HomeArts & EntertainmentBooksHT reviewer Huzan Tata picks her favourite reads of 2020

HT reviewer Huzan Tata picks her favourite reads of 2020

Historical women in the spotlight: The last queen of the Sikh empire and a feminist take on an Indian epic

Among all the fantastic work that came out this year, one of my favourite reads was The Last Queen by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. While she’s known for her mythological fiction like Palace of Illusions and The Forest of Enchantments that look at Indian epics from the points of view of Draupadi and Sita respectively, her latest was her first fictional take on the life of a historical figure.

The Last Queen follows the life of Rani Jindan, the youngest wife of Maharaja Ranjit Singh of the Sikh Empire, and mother of Duleep Singh. Again, writing from the young queen’s point of view, Banerjee allows the reader to feel the emotional, romantic and dramatic aspects of the story instead of simply providing lessons in history. Unlike many other historical women, Jindan is given a strong sense of agency – the fact that she chose her husband of her free will is one she repeats throughout the book. Her determination and strength are seen at several moments, during years of zenana politics, at durbar meetings where she decides to shun the veil, and as an exiled ruler of her kingdom. Jindan is as significant to India’s history as other women of grit like Razia Sultan, the Rani of Jhansi or Nur Jahan, each of whom shunned traditional roles to run empires and take on the might of men.

Huzan Tata (Courtesy the reviewer)

Another book I enjoyed, Ira Mukhoty’s Song Of Draupadi, is a great feminist take on the Mahabharata. Here, the epic is told from the point of view of the women with the book giving each a voice, a role, and power over their lives to a certain degree. Whether it is Kunti, Amba, Gandhari or the titular princess, each woman in the saga has a stand-out role. I don’t usually enjoy mythological fiction but Mukhoty has woven a story that presents the heroines of the Mahabharata in new light.

Stories about women who inspire are always a welcome addition to bookshelves. Here’s hoping there are more books about forgotten heroines in the coming year as well.

Huzan Tata is an independent journalist. She lives in Mumbai.

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