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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.

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Book Review: 300 Brave Men by Gautam Pradhan

Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj is one of the most revered and celebrated kings to have ruled India. Tales of his valour have become part of the folklore. So much so, that it often becomes difficult to separate history from fiction.

Gautam Pradhan’s book explores the period of history when the Indian sub-continent was ruled by the Mughals in the north and Shia rulers in the south. Sandwiched between the two regimes, the Maratha province was silently bearing the tyrannical rule of injustice, until the sixteen-year-old son of an Adilshahi jagirdar stood up against the empire.

‘300 Brave Men’ is an intriguing retelling of the legend of Chhatrapati Shivaji Raje Bhosale, the warrior-king, guerrilla fighter, brilliant tactician and clever diplomat. Expectedly, we are taken through the reign of torture and servitude under the Mughals – high-handedness of the army, wars that ravage terrains, crops that are burned, villagers bearing the brunt of tyranny, women raped and tortured.

The book gives us an insight into the various facets of Shivaji’s character – how he won his first ‘battle’ at the tender age of 15, with diplomacy. We are also taken through how he tastes victory against the Sultanate, despite having military strength, which is no match to that of Delhi. The book speaks of length of the humanitarian nature of the Maratha king.

However, the book fails to make an impact because the drudgery of reading through such a long volume of work feels tiresome. It also seems the author is trying to offer an alternative view of history in his work. In this age of hyper-nationalism and post-truth, the exercise is fraught with dangers. On a personal level, having grown up listening to the tales of how Bengal was plundered by Maratha Borgis, the narrative of Maratha suffering often appeared a bit misplaced.

However, the author deserves credit for bringing to life a glorious icon of Indian history. Surely, even in fiction, his actions will inspire generations to come.

My Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

P.S. The review copy of the book was provided by Leadstart Publishing

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