Title: The Mountain of Light
Author: Indu Sundaresan
Publisher: HarperCollins India
Price: Rs 299
Price: Rs 299
Genre: Historical Fiction
About the Book [from the blurb]
As empires rose and fell and mighty kings jostled for power, its glittering radiance never dimmed. It is the “Mountain of Light” - the Kohinoor diamond - and its facets reflect a sweeping story of love, adventure, conquest and betrayal.
Legend has it that Lord Krishna gave the Kohinoor to a devotee as a reward for his meditations. But the first recorded mention of the diamond is in the memoirs of Emperor Babur, who received it from a Hindu raja he had defeated. It then slipped out of India and was possessed briefly by the Shah of Persia – who gave it its name – and the king of Afghanistan, Shah Shuja, who surrendered the Kohinoor to Maharaja Ranjit Singh of the Punjab Empire as a reward for helping him regain his kingdom. Here begins The Mountain of Light.
The novel takes us through the sprawling gardens of nineteenth century Lahore to the palaces of the six-year-old prince Dalip Singh who, on his father’s death, loses his empire and the Kohinoor to the British. The diamond is secreted out of India once more and, at the age of sixteen, the boy king follows it to London, where he is feted and petted until he realizes that nothing can replace the loss of his lands and his diamond – which now belong to the Queen of England.
The book begins with a map of the Punjab Empire and British India c. 1823, a very handy list of primary and secondary characters and an Author’s Note which introduces readers to the background of the book. The narrative starts from 1817 and continues selectively [as per relevance to the Kohinoor story] till 1893. The Kohinoor touches several lives over the years, beginning with Shah Shuja and his wife Wafa Begam trying their best to hold onto the coveted diamond despite promising it to Maharaja Ranjit Singh for his help; and eventually ending with the Queen of England.
There is no doubt in my mind that Indu Sundaresan is a fabulous writer of historical fiction. All her earlier books have been beautifully-written narratives of historical fiction, but personally, this book did not work that much for me [there, I said it]. Wherever she gets a chance, the author makes the characters come alive and creates a vivid imagery of the setting. The characters in themselves were interesting but since they did not have a lasting role with Kohinoor, they had to be left behind, moving on to next set of relevant characters. Jumping years is also for the benefit of Kohinoor but it does nothing for the narrative.
So, while you warm up to Wafa Begam and Shah Shuja, and wonder about their life, etc., the Kohinoor has gone to Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Soon the story shifts to a couple of years later when you discover that Maharaja is dead and his 4 grown up sons have been killed in their quest for succession, leaving the very young Dalip Singh as the successor. There is Henry Lawrence [a guardian of child king Dalip Singh] who is enchanted with Roshni [who was betrothed to Dalip Singh]. Then a section is about how the Kohinoor reaches England towards the end. In fact, the last 100 pages are fairly interesting. In between, there are interludes of romance but nothing becomes of them as the central theme of the story is pursued.
I feel the main problem is that the story is not character driven. It has Kohinoor at the centre. It lacks a central character as an anchor on which the book could have been rooted. It just moves from character to character. I was not able to sink into the story, I always felt on the surface.
Over all, it was an interesting take on history and I enjoyed it in parts, when the narrative dwells into the characters. If you love history, you will love it in any case because the author crafts a beautiful tale around the historical facts.
After I finished the book, I found that actually there are many people who have absolutely loved the book. Catch a few more positive reviews on GoodReads. After all, reading is a very personal experience.