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Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s Rani Jindan, the Last Queen of Punjab, is a flawed, real woman, who does not hesitate to do what she must.
I have been a fan of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni ever since I read her The Palace of Illusions. One of the greatest epics of all times (and my absolute favourite) was retold – from the perspective of its highly feminist heroine. What was not to like about it?
Hence, my interest was deeply piqued when the author came out with her latest offering – The Last Queen.
The novel is divided into four parts – Girl, Bride, Queen & Rebel. It traces the life of Jindan, the daughter of a royal kennel keeper, who later becomes the youngest and most beloved wife of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.
Thankfully, this is not a glowing biography of a larger-than-life character. Rani Jindan Kaur is as human and as flawed as they come. She is a headstrong girl who makes the first move in matters of love.
But, is she perfect? No. She loves her brother Jawahar dearly and stands by him, which ultimately proves to be his undoing. She later takes on a lover and declares that a widow also has physical urges.
These perceived ‘digressions’ make her relatable, and earn the ire from her courtiers. The prudish British seize this opportunity to defile her character. However, Jindan doesn’t beg for self-pity; she gathers the remnants of her tattered life with dignity and moves on.
She is not the quintessential ‘mardaani’ Rani of Jhansi. She plays her cards deftly. Like a shrewd politician. While in England, she sees, with increasing dismay, her son adapting to English customs like a duck to water. But she waits. Any misstep, and Duleep would be gone forever from her life.
Comparison to Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s previous works would be unfair, although natural. To be honest, I did think about her previous works. And my mind kept going back to Draupadi. But I had to shrug these aside. Having said that, the last part of the novel tended to drag a bit. It irritated me to see the queen so helpless. But then, she had the last laugh. Even after her death.
I wish more authors would come out with tales of unsung warriors. So many of them have been relegated to the pages of history. More so when it concerns women. I would be glad to curl up with a paperback and revel in the deeds of brave, yet flawed characters. After all, having feet of clay implies you’re human. Right?
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