The best thing about a good historical fiction is that it will take you to lands which used to exist.. Full of riches, soldiers ready to die for their kings, Mughals, Peshwas and Rajputs.. I make sure to pick a copy of Historical fiction every month for my TBR. And this time I picked up The Twentieth Wife by Indu Sundaresan. A book about a woman and her journey of love with Prince Salim, who gives her the title of Nur Jahan.
Ghias Beg, a run-away lord from Persia, was on its way to India, which was ruled by Mughal Emperor Akbar. Death threats from debtors made Ghias Beg run away from his homeland. But then one fateful night, his wife, Asmat gives birth to a girl, who was destined to write history among Mughals. Starvation and poverty made Ghias Beg give away Mehrunnisa, but destiny had other plans for the girl. Somehow, Mehrunissa finds her way back to Ghias, making him realise his grave mistake. He makes acquaintance with Mehrunnisa’s saviour, Malik Masud and travels to India with his caravan, safe and sound. As soon as they reach India, Masud introduces Ghias to Akbar, placing Ghias under Akbar’s guidance.
Mehrunnisa grows into a beautiful woman, and since she was nine years old, her only dream was to marry the Prince, Salim. But how can someone marry a Prince so easily? Mehrunnisa, due to bad circumstances, ends up marrying Ali Quli, a swordsman in Akbar’s army, but her love for Salim remains in her heart. And not just her, Salim keeps Mehrunnisa’s image closed in his heart too. But fate always comes between lovers. Salim gets busy in ruling an empire, Mehrunnisa gets busy with her daughter which she got after having several miscarriages. But love still remains. And one day, Mehrunnisa’s dreams come true when she comes face to face with Salim once again in Meena Bazar.
The book has a long list of characters, but some of them will surely make you go through a hundred human emotions. Ruqayya’s political games made me smile, Ali Quli’s behaviour towards his wife made me angry. The best character is of Mehrunnisa, ”Sun among women”. Her character depicts a strong personality and a calm composure which makes her think logically at times rather than emotionally. For example, When Salim came to her asking her to come and live in his Haram, she refuses, because she loved him enough and thought that perfect title that she deserved was of Salim’s queen, not a concubine. She makes Salim realise this thing and did not budge from her decision. The best parts were of Zenana, where all the action of Mughal empire takes place. One can see how a handful of influential women, using their jealousy and mind with a little support from right people, can influence an Emperor’s decisions.
Indu’s writing has been fluent and really amazing. This is the first book of Indu that I have read and she has captured my thoughts with her words. She breathes life into her characters because I could literally imagine scenes coming in front of me out of the book. There was not even a single moment when I thought that I have had enough of this book, I should keep it down. It binds you completely into it’s Mughal Magic. Looking forward to reading the sequel of this book, Power Behind The Veil.