February 2, 2021

Book Review: Last Queen by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni


Title: Last Quees
Author: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Published by: HarperColiins Publishers, 2021
Price: Rs. 599
Pages: 351
Rate: 4/5

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni needs no introduction. Since she has started to write in the different genres of delving deep into the mythology and historical events, crafting her novels splendidly, she has uplifted herself to a different realm. The female voices from the epics and histories, come to your drawing room to share their stories as if they are one of you. Where it is Sita, Droupadi or Jindan Kaur, they become alive again, their stories breathing with you, their journeys become intertwined with your emotions and you hypnotically meander through the fictions. “Last Queen” does its justice, glorifying the story of the lost queen, Jindan Kaur, whose story is not only buried under the tattered pages of history but also many of us are totally ignorant.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh is one of the childhood heroes whose heroic attainments still engrave the heart with honour and pride. The heroic saga keeps on stirring up all the emotions and compels to bow down to patriotism. But never thought to get a chance to read the life story of his, where the other side of his character would move you in wonder. Apart from having several wives, concubines, he ended up in love with head over heels with Jindan Kaur, the last wife of Ranjit Singh, from a lower birth.  A girl - determined, innocent, matured beyond her age, made the king a seer to foresee a queen in being. And destiny incidentally awarded her the ‘Messalina of Punjab’ - Rani Jindan Kaur.

The novel can be divided into three phases of Jindan Kaur’s life. The first half of the novel portrays Maharaja falling in love with the daughter of his dog-keeper. How a sixteen year old girl mesmerises the King with her simple innocent and quick witted personality and the double aged Sarkar determines to marry her. But a life of a king is crafted with betrayals, treachery, conspiracies, rivalries et al. Jindan Kaur’s marriage to the king paved her path as challenging as life threatening too. But her wit and the King’s love wane off the hurdles on her way. But happiness is very short lived for her as the old king died just after their son turned 10 months old. With the death of the king the world becomes upside down and Jindan Kaur has to flee away with her son. The second phase started with the spine chilling incidents followed by each other and consequently Jindan Kaur has to return back to take over the control over the throne. Coming out of the veil, revolting against the ‘Zenana’ culture where women are tabooed to step in a man’s shoe, Rani Jindan Kaur stands tall with the last heir, her son Dalip Singh, a mere six year old to rule over Punjab. But few of her decisions and betrayals from her loved ones, forced her to lose everything and estranged her son to exile. A destitute Jindan Kaur’s suffering continues. The third phase exposits how she becomes the fear to the British, a tigress to fight for her country and how she reconciles with her son after fourteen long years. 

'Last Queen’ is not just simply a fiction to travel through the history of the 18th Century but how a girl from a small village with an innocent childhood became a queen of Punjab and then a rebel to fight against all the odds and the British. Her formidable character shook the British emperor for a while, to treacherously defeat her and send her to imprisonment. After finishing the book all the emotions got ignited and the eyes welled up. 'Last Queen' baffled me with the articulation of recounting the events so skilfully and adding Jindan as a part of our life. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni definitely added another masterpiece to her creative list and gifted us to adorn our bookshelves.

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