Title: Twentieth Wife – A Novel
Author: Indu Sundaresan
Publisher: PENGUIN BOOKS INDIA
Reading ‘The Twentieth Wife’ by Indu Sundaresan was an enriching experience. I have had the pleasure of reading Indu’s books and so was sure that this would be an excellent read.
This debut novel of Indu Sundaresan takes you back to the Mughal era through the pages of history. It is an enchanting tale of Mehrunnisa, who was born penniless but the caravan of destiny took her to India, where ultimately she became an Empress. It is this journey of Mehrunnisa the twentieth wife of the much married Jahangir which is the theme of the novel.
Mehrunnisa was the daughter of a Persian refugee Mirza Ghyas Beg who came to India in the time of Akbar. Her early life was spent near the Mughal court, and her impressionable mind found the aura of the court extremely fascinating. She was eight years old when she encountered Prince Salim for the first time. From the day, she decided that she wanted to marry the prince. What followed is a fascinating tale of an almost unrequited love laced with jealousy, gossips and politics.
Through the pages of the book, we get a glimpse of the Mughal court, the power behind the veil in the so called ‘powerless’ Zenana. Intriguing, bewitching and evocative, Indu writes to captivate. Her language is spellbinding and visual descriptions create vivid images of the lush landscapes through the seasons, the flowers and fruits of the region, rituals, weddings, jewels and the silks of the Meena Bazaar.
Little yet beautiful details of the place and the atmosphere give you a feel that you are walking through the roads and lanes of the cities of Lahore and Agra few hundred years ago. Aptly described food and cuisine gives a stunning picture of the shops selling delicacies and exotic dishes cooked in the kitchens.
A historical novel must have facts. The author needs to sift carefully through the contradictory information available to include some and effectively camouflaging with her own imagination Indu has done this exceptionally well.
This book is a part of the Taj Trilogy. The other two books are ‘The Feast of Roses’ and ‘Shadow Princess’. Though the books are interrelated yet can be also read independently. However, if you read one, you can hardly resist reading the other two.