Today I am talking about one of the most interesting books I have read this year! Anamika, by Meghnad Desai, was a fantastic story set in the days after Aurangzeb’s fall.
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(This blog post also contains a review copy that was sent to me by the publisher. However, all opinions expressed are my own and in no way influenced by external parties)
He was a powerful man, as she could see from his hands and his stature. And again, those penetrating eyes. Something had happened in Anamika’s dull daily life. What did it portend?
It is the eighteenth century. Emperor Aurangzeb has fallen, the Mughal Empire is a shadow of its former self, and India is rife with civil war. In these times of gardi, you’d have to be a lion to win power, and a wolf to keep it. When the beautiful Savitri, the only daughter of the Chief Minister of Purana Zilla, marries into a rich merchant household in Ranipur, she becomes Anamika. Her future seems assured—she is to bear her loving husband Abhi many children, eventually becoming the lady of the house and perpetuating the family’s fortunes.
But a tragic accident on their wedding day renders Abhi paraplegic, seemingly dooming their perfect future. Anamika still finds bliss in her love for her husband, but her in-laws’ unfulfilled dreams of progeny threaten to consume and destroy her.
The intrigue that appears
But into her life enters Abdul—the illegitimate son of Shah Ahmad Khan, locked in a deadly war with his brother Hassan for the throne. This powerful, magnetic stranger upsets the balance of her everyday life, thrusting both Anamika and Abhi into a newfound world of intoxicating freedom, conflicting desires, and deadly deceit. Crossing paths with the enigmatic courtesan-turned-bodyguard Nadya, the motherly Niloufer, the spirited young warrior princess Sonal, and a wide and motley cast of soldiers, assassins, courtesans, eunuchs, princes, and queens, Anamika must make bold choices and adopt many names for the sake of both desire and survival.
Anamika: A Tale of Desire in a Time of War a simply a stunning read – full of sensuality intertwined with the duty of necessity. It was especially stunning for its vivid portrayal of women as nuanced and real figures rather than the usual tropes of ‘angel of the house’ or the ‘madwoman in the attic’ that are often used in both English and Indian English literature set in those times.
And because it is the female sex that so thoroughly engrossed me, let me talk about it first!
Womanhood and its various layers
In Anamika, we have the eponymous Anamika who is a mature and independent woman (well, as independent as a married woman in those times can possibly be). She is a loving wife and the way she navigates her life in her married home, around her mother-in-law and a particularly lusty father-in-law was quite well written. Her resolution and will power especially after the accident that rendered her husband a paraplegic.
But then, with the arrival of Abdul, there is a sexual awakening in her. Her very first view of Abdul brings up thoughts in her mind regarding his “penetrating” gaze and the way his hands and stature denoted power. I thought this particular aspect of Anamika’s growth was also empowering in the fact that she is personally growing and looking after herself, after the time she has spent looking after others around her.
Show of strength
Then comes Nadya, who was a courtesan but is now Hassan’s bodyguard. The very fact that she masquerades as Nadeer and stays by his side to protect him, again brings to mind another nature of a woman – that of the more physicality of her strength. I loved the portrayal of Nadya although she wasn’t an absolute favourite all the time. Despite that, I do admire her resolution and strength.
Lastly, a few lines about two other female characters in the book. Hassan’s mother was a truly formidable (and a bit scary) woman who rules the zenana. Princess Sonal is another wonderful woman who does not let anything stop her from learning what she wishes – strategy and warfare, and that too from a French general!
Political intrigue, wars and royalty
Because of what I could infer from the synopsis, it was pretty clear that there would be some interesting political intrigue, seeing as to how it was set in the days after Aurangzeb’s downfall. And surely, a great tussle was at the center of it all. Hassan is the legitimate son of the king, while Abdul is the illegitimate son of Shah Ahmad Khan. And thy are each other’s greatest adversaries striving to bring the other down o their way to claim the throne.
My final thoughts
I thought that Anamika was a really very interesting story and I was hooked from the very beginning! I rate it 4.5/5 stars! Do pick it up!
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