I remember having history lessons on Mughal Empire when I was in school and I used to be so fascinated by the grandeur life of the Kings and Queens, the magnificent architecture and the stories behind their establishments. The Mughal Raj is always looked at as a time when India flourished in trade and economy. The same era was also very popular for its love stories- I mean Taj Mahal! Can any sign of love beat this beautiful monument? My point is- the Mughal era instigates a certain amount of interest in everyone’s mind. I am no different. Look at the amount of movies made based on the Mughal kings. It’s really difficult to read the essayed account of the Mughal period, it’s too theoretical. That’s when my friend suggested me The Twentieth Wife- the first book in the Taj Trilogy. I absolutely loved The Twentieth Wife. It amazingly blended facts and fiction to give a perfectly entertaining and engaging book. The Twentieth Wife follows the life of a young and ambitious girl, Mehrunissa- her aspirations and plights and how she eventually becomes Nur Jahan, Jahangir’s wife, Jahangir’s 20th wife.
The Feast of Roses continues Mehrunissa’s life, her life as a Queen, as Nur Jahan. Commonly, when talked about Mughal Queens, the first name to pop in our minds is Mumtaz Mahal- mainly because of Taj Mahal, right? It’s surprising to see how much Nur Jahan had contributed to the development of the empire. She wasn’t a puppet queen. She was more of a King; her decisions were Jahangir’s decisions. She was a headstrong, powerful and practical woman, who understood the nuances of politics to the tee. She was always ready with her next move, calculating the moves of her enemies perfectly. Reading Mehrunissa was a delight! She wasn’t hasty. She knew she had to move through the ladder slowly, without offending her husband, the King. Her biggest strength was her husband. Jahangir’s love and support for Mehrunissa is commendable. He never discriminated her. In spite of the fact that Mehrunissa couldn’t bear him a child, his love for her never decreased or ceased. One sad point was the meager amount of time Mehrunissa could spend with her daughter, Ladli, from her first husband. I loved reading the interactions between them.
Who will succeed Jahangir? That’s the basic plot of this book. With Mehrunissa unable to produce a child, Jahangir is forced to look at his other sons. Khusrau, his first, blinded as punishment for revolving against him before, is a weak contender. Parviz, a drunkard, is never in the competition. Shahryar is very young. That leaves with Khurram, young and dynamic man, who later wins the title Shah Jahan. Mehrunissa’s goal is to win Khurram’s support. It’s important because, at the death of her husband, she would be left alone and she would need the support of the next king for survival. Thus begin the battle of wits and valor. Mehrunissa, by marrying her niece Arjumand (Mumtaz Mahal) to Khurram, believed Khurram would be grateful to her for that. But she never expected Arjumand would silently turn Khurram away from her. There are many more instances like when Mehrunissa commands Khurram to marry Ladli, and he refuses. I felt really bad for Ladli. She was just a coin in the game, a game she never wanted to participate in.
I found little interest in the English-Portuguese-Mughal treaty part. Even though, that sowed a lot of discomfort in relationships within the family, somehow, it wasn’t engaging enough. I was surprised at the significant role Mehrunissa’s brother, Abul Hassan played in getting Khurram crowned as the next ruler. Hoshiyar Khan, Mehurnissa’s aid eunuch, stood out at the end as someone who didn’t betray his mistress till the end. I wonder how he did that? He worked for the previous queens too, but stayed true to Mehrunissa, supporting and guiding her at all times. On thinking, Khurram never won the throne on his own. He wasn’t nominated by the King or the Queen either. He just attained it because the rest were killed. Now that’s not a good start for a king, is it?
The narration was brilliantly paced. You never realise that you are running through years within a few pages. The description of the Mughal cities and their architecture was beautifully worded. I never wanted to skip any of the descriptions as it was so captivating. I wonder why Jahangir and Nur Jahan are never talked much as compared to Shah Jahan and Mumtaz. It seems like Jahangir did a lot more to the empire than Shah Jahan. Guess, it’s thanks to Taj Mahal!
I am eagerly waiting to read the next part of this series- The Shadow Princess. If you want to read and get transported to the Mughal age, this series is THE ONE!
Go for it!