Monday, April 5, 2010

"Shadow Princess"

Indu Sundaresan is the author of The Twentieth Wife (2002); The Feast of Roses (2003); The Splendor of Silence (2006); and In the Convent of Little Flowers (2008).

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Shadow Princess, and reported the following:
Shadow Princess is the third novel of my Taj Mahal trilogy—set in 17th Century India. The first two, The Twentieth Wife and The Feast of Roses are based on the life of Mehrunnisa, Empress Nur Jahan, who was the daughter of an impoverished Persian immigrant, and who consequently, upon her marriage to Emperor Jahangir, became the most powerful woman in the Mughal dynasty.

In 1612, a year after Mehrunnisa enters the Mughal harem, she facilitates the marriage of her niece, Mumtaz Mahal, to Jahangir’s son, Khurram who becomes Emperor Shah Jahan. This is where the story begins in Shadow Princess. In June of 1631, Mumtaz dies in childbirth. By her side are her oldest daughter Jahanara and her husband. Shah Jahan has been emperor for only three years, coming to the throne after a bloody war of succession when he kills one of his brothers and a few cousins.

Inconsolable at his wife’s death, Emperor Shah Jahan considers giving up his empire. He mourns for a whole week, neglecting his duties, and finally, on Page 69, appears at the jharoka balcony in front of the nobles. (Mughal emperors gave audience thrice at these balconies every day—morning, noon, and night. These were casual appearances; they also held court twice a day.)
…his face was aged, the hair on his head more white than they had imagined.

“Padshah Salamat!” they shouted, their voices petering into nothing.

This was not Emperor Shah Jahan…They glanced at one another. They bumped shoulders. They gazed at the man on the balcony, their master, with a steadiness unbecoming to servants of the Empire.
Later on Page 69:
Her heart thumping, Jahanara leaned against the opening of the jharoka, out of sight of the men below…Bapa would speak very little during the jharoka…this much he, and previous Emperors, had decided would be the practice at these appearances. So convince them that the man who stood before them was their king?

Even as she thought this, Jahanara felt a warm flush cover her face, for she had in her own mind created a doubt, or rather picked up on it from the outside.

“What is happening?” said Dara in a low voice.

“I don’t know.”

“They think…” But he did not finish his sentence; he could not either.
It is Jahanara who rights this situation, by sending her four brothers out onto the balcony to flank their father in support. She cannot go herself; she’s a woman, living behind a veil and the walls of her father’s harem.

Shah Jahan continues to rule the empire for another twenty-five years and during that time builds a tomb for his wife Mumtaz, the Taj Mahal. And just as she had in this early scene, seventeen year old Princess Jahanara will become the quietly influential woman upon whom the emperor leans for the rest of his life. Jahanara attempts to put Dara on the throne after their father, falls in love with a noble at court, and engages in a rivalry with her sister Roshanara. In the end, all these events—and that Luminous Tomb her father builds for her mother—cast their long shadow upon Jahanara’s life.
Browse inside Shadow Princess, and learn more about the book and author at Indu Sundaresan's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue