Of all the books I have reviewed, this is the only one which I actually asked an author for a review copy. How could I not, when it is one of my favourite author’s book? I’ve loved every book of hers so far!
Indu Sundaresan was kind enough to send me an e-book as I was not located in the right geography for a proper book.
The enchanting story of the Koh-i-Noor, the diamond that captured the imagination of so many people, rulers and common man alike. A tale of loyalty, treachery, duties, betrayals, it has it all. The mountain of Light starts at the time when Shah Shuja and his wife, Wafa Begum are imprisoned, by Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the Emperor of Punjab. The Koh-i-Noor, is the often unseen, but omnipresent protagonist of this historical saga. A tale of the numerous lives touched and affected by the legendary diamond, be it those who owned it, or those who protected it, or those who yearned for it. The majestic yellow diamond, weighing 186 carats was something everybody wanted their hands on, be it the kings in India, or the British. The diamond for all it’s brilliance was also supposed to carry a curse on its wearer. Only women could wear it on a crown, safely. It was said that the curse brought destruction to men who wore it, which is probably why the Mughals had it embedded in the throne and Maharaja Ranjit Singh wore it as an amulet. The story follows the Koh-i-Noor, from the time Wafa Begum held on to it, as a bargaining tool, to Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who kept it safe until he died. After his death, the British took over the Empire of Punjab. Maharaja Dalip Singh, Maharaja Ranjit’s Singh’s eight-year-old son was king only in name, and very soon the Koh-i-Noor was on its way to Queen Victoria, as a ‘present’. Even the journey to England, by ship was not without excitement. The tale then goes on to Maharaja Dalip Singh’s life in England, who followed the diamond to Britain, and finally died in France.
The book is a feast of imagery. Sundaresan’s words transport you to the garden where Wafa Begum has secreted the diamond. Her words bring to life, the richness and the power play of Indian courts, the lavish lifestyles that the royals lived. The generosity of gifts that Maharaja Ranjit Singh and his queen bestows on the visitors to their kingdom, took my breath away. How rich India must have been at that time, if they could gift away diamond necklaces and emeralds shaped as grapes! The life of the British in India was really beautifully portrayed. Some who brought their whole homes into India, to set up their British parlour in the heart of India. Others who mingled, blended into the rich tapestry of India, who understood and respected their hosts, some ruthless, while others sympathetic. Each with their own perspectives, some who felt it was their divine right to rule over India, others who understood how unfair that assumption was. British rule in India, and the mechanics of they managed to annex so much of India is brought out really well.
The book is a beautifully balanced portrayal of the times. Maharaja Dalip Singh’s tale filled me with such sadness.. A boy, a mere boy, made a puppet king, and then indoctrinated in ways that were totally foreign to him and his culture that he soon becomes as British as they come. Only to realize that no matter how British he felt, he would always be foreign to them. His life changes, even though he was a favourite of Queen Victoria’s. It was such a sad end for someone who grew up knowing that he had the world in his hands.
The portrayals of the women in the tale is great. Be it sophisticated Wafa Begum, the clever Maharani Jindan Kaur, the alluring, mysterious Roshni, the British sisters Emily and Fanny Eden, or Lady Login. Despite the number of characters in the book, the author has done a brilliant job of assigning them full characters, none of the characters feel hard done by. And as usual, I cannot even begin to imagine the amount of research that must have gone into writing this book, just like her other books. Especially given the fact that there are so many factual events and characters in the book.
It was a book that I took very long to read, by my standards. Not because it was uninteresting, but because I just had to find out more about all the characters that turned up in the book. I kept looking up events and characters that came up in the story. To my surprise and delight, the author has used so many factual events and fictionalized them so well, that one is left wondering what is fact and what is fiction. Just my kind of book. A book that I hoped wouldn’t end. And when it did, I ended up reading up whatever information I could find about that period in history.
If anything, I wish I could know a bit more of the Kohinoor before it reached the Mughals, but from the look of it, there isn’t much documentation about it. It makes me wonder what other adventures it must have gone through. Its current resting place, must seem so very boring indeed. I love books that transport you to the times another era, and this was one of the best of the genre.
I would definitely recommend it. I would rate it a 4.5/5. Thank you so much, Indu Sundaresan, for the copy of the book.
About the Author
Indu Sundaresan was born in India and grew up on Air Force bases all over the country. Her father, a fighter pilot, was also a storyteller—managing to keep his audiences captive and rapt with his flair for drama and timing. He got this from his father, Indu’s grandfather, whose visits were always eagerly awaited. Indu’s love of stories comes from both of them, from hearing their stories based on imagination and rich Hindu mythology, and from her father’s writings.