WHY I READ THE BOOK
I had applied for a review copy from Writersmelon (they send out a newsletter about books up for review) on finding the book interesting.
The cover is captivating. It lends a mystical air to the Peshwa’s character.
I had read a Gujrati book titled ‘Fadnavisi’ based on Nanasaheb Fadnavis’ life. The Peshwa made a brief appearance in it. I was always curious about him since then. Also, the fact that I have visited Mrityunjayeshwar Mandir (near which Mastani lived), Parvati (which is associated with the Peshwa) and Shaniwar Wada makes it near impossible to miss any literature which claims to narrate the life and times of the Peshwa. Add to all this, I did not quite like the version of the tale as shown in Bajirao-Mastani – so I wanted to know if there really is someone who can tell an authentic tale?
WHY YOU SHOULD READ THE BOOK
If you are a History fan, like the Marathi culture or want to know more about it, and above all else – like to hear a story told like the ones you heard in childhood, this book is for you.
The book is fast-paced and unputdownable because of the beauty of Ram Sivasankaran‘s language. Marathi warriors speaking chaste English is hard to adapt to at first, but after a few pages, the language barrier no longer applies. It helps if you have read Amish’s books though they are of different genres. I may go as far as saying that that Ram Sivasankaran‘s language surpasses the linguistic quality of the narrative in the Shiva Trilogy by huge margins, because even though he uses English, he keeps the voice archaic and graceful enough to suit the time frame, whereas Amish goes entirely colloquial in his books. (I have no idea why I am comparing the two – apples and oranges. I think it is because I keep on seeing the pinned tweet on Ram Sivasankaran’s Twitter timeline where Amish endorses The Peshwa.)
It is very difficult to write an oft told story such that it will hold the interest of readers who already know the story as well as those who are new to it. The Author has managed to pull that off by narrating the present day (1800s) events along with flashbacks from the 1700s.
The plot is about how Bajirao I established himself as a warrior Peshwa. His coming of age, his romantic side, and initiation into the office of Peshwa. This book sets the tone for the sequel, which I think is named The Princess of Bundelkhand.
I would not spoil the start and the end for you. So I just say that the start is hair raising, even though you might have heard of Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj’s valour time and again.
Again, in a true historical account, it can be difficult to select characters to expand. The author manages to pick a handful and elaborate only the key influencers in the events.
As we all know Chhatrapati Shahu was a benevolent King, more interested in the upliftment and education of his citizens than waging a territorial war against the Mughals. Ram Sivasankaran’s Chhatrapati comes across as more affable than he might be in real life. However, this brings about the fact that the Confederacy was primarily governed from the seat of the Peshwa rather than the throne of the Chhatrapati, subtly to the front.
The Mughal Emperor
Mentioned only in passing, Ram Sivasankaran succeeds in etching the Mughal Emperor Farookhsiyar’s character – which is in stark contrast to that of the Chhatrapati. Though both have been rendered titular, the Chhatrapati inspires respect for the throne of the Confederacy while the Mughal Emperor denotes instability in the Kingdom.
I like the fact that Ram Sivasankaran gives a humane side to the Nizam, who is otherwise known only for his cunning and ruthlessness. For students who have paid attention to their history classes, the real name of the Nizam will bring back memories from the syllabus. The Nizam, if I were to speak the language of literature, is a perfect foil for our hero, The Peshwa. His character drills one point deep – loyalty, strength, justness are the qualities of an ideal citizen. A man can be a hero or an anti-hero depending on the side you are viewing the events from. For a Mughal citizen, the Nizam is a hero and a saviour. For the Maratha Confederacy, he is a villain and devil incarnate.
Of course, The Peshwa
The Peshwa’s character has been given a say from his teen years. This lets the reader know how the great Bajirao was conditioned to be a warrior and an able heir to his father’s seat. The reader can see directly into his vulnerability when he is thrown unprepared into an early succession and a full blown battle. Ram Sivasankaran succeeds in giving a likeable hero who matures from a self-doubting young man to a seasoned warrior.
Although Ranveer Singh creeped in as The Peshwa, he didn’t as much as Priyanka Chopra did as Kashi Bai, when I was reading the book. The Author has clearly mentioned that he had finished the draft well before the movie came out, but it is difficult to let go of its influence while reading the book. So Kashi for me, was a young Priyanka Chopra (she’s done the role so convincingly in the movie). As far as the narration goes, it is difficult to place her psyche – is she childish? is she well-learned and mature? She seems to show both traits as she dotes on her Rao and defends him vocally in the Royal Court. Well, teenage is such an age, isn’t it?
The Peshwa’s father
Bajirao inherits his statesmanship from his father. The Peshwa, when the book starts, is Balaji Rao, whom Bajirao succeeds. It is inevitable that the biggest influence in Bajirao’s life will be shown larger than life. It is fascinating to read anecdotes about his diplomacy and his conduct with his arch rival (The Nizam, who wasn’t the Nizam yet).
The Confederate Senapati
A traitor who was once a loyal soldier. With Dabhade’s character, the author proves that History can be written as the people in power at that time want it to be written. The Peshwa could very well have made an example of how a traitor can corrupt a whole batch of the army, but he chose to honour his previous valour. A one-off incidence, however grave, could not wipe off the years of selfless service that Dabhade spent with the Confederacy. Loved the whole track!
With the Mughals, it was the Order of the Scorpians and with the Marathas, it was well-trained soldiers who doubled up as spies. When this sub-track, which is mentioned more in the offing than as a part of the story, becomes the main track, it hits you – wham! So this is what the author has been doing with the spy track and the flashbacks?! And this has been done so well, in a story already known, that it leaves you wondering – was this part fiction or it really happened?
WHAT I LIKED
- The oscillation between the flashbacks and the present day.
- The book picks an event – the first battle in Bajirao’s life and makes it come alive.
- Even a major character like Nanasaheb Fadnavis has been sidelined where it was not needed. This makes the story tightly told.
- The pace of the book does not slack for a minute, even with the romantic interludes and the heart-to-heart conversations.
- A historical story like this holds interest till the last page. Who would have thought?
- The fact that this book is in English, and relies less on local jargon, would make this interesting for readers all over India and even International English readers.
WHAT I DID NOT LIKE
- The extra chapter at the end is too fairy-taleish.
- The romance seems too far-fetched to believe. I doubt Kashi Bai’s father and Balaji Rao would be this lenient.
- Kashi Bai talking to herself is irritating.
- According to me, in royal families, the rooms for the husband and the wife would be different. There would be no ‘their’ chamber. This seems a factual error. I am not sure…
- I thought the emotional scenes too over done. Especially those with the Chhatrapati. Would the Chhatrapati embrace his mother and the Peshwa at once? Never! Would it be acceptable for Kashi Bai to drop a Puja thali to embrace Bajirao? The news would spread like wild-fire! It would be considered a dreadful omen and Kashi Bai would be held responsible for being careless.
IN A NUTSHELL
I was hoping for a good read and mainly to compare versions with the movie Bajirao Mastani. But this was a complete surprise. The language, the flow and the characters take you into their era and you wake up into reality only when you finish the book.
Reviewer’s rating 3.5/5
Note : I was sent a review copy by Writersmelon. The views are completely unbiased. I would have criticised the book, or not posted a review if I had felt otherwise. I genuinely liked it and I think you would too. Especially tweens.