrunissa. The sun among women. The light of the world.

As a woman, I am expected to outrage about many things. How the woman is considered as the property of men, be it the father, the husband or the emperor himself. Mehrunissa has no say in whom she marries, she has no say in whom her husband sleeps with. She has no say when the emperor orders her father to request her husband to invoke some Turkish law and divorce her so that the emperor can make her his. The emperor who already has a harem full of wives and concubines, an emperor who lusted after his father’s woman and had her buried alive. (Looks like Salim-Anarkali isn’t all Mughal-e-azam as much as it is a Greek tragedy).

But the romantic in me overlooked all that and rooted for love. Love that blossomed at the age of eight ( Meera-Krishna type) and stayed buried deep down somewhere in both those hearts, not giving up hope even when there was no hope. Stalking, noting, spying, watching. Secret smiles, private fantasies and skipped heartbeats. And anyway, towards the end Mehrunissa redeemed herself when she refused the Indecent Proposal and stood up for what she believed was rightfully due to her. More power to women like her. But the truth is, the women back then were much cleverer than the ones today. We cry feminism and take to the streets at the drop of a hat these days, but those 16th century women seemed to have wielded so much power from behind veils and latticed marble walls, all the time allowing the men to believe that they were superior and the actual decision makers. Right from Akbar’s queen Ruqayaa to Salim’s second wife Jagat Gosini and Mehrunissa herself, they seem to be a group of awesomely cunning, shrewd, clever and highly manipulative women; smug and truly powerful. And like the standard fixture in every romcom these days, the gay best friend, you have the important eunuch who calls the shots in the harems. And the men? The men are mostly bumbling idiots, getting drunk on wine, women and power and  going to war for no bigger reason than an ego trip.

Oh well. Nothing much has changed over the centuries.