Rating: 5/5

Tripti Pandey in her book‘The Half Empress’ transports us to the city of Jaipur— an abode of kings, queens and majestic forts.  As the city bejewels in its vibrancy, under its debris lays one such coveted somber story of love, friendship and deception. It’s a history that has been in denial for decades, blatantly erased; a tale of Raskapoor, a concubine, born to a Muslim mother and a Brahmin father and castigated for being a mistress.

Her only felony is being the love interest of one ofthe rulers of Jaipur- Maharaja Sawai Jagat Singh—an art and literature aficionado. The king captivated by her breath-taking beauty, elegance and incredible talent for music and dance gives her a paramount place in his life and empire. But, their love is deleteriously subjugated by Jagat Singh’s wives and nobles who cast an evil eye on the two lovers. A conflagration of jealousy, hate and intrigue circumabulates their credence to be together.     

She earns the title of ‘The Half Empress’ because of her immense political acumen. But, all this does not go well down the throat of the pompous minds who consider her an anomalous siren defeating their purpose of survival. The consequences are fatalistic, pre-ordained by the mighty to pull the rug under the feet of the less powerful. Separation—a deserving contempt for their intransigence, a precipitous fall of curtains behind which their love is charred to corrugated crimsons. Dedicated to protect her lover’s heritage, Raskapoor stands gallantly against political chicanery and is incarcerated for her unconditional love for Maharaja.

Was it the stamp of ‘mistress’ that made her paradoxically tainted by her adversaries? As I read the book my heart bled for a woman so pious and erudite though it was assumed that the palatial kingdom could be blown to smithereens by such a woman’s trajectory of emotions. She never allowed her guilt of being a ‘mistress’ overwhelm her—a flaw and an ignominious plight looked by many as an idee-fixe.She still retained the courage and dexterity despite being relentlessly put to test at several crossroads of her life.

The book describes her impregnable strength of character which makes Raskapoor admirable and respectable.For innumerable years her story has been surreptitiously camouflaged.Pandey’s audacity to bring forth this tale amidst current volatile political scenario is commendable. Her punctilious attentionto the national events of the 19thcentury has been well researched and penned eloquently to create this extraordinary historical fiction.

Take away

Concubines for centuries have been epitome of a king’s wealth, luxury and pleasure. Although they seamlessly blended with royal tradition, till date they are still considered an unclean rot of a man’s bed, a gold digger and a conniver.

Are they by choice or chance?

Predominantly not by choice but rather impelled!

So, whynot relinquish the Maharaja for having not one but many concubines?

Why there is no retribution for her opportunistic father?Instead of protecting herfrom wrath of society she was pushed towards fiery furnace of damnation.

It’s high time we go beyond façade of beauty, and honour women from all walks of life.

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