Friday, June 24, 2016

The Last Queen of India (Book Review)


The Last Queen of India

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

सिंहासन हिल उठे राजवंशों ने भृकुटी तानी थी,
बूढ़े भारत में आई फिर से नयी जवानी थी,
गुमी हुई आज़ादी की कीमत सबने पहचानी थी,
दूर फिरंगी को करने की सबने मन में ठानी थी।
चमक उठी सन सत्तावन में, वह तलवार पुरानी थी,
बुंदेले हरबोलों के मुँह हमने सुनी कहानी थी,
खूब लड़ी मर्दानी वह तो झाँसी वाली रानी थी।।
.....
जाओ रानी याद रखेंगे ये कृतज्ञ भारतवासी,
यह तेरा बलिदान जगावेगा स्वतंत्रता अविनासी,
होवे चुप इतिहास, लगे सच्चाई को चाहे फाँसी,
हो मदमाती विजय, मिटा दे गोलों से चाहे झाँसी।
तेरा स्मारक तू ही होगी, तू खुद अमिट निशानी थी,
बुंदेले हरबोलों के मुँह हमने सुनी कहानी थी,
खूब लड़ी मर्दानी वह तो झाँसी वाली रानी थी।।

- सुभद्रा कुमारी चौहान

As a child growing up in India, it is only rare if the above poem is unknown to him/her. Recited in schools with actions that could simply give goosebumps to the listeners, this poem has always struck a chord within my heart.

And yet, I wonder why it took so long for me to finally read something like the tale presented in this book by Michelle Moran. The Last Queen of India or The Tribal Queen is the tale of the very woman who has been described in the above poem in Hindi.

Her tale of valour, bravery and unbridled devotion to her kingdom (Jhansi) still amidst the people of Indian and is often shared to the younger buds to inspire them to work towards their goals in life.

Coming to Michelle's rendition of Lakshmibai's tale, it is written from the viewpoint of Sita, a Durgavasi or one of the ten personal servers of the Rani. Crisply edited with emotions subtly striking and yet lasting for a long time after the book is put down, this remains an essential read for all lovers of historical fiction.

While growing up, I always wondered how she would have fought with a child tied to her back, how she would have fought a system that was still largely following practices like purdah and sati and strangely, this book provided me all the answers to the questions that plagued me since childhood.

The narration as simple as it may seem, reveals so much about an era that saw the rise and fall of the Indians as well as the Britishers in India. Thankfully, this book has portrayed a balanced picture of the anger, confusion and losses on both sides, a rarity in the writings of the Indian Independence struggle that I have read until now.

Above all, it made the reader realise that no matter what the colour or traditions of a person, in the end it all boils down to what one can call "freedom" and a sense of belonging somewhere at the same time - the "smell of having arrived home!"

This book also reflects the deftness of women of those times that balances the meekness of many others who were bound by tradition. It is not just a tale of the queen and her fight to save her Jhansi but is also a reflection of all that transpired once upon a time that ultimately led to India being what it is today.

Thank you Michelle for this lovely, soulful tale.


- Divya Nambiar

Author: Michelle Moran
More books by the author: Madame Tussaud A Novel of the French Revolution by Michelle Moran, Heretic Queen by Michelle Moran, The Second Empress A Novel of Napoleon's Court by Michelle Moran Cleopatra's Daughter by Michelle Moran, Mata Hari's Last Dance by Michelle Moran, Nefertiti by Michelle Moran,

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