Book Reviews by a Pioneer: The Begum and the Dastan by Tarana Husain Khan

Genre: Historical Fiction

My rating: ****

A principality in North India, a headstrong young married woman, a debauched Nawab. These are the settings and principal characters of this historical fiction, inspired by real incidents.

Feroza, married and two months pregnant, is a pampered child. She is visiting her father’s home in Sherpur and forces him to reluctantly permit her to visit the annual fair sawani, organised at Nawab Sham’s palace, celebrating onset of monsoon rains.

The beautiful young woman catches the roving eyes of the nawab and is confined to his zenana. Divorced overnight by her husband, disowned by parents, her unborn foetus aborted, she is forced into an unwilling marriage to the Nawab. She reconciles to her fate and has a daughter from Shams. Feroza has no say as the child is given away to the first wife of the Nawab.

Over years, Shams takes more wives and concubines. But his love-hate relationship with Feroza continues. He wants to continue to control his women, including his children. The daughter runs away with her husband after her mother’s early death, to escape her father, but ends up being controlled, this time in the court of her Badi Amma’s brother.

Almost a century later, in 2016, story of Feroza is narrated by Dadi to Ameera, her granddaughter. They are descendants of Feroza and Shams. Sherpur is modernising – but Ameera wonders if it is modernisation. She can’t walk unescorted to and from the school bus stop – only a few hundred meters from her home, her father is unable to pay her school fees though he pampers his son. Nawabs have also gone but have been replaced by another power centre – the politicians. Has the life of women and common persons really changed?

The author has narrated a haunting tale of the lives of women and common people under despotic rulers in early 20th century, interweaving fiction with facts. The story lives with you long after you have read it.

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