December 23, 2017

Book review: 'Padmavati - the queen tells her story'

It is December, the season where wishes are granted in mysterious ways. It was just the other day that I was cribbing about the deferred release of Sanjay Lila Bhansali's movie 'Padmavati' because of the row created by the Karni Sena.
Having read about the legendary queen of Chittor in my childhood ('Amar Chitra katha' phase) I had been earnestly looking forward to see how it would roll out on the big screen.
However, I wasn't disappointed for long. Thanks to Readomania and Sutapa Basu for coming up with this beautiful rendition  of the glorious legend. It seems like this heartpiercing  tale with all its vivid imagery is going to stay etched in my memory for a very long time.

    Book title: Padmavati: The queen tells her story.
  • Paperback: 300 pages
  • Publisher: Readomania 
  • Published in: December 2017
  • Language: English
  • Author: Sutapa Basu

'Padmavati---the queen tells her story' is a fictional account of the extraordinary journey of an extraordinary queen.
Introduced in modern times, the author has incorporated a contemporary element to this age-old folklore. Mrunalini Roy, a journalist for a national daily is researching the life of Rani Padmavati for which she travels to Chittorgarh. This is where she meets Uma, a village girl who lures her into listening to the story with the promise of leading her to Padma-Wali, an autobiographical document on old parchment that is written by the queen herself.

As Uma narrates the story enroute, we are transported to the lovely kingdom of Singhaldweep with all its blooming details.

"An oval emerald, snugly nestling in tiers of frothy white lace, floated in the crushed silk of turquoise seas. It was the enchanted island of Singhaldweep, off the eastern coast of Bharatdesh. A land that entices you into such a magical spell that you wonder how you existed without experiencing such a paradise."

A few pages down and one cannot help but notice the stark difference between Singhaldweep and Mewar (where Princess Padmini moves after marrying Ratan Singh). The difference is made evident by Ginni's (a talking Hiraman parrot) description of the rocky and sandy desert land of Mewar;
Ginni describes Mewar (Is it never pleasant here? What a land! During the day, hot winds howl and blow sand through the palaces while at night the stone walls are chilled by icy breezes. How I wish I was back in Singhaldweep!)

The book provides a window into the soulful and heart-wrenching journey through the life of the legendary queen Padmini, who is well acclaimed not just for her beauty but also for her strong character, skills at warfare, and astute wisdom.
With a talking parrot, Ginni, and her childhood friend, Ambika, as companion and confidante, and a kind and compassionate husband whom she barely knows but soon grows to respect and love unconditionally, the young queen bravely battles against the plots and plans that are schemed against her, both by family and foe.
But will her unparalleled beauty and elegance prove to be a curse for the young queen?
As Rani Padmavati faces and fights her destiny, she makes one final decision---she documents her story until the end; a story that transcends all boundaries of friendship, love, and honor.

The book has an attractive cover, although I felt it could have been a tad more innovative. The use of Mewari, Singha, and Urdu words gives the story a colloquial appropriateness, that is well translated by a helpful glossary in the last few pages.The narration is carefully detailed yet crisp and suggests meticulous research on the topic. Intermittent dialogue and interspersed poetry add the necessary creative zing, turning a piece of historical fiction into a riveting page turner. The scheming nature of the crafty Raghav Chetna and the treacherous lust-ridden Alauddin Khalji leaves you feeling sorry for the virtuous Rani Padmini who finds herself at their mercy time and again. But the undaunted queen refuses to bend.
How then does she change the course of her fate? Despite being fully aware that Padmavati is just a fictional figure, what is it that makes one ponder on whether there could be a semblance of reality amidst all the literary devices? Is it just extraordinary story telling, or is there really a fine line between truth and myth, between history and historical fiction? I guess it all depends on what you want to believe in. For now, let's just believe in good literature and our love for reading.

The end caught me by surprise, and no, I'm not talking about the obvious here. That is not the end. There is a story within the story. (Read the book to find out. You can order your copy here.)

Personal rating: 4.0 out of 5

About the author: Author, poet, editor, and ardent bibliophile, are just some of the feathers in Sutapa Basu's hat. She is a prolific writer and has several published short stories and poems to her credit. Her debit novel 'Dangle', a psychological thriller, was published by Readomania in 2016. This is her second novel.

(The views in the above review are entirely mine, and are not subject to obligation of any sort.)