Book Reviews by a Pioneer: Mandu The Romance of Roopmati and Baz Bahadur by Malathi Ramachandran

When the rains come to Malwa, it is as if the slopes and valleys and the river begin decking themselves up for wedding festivities. These opening lines by Malathi, and I prepared myself for another lyrically written historical fiction.

I had visited Mandu a long time back and heard about the legendary romance of Baz Bahadur and beautiful Roopmati, a girl from farming family. The story held a certain mysterious charm, and I wanted to know more. I was not disappointed as the author has narrated an engrossing tale set in 16th century India around the legend.

This is a story of two unlikely young people, coming from different strata of society, bonding over a common love for classical music. This bonding leads to the two gradually falling in love with each other. But their love is doomed from the beginning as their lives are drawn into court intrigues. Eventually, sultan Baz goes out to fight a loosing battle against the might of the Mughal emperor, Akbar. Roopmati consumes poison to save herself from the lecherous eyes of Adham Khan, milk brother of Akbar. Yet again a love that was not meant to be.

A simple story, narrated beautifully, that keeps you engrossed till the end. Words are expertly woven – be it to describe the beauty of the region, or that of Roopmati, or even that of love itself. It would have been difficult to narrate a story that only exists as a legend – Malathi does not falter even a bit.

Yet, I could not but feel a little disappointed. Not by the storytelling – which is excellent – but by the fact that Baz Bahadur comes across as a weak sultan, immersed in songs and dances and his love. He fails to protect his principality, his people, and above all the woman he truly loved against the marauders. Maybe he indeed was a weak sultan, but for the positive influence of the woman who he fell in love with. It is the beauty of storytelling that makes us believe in events that are not recorded anywhere.

When Vasant ritu comes to Malwa, they say the river brings new life to her valley… But wait… hark! Is that a snatch of a distant song on the air? Or is it only the moaning of winds in the ravines of Malwa? Who knows … This is how the story ends.

I am sure to remember these closing lines and probably hear that song on the air from the distant past when I visit Mandu next.

As I had mentioned in my previous review also, the writing is almost lyrical. It is a beautifully woven tale of two people who loved and lost. The storytelling keeps you immersed in the story till the end.

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