Cuckold by Kiran Nagarkar – Book Review
I happened to listen to the author of Cuckold speak earlier this year at Hyderabad Literature Festival. And that is when I heard about this book Cuckold. The only thing I knew about the book was that it is about Bhakti poet Mirabai’s husband. Now all that we know about him is that he was born to the Maharana of Mewar at the time when Rajput kings were at their peak. He married Meerabai and that’s it. There is no mention of him in the chronicles of either his royal family or his saint wife, both of whom are well chronicled. A simple Google search always said words like ‘Masterpiece’ for this book. So I set out to read it.
Now the protagonist Bhoj Raj is referred to as Maharaj Kumar in the book. With a Maha before the standard Rajkumar to indicate the one who is the heir apparent of all the sons of Rana the king. All 600+ pages are his story. It is his relationship with his wife who believes she is married to none other than the Flautist God Krishna and refuses to be with him. His marrying again for political reasons but an inability to cohabit with the second wife. His relationship with his wet nurse who meant more than a nurse or a mistress to him. And his relationship with a young girl for whom his affection eventually becomes love.
Between all these women, of course, there are other women like washerwomen and a mystical Bhootani Mata. This angle brings around the relationships that a man shares with various women. And how the relationships are not mutually exclusive but complimentary.
There is a storyline that tells you how the royal families operate and live. All the men in the family are at risk from every other man in the family. They know at any point in time that everyone else is plotting against them. Trying to kill them, send them away just as they are doing for the others. In the zenana, all the women fighting for the attention of few men in their lives. And playing their role in helping their favorite one – who could be a husband, a son or a beloved, while they spend their times with the eunuchs who are supposedly guarding them. Though we know these things as facts but have you thought of the emotions of living with a family where you know everyone is against you. Though the decorum is maintained on the surface.
It made me think if this could be the root of hypocrisy in our society.
The kingdom of Mewar has been painted for the reader with its boundaries surrounded by Gujarat, Malwa, and Delhi. There is a depiction of the constant tensions that the kings and potential would be kings has to live in. Always fighting with the neighboring enemies. And always guarding themselves against the enemies within. Even in those golden days of the Mewar, business communities like Jains held the financial reins in their hands. And kings were completely dependent on them for financing their wars, welfare projects, and royal lifestyle. The depiction of poverty in villages while the Royals feasted and pampered royal guests are not very different from current day scenario. Maharaj Kumar’s character is obviously carved in author’s mind while most other facts are from the history books.
He has been carved out as a modern man. Wanting to win wars with least loss to mankind when the death was considered an act of bravery and highly revered amongst the Rajputs. He wanted to use strategy and tact to win wars. Rather than foolishly go and throw yourself in front of an army that you know is stronger than you. He wanted to build civic infrastructure. And he wanted to modernize his army. He was ridiculed till he proved his mettle but by then no one trusted him as no one could figure out what he had in mind.
Cuckold author has used very modern current day language to write the book. Which to the purist may be disturbing but saves a lot of effort for the modern reader in translating many things of that era while reading. And they can just go with the flow. English and use of modern terminology make the story look closer in time though it happened around 600 years back. Throughout the book, the nowhere author mentions Meera’s name, he always calls her Green eyes or Little Saint. Probably he identifies somewhere with the Maharaj Kumar and does not want her to overshadow his story. He does portray her character rather strongly. Her rise from a mere royal wife to a saint who becomes a formidable force in Mewar with a mass following.
He brings out the woman she might have been beyond the saint that we now remember her as. She not only survived but thrived in the patriarchal society where no one wanted her alive, to begin with not even her husband.
Read Cuckold to know the Mewar as it existed in 16th CE just before Babar took over India. To know the human side of saints and how people around them suffer their self-centeredness and obsessions. How the princes survived the scheming and betrayal all the time. A nice complex yet simple tale of a protagonist you knew nothing about.