Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Twentieth Wife - Book by Indu Sundaresan.

Quite an interesting narration of the Mughal Empire - Emperor Akbar, his son Jahangir, Jahangir and Mehrunnisa's romance etc. In between the romantic tale of Jahangir and Mehrunnisa,(later on Empress Nur Jahan), we can know about the Imperial Place where their women lived in harems, their children (from hundreds of wives and concubines!), their day-to-day lifestyle, how the kings presided the court, about nobles, their slaves ...the fight in-between the princes for the throne...very interesting. Indu Sundaresan has researched well for writing this book.

Ghias Beg and his wife Asmat are fleeing Persia, for their life, to Hindustan. They already have got 3 children and a girl baby is born in the desert, on their way. Ghias tries to leave the child under a tree for someone to bring her up, but a merchant brings her back to him and helps him get a job in the Mughal Emperor Akbar's Court. Then the story narrates how the child, Mehrunnisa grows up, falls in love with Akbar's son Prince Salim (who later on becomes Emperor Jahangir) at the age of 8, when she views his marriage ceremony, from the Imperial Palace balcony. Salim also meets her in his step mother, the Empress's apartment and falls in love with her.

Ghias Beg brings up his children with good education and cultured manners. They learn (even the girls) Turkish, the language of the Mughal Court, Hindi, Sanskrit etc. A brahmin comes to their house to explain Ramayana also! The girls are taught painting, stitching etc. We notice that the Hindus and Muslims lived peacefully in Akbar and Jahangir's rule. They exchanged their culture also - Mehrunnisa draws rangoli with colour powder on festive occasions!

Then comes Salim's greediness to become the Emperor fast and how he fails in his attempts. Akbar loved his son Salim very much, till then. He becomes upset knowing about Salim's behaviour. So when he comes to know that Salim loved Mehrunnisa, he made Ghias marry his daughter off to a soldier of his choice. Mehrunnisa lives with her husband for 13 years with two abortions and then one girl child. Emperor Akbar dies and Salim becomes the the Emperor - Emperor Jahangir.

The story continues till Jahangir marries Mehrunnisa, 4 years after her husband's death and she becomes Empress Nur Jahan, who ruled Hindustan for 14 years with the help of Jahangir.

More than the love story, I liked the way Indu Sundaresan narrated the history of the Mughal empire. Their way of life, the incidents that occurred during that period (16th century). The Portuguese were already settled in India as merchants and then came the East India Company, who wanted to trade with India. The English are mentioned as shepherds and fishermen by the Emperor! Jahangir allows the Portuguese Jesuits to convert his brother's sons into catholics! This way,his sons will have less competition to the throne! The headquarters of the kingdom changes from Agra to Lahore according to the weather and the place of war! Like Akbar wrote (made his minister write - he did not know to read and write and made others to read for him and had a very good memory power, it seems)'Akbar Nama', explaining about the history of his time, Jahangir wrote 'Jahangir Nama', explaining his reign. He was known to be a 'Just King', because his people can ask for justice by pulling a golden chain with brass bells (Chain of Justice) with bells and action was taken. This chain was in Agra and the story is mostly around Agra and Lahore.

The eating habits of that time, the delicacies of the kings, how they were prepared, the ingredients used etc. are also explained in detail. I will try adding rosemary for my dum aloo!

When we read about the life of the harem women, we really pity them. 300 women - wives, concubines etc. - live for a single male. Dress up for him, wait for just a look from him, huh! The king just brings them to the harem or marries them for political reasons, then just keep them locked in the palace! I wonder if our Hindu kings had so many women in their palaces?!

This book of Indu Sundaresan won the coveted Washington State Book Award. We can enjoy reading this book, definitely.

4 comments :

Deepa said...

Wow Sandhya-we seem to share common interests. I have read this book too. Was a good read. I love historical novels. Apparently this book has sequels also. If you liked this one, try Nurjahan's Daughter. Forget the author - a lady with last name Podder. That gives the picture of Nurjahan as a mother.

Sandhya said...

Deepa: Yes, I liked this book. Yes, it has a sequel, 'The feast of roses'. I have it and yet to start reading!

I will try to get 'Noorjahan's daughter'. I too like historical stories, Deepa.

Swaram said...

I remember commenting on this one Sandhya .. nt sure if its lost :P

Sandhya said...

Swaram: Don't know what happened to your old comment, sorry!

I have nearly written a 'review book'! After reading your and Smitha's book review, I feel silly!

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