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Story of a secret

HISTORICAL The plot set in 1784 in the beautiful city of Awadh deals with the story of a dynasty and colonial intervention.

A Nawab juvenile in his amusements, a conniving Begum who is the ravishing protector of the harem and an instant romance: The Begum's Secret by A.K.Srikumar is a near perfect literary blend of history and fiction. The British colonisation and resulting interactions form its crux.

The Begum's Secret quintessentially revolves around the city of Awadh, a city in the throes of political turmoil, ravaged by poverty and starvation. Its ruler, Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula, is determined to find a way out, amidst fending off an expensive revenge scheme hatched by Resident John Bristow and court aristocrats Haider Baig and Tikait Rai.

Murky secret

The background of Lucknow is revealed through the refreshing poetry of Mir Taqi Mir. The author carefully charters out how the Bara Imambara (a Shia Muslim prayer house) was built, citing details clearly as in a history book. But beneath all this lies a perilous and murky truth; a secret that the Begum guards, a secret that decides the future of the royal throne of Awadh.

The Begum's Secret maintains the qualities that define the genre of historical fiction. Set in 1784, there are numerous instances in the book which brings out stark cultural differences. It is not a mere rehash of the past, but an interesting account of a motley of characters who enthral and engage.

Highs and lows

The author's style of writing is a deft mix of real and almost real. He manipulates and portrays vivid characteristics and view points with effective ease. Yet at many stages, the prose tends to be nothing but dull and prosaic. Every ride has a hitch here and there, and The Begum's Secret is no exception. It suddenly comes alive in its penultimate chapters just when you begin to think that it's going nowhere. For all the hype created throughout the story about the arrival of Warren Hastings, the author seems to have conveniently lost interest when he ‘actually' arrives, making the novel lose all its hard earned momentum. The Begum's Secret is easily worth a trip to the library for a read, but is not quite worthy of a place in your bookshelf. For fans of historical fiction it is an easy grab, but for the average reader it balances precariously between a dampener and a decent read.

Preethi R., III Year, B.A. Journalism, M.O.P Vishnav College for Women

Title: The Begum's Secret Author: A.K.Srikumar Publisher: Penguin Price: Rs. 299

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