Book Review: ‘Padmavati- The Queen Tells Her Own Story’ by Sutapa Basu

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“…As the gold, saffron and blue blaze made rings around her, rising higher and higher, slowly enclosing the New Queen, she was like a sculpture, absolutely still. Nothing seemed to touch her, not the torment, not the grief, not the fear. It defied all principles of logic. Where did the girl find such strength, not garnered by the meditation of ascetics, to tolerate the torture of being burnt alive?”
Padmavati- The Queen Tells Her Own Story

When I saw this book being released by Readomania a few weeks back, I knew that I am almost near the truth. After all the bedlam surrounding the release of the movie ‘Padmavat’, this offering by Readomaia was heartily welcomed. Penned by author Sutapa Basu, ‘Padmavati- The Queen Tells Her Own Story’ is a journey that takes you through various untouched terrains of history. And, as you turn pages after pages, this piece of antiquity leaves you with a feeling of awe and intrigue. The story of queen Padmavati is history, and history has its own taste to relish and savour. Padmavati, the book, does just that. It leaves with a delectable taste of history that lingers within you even after turning the last page.

Synopsis: Mrinalini Rao is an investigative journalist who embarks on a quest to bring about the truth of Rani Padmavati, the Queen of Chittor and perhaps the most enchanting face on the mother Earth. The folklores had already piqued her curiosity, as she read and gorged on all the documents she could lay her hands on. But, none could give her what Chittorgarh Fort would. That’s because lay beneath its womb were countless tales, untold since ages. At the fort, she meets Uma, a local girl, who then catapults her to an unfathomable life changing experience. One, which Mrinalini never concocted even in her wildest dreams. Uma, convinces Mrinalini that she has the key to ‘Padma-wali’ a written document, which had allegedly been penned by Rani Padmavati herself centuries back, in a bid to make the world know her true story. This left the journo flummoxed beyond words. Uma, then goes on to narrate an odyssey, which starts at Singhaldweep and ends with ‘Jauhar’ at the Chittor Fort. Mrinalini is left in a state of stupefaction, and perhaps much more. But, did she managed to step upon the answers she was looking for, is what ‘Padmavati’ is all about.

Narration: Interesting and appealing. The author chose what I call a narrative dichotomy. The chapters are carefully divided into past and present, that lends a superfluous read without any ambiguity. But, what makes the read interesting is the subtle juxtaposition of ‘fiction’ and ‘non-fiction’. There are times when the blend is so seamless that you are kind left wondering, “did it really happen?” For eg. ‘Padma-wali’. While a part of you understands and wants to believe that it could be just be a fragment of the author’s imagination, a part will keep probing- ‘Is there really a ‘Padma-wali’ hidden somewhere? The voices are powerful and convincing. And, that cajoles you to believe even the unthinkable. A tussle between the heart and the mind brews that lays an imploring texture to the plot. Author Sutapa Basu has constructed a wonderful narrative in Padmavati, making it a pleasurable read in every sense.

Language: If there is anything that makes author Sutapa Basu a magnificent writer, it is undoubtedly her deftness with language. She plays with it, like a child plays with his toys. Effortless !! In Padmavati too, her language steals the show. The author chose her words and phrases prudently, without losing their lustre. When Mrinalini and Uma spoke, the choice of diction was simple, lucid, colloquial, uncomplicated and laymanish. But, as soon as the narration drifted to the Rawals and Ranis, it was much decorated, ornate, and full of imageries, that instantly ships you to the bygone era in a blink. You can actually feel the difference. The language, in short, helps the reader to move back and forth without any head break. Pick up any line of the text, and you know what, where and on whom it is placed. Classy indeed.

Characters: Padmavati is not entirely a work of fiction. And, it goes without saying that a lot in this book comes from deep research of historical archives. So, let the past be untouched. But, as far as the fictitious ones are concerned, they are crafted skilfully. Mrinalini and Uma were distinct in their portrayal. Identifiable. And, even the miss and blink old keeper of the fort too stands unforgettable. There is a strange air of enigma in the characters that the author produced in this piece, which again makes the read thrilling.

What could have been better?

I cannot spot anything that is clinically wrong in this piece other than the fact that, about half way through, the narration appeared to be slightly dragged and tedious. It was repetitive at few points, without the story moving forward. It was rushed too at some parts. I guess, the edits could have been a shade better there.

Well, I picked up the book ‘Padmavati’ to know the truth, if there was any. With the clamour outside about Queen Padmavati’s honor and existence, and a total collapse of  mere sense of judgement, ‘Padmavati- The Queen Tells Her Own Story’ by Sutapa Basu was like holding on to the last strand of hope. To me, this historic novel is an honest attempt to answer several of those questions that had crawled and collided in several minds umpteen times. And, it does with aplomb. It answers several ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ with conviction. And, what it leaves you with in abundance is a subtle feeling of awe and despair nudging your heart, alternately. Pick up, if you are a sucker of history. A must read, indeed !

4 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Maitabi Banerjee! As expected, a realistic review of the book. The fact that you found it hard to bring out the flaws which you usually do means the book is a good read. I found the language dichotomy part very interesting. Would love to read the book just for that trait alone. 🙂 Thank you for sharing this lovely review! Keep reading and penning! 🙂

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