Book Review of Mementos of Runjh by Nivedita Shukla
Attention! A severed woman’s foot, aged about 19 to 20 years of age, has been found along with a delicate silver anklet attached to it, on the outskirts of the village! Do you know who it belongs to? More importantly, why was it severed in this manner? By whom?
“A chaste wife is the one who throws herself in a blaze on her husband’s insult. The one who could follow death to get her husband’s life. The one who would voluntarily sit on the burning pyre of her husband. Such are the stories men and women grow up listening to. How could that husband fall from the rank of God into the rank of sinner?”
While reading Nivedita Ramendu Shukla’s brilliant historical fiction, “Mementos of Runjh,” I came across some extremely powerful words.
Yes, historical fiction happens to be one that I sincerely enjoy and that, as a matter of fact, not many people can relate to easily since it has a lot of background detail and a kind of old-world feel to it. Yes, that vintage feel which accompanies history is actually the memories carved on the sands of time onto the path of life, which this genre tends to explore and bring out from those forgotten eras of a period with which we are familiar and intrigued but don’t know much about.
Mementos of Runjh has been a sort of different, unusual experience of sorts for me in totality.
A fast-paced historical, this has been a thrilling experience for me, wooing me with its royalty, showcasing the brutality of the lifestyles of the rich and obnoxious, and at the same time, depicting all of this from a forgotten era of time. Nivedita has assimilated a brilliant ensemble of mystery meets thrill and royalty in a historical setting while also adding a sort of contemporary touch to it so that readers do not complain of the “dry” kind of feel that is often the case for historical fiction books.
To begin with, each and every character sketched by Nivedita has a different hue altogether for me. Be it the queen, Maharani Subhadra, whose flamboyance, angst, resilience, and daredevilry have been repeatedly perused in this one, or her elder son Baldev, who is perhaps the classic example of that typical male chauvinist whose sole purpose throughout seemed to be primarily his ego gratification; Rajdev, the second prince, who seemed to have an uncannily strange and a completely different persona of his own; or even And yet, her pain and her anguish when, for the “supposed” inability of hers to complete her role and give an heir to the Rajput family of Dahima, she is chastised and almost shunted aside when Aishwarya marries Baldev, were palpable and hurting.
Iravati may be a common character in this fantastic tale, but for me, she is the true representation of a woman, regardless of era or period of time, because she is the one who is always chastised, has to be accommodating enough to play second fiddle, prioritising and helping gratify the male ego at all times, and being shunted and shooed away if she refuses to do so. Having seen only that shunting, Iravati, when she finally rises to the occasion, clearly shows that Runjh and its lands do not only have Maharani Subhadra as their ferocious and brave leader but an equally competent person of equal stature who is loving and compassionate and as valiant as a lioness in times of distress. I loved the way Iravati was depicted.
Kanchan was also one of my favourite characters; her wisdom belied her age, as evidenced by her demeanour and better judgement. The way she conducts herself, handles Prince Sukhdev, and loves Sukanya, her elder sister, shows how she is actually 10 times better off than a son to Kanshiram Kaka, the royal servant. On the other hand, Sukanya, for me, was a classic example of innocence and naivete gone wrong. Yes, the lady couldn’t even begin to comprehend what she was a part of. Being simply used by Baldev for his vile lust and eventually discovering that love is but a sham, well, I must say it was kind of disheartening to read that bit.
Then there is Rajdev, who is a mystery unto himself. I won’t say more here as I don’t want to give much away, but like I said before, Nivedita’s “army” of characters in Runjh will placate you as well as agitate you, their behaviour and disposition being equal parts intimidating and overwhelming.
Sukhdev was the “wonder boy” for me. Despite being dubbed “handicapped,” here was a man who was wise beyond his years, quietly putting it all down in his poems (I loved those Urdu couplets that the narrative had now and then; they were amazing! BTW), through his drawings and his vocality.
There was also an element of thrill to the tale, which remained till the end, keeping one on their toes as to what would happen next.
Want to know it?
You must read the book in order to understand.
In summary, it is a great historical fiction with appropriate thriller elements and a fresh new approach, all while delivering a strong societal message about how, regardless of gender, the roots of any heritage are made of sheer valour and bravery above all else.
Related: Book Review of Fabyan Place by Peter Angus | A Historical War Fiction
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