After my birth they gave me the name of Sultan Salim, but I never heard my father Rogers, trans. Beveridge, ed. Normally, the streets would be deserted at this time of day, but today the Moti bazaar was packed with a slowly moving throng of humanity.

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After my birth they gave me the name of Sultan Salim, but I never heard my father Rogers, trans. Beveridge, ed. Normally, the streets would be deserted at this time of day, but today the Moti bazaar was packed with a slowly moving throng of humanity. The crowds deftly maneuvered around a placid cow lounging in the center of the narrow street, her jaw moving rhythmically as she digested her morning meal of grass and hay.

Shopkeepers called out to passing shoppers while sitting comfortably at the edge of jammed, cubical shops that lay flush with the brick-paved street. A few women veiled in thin muslins leaned over the wood-carved balconies of their houses above the shops. A man holding the leash of a pet monkey looked up when they called to him, "Make it dance!

As the music played, the monkey, clad in a blue waistcoat, a tasseled fez on its head, jumped up and down. When it had finished, the women clapped and threw silver coins at the man.

After gathering the coins from the street, the man and his monkey gravely bowed again and went on their way. On the street corner, musicians played their flutes and dholaks; people chatted happily with friends, shouting to be heard above the din; vendors hawked lime-green sherbets in frosted brass goblets; and women bargained in good-natured loud voices.

In the distance, between the two rows of houses and shops that crowded the main street of the bazaar, the red brick walls of the Lahore fort rose to the sky, shutting out the imperial palaces and gardens from the city.

The city was celebrating. Salim was the first of the three royal princes to wed, and no amount of the unseasonable heat or dust or noise would keep the people of Lahore from the bazaar today.

The air was still and heavy with perfume from blooming roses and jasmines in clay pots. A fountain bubbled in one corner, splashing drops of water with a hiss onto the hot stone pathway nearby. In the center of the courtyard a large peepul tree spread its dense triangular-leaved branches. Five children sat cross-legged on jute mats under the cool shade of the peepul, heads bent studiously, the chalk in their hands scratching on smooth black slates as they wrote.

But every now and then, one or another lifted a head to listen to the music in the distance. Only one child sat still, copying out text from a Persian book spread in front of her. Mehrunnisa had an intense look of concentration on her face as she traced the curves and lines, the tip of her tongue showing between her teeth.

She was determined not to be distracted. Seated next to her were her brothers, Muhammad and Abul, and her sisters, Saliha and Khadija. A bell pealed, its tones echoing in the silent courtyard. The two boys jumped up immediately and ran into the house; soon Saliha and Khadija followed. Only Mehrunnisa remained, intent upon her work. The mulla of the mosque, who was their teacher, closed his book, folded his hands in his lap, and sat there looking at the child.

Asmat came out into the courtyard and smiled. This was a good sign, surely. After so many years of complaints and tantrums and "why do I have to study?

Before, she had always been the first to rise when the lunch bell summoned. Azure blue eyes looked up at Asmat, and a dimpled smile broke out on her face, showing perfectly even, white teeth with one gap in the front where a permanent tooth was yet to come.

She rose from the mat, bowed to the mulla, and walked toward her mother, her long skirts swinging gently. Mehrunnisa looked at her mother as she neared. Maji was always so neat, hair smoothed to a shine by fragrant coconut oil, and curled into a chignon at the nape of her neck.

Mehrunnisa wrinkled her nose. An invitation has come for us. Bapa will be at the court with the men, and I have been called to the imperial zenana. Mehrunnisa slowed her stride to keep pace with her mother. They passed noiselessly through the verandah, their bare feet skimming the cool stone floor. Asmat reflected for a moment.


Book Review: The Twentieth Wife by Indu Sundaresan

Overall: 3. Remember the sets of Jodha Akbar? They were indeed gorgeous and still the every edifice standing until date from Mughal Era bewitches the viewer with its own charms. A story built on generations of Empire and been done total justification — this certainly is rare piece of historical fiction from feminist view.


Indu Sundaresan



The Twentieth Wife





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