If my history textbooks were anywhere as interesting as the historical fiction written nowadays, I would have done fairly well in my exams. History which already has a ‘story’ in it never held my interest due to the way its presented. The pile of facts and dates, rather than a narration of the events in story style. Many would agree with me that our history books do not make us delve deeper, rather we sink deep into slumber. The intrigues and betrayals are reported in dull and monotonous reporting style which adds no glamour to the otherwise colorful history of India. So when I picked this book for reading it was after I did some background reading. And surprisingly, I found that not much is mentioned about the daughter of one of the most powerful and illustrious queens in Mughal history. Needless to say, this is owing to the fact that the daughter basically lived in the shadows of her mother. Thus, when I held the book in my hands I was more than excited to discover the girl for myself. The book left me with mixed reactions, disappointed, intrigued and least to say enthusiastic about unraveling more of the Mughal empire and the harem.
The title though is misgiving. The book revolves more around Nur Jahan than her daughter, who comes into scene briefly as a flying mention. The girl still remains to be as elusive as she is in history.
Plot: Podder has woven a fascinating tapestry of a young, sensitive girl caught amidst the coils of her ambitious and ruthless mother’s schemes.
Mughal India was a man’s world and few women left a lasting impression. There aren’t many who are given any mention. Mumtaz Mahal is remembered because of the monument built in her memory , that too courtesy of Shah Jahan and his love for her. But Nur Jahan’s left her imprints or rather seal on history by her deeds as well as her personality. Nur Jahan’s Daughter is a story that shows how Mughal women played an important role in governance. They were experts at intrigues and political maneuvering. Battles raged all the time as the women took one side or the other in their male relatives’ battles for the throne. Marriages were mostly political in nature, with the aim to strengthen the rule and build up allies, thereby squashing any attempt at overthrowing the throne.
The whole book really revolves around Nur Jahan, who uses her power over the love-smitten emperor in her court strategem and then ruthlessly manouveres her daughter’s life as well. She is portrayed as an ambitious, scheming woman, who maliciously forces her own daughter to get married to good -or-nothing prince Shahriyar . She is a woman who sacrificed much for her love, one who set her sights on being the empress of India and worked towards it with single-minded focus. Yet there are times when your heart reaches out to her since beneath the facade one have a sneak peek at the girl who fell in love with prince Salim, but was married off against will. And in the race to the throne feels left out because she has no male heir to lead.
The tale supposedly narrates the graph of Laadli’s life. But it is not through Laadli, as led by the title, rather through Meherunnisa’s (Nur Jahan) rise to the throne. Laadli is a mere pawn, embroiled in the machinations of an ambitious mother. For Laadli, the crown or the empire held no charm or lure. She was a rather simple girl who was content living in the shadows, unnoticed and anonymous. Her mother had other plans, with no male heir, she saw her daughter as means of getting to the throne. So Nur Jahan forces Laadli to woo either of the princes, Khusrau and Khurram. The only time she happens to stand against her mother’s wishes is in her love affair with her music teacher Imraan, who suffers the impudence of loving an empress’ daughter and pays for this ‘sin’ with his life. Nurjahan marries her off under the influence of opium-laced drink, to Shahriyar, a drug-addict, drunkard and a gay, whom the empress intended saw as means of reaching the throne. But he is murdered in cold blood brother Shah Jahan’s bidding. Laadli then slips 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 mother and daughter never see eye-to-eye on matters, but finally the meek and self-deprecating daughter becomes her trusted advisor.
It is only after NurJahan’s death that Laadli finds some peace and can live life on her own terms. A emeorable mother-daughter scnene is when 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.
I had slight problems with the writing as at times, since many pages were wasted in describing the architecture and the elaborate ritual of harem ladies. Equally irritating was the detailed description of the jewelry and dressing of Nur Jahan and Laadli, as also the desgns Nur Jahan later designs. Instead of marveling at these details, more time should have been spent on Laadli, as a person rather than an offshoot of Nur Jahan. The eloquently written passages on Mughal architecture, dressing, jewelry could have been better handled had they been sparsely mentioned, with more effect to the girl about who the book is intended to be.
All in all, a fascinating read for history buffs, and those interested in reading about court intrigues, battles, betrayal and amidst this background a simple tale of a rather ordinary girl with an extraordinary mother.