The novel is a peep into pages of history - a saga of broken hearts, palace intrigues, ruthless machinations, endless tussles for power and riches, decadence and debauchery. Set against the background of the opulence of the Mughal Empire, Nur Jahan's Daughter is the story of a royal lineage plunged into fratricidal friction, treachery, unbelievable loyalty and passion; a colourful tapestry woven with the splendorous skeins of life in medieval India and the Mughal courts. Nur Jahan's Daughter presents a vibrant and pulsating view of those times through a fascinating kaleidoscope of events.
The Hindu Nur Jahan's Daughter, Tanushree Podder, Rupa and Co., Rs. 295. A different take R. KRITHIKA
Podder weaves a fascinating tale of a young, sensitive girl caught in the coils of her ambitious and ruthless mother's schemes.
MUGHAL India was a man's world and few women left a lasting impression. Many remember Mumtaz Mahal because of the monument built in her memory but Nur Jahan's imprint on history is built on her deeds as well as her personality.
Stuff of romance A widow with a daughter when she met Jahangir, her marriage to the emperor is the stuff of romance. And subsequent history tells the tale of her control over the administration and her husband. Coins were minted bearing her profile; decrees were issued in her name and towards the end of Jahangir's reign, she was the actual power behind the throne.
She is variously portrayed as an ambitious, scheming woman, a woman who sacrificed much for her love, one who set her sights on being empress of India and worked towards it with single-minded focus...
Tanushree Podder, however, chooses to look at a so-far untold story — that of Nur Jahan's daughter, Ladli. History practically ignores this character. All we know is that Nur Jahan had a daughter by an earlier marriage and that she was later married to Shahryar, Jahangir's youngest son. But Podder weaves a fascinating tale of a young, sensitive girl caught in the coils of her ambitious and ruthless mother's schemes.
Ladli adores her father and his death robs her of stability in her life. Podder's Nur Jahan is ruthless, ambitious and scheming. Whether dealing with her first husband Sher Khan, with Jahangir's wooing, using her daughter as a pawn in her machinations, the empress doesn't particularly come across as a likeable person.
She forces Ladli to try and seduce Prince Khusrau, Jahangir's eldest son; then Prince Khurram, later Shah Jahan; and finally gets her to marry the no-good Shahryar. In the process, Ladli's love affair with an artist, Imran, comes to a disastrous end, with Nur Jahan having him killed. Though the girl gets sympathy and some support from her cousin Arjunmand (later Mumtaz Mahal) and Prince Khurram, she is unable to stand up to her mother's Machiavellian dealings.
Contemporary relevance In fact this story of the past is, in some strange way, affiliated to the present. It has become common to hear of parents having no time for their children and being caught up in achieving their ambitions. And the children meander through life trying to figure out what to do and how to do it.
Podder's story is told cleanly and without fuss. Along the way the reader also picks up details about the administration, social life and the arts in this period. Having set her story in a well-documented historical framework, Podder plays up the opulence of the Mughal Empire. Historical facts are rigidly adhered to but the emotional content of the story is played up for all it is worth. The only part that seems unnecessary and unduly dramatic is Ladli's meeting with the fortune-telling hermit. In the end, the story of Ladli can be summed as that of a "poor little rich girl".
The Sunday Tribune Fiction meets history Jyoti Singh
Nur Jahan’s Daughter by Tanushree Podder Rupa. Pages 362. Rs 295.
UNLIKE history that records facts dryly, as historians perceive them, Nur Jahan’sDaughter is a peep into pages from the past with enough room for emotions. Shifting the spotlight from powerful monarchs to a sensitive and vulnerable child, the author claims to unveil the life of Laadli, Nur Jahan nee Mehrunnisa’s daughter, by her first husband Ali Quli alias Sher Afghan.
The tale narrates the graph of Laadli’s life. She is a mere pawn, embroiled in the machinations of an ambitious mother. Her mother’s diktat is to woo either of the princes, Khusrau and Khurram. Unlike her mother, the crown held no lure for Laadli and her sole rebellion comes in form of a clandestine love affair with her music teacher Imraan, who suffers the temerity of loving an empress’ daughter and pays for this ‘sin’ with his life. She is married off, under the influence of opium-laced drink, to Shahriyar, a drug-addict, drunkard and a gay, whom the empress intended granting the throne. After his gruesome murder at brother Shah Jahan’s bidding, Laadli slipped into a life in oblivion. With unflinching devotion to her mother, she acted as a crutch that provided the empress the security to plod through the rough patches during the last years of her life.
The writer conjures up the life of the de facto ruler of the Mughal Empire who reigned by proxy for 16 long years. The narrative highlights Nur’s vibrant energy, diplomatic excellence and artistic skills. The reader to the harems where myriad women, objects of royal men’s momentary fascination, languish locked in the four walls, living on the emperor’s charity. Tanushree, dives into their minds full of turmoil that sought release in frivolous activities, vicarious pleasures and endless plotting.
Along with Laadli’s story are woven myriad tales of others’ lives: It narrates Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal’s historical romance; the story of Saleem, a perfidious prince who rose in defiance against his father, Akbar, and his numerous love affairs and dalliances.
This saga of palace intrigues, endless friction for power and riches, decadence and fratricidal hostility is a spectacular literary creation. Laadli’s gripping story keeps the reader engrossed and indeed carries the stamp of Tanushree Podder’s talent
Deccan Herald Nur Jahan: Woman behind the king
The book portrays Nur Jahan as a shrewd and powerful empress who managed to get Jehangir to relinquish the reins of power into her hands. Nur Jahan’s Daughter is a story that shows how Mughal women played an important role in governance. Experts at intrigues and political manoeuvring, the women decisively took one side or the other in their male relatives’ battles for the throne and these battles raged all the time. Most marriages were also political in nature and with the rulers being allowed more than one wife there was a lot of treachery among the women to find favour with the king.
Nur Jahan's shrewdness and administrative skills have been well documented through the pages of this book as also her deviousness at making Jahangir hand over decision-making powers to her. But startling is the revelation made by Jahangir himself: "I have handed the business of government over to Nur Jahan; I require nothing beyond a ser of wine and half a ser of meat." If the Mughal rulers had managed to tone down their obsession for wining and dining, perhaps the history of India might have been different. Using a flowery style the author goes into great detail about palace intrigues and power plays as part of imperial activity. A lot of effort has been taken to give insights into the gifts and food prepared for the feasts, right down to the effort made by the women to dress to attract attention.
Inspite the name, the whole book really revolves around Nur Jahan, who uses her power over the besotted emperor in her court intrigues and then ruthlessly manouveres her daughter’s life as well. Laadli Bano was Nur Jahan’s daughter from her first husband Sher Afghan. For most of the tale, the mother and daughter never see eye-to-eye but finally the same meek and self-deprecating daughter becomes her trusted advisor. To quote from the book— “She will make a better empress than me,” thought Nur Jahan, “because she is not as rash or ruthless as I am.”
Finally after her mother’s death Laadli finds some peace and can live life on her own terms. In fact on her death bed Nur Jahan piteously asks her daughter if she hates her and Laadli replies, “Is it possible for anyone to hate her mother? How can I hate someone who carried me in her womb for nine months? Nothing you did can alter the fact that you are my mother.” After which tears of remorse roll down Nur Jahan’s cheeks.
If you plan on visiting the Taj Mahal in Agra after reading this book, check out two corner rooms which contain tombstones of Laadli Begum among other relatives.