The Twentieth Wife – Indu Sundaresan

Saturday, February 11th, 2006

I finished reading this book quite some time ago back in 2004 and it left quite a deep impact on me and the way I see things. The genre is still historical fiction, one of my favourites, written by a very talented Indian author, Indu Sundaresan. The story takes us to 15th century Mughal India, about the journey of a remarkable woman that would later in her life play a great role in the ruling of one of India’s greatest emperor, Jahangir, or formerly known as Prince Salim. Like most Indian authors, Indu’s skills for describing the most trivial things in great detail has the ability to strike us with jealousy of what she is gifted with.

The Twentieth Wife is a book about fighting for what you believe in. About knowing what you want and making sure you have enough faith and courage to achieve your goal. The story unravels from the day Mehrunnisa was born to the day she would conquer one man’s heart, hence bearing all the consequences that came with it. Mehrunnisa saw Jahangir at his first wedding and at the tender age of eight, was determined that she will one day become his wife. Eventhough she only became his twentieth -and last- wife, it is said that she was the one he loved the most. She proved that anything is possible and that the word “late” doesn’t exist if you truly fight for what you want in life.

Mehrunnisa, later titled Empress Nur Jahan, became the centre of Jahangir’s life and in fact ruled the empire from behind his shadow. She influenced his decisions and policies on state matters and helped shape India’s history. They shared a love story that is so deep, it tickles your inner being. Despite Mehrunnisa’s strong character and influence, India’s history would later mark her less popular compared to her niece, Arjumand, or better known as Empress Mumtaz Mahal. Arjumand is the woman behind the building of the wonderous masterpiece, the Taj Mahal. It was out of her husband’s undying love, Emperor Shah Jahan, that the monument was built as a testament of the great loss he suffered when she died.

I have bought several copies of this book for some close friends and I promise that if you ever get a chance to read it, the orgasmic satisfaction you’ll get out of sucking in this story, is way beyond what you can possibly imagine. Almost 400 pages in length, the book is best read in conjunction with another book on the same subject, equally good but with a different angle, Taj (review to follow), written by Indian author, Timeri N. Murari. My suggestion is that you read The Twentieth Wife first before Taj, simply because of the more comprehensive background The Twentieth Wife provides. The sequel is also available and goes by the title The Feast Of Roses, by the same author. It’s amazing how much you can learn about a country’s history, just by reading a book of this calibre.

“Who are you, beautiful lady?”
Mehrunnisa looked up, startled. Salim fell headlong in love with a pair of surprised blue eyes. Mehrunnisa rose hastily, splashing water on Salim. A deep flush spread over her face and neck as she stood before him, slim and proud, her back straight.

Salim looked her over from the top of her head to her feet, the nails painted red with henna and still wet from the pool. His gaze moved slowly up, skirting the pleats of her long ghagara, spangled with shimmering white stars, past her waist hidden under the folds of a white chiffon veil, over the curve of her shoulders. Blood rushed to his ears as he saw the pulse fluttering at the slender throat partially hidden under a shroud of hair.

“I beg your pardon, your Highness,” Mehrunnisa said in a low voice, so low that Salim had to strain his ears to catch the words. The musical tones enchanted him even more. He reached for her hand, but she pulled away from him, turning her face as she did so. -The Twentieth Wife, page 85

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