Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Feast of Roses by Indu Sundaresan

Knowing the book-freak I am, one of my friends recommended this book to me. At that time, I had lots of books ordered or on the verge of ordering, so I just made a note and saved the icon of the book (means picture of the cover page for posterity). 

Anyways, I have completed this book in a record 3 weeks. Yup, it is a record of highest time taken to read the book. It has nothing to do with the attention-grabbing quotient of the book.

The book is about Emperor Jahangir’s ‘Twentieth Wife’ Noorjahan. Noorjahan is one of the most distinguished and illustrious of Mughal women. During those days, women had very little role in public life but Noorjahan dreams of such power – unheard of and unprecedented for any women - and accomplishes her goal. Noorjahan comes across as a shrewd, ambitious and gutsy woman who makes a lot of enemies along the way but no friends.

This intriguing and fascinating story of Noorjahan holds quite a few revelations (atleast for me):
  • Noorjahan was actually the 20th wife of the emperor
  • She got married to Jahangir when she was 34 years old – quite old for the years of yore
  • Jahangir was Noorjahan’s second husband. She was married earlier to someone else earlier and had a daughter from her first marriage
  • Shahjahan (prince Khurram) was not Noorjahan’s son
  • Shahjahan’s wife Mumtaz Mahal was Noorjahan’s niece and Noorjahan was instrumental in getting her niece married to Prince Khurram, who was later known as Shahjahan
  • Noorjahan’s real name was Mehrunnisa
  • In her pursuit of power, possessing the title of ‘Begam Padshah’ and authority to command the kingdom, Noorjahan makes and breaks several collaborations within the palace – with different sons of Jahangir in different times since she did not have a son of her own.
I think I have already blurted out half the book. But in any case, this book is not a thriller. It is the quest of a woman to become the most powerful lady of the kingdom.

The stories surrounding Mughal princesses are intriguing. We have often heard the love stories of Jahangir-Noorjahan and Shahjahan –Mumtaz Mahal. There is a prequel to the book called “The Twentieth Wife”. 

‘The Feast of Roses’ starts from the time when Noorjahan is already the wife of Jahangir. It is also a glimpse into the inner dynamics of harems (harem = living quarters reserved for wives and concubines and female relatives in a Muslim household) of kingdoms – how a king used to have several queens (mostly to form alliances), and were also allowed to have several concubines and slave girls; how women could just be spectators of court proceeding, never the participants and how there was a hierarchy inside the harems.

This book is an captivating story of how Noorjahan dreams and gets the role much powerful than any Mughal queen had ever dreamt of. I absolutely loved this book, more so because the narrative was quite illustrative – the prevalent social norms and the mannerisms. Must read!

P.S. It also has a very user-friendly family tree at the beginning for people like me who keep forgetting who was whose wife and who was whose son!

And by the way, my "The Twentieth Wife" is already on the way from India Plaza, and I have also bought this book called "Taj: A Story of Mughal India By Timeri N. Murari"


  1. The book sounds very interesting, lemme go search for it.

    And I totally agree with you, the online deals are too good to leave. These days I order largely from Flipkart, they have an awesome delivery system. Once I ordered a book in the 1st half of the day and the book was with me by next day evening. Can u beat that???

  2. I definitely recommend you to read this.

    By the way, I have got 'My kind of Girl', and it looks so special, don't feel like reading it! I mean the biggest reason I keep postponing reading a book is because after that the book becomes less special!
    Flipkart has good service but I go for deals. Indiaplaza has best deals, while at a1books, I have found quite a few 'out-of-stock' books.

  3. Hey something waits for you here

  4. Great review! I'm happy to see that you loved this book. You already saw that I wasn't completely in love with it, but I did completely love The Twentieth Wife so I hope you love it as well :)

    BTW, great blog! So many great books here!

  5. Hi Amy, thanks for dropping by! I read about "A feast of Roses" somewhere, and I ordered it; but later I realised that there's a prequel as well. I was a bit skeptical about the prequel but your review has really bought me in. I am going to read it pretty soon (I already have got it). Do you know, where I can get "Shadow Princess"? the third one in the triology?

  6. I definitely recommend the prequel, though after being so positive I hope you like it ;)

    I know "Shadow Princess" only just came out in Canada/US, I'm not sure about where else. I have an electronic copy on my Kindle, else I would offer to mail on my copy when I finish it.

  7. Thanks Amy, I'm touched :-) I'm in India. I'm sure the book would be launched here pretty soon, if it hasn't already.

  8. Unfortunately her website doesn't say yet when the Indian edition is coming out :(

    I hope soon though!

  9. Wow, you checked it! That was thoughtful! I guess, may be in a month or so. I will dfinitely hunt it down, don't worry, I'm very good at it. I have hunted several books from every nook and corner. Anyways, right now I'm too much into "Muslim women", "honour killings" etc. and just finished 2 non-fiction, yet to review though: 'Bitter Chocolate' & 'Aruna's Story' both by Pinki Virani. Both were wonderfully written but disturbing. Do look up! Just started "Shame" by Jasvinder Sanghera. It is a true story on honour killing.