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R. KRITHIKA

Podder weaves a fascinating tale of a young, sensitive girl caught in the coils of her ambitious and ruthless mother's schemes.

Nur Jahan's Daughter, Tanushree Podder, Rupa and Co., Rs. 295. MUGHAL India was a man's world and few women left a lasting impression. Many remember Mumtaz Mahal because of the monument built in her memory but Nur Jahan's imprint on history is built on her deeds as well as her personality.

Stuff of romance

A widow with a daughter when she met Jahangir, her marriage to the emperor is the stuff of romance. And subsequent history tells the tale of her control over the administration and her husband. Coins were minted bearing her profile; decrees were issued in her name and towards the end of Jahangir's reign, she was the actual power behind the throne. She is variously portrayed as an ambitious, scheming woman, a woman who sacrificed much for her love, one who set her sights on being empress of India and worked towards it with single-minded focus... Tanushree Podder, however, chooses to look at a so-far untold story — that of Nur Jahan's daughter, Ladli. History practically ignores this character. All we know is that Nur Jahan had a daughter by an earlier marriage and that she was later married to Shahryar, Jahangir's youngest son. But Podder weaves a fascinating tale of a young, sensitive girl caught in the coils of her ambitious and ruthless mother's schemes. Ladli adores her father and his death robs her of stability in her life. Podder's Nur Jahan is ruthless, ambitious and scheming. Whether dealing with her first husband Sher Khan, with Jahangir's wooing, using her daughter as a pawn in her machinations, the empress doesn't particularly come across as a likeable person.She forces Ladli to try and seduce Prince Khusrau, Jahangir's eldest son; then Prince Khurram, later Shah Jahan; and finally gets her to marry the no-good Shahryar. In the process, Ladli's love affair with an artist, Imran, comes to a disastrous end, with Nur Jahan having him killed. Though the girl gets sympathy and some support from her cousin Arjunmand (later Mumtaz Mahal) and Prince Khurram, she is unable to stand up to her mother's Machiavellian dealings.

Contemporary relevance

In fact this story of the past is, in some strange way, affiliated to the present. It has become common to hear of parents having no time for their children and being caught up in achieving their ambitions. And the children meander through life trying to figure out what to do and how to do it.Podder's story is told cleanly and without fuss. Along the way the reader also picks up details about the administration, social life and the arts in this period. Having set her story in a well-documented historical framework, Podder plays up the opulence of the Mughal Empire. Historical facts are rigidly adhered to but the emotional content of the story is played up for all it is worth. The only part that seems unnecessary and unduly dramatic is Ladli's meeting with the fortune-telling hermit. In the end, the story of Ladli can be summed as that of a "poor little rich girl".


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