Friday, April 21, 2017

A Noble Queen, A Romance of Indian History - Meadows Taylor

This book was first published in 1896, reprinted in 1986. Meadows Taylor was an Englishman who wrote about his experiences in India. Much of his life and times were spent in the Deccan - Golconda, Bijapur, Ahmednagar etc. I read another book by him 'The Confessions of a Thug' which is a chilling account of a thug who may have murdered some 700 travellers in his days. This book however is about Chand Bibi, the Queen of Bijapur, who also ruled over Ahmednagar during 1550-1595. She was the daughter of the Sultan of Ahmednagar and was married into the Bijapur Sultanate. However her husband Ali Adil Shah, the Bijapur sultan, died early leaving Chand Bibi to deal with the Mughals, warring factions within and without, and she does an admirable job. One of her finest hours was the way she held out against Akbar's Mughals at Ahmednagar.

This book however traces the lives of a Portuguese missionary Francis Almeida and his sister Maria who are evicted unjustly by a local missionary Dom Diego. Since the story is set in the time of the Bijapur sultanate's weaker moments, we meet young Abbas Khan, a faithful of Chand Bibi. Abbas Khan is injured in battle and is treated by a muslim dervish and nursed by his beautiful grand daughter Zora. The love story of Zora and Abbas Khan holds the main thread through the book while we see bravery, loyalty, injustice and nobility playing out in the background. The villains of the piece, Osman Beg,governor of Jaldurg who has eyes on Zora, Dom Diego who eyes Maria, the faith of the old dervish which makes him a venerated saint with healing powers, the loyalty of the Beydurs, Runga Naik and Burma Naik, all add up to a fascinating tale hat runs into 470 pages. Chand Bibi is generally in the background mostly until the final battle when she is betrayed by her own men, Hamid Khan and a eunuch, who tell their soldiers that she has betrayed them to the Moghuls.Chand Bibi, who had by then dispensed justice to the dervish, the Portuguese siblings, Abbas Khan and others, is slain by her own soldiers.

The settings are in places we have been to and driven through - Mudgal, Bijapur, Naldurg, Ahmednagar, Gulbarga, Raichur and so many towns and even villages and forts we have seen and passed through so it is easy to relate to the descriptions and imagine the stories. Having read this book I now feel that Chand Bibi's tomb in Ahmednagar might be a place to visit just as the stepwell in Bijapur which is named after her as Chand ki bawdi. Once again I am impressed with the writing ability of Meadows Taylor who captures the times and the events with great clarity and authenticity and  tells the tale with great conviction and energy. He knew the place, the people, the customs well and captured it all well. Thanks Ramesh for lending it to me and being patient.

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