Blog Archives

Book Review: Sitayana by Amit Majumdar

Indian mythology is replete with stories; there are tales galore that are waiting to be told. Even when you think you have read a book and know it from cover to cover, there may be details that skipped your eye.

Our Indian epics – Mahabharata and Ramayana, with their voluminous takes on everything under the sky are not easy to master. Hence, with the new wave of writers trying to re-explore these centuries-old tales always fascinate me, and intrigue me.

And then there’s the problem of plenty – or should I say, too many? There’s a crowd out there – of writers and their own take on the epics. Some are good, some not worth the salt. To stand out in the clutter is a task that only experts can boast of. Amit Majumdar does just that in this book.

Sitayana stands out because of its simplicity. The story is not unknown, and the author does not intend to tread that path. It is the structure of the narrative and the use of language that sets this novel apart.

Sitayana tells the story of Ramayana from the perspectives of not only Sita but different other characters, from Hanuman to Mandodari, Lakshman and even the tiny squirrels. Although it is a refreshing change to hear the myriad voices in the epic, and how they would’ve viewed the events that occurred, it often came across as cluttered and break in the flow of the narrative.

Sita’s story begins in the Ashok Vatika, where she is imprisoned by Ravana. She is reminiscing her childhood when she lifted the might bow of Lord Shiva. The narrative fast moves to her Swayamvara. And suddenly we are introduced to Hanuman and Mandodari’s version of events.

For a book titled “Sitayana”, I was expecting Sita to be the ‘sutradhar’ for the entire story, which was not the case. While I did appreciate the hard work that went behind erecting this narrative from multiple perspectives, I fathom why Sita was denied the significance, she as the titular character deserved.

Apart from that disappointment, Amit Majmudar has not failed to impress the fan of Indian mythology in me. It is a herculean challenge to retell the story of Ramayana from the perspective of so many characters. And he has succeeded in his task. His creativity shows in the fact that the entire novel has the compression of a poem.

The biggest strength of the novel is in its language. Although simple, there are myriad little puns and references which are easy to miss. A careful reading, with care, would make even the mundane sentence appear magical. Therein lies the success of Amit Majmudar.

Sitayana, in the end, strikes a chord, not because it has a non-traditional world-view of a story well known, but because it captures the essence of Ramayana and places that before us without any pretence or rectitude.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

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

 

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

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

%d bloggers like this: