People ask me about inspiring Indian books and novels that they can gift to their daughters, sisters, nieces and cousins. Here are those books from the historical fiction genres that I read in the recent months.
There is something special about women characters in Indian history. Whether they were warriors, danseuses, spies or feisty village bellies, they all made a mark in the hearts of story tellers who felt compelled to immortalise them in their stories.
- Ponniyin Selvan by Kalki Krishnamurthy
The first novel that comes to my mind with a plethora of female characters that would stay with you for long is the Tamizh Classic Ponniyin Selvan. Attaining a cult status among Tamizh readers, the immortal classic written by Kalki Krishnamurthy spans Five volumes and multiple authors are trying their hand in translating them. (God speed to you guys!)
You find the very manipulative Nandini who single-handedly shakes the very foundations of the strong Chola empire, the inscrutable strategist Kundavai who battles the enemies of her family holding back the feelings of her heart, the feisty Poonkuzhali, the boat woman who can row her boat alone from Rameshwaram to Srilanka and back, playing a key role in the political drama and I can go on and on about Vanathi, Sembiyan Maadevi. Female or male, main or supporting, Kalki manages to arrest the reader’s attention with every character. The Classic is a Must-Read
I have to admit that the universe of Ponniyin Selvan went a long way in inspiring my female characters in my Abhaya , be it Abhaya, Dhatri, Kadambari or Shyeni.
2. Sivagamiyin Sapatham by Kalki Krishnamurthy
Yes, another immortal tale by the same author! Well that is Kalki, he makes you want to linger in his universe and this time, it is a soul stirring tale of unrequited love set in the backdrop of conflict between early Pallavas and Badami Chalukyas.
Sivagami is a budding dancer whose innocent love for Prince Narasimha Varmar (referred in this book as Mamallar) is tested to the limits by the never ending political intrigue. From a dreamy lover, Sivagami matures into a sort of savior to the abducted Pallava citizens keeping them safe from their captor Pulakesi of the Chalukyas. Unlike Ponniyin Selvan, this tale might leave a tragic taste in many readers. But I strongly felt that Kalki portrayed Sivagami as someone becoming a guardian goddess than a mere Queen.
3. Gods Kings and Slaves by Venketesh Ramakrishnan
After the Cholas, it is the turn of Pandyas of Madurai in the 13-14th Century CE to hold the bastion of Hindu empire in the South against the invasion by Malik Kafur, the general of Khilji empire. The novel, I feel is an inspired prequel to the age old classic Madura Vijayam by Queen Gangamba Devi of the Vijayanagara Empire.
R Venketesh chronicled the trajectories of Malik Kafur and Veera Pandiyan and gave us unforgettable women characters in Vani, Tara, Sunanda and Radhika who propel the story forward. Assertive, thinking quick on their feet, maneuvering through the patriarchal barriers and achieving their desires, loyal and loving while not goig weak in their feet, readers can’t help but marvel at the layered nature of the characters.
The novel is a feast to history lovers and is a must read.
4. Urnabhih by Sumedha V Ojha
In this thrilling tale of espionage, adventure and seduction, Sumedha has woven a peerless and awe inspiring character in the courtesan Misrakesi. The delightful romance between Misrakesi and the Mauryan official Pushyamitra runs in parallel to the fast paced narrative about what threatened the Mauryan empire in 300 BCE India.
One can’t help but marvel at the independent nature of Misrakesi. Enterprising and ambitious sides of the ravishing seductress mould into the loyal spy of Mauryan empire and a confidante of the King maker Chanakya. Unapolegetic to the core, Misrakesi shines to show that independent women had an undeniable place in ancient India.
A tale you just can’t afford to miss, so order it soon!
5. The Rig Veda Code by Reshmi Chedvenkar
The author has etched a fast paced tale set in 600 BCE India where a warrior princess Rikshavi learns unique lessons from the history of Mahabharata and the dark ages that followed the fateful war. It is an interesting character arc that sees Rikshavi start as a warrior princess who realises that the kingdoms need more than valour to sustain. The commentary given about republican systems is another plus.
Reshmi’s painstaking research about the prevailing political systems shows in her plot. Unlike the above three full blown classics, the Rig Veda code is a cosy read suitable for Young Adult readers. I would have preferred it to be a detailed tale delving into the intricacies for the author definitely showed that potential. But that should not put the reader off from reading the novel.
The RigVeda Code would make an ideal gift for your teenagers who are beginning to learn history.
Apart from the story tellers exploring, the early and medieval history, those exploring the older history and Puranic universe also have wonderful tales with impressive female characters that have to be read. Do check out the writings of Kavita Kane, Krishna Udayasankar, Dr. Vineet Aggarwal, Gautam Chikermane, Anuja Chandramouli and Sweety Shinde to just mention a few.