This is part of the Golden Set published by the Children’s Book Trust. A collection of four tales, it highlights four different chapters not often spoken about in detail in history books. Of three queens and a brave lad, separated by centuries, these tales are told in a way that children can learn history through stories. The everyday concerns of the protagonists make the telling natural and easily imaginable unlike when history is presented as something from the hoary past.
However, the collection is a mixed bag. There is no editorial note to explain the reason for the selection of only these and not other chapters from history. Again, there is no contents page or notes on the contributors which is a little difficult to explain.
Of the four chapters, the first and the last are written by Kamala Sharma Shyamala who is to be congratulated on making history come alive. Her choice of subjects to highlight shows that even within the patriarchal system prevalent in India till today, it was possible for women to hold positions of power and rule kingdoms as did Ahayla Bai Holkar and Rani Durgawati. Ahalya Bai Holkar made her mark in eighteenth century Malwa as an able administrator and an ethical and compassionate ruler. How the kingdom of Holkar was established with Indore as its capital, while the Mughal empire was in the throes of chaos and rebellion, with disparate groups vying with one another to grab as much territory and power as possible while the East India Company was spreading its base all over the country is explained. The trajectory of the life of the little girl born in the Shinde family in Aurangabad district in Maharashtra who grew up to be the ruler of the Holkar kingdom on the untimely death of her husband and son, and the history of the region from 1725 onwards till her death in 1795 is a gripping read.
Rani Durgavati was the legendary queen of Gondwana, a Rajput woman married to a Gond (a tribal) Prince Dalpat Shah. Her story is almost similar to that of Ahalya Bai for she too came to rule the kingdom of Gondwana when her husband lost his life on the battlefield. Born in the family of the Chandels, in her short life of forty years (1524-1564), she achieved fame as an ideal Indian woman who fought for the independence of her kingdom fearlessly. She assumed the reins of the kingdom in 1550. Her encounters first with Baaz Bahadur of Malwa (a battle that Durgawati won with glory), and then with Akbar’s general, Khwaja Abdul Majid Asaf Khan, speak eloquently of her courage and valour. Wounded in battle she decided to take her own life rather than surrender to the enemy when defeat was imminent. Again, the narration is simple and gripping. The one point of contention however is the ‘politically incorrect’ judgemental descriptions of Muslim rule in India which ought to have been avoided especially since there are no references to sources. This is particularly unfortunate since the book is meant for the young reader.
Joanna Nobilis Sombre, nee Farzana, popularly known as Begum Samru who started her career as a nautch girl in 18th century India, and eventually became the ruler of Sardhana, a small principality near Meerut after the death of her husband Walter Reinhardt Sombre, a European mercenary, wrote a colourful chapter in Indian history. A later convert to Catholic Christianity, she was extolled for her virtues as a sage ruler. Sarla Tandon writes this chapter with verve but the telling of the many complex strands of the people and events who were players on the scene takes away from the story of the main protagonists. The young reader would find it a difficult read.
Then follows the story of Alha and Uddal, who gained fame as twelve-year-old warriors in the time of Prithviraj Chauhan and Jaichand and the internecine warfare among the kingdoms of Rajputana, Mahoba and other regions in North India. Alha Khand, an epic poem written commemorating the Battle of Mandogarh, the first battle fought and won by these young soldiers, is a popular literary creation. Sadly again, this chapter by A Asafal has lost a golden opportunity to evoke either the beauty of the epic poem or the story of bravery of the two young warriors.
Chandra Chari is Editor, The Book Review. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]<strong>