Monday, January 21, 2013

Book review: The Feast of Roses

The Feast of Roses
I wrote about an enticing narration of Mughal story here, about the book 'The Twentieth Wife'. The tale goes on with the sequel as 'The Feast of roses' by Indu Sundaresan. While 'The Twentieth Wife' captures journey of Mehrunnisa into emperor Jahangir's heart and eventually into his harem (living quarters reserved for wives and concubines and female relatives in a muslim household), Indu's second book is Mehrunnisa's rule over Hindustan as Padshah Begum (the supreme empress) second only to the emperor himself. 

Mehrunnisa is conferred upon the title of 'Nur Jahan- Light of the world' by Jahangir after their wedding, a well deserved one for she was the most beautiful woman in Mughal empire at that time and by the virtue of her marriage and her husband's love, the most powerful Mughal woman of her time. The ambitious woman is not contended with a mere title but wishes for true power over the harem and also in the Mughal court. Although she was Jahangir's twentieth wife, Mehrunnisa was the most beloved of all and she establishes this fact by snatching away the position of 'Padshah Begum' from Jahangir's other wife - Jagat Gosini, mother of prince Khurram (later ruled as Shah Jahan). Mehrunnisa had to face the wrath of important amirs (nobels) at the court and women at the harem for she was the emperor's sole partner in ruling the kingdom and others had very less left to participate in. 

Mehrunnisa forms a junta involving her father Ghias Beg, her brother Abul Hasan and prince Khurram to assist her in taking important decisions for state. From being a mere twentieth wife, Mehrunnisa enamors the emperor to such an extent that he crossed many royal etiquettes of Muslim world to accommodate the desires of his beloved wife and lover. Jahangir lets a royal woman's presence at the court (even when veiled, imperial women were forbidden to appear before other men), prints coins in name of 'Nur Jahan', consults her in all matters of statesmanship and breathes every breath in her presence. Prince Khurram is married to Mehrunnisa's niece Arjumand Banu (known to the world as Mumtaj Mahal) and Mehrunnisa's futile efforts to marry her own daughter Ladli to Khurram crushes her daughter's dreams miserably and becomes one of the reasons to cause a rift between the prince and the empress. Mehrunnisa then marries her daughter to Prince Shahryar and plots to place this weakling on the throne of Hindustan. What follows is a bloody rebellion from Khurram and the causal ouster of him and his wife from the empire. This woman who rules the empire for 16 long years is finally sent to Lahore in official exile on Jahangir's death when Shah Jahan becomes the emperor after slaughtering all his brothers and cousins who were contenders for the throne. 

Indu has painted the politics of Mughal court in lush words and emotions befitting a veteran writer. Indu's books provide a sensory treat of the historical events. The pure love between the emperor and Mehrunnisa is a wonder to know about. Jahangir keeps going back to Mehrunnisa in spite of his access to any woman in the world which speaks volumes about their love. His love is unflinching even when Mehrunnisa slaps him and they both fight like commoners in front of slaves and eunuchs. The power struggle between Mehrunissa and prince Khurram is worth every minute of reading. The affluence of Mughal empire brims through every page of narration and there is also description of the flight of an English ambassador to the Mughal court, Thomas Roe. The grandeur of a bygone era is there to relish all over the pages of this book. 

Reading this book has made me well versed with the history of the most powerful dynasty to rule over India. I will never forget the lineage of Moghul rulers, their architecture, their way of life, socio-political values prevalent over the 16th and 17th century India and the magnitude of Indian soil richness. This book is dear to me for another reason - it's strong and mesmerizing prose. Many a times I have forgotten whether I am reading a prose or a poem. The lull of a bedchamber, the tenderness of a girl's waiting for the lover, the manhood of a prince in the battlefield, the madness of love for a wife, the imperial power of a monarch, the arrogance of affluence, the subjugation of a kingdom's subjects - all these find new life in Indu's words. If this book is of any value apart from the history it depicts, then it is the bewitching use of words in prose. 

In comparison to the first book of any trilogy, the second one is always considered a drag but sparing a few repetitions of facts much needed for a strong narration, 'The Feast of Roses' is a historical and imaginative delight for the reader. I recommend this book to whoever is interested in knowing about
  • the history of Moghul India in the disguise of a story
  • the love story of one of the most powerful couples in the pages of Indian history
  • the rise of a mere woman to the level of a Muslim monarch
Enjoy the beautiful prose by buying yourself a copy:


  1. Can't wait to read this one .. I enjoyed the first one.
    You should be finishing the third one pretty soon!

    1. Yup :) almost done... Wait for the review

  2. I have read the first two from the trilogy, have the third one. Absolutely love the way Indu Sundaresan writes. I

    1. Yes! her prose resembles spoken word poetry and that makes all her books interesting reads.