After Ravan and Eddie I was itching to read "Cuckold" as this is a book that Kiran Nagarkar himself considers his masterpiece. In the midst of packing and leaving, I did not have the time to buy or read the book. On subsequent visits to India, we bought up all the latest best sellers (Egypt takes time for new books to be relased due to censorship issues) but sadly the Cuckold lost out in the race to my baggage, primarily because of its size and weight.
Once we moved back to India, this was one of the first books that I picked up. The premise itself had seemed very interesting. A fictionalised biography of Maharaj Kumar of whom little is known except that he was the son of the famous Rana Sangha of Mewar and the husband of Meerabai(hence the title).
Nagarkar has carried out a lot of research into Rajput history of those times and he sets his story against the backdrop of real events.
Although Nagarkar says "I was writing a novel, not history. I was willing to invent geography and climate, start revolts and epidemics, improvise anecdotes and economic conditions and fiddle with dates. As luck would have it I didnt get a chance to play around too much except in the case of the main protagonist, about whom we know nothing, but the fact that he was born, married and died"
The period during which Meerabai lived was momentuous. Rana Sangha her Father-in-law had united the in-fighting Rajputs for the first time, Babur was showing interest in conquering Hindoostan, Rana Sangha's kingdom was surrounded by the hostile Lodi Dynasty in Delhi, Muzaffar Shah II in Gujarat and Sultan Mahmud Khalji II of Malwa.
Nagarkar has used known incidents and woven them into his tale. His hero Maharaj Kumar is a brave warrior and a forward thinker who plans many grand and innovative schemes like a water and sewage system for the fort, a brilliant tactician who prefers to watch his enemy in action and then plan an attack as opposed to the straight on confrontation preferred by Rajputs of those times, who ultimately becomes a victim of his circumstances.
The book is a wonderful introduction to Rajput history and culture which can reinvigorate interest, in someone who has been inured to history by lacklustre textbooks.
Politics, scheming, spies, romance, affairs, eunuchs, concubines, cheating wives, dancing queens - this novel contains them all. Nagarkar is a wonderful story teller on the lines of the bards of yore. Each characters development is well etched out and their actions become completely believable.
Its a wonder Bollywood has not yet seized on this book. It would be a far more gripping story than Jodhaa Akbar.
Also published on desicritics.org