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For centuries, women and their accomplishments have been buried in the pages of history and forgotten. Women who are an integral part of who we are, have been forgotten in the history pages.
It is more than a love story, it’s a chilling tale of loyalty and betrayal and an empowering parable of a woman’s resilience in the face of adversity.
For centuries, women and their accomplishments have been buried in the pages of history and forgotten. ‘The Unsung Heroines’ of Indian history is how I would like to describe these women. Women who are an integral part of who we are, have been forgotten in the history pages. Modern Writers like Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni and Kavita Kane have taken it upon themselves to pull these women out of these pages and reacquaint us with them. Some of these books have been written from the perspective of female characters like Sita, Draupadi, Menaka and Ahalya to enable the readers to look at the world from their eyes, understand their views and look at history from their standpoint.
I feel that we have always been made to read and believe what our patriarchal society wants us to believe, and the reality gets pushed aside. This endeavour of mining these heroines out is a welcome and much-needed change. Looking at history from the viewpoint of a daughter, a sister, a wife, and a mother can be so unique and enlightening.
The story of Rani Jindan, the youngest, last and the favourite queen of Maharaja Ranjeet Singh, falls into this category. I don’t think her life was ever the focus of any historian simply because she was not considered significant enough. In any case, most of our history books are about men, their heroism, courage and bravery, with very little mention about the women who formed a part of those men’s lives. A woman’s life, her challenges, her struggles were never the point of discussion as they were considered trivial. But as a woman, I feel getting insights into a female historical character can be huge for women as their lives have a lot to learn and imbibe from. This is why I think reading this book is so enriching, rewarding and a huge source of inspiration. Jindan’s story highlights a lot of aspects of a woman’s life that make her into the hero that she is, it is a story that covers her journey and transformation through the most adverse conditions.
The Last Queen is the story of the life of Jindan, a life that takes her from the home of her father, a humble kennel keeper, to the palace of Maharaja Ranjeet Singh. Though getting married to a king would be a dream come true for many girls, the reality was far from being a pleasant one for Jindan. Even after getting married to a king, her life was not exactly a bed of roses. She had to face her share of palace intrigue, jealousy, and hostility. But the young girl takes it all in her stride.
Chitra brings out the boldness of her character very early on in the story when she narrates the incident of a young Jindan facing up to the boys who try to tease her. This boldness gets revealed once again when she stands up to Mai Nakhan and refuses to be intimidated by her.
Despite being aware of her humble origins, she never lets it affect her interactions with people. Though a little hesitant initially, she gets used to a queen’s life quickly with the support and encouragement from her husband and brothers. By nature, she is confident and gutsy, we see how immovably calm and collected she is when she interacts with Sarkar most gracefully, despite being in awe of him.
Jindan is a woman with strong relationships. Her bonds with her brother Jawahar, Guddan and Mangala speak of her loyalty towards all of them. Her love for her husband is deep-rooted. Her interactions with him reveal her to be a smart and intelligent woman though not very well educated. She is able to offer him her opinion on various issues concerning his empire. Even though she is young enough to be his daughter, Ranjeet Singh can relate to her in many ways and share the threats and challenges that he faces.
She is widowed at a young age left behind with a child who is not only young but the heir to the throne. It is a huge responsibility, but she takes it on without any hesitation. Fearlessly she stands up to the British to protect her son’s rights. And though she is betrayed by several people, she remains unnerved and firm in her resolve. She recognises that she is the queen / the regent and therefore the keeper of tradition, but she does not hesitate to cast aside her veil to address her troops when the need arises.
And then, when her son is taken away by the British in an action that reeks of treachery and deceit, she is heartbroken. Her feelings of anger and sorrow are brought out very well by Chitra. The reader’s heart goes out to her, and you can actually feel her pain. But the woman does not accept defeat.
Her courage and fearlessness is brought out by the way she faces the British, her imprisonment, exile and then her journey all the way to Nepal, where she seeks asylum.
After years of pining for her son, the joy she experiences at the prospect of meeting the all-grown-up Dalip is brought out vividly. Then comes the final and perhaps the most heart-breaking betrayal for Jindan. Though she had yearned and prayed for her son, she is disappointed to see how anglicized he has become. Her heart breaks when she realizes that he doesn’t care too much about the country of his birth. This book brings these highs and lows of her life in a very realistic manner.
Chitra has related the story in a simple and engaging manner which is so typical of her style. Though Jindan is a queen with a fancy lifestyle, the reader can identify with her and her challenges as she is a woman at the end of the day. And like every woman, her life has its share of struggles and strife. A notable feature of the book is that the author does not try to glorify Jindan. She is a human being; she is a woman with her set of weaknesses, vulnerabilities and flaws. Her character is real and relatable. After all, we all have flaws, and so does Jindan.
It is a book that brings Jindan back to us, a fearless woman who history had forgotten. It is a poignant tale of love, betrayal, patriotism, loyalty and the beautiful bond between a mother and her child.
The book clearly brings out how it is the life that we lead, the choices we make, and the experiences we go through that make us who we are and shape our personalities.
I would highly recommend it to every woman.
Image Source: Goodreads – Book Cover
Aside from being an educationist teaching at the university level for the last 28 years, I have been a corporate wife and a mother to two boys who have now flown the nest. I love read more...
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For International Day of Elimination of Violence Against Women, let's look at how we 'accept' mothers who avenge violence against their kids, but not wives who fight back.
The silver screen is replete with depictions of male rage and men engaging in violence, but when women engage in violence, even when it is reactionary violence, it doesn’t sit right with us. We allow mothers (as portrayed in Sridevi’s Mom and Raveena Tandon’s Maatr) to avenge their daughters and resort to violence when all else fails, but when the abuser is an intimate partner, the rules appear to be different.
Depictions of female rage on screen garner mixed reactions. We root for protagonists and films we agree with like Mom or Maatr, but there are also films like Darlings which drew flak for its depictions of reactionary violence.
This begs the question, which women on screen are allowed to fight back and why do we root for some of these characters while refusing to see where others come from?
This Generation To Generation Violence towards A Daughter-in-law Needs To Stop!
It is ironic how women in the same home do not think twice before harassing a woman who left her parents and family behind to live with her husband.
“My daughter needs a husband who listens to her. He should leave his family to stay with her after marriage. He should be well-off and not let her do chores.”
“I also need an obedient daughter-in-law, who will be an unpaid servant and a punching bag who shouldn’t have a life of her own.”
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