Didda was just a name that I had faintly heard when this book came to me for review. The tagline of the Warrior Queen intrigued me to pick up and read it. As soon as I opened, I realized it’s timeline coincides with the timeline of Abhinavgupt – the well-known philosopher of Kashmir. I was even more intrigued about the story now.

Didda by Ashish KaulThe book re-creates the life of a lame princess who goes on to become the most valiant queen of Kashmir. There is a story of a woman, who seeks validation first from her own parents and then from the world at large. It is the story of a woman leading the way in a man’s world. Any woman in her position has to deal with loneliness and defend herself and her subject with far more alertness. As a woman, it is not very difficult to connect with the struggles and dilemmas of Didda.

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The fact the Didda was disabled added a naturally strong disadvantage to her story, which again many women will identify with. You also connect with her feelings for the men who support her but must remain distant from her personally.

At some point, the story does take a typical Saas-Bahu conflict angle with everyone else taking a back seat. I have a feeling this had an influence from the popular daily soaps somewhere. I do not think real life and especially those of royal families run this way, but then, who knows.

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Kashmir

There is a layer that takes you to Kashmir as it must have been more than a thousand years ago. It takes you through its sacred lakes, its life-sustaining rivers, its mountains, and its jungles. The places are mentioned with their names of those days, like Jhelum is called Vitasta or Baramullah is called Varahamoola. These names take you back in time, but if you do not know their mapping with the current names, you may feel a bit lost. I wish the author had added them to the Glossary.

Through the presence of Abhinavgupt in the story, the author has touched upon Kashmir Shaivism. It was indeed the time when it was at its peak. So, a story on Kashmir can not be complete without it. I do not know if Didda indeed had Abhinavgupt as her mentor, but through this thread, the author brings out the relationship between the Rishis and the kings.

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Weapons and Warfare

I liked the chapters explaining weapons and warfare. I usually do not like reading too much about them, but I appreciate the effort on the author’s part to describe them in detail. Along with the statesmanship and war strategies, this makes an interesting angle that is sprinkled throughout the story. I liked the anecdotes where Didda actually chooses someone who thinks differently rather than someone who agrees with her. Not many leaders have this much-needed quality.

Author and publishers have chosen to classify the book as Non-fiction and history. I would classify it as historical fiction or more appropriately fictionalized biography. A note on the author’s sources of information would have helped those interested in Kashmir history.

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The language is simple and easy to read. More importantly, it is consistent throughout the book indicating it has been written by a single person. Editing is good. The pace is good mostly consistent. Towards the end, I think it was a bit hurried when there are in fact a lot of socio-political changes happening in the region.

Overall, it is nice to read about a Kashmir that is very different from the Kashmir we today hear of.

Read it. Gift it to young girls around you.

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