Rosie Llewellyn-JonesBiographies of historical figures stitched together using the material that is available with a bit of imagination acting as a thread can be very interesting – as they leave some gaps open to interpretation for the reader. As you read you add the bits you know about the figure – mostly what you have heard about them from popular perception or read in school text books and it can be a heady mix of known facts and myths and legends surrounding the figure. I expected that a lot in Wajid Ali Shah’s biography – for he comes from an era that was well documented and he was the last of his kinds.

Rosie writes primarily from the British accounts of Wajid Ali Shah. The book starts on a not so great note. By second chapter I was lost in names and dates – there were just too many of them and the king himself was literally absent from these chapter that means around 30% of the book. A detailed account of his mother’s journey to England, her and many other family member’s death there may have been relevant – but how is the catering company’s details that served the meals when she briefly met the queen relevant – I could not get. It may be relevant when you are writing the catering company or its owner’s biography, but in a King’s biography – who was not even there during the meal? There are many such details that are just recorded facts but have no relevance to the story of the king’s story. Too many names and dates – relevant for a research student probably, but the general reader is bound to get lost.

From the 3rd chapter the book picks up and then it becomes interesting. I particularly loved the chapters on Kings wives – 375 in number and more importantly their hierarchy in the system. The concept of Nikah wifes or legally wedded wives, the Mutah or contract wives of two varieties – one who bear king’s children and the ones who do not – each of them had different rights to king and his property. Each of them was salaried wife in a way. Mutah wives were also married for a limited period. Author says that this is as per the Sharia law, and I am keen to understand this system from a Sharia follower – and wonder if this was a special provision for the king or it applies to any one who follows Sharia. The complications that these marriages and their offsprings lead to when the king looses his kingdom sounds hilarious for the reader and is definitely amusing for the author, but from what is written it seems the king was pretty ok with it. He was very comfortable with this whole situation and felt no responsibility towards his large extended family and continues to marry more and more women.

Another chapter that talks about the animals the king had in his in-exile residence in Calcutta is eye opening. We know about the animal love of many kings and their fondness for hunting, but this is crazy – having a Menagerie when you are living on a pension and that too having dangerous animals live with your own children and not to talk about spending a fortune on them. Since it is primarily a British account of Wajid Ali Shah’s life post he came in touch with them – you see their underestimating his lifetime for almost 30 years. All these years they kept giving in to his demands thinking that after all given his health he is not going to live too long and king had the last laugh. He comes across as a man who lived in his own world and refused to give up being a king – at least not within the confines of his small kingdom that he had created at Garden Reach in Calcutta.

I would have liked at least a chapter on his poetry, for that is what we Indians remember him the most for. I also wanted more insights on him as a person and as a king, but what you gather from this book is everything that was happening around him, especially in the days he spent at Calcutta. There is virtually nothing about his growing up days. At the same time I do understand the limited material that might be available on that aspect.

You might find it interesting in parts if British Era history excites you.

https://i0.wp.com/www.anureviews.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Last-King-in-India-Wajid-Ali-Shah.jpg?fit=191%2C300https://i0.wp.com/www.anureviews.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Last-King-in-India-Wajid-Ali-Shah.jpg?resize=150%2C150Anuradha GoyalBook ReviewsHistoryHistoryBiographies of historical figures stitched together using the material that is available with a bit of imagination acting as a thread can be very interesting – as they leave some gaps open to interpretation for the reader. As you read you add the bits you know about the figure...Book Reviews by Anuradha Goyal