25 Nov Book Review: Padmavati
Padmavati, also known as Rani Padmini, was a legendary Rajput queen whose tales of valor and beauty have enamoured people and inspired paeans over the centuries.
With the upcoming release (now indefinitely deferred) of Sanjay Leela Bansali’s ambitious cinematic project, also titled Padmavati, interest is at an all-time high. So are the controversies surrounding the existence of such a person, with conflicting versions offering different ‘accounts’ of history.
Did she ever exist? Or was she a figment of someone’s imagination with fables being passed down the centuries with such conviction that it spurned a completely false notion of her existence?
Sutapa Basu’s Padmavati (published by Readomania)–a novel set in present day–attempts to narrate the historical events while being as factually accurate as possible. That is expectedly a difficult feat, especially when very little documented information is available on the Queen of Chittor.
And yet, there is absolutely no doubt that the author has conducted extensive research to portray Rani Padmini with the utmost respect and present the story with the complete honesty that it rightly deserves.
Journalist Mrinalini Rao is on an investigative trail to discover whether Padmavati, the Queen of Chittor, actually existed or was she only a legend created by poets.
Who was Padmavati, the Queen of Chittor? What does history tell of her? Where did she come from? What kind of life did she lead?
How did she have the courage to jump willingly into fire?
Mrinalini goes to Chittorgarh to discover the truth.
What does she really discover?
Additionally, what sets it apart from other historical novels for me is that this isn’t just an imaginary retelling from the perspective of yet another historical or mythological figure. It is a story that connects the present and the past. The presence of modern-day relatable characters like Pratap Sisodia, Mrinalini and Uma, as well as the purpose of Mrinalini’s quest makes it a contemporary story, while delving into history at the same time.
The novel ramps up the expectations from the first page itself when it takes off to a fiery start and grips you in a stronghold of emotion and horror as you read the events unfold. It is only later when the scene shifts to introduce the protagonist, Mrinalini Rao, that you take in the gasp of breath that was stuck in your throat till now.
From then onwards, it is a rollercoaster of emotions as the story follows Mrinalini in her search for evidence and facts about Padmavati. Mrinalini meets Uma, a local village girl, who takes on the role of a self-appointed tour guide and narrates the contents of a secret historical text – Padmawali – she found among the ruins of Chittor, that contains details of the queen’s growing up years in her home country, Singhaldweep (now Sri Lanka), and her post-marriage life in Mewar (present-day Udaipur and Chittorgarh).
The author deftly alternates between the two storylines – Uma’s narration from what she has read in the Padmawali, and the current day conversation between Uma and Mrinalini; and makes a smooth transition between the two time periods.
The writing is evocative, and transports you to a different era – 1300 CE, to be precise. The opulence of Singhaldweep and the magnificence of Mewar comes alive in its full splendorous glory, as do the majestic war-torn abandoned ruins of present-day Mewar. The author spares no effort in portraying the historical events in full detail and pulls you into a world that exists only within the pages of the book. A 70-mm screen rises up in your mind for the images to play out like a video.
Along with the fluid narrative that the author ensures throughout the book to keep the reader engrossed, there are elaborate descriptions of the palaces, lush gardens, the lifestyle of the royals that bring to life the fictional characters as if they were real people and you a silent witness.
The change in tension and pacing from a languid existence in Singhaldweep to the war that rages on in Mewar is almost imperceptible but extremely effective in keeping the readers on edge. The language truly does evoke similar reactions in the reader as experienced by the fictional characters.
While I found the narrative wordy at a few places (this could more be a problem of my attention span than the book itself) I thought the exquisite language more than compensated for it. Besides, it wouldn’t be fair to expect historical novels to be a quick read. And while Padmavati isn’t, it certainly is a smooth and compelling read.
Read it for the love of history. Read it for the love of language. Read it for a story that has been narrated for centuries and yet offers something new.
Grab your copy of Sutapa Basu’s Padmavati, published by Readomania, from Amazon.