Writing a review is a really funny thing, because it begins on the presumption that you know a book better than writer and therefore are in a position to judge it. Nevertheless, I too am making this presumption. The book is concern is Cuckold by Kiran Nagarkar.
Here’s an excerpt from the book’s intro.
“The time is early 16 century. The Rajput Kingdom of Mewar is at the height of its power. It is locked in war with the Sultanates of Delhi, Gujarat and Malwa. But there is another deadly battle being waged within Mewar itself. Who will inherit the throne after the death of the Maharana? The course of history, not just of Mewar but of the whole of India, is about to be changed forever. That is the bare plot-line. It is a singularly inadequate description of the scope and richness of the novel.
Nagarkar subtly plays with form and tradition and breaks new ground, enlarging our notions of fiction. He takes the sweep and breadth of the epic with its panoply of war, intrigue and action and introduces a deeply introspective and reflective note into it. He sets up the old triangle of man, woman and lover and pushes it to the edge to make it a love story like none other.
At the centre of Cuckold is the narrator, heir apparent of Mewar, who questions the codes, conventions and underlying assumptions of the feudal world of which he is a part, a world in which political and personal conduct are dictated by values of courage, valour and courtesy; and death is preferable to dishonour."
Nagarkar picks up the legend of Meera, and turns it into an analysis of a wide spectrum of complex characters, political upheaval, Rajput patriotism, Mughal ambitions and finally the huge ramifications it has on the course of a country’s history. The story told from the viewpoint of the cuckold breaks all conventions of the stereotypical hero. It allows us to explore the possibility of having a God, none other than the Flautist as a competitor.
Nagarkar takes the liberty of drawing a hero who is sensible, progressive despite facing unrequited love. Yet he too is a Maharaj Kumar, and his definition of love does not necessarily mean a monogamous affair. He has no qualms of have an incestuous relation with his Dai who breast fed him, and also seducing the woman who is under trial for adultery and he the presiding judge of the trial to boot.
Maharaj Kumar, despite his accurate intuitions failed to curb the power of his brother and secure the thrown for himself. One may also doubt the actual role played by him in the wars against Gujrat and Malwa. And yet Maharaj Kumar is no Othello, there are many redeemable qualities in his character. The fact that he shunned second marriage till the time it was possible for him, and even donned on the garbs of the Flautist to meet Meera on an equal footing are some of the endearing facets of his persona.
The story of Maharaj Kumar raises the question of many possibilities had he succeeded to the thrown after his father. Would he have successfully conquered Delhi from Babur? Would he be a cruel heartless murderer as the wars he fought against Gujrat suggest? Wondering these possibilities one may very often forget that the character of the Maharaj Kumar one knows, is actually nothing but a figment of the writer’s imagination.
To be continued…