Review : Riveting tales of the Mughal era
Manju Latha Kalanidhi Escape from Harem is a refreshing change from the chick-lit series of books which spin around single girls in big, bad cities...
Manju Latha Kalanidhi
Escape from Harem is a refreshing change from the chick-lit series of books which spin around single girls in big, bad cities and their escapades
The best way to gauge a book's worth is perhaps the way it sparks off your imagination and lets you explore more all by yourself. Forty pages into Tanushree Podder's period novel 'Escape from Harem' and you will find yourself Googling keywords like Dara Shikoh, Nur Jahan's clout in Mughal era, Shah Jahan and Jahanara's incestuous relationship and more.
The book is about the story of beautiful, young Zeenat who is forced to satiate Jahangir's carnal desires on two fateful nights. After those two eventful days, she is forever his girl in the golden cage called the harem. She loses her mother and her dreams soon enough, but her mistress Bahar Begum's tempestuous love story with a soldier lands her in trouble leading to an elopement with a knight in shining armour.
Just as she builds her dreams of a family and child, life changes course to land her back into the harem. The ladies-only harem is a place where conspiracies are hatched, where women forever long for a loving touch, where they share their frustrations openly, where they live their dreams together� It is the life story of Zeenat who finally manages to see her foster son married and of course, witness the opening of the world's best known love monument � Taj Mahal.
Those who despise History and especially chapters on Mughal era will find this book particularly fascinating. The author throws light on unknown facets of the women in the era - about the role Noor Jahan played in ensuring the kingdom does not go to unworthy sons of Jahangir who she does not favour; how Arjumand (Mumtaz Mahal) who sired 14 children of Shah Jahan was not a meek, doormat wife but a strong-willed spirited woman who travelled with her Prince on to the war front fully pregnant on several occasions to give him moral strength during crucial times.
It describes in detail how Shah Jahan showed unflinching devotion to his wife and was faithful to her throughout despite the fact that he could lust and get any woman; It also delves deeper into how Shah Jahan was a capable warrior with many victories, not at all the moony-eyed prince (as portrayed in staid History textbooks) whose only claim to fame is building the Taj Mahal. The best chapter is the one which talks about the sheer opulence Shah Jahan family enjoys and how they also experience abject poverty as refugees.
Escape from Harem is a refreshing change from the chick-lit series of books which spin around single girls in big, bad cities and their escapades. This one gives you a glimpse into the royal Mughal era with all its opulence in detailed prose. Tanushree leaves no chapter without her signature style of description.
Her words capture the festivities, fun and frolic that marked the period. However, the only question that could nag the reader is � How much of the story is true. It almost reads like a racy, fiction novel. Is Zeenat for real? Was Shah Jahan really so heartbroken after his wife's death? If it true, then one can't but help to remark � fact is stranger than fiction. In short, the book is a time travel into the era of ghazals, rose water, chandeliers and expensive pearls.