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Review of 'Anarkali' Authored by Sumant Batra

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A book that will take you to the whimsical era of the Mughal reign and the story of Anarkali…


Anarkali is a novel by Sumant Batra set in the sixteenth-century Hindustan talks largely about the imperial lifestyle of the Mughals, its ruling king Akbar, his son Salim, his wife Jodha, and the liaison that happens between Salim and Anarkali the dancer whom the world fell in love with then how couldn’t Salim! The story has many twists and turns it's not plain storytelling but has been rather done with greater precision and craftsmanship. The author has not only brought alive the imperial era of those times but has rather created a vivid picture of the entire story with his deft words. The description of the monuments, royal structures, people’s attire, their way of talking, the gestures, the detailed outlining of the characters everything has been done with great acumen. This book seems like a labour of many nights and days spent by the author to bring out the story of ‘Anarkali’ to the world.

But I wondered, why choosing to tell a story that the world already knows as there has been a larger than life movie and a play already that tells us the story of the fate of what happened to ‘Anarkali’ in the end. But my logical mind says, that it takes a lot of courage to write down a story that is already there and make the audience or readers believe and flow with it, and the author has done a wonderful job in doing that. The book is a real treat not only for all historical fiction lovers but it can truly attract other readers as well who usually refrain from reading historical fiction because at no point you would feel you are getting jaded and put down the book. One chapter after another is like a treasure trove that will keep your attention hooked till the very end of its pages. This book is a sheer visual extravagance as we can see the transition happening of all the characters in a relatable manner, and the backstory of each character has been well taken care of. It seemed each of the characters in the book was equally important and without them, the story wouldn’t have breathed the way it has on each page of the book. 

No wonder Anarkali’s love tale has been glorified! Who would have thought that a dancer who was the daughter of a slave would leave her name for future generations to come and witness along with that a love story of passion, sacrifice, and courage and believe that love can be so divine and sacred that even without being one with your lover your heart can be forgiving enough to wish everyone well who were part of the conspiracy to grant her that ill fate. But the question is, was Anarkali real? Has she existed? This is an embellished thought but not much perhaps is believed to be true about her existence and when there is only one faded line between what connects to reality with myth, creating a truthful and convincing picture of her existence is really a marvel in itself. The book commends at that and the story flows with great conviction of creating a place of how she came into existence from a little girl who later on became to be known as Anarkali to the world.

I understand the retelling thus, and it needs a lot of courage perhaps, which Sumant Batra has clearly made and great efforts too as the book shows how much in-depth research, he has done to make this story not only resounding enough but using fiction as a luxury seems coming to him quite easily. Having said that I would admit that the novel is the most wonderful read for me for the start of this year and each chapter, each character has made its way to my mind, so much that I am still lingering into that era, I feel.

The best thing that I felt about the book is that the storytelling is smooth with surrealistic narration that created visuals in my mind, particularly the description about people’s gestures, the Urdu language seemed so effortlessly convincing, the description of the king’s way of living, how people talked, travelled, and above all the most poetic part for me was the lucid flow of language to show the dancing movements of Anarkali, it was as if she wasn’t dancing, the narration was flowing like poetry. 

My verdict over Anarkali, well…surely retelling can be done if you have such powerful command over the plot, merging facts with fiction in a most appealing manner and reminding the world of the sacrifice, the passion, the courage Anarkali showed through a powerful narration. This way the doubts get truly cleared, even if she existed or not, a great storyteller can make one believe and Sumant Batra has done just that.


 Review by Monalisa Joshi

Founder & Director, Chrysanthemum Chronicles

Author & Lawyer: Sumant Batra

Sumant Batra is an insolvency lawyer of global eminence with three decades of experience in the areas of insolvency, bankruptcy and related laws. His work and contribution ranges from policy making to drafting of legislation and regulations, designing best practises to their disseminating, advising and representing clients to assisting the courts in development of jurisprudence, sharing knowledge through writing and speaking at conferences to curating and delivering capacity building programmes for stakeholders. He is the only Indian to have been conferred the honour and election as an International Fellow by the American College of Bankruptcy. He developed an inclination towards policy work while observing his father develop the Parliamentary standing committee system in India during his long stint in the Lok Sabha Secretariat. His policy experience comes from being on multiple expert committees and working groups constituted by the Government of India, and a stintas a senior consultant with the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank Group, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the Asian Development Bank and other developmental institutions.




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