As a 90’s kid living in India, the famed Akbar-Birbal stories were part of my growing up years – firstly, thanks to the Amar Chitra Katha comics, and secondly, courtesy the animated series on Cartoon Network. Known for his sharp mind, analytical skills, and quirky wit, Birbal was one of Akbar’s ‘Navaratna’ (nine gems).
From mundane matters pertaining to state of affairs, to something as absurd as counting the number of crows in the kingdom – popular tales of Birbal encompassed it all. So, it was absolutely intriguing to land a book about ‘detective’ Birbal who is entrusted with solving a murder mystery. ‘The Tree Bears Witness’ by Sharath Komarraju shows us a new side to the popular historical figure.
Given the times we live in, where any reference to historical figures is met with a threat to life, or a bounty on the head, it is brave of the writer to pen a fictional tale of the murder of Sujjamal, brother of the newly-wedded Rajput queen of Emperor Akbar. Imagine an envoy of a foreign country dying under mysterious circumstances in India – Sujjamal’s murder has similar far-reaching political consequences, as his marriage with the Rajput princess was a political manoeuvre.
Given the gravity of the situation, Akbar turns to his trusted lieutenant to bring the perpetrator to justice using his famed grey matter. While Birbal sets on the task, he has a herculean challenge laid out before him. Palace politics plays out, as powerful people try to throw Birbal off-course in his task. An innocent scape-goat is jailed for convenience and rivalries play out in a way that makes Birbal’s work even more arduous.
The brisk pace of the story, with all the twists, makes this novel an enjoyable read. Birbal could very well be a modern-day CBI sleuth who is investigating the murder of a diplomat; the spirit of the story would remain intact. The delectable writing, with historical setting, set this book a class apart. The climax, where Birbal assembles the entire royal clan to reveal the murderer, reminded me of how Feluda always finished his cases.
Overall, ‘The Tree Bears Witness’ by Sharath Komarraju is an exciting murder mystery that adds a dash of history to a fictional tale of whodunit. If you read between the lines, the political subtext in the novel will surely impress you.
My Rating: 4/5 stars
P.S. The review copy of the book was provided by Amazon.
DISCLAIMER: All Images Used In This Book Have Their Respective Copyrights
History was one of my favourite subjects in school. The stories from the past always excited me. Sadly, when we were in school internet was unheard of and the only source of information was the text book. Thanks to the rat race and focus on syllabus and exams, the charm of the subject was lost. But even now historical fiction as a genre excites me the most. There is no pleasure more gratifying than reading about the bygone eras as stories.
The Maratha empire finds little mention in the History syllabus which I studied. However, thanks to Sanjay Khan’s ‘The Great Maratha’ the concept of Chhatrapati, Peshwa and Balaji Bajirao was not alien to me. Ram Sivasankaran humanises the Peshwa for us.
The novel is set in the 18th century; Mughal empire is on its decline and the Maratha Confederacy has established itself as a force to be reckoned with in the Indian Subcontinent. Nizam Ul Mulk of the Mughal Empire, whose ambitions know no bound, wants to end the Maratha Confederacy by eliminating their biggest warrior – the Peshwa Balaji Vishvanath Bhat. There are enemies within the Maratha fold who would go to any lengths to fulfill their desires – even attack the Chhatrapati.
After the demise of Balaji Vishvanath Bhat, the Peshwa’s son, Bajirao Bhat, ascends the position of Peshwa and must utilise his scant military and administrative experience to deal with the enemies facing the empire.
True to the title of the book, the whole narrative shows us the heroic side of Bajirao. We see him mature from an adolescent son who is learning politics and warfare from his father, to a responsible leader who is ready to embrace death to protect his flock. We also see the humane side of him, a loving husband and a devoted father.
The writing is nothing short of a thriller and will keep you hooked till the last page. The descriptions are so vivid you can actually picture the scenes before your eyes. Every character has been etched flawlessly, highlighting the grey shades. The dialogues are crisp and every chapter well thought out.
If only history textbooks (or teaching methods in schools) were half as interesting as books like ‘The Peshwa’, people would not associate dull, soporific tenor with the subject. Thank you Ram Sivasankaran for a prized collection on an important chapter of Indian history (albeit forgotten).
P.S. Thank you Writers Melon for the review copy.
My Rating: 3/5 stars
DISCLAIMER: All Images Used In This Post Have Their Respective Copyrights