Friday, 1 June 2012

Kim's Review: Feast of Roses

The Feast of Roses begins where The Twentieth Wife ended. Mehrunnisa is now Empress Nur Jahan. Her daughter Ladli is also adopted by Emperor Jehangir and her life seems to be much better on the surface after the trials of the last few decades.

While she constantly rises to Jehangirs expectations and her mother-in-law Ruqayya Begum is willing to teach her all she needs to know about trade and politics, she has a formidable rival in Empress Jagat Gosini, Jehangirs first wife. She finds supporters amongst the courtiers who are angered by Mehrunnisas influence over the Emperors thoughts & actions in court.

The long dangling engagement of Prince Khurram (later ShahJahan) to her niece Arjumand Banu Begum (Mumtaz Mahal) is finally converted into a marriage because of the efforts of Mehrunnissa and Ladli. But once Arjumand is secure in Khurrams affections, she too begins to resent her aunts influence over the Emperor. Khurram who was brought up by Mehrunnissa is besotted by his wife and refuses Mehrunnissas offer of Ladli's hand in marriage at her insistence.

Thus begins the split between Khurram and Mehrunnissa and Jehangir. Mehrunnissa who wants a Royal husband for her daughter is forced to settle for Shahryar even though Ladli is in love with Khurram. This makes her take up Shahryars cause as heir to the throne.

In the background is the ongoing tussle for supremacy between the Portuguese and the English.

This story ends with Jehangirs death and Mehrunnissa being banished from court by Emperor Shah Jahan and Empress Mumtaz Mahal.

The book is very well written like The Twentieth Wife. There are so many similarities in the life stories of Mehrunnissa and the Chinese Empress Orchid. Strong women, married to the Emperor, having to face internal politics of the harem and external politics of men who resent the womens influence on matters of trade and politics even though the women were both well informed and skilled tacticians. Both had to face the British incursions and machinations and both were widely reviled by the public. I also see a bit of similarity with the story line of Mastani. I wonder how many more women had similar story lines in the days of kings and queens in societies where women were expected to neither be seen nor heard.

I do wonder how things would have turned out if Khurram had actually married Ladli and continued to live under the benevolence of Mehrunnissa. There was so much more that she could have taught him and guided him through. Maybe Aurangzeb would never have been able to come to power, maybe Jahannara and Roshanara would have been able to lead normal lives. Maybe Arjuman would not have died within 4 years of being crowned Empress. Maybe together as a united front they could have kept both the English and the Portuguese in their places. Maybe. . . .

Rating: 4 / 5

Also Read My Review of The Twentieth Wife.

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