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Book Review – Empress by Ruby Lal

History is a subject, which most students hate. I was no exception in school. The dull drudgery of remembering dates was excruciating. William Dalrymple’s books changed that perception of history for me. I discovered, history is nothing but fantasy stories, with basis in well-researched facts (or the lack thereof).

If one asked me which period of Indian history is most exciting to read about, I’d not bat my eyelid before blurting out ‘Mughal’. Books by Dalrymple and Alex Rutherford made that period more fascinating, nothing short of an adventure series. Barring exceptions like ‘The Twentieth Wife’ I have actually come across books that focused on the Mughal women. Ruby Lal seeks to correct that wrong with her book ‘Empress – The Astonishing reign of Nur Jahan’.

If one asked me to name notable female figures from the Mughal period, the most certain answer would be Nur Jahan, Mumtaz Mahal and Jahanara. Among them, Nur Jahan is undoubtedly the most intriguing, and perhaps the most powerful, woman in Mughal history. She was famously called the ‘Tiger slayer’. She was the ‘Empress among Emperors’, but also a celebrated designer and architect.

Nur Jahan was the twentieth wife of Emperor Jahangir, and his favourite in the harem. She held a position of power, which was unthinkable in that era. Along with her husband, she ruled the vast stretches of the Mughal empire.

Daughter of a Persian nobleman, she was born as Meher-un-Nissa on 31st May 1577. Her father had come to India during Akbar’s reign. She swiftly rose to power, after her marriage with Jahangir, and assumed the reigns of the sovereign as her husband’s health started failing. She was the first, and only woman, to rule over the empire as co- sovereign.

Nur Jahan was not only a great administrator, but a compassionate human being too. She gave jewels, horses, elephants and cash to royal men and women and supported the wedding of 500 orphan girls. Having risen through ranks, her concern for the ‘common man’ never flickered in the face of arrogance of power.

What makes Ruby Lal’s account of Nur Jahan stand out is the personal touch she has added to this retelling of history. Her admiration for the Mughal queen, and how the interest was kindled at an early age, is a fascinating read. Having read only accounts of male Mughal rulers in our textbooks, this remarkable narrative of India’s female ruler four centuries ago is commendable indeed.

Lal’s book is not just a biography of Nur Jahan, but also a commentary on the sixteenth century Mughal India. At a time when romeo squads are beating up couples in New India, upper caste parents don’t dither killing their child for falling in love with a dalit, and universities offer courses on how to become an adarsh bahu, Nur Jahan’s ascension to power is a lesson that needs attention.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

P.S. This review is part of the Flipkart’s Bloggers’ Affiliate Programme

I am taking my Alexa rank to the next level with Blogchatter. This is my sixth post.

DISCLAIMER: All Images Used In This Post Have Their Respective Copyrights

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