Thursday, June 12, 2014

Book Review : Mistress Of The Throne

Title : Mistress of the Throne
Author : Ruchir Gupta
Publisher : Srishti Publishers and Distributors
ISBN : 9789382665076

Mughal period is one of the periods that keeps beckoning authors of almost every generation to come back to it to unravel the mystique behind the opulence that this era was known for. Though the royal emperors - Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan, Aurangzeb have long been resting in the annals of history, yet their styles, their sensibilities for art and culture, their harems, food, generosity, ruthless machinations and brutal lust for power - entreat many to dig deeper. Many books written by contemporary authors like William Dalrymple and Indu Sundaresan have already been reviewed here on Literary Sojourn.

'Mistress of the Throne' picks a small timeline starting from the year 1631. This was the year when the beloved queen Mumtaz Mahal, of emperor Shah Jahan breathed her last during one of the childbirths. Going against the tradition of passing the title of Queen to one of his other wives, Shah Jahan chose to anoint her eldest daughter Jahanara with this royal honour. The new seventeen year old queen found herself shouldering responsibilities on personal, familial and public fronts. She dedicated herself to keeping the family united but her efforts fell short in front of towering egos, jealousies and scuffles for supremacy and power. The power tussle between the extremist Aurangzeb and the mild tempered Dara was apparent right from the very beginning of their getting together. Though Dara Shikoh was the favoured son of emperor Shah Jahan and was the heir apparent, he lost his life in a bitter battle with Aurangzeb for the imperial throne.

Mistress of the Throne is the first person account of Jahanara through which readers are given a peak into the functioning of Mughal empire and the political games that were played on either sides of the veils. Author Ruchir Gupta sensitively brings out the inner turmoil that the young queen went  through when she understood the implications of the harsh reality of living life alone. Though she very closely witnessed the love between her parents which Shah Jahan tried to immortalize in the form of Taj Mahal, she knew she would never be able to experience that emotion all her life. Her only fault was that she was a Mughal emperor's daughter.

Ruchir Gupta has done a commendable job in bringing back the bygone era intricately in the book. The scene setting is done in such a way that one becomes a part of the fast paced and engaging narrative. Language is simple to follow and flows lucidly. The characters are built slowly but with utmost care, especially that of Aurangzeb. The ruthlessness and fundamentalist attitude of Aurangzeb is very well documented in course books and other texts but this is the first time that one gets see and understand his personal side as well. Spending his childhood in a hostile exile, away from the love and warmth of his benevolent mother scarred his soul. Unfortunately he did not get much time with Mumtaz Mahal to savour the essence of unconditional affection and love. His insecurities, vulnerabilities and yearning to be the good son and good brother touch the chords at various places as the story progresses.

As far as the character building of Jahanara is concerned, Indu Sundaresan's adaptation wins over Ruchir Gupta's. Had I not read any of the books written by Indu, I would have enjoyed reading 'Mistress of the Throne' without any comparison in mind. But the images of Mughal queens that Sundaresan creates in her Taj trilogy remain firmly etched in the readers' minds and any other replacement will run the risk of appearing wane in comparison. They are just a tad short of flesh and blood otherwise she has done all to breathe life in the characters. Well, there is a difference in portraying a woman and being one.

The book was sent to me by


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