Author: N S Inamdar
Translated by: Vikrant Pande
I should’ve read this book in Marathi! There were times when though I was reading it in English, I was hearing the dialogues in Marathi in my head. The impact of many a beautiful lines was blunted. But this is not to fault the translation, which for the most part remains faithful. Since the aim is to make the story more accessible, I do understand the need to write ‘nath – a nose piece’ and ‘the eight day of the waning of the moon’ but it bothered me. Now that I have that out of the way, moving on to the review.
The book is most wonderful in its treatment of the characters. Though primarily centered on Bajirao and Mastani, one gets a real understanding of the context in which their love story bloomed. Kashibai, Chimaji Appa, Radhabai, Nanasaheb, Anubai all grow, change and grapple with the impact that the ‘scandal’ has on their lives. But at times, the book focuses a bit too much on their perspective. Especially in the earlier part of the story, you almost start sympathizing with Bajirao’s family for the backlash from society that they have to face. The Brahmans of Pune, the Sardars and soldiers accompanying Bajirao on the campaign, the clerks and scribes in his office including administrators like Ambaji Pant Purandare all have opinions that are expressed in a manner that the ‘Bajirao-Mastani against the world’ basis of the story becomes all too pronounced.
Perhaps, this takes the focus away from Mastani. My biggest gripe with the book is that it left me with an insufficient understanding of her. When the story begins, she is already a dancer in his court, and the background of her being Raja Chhatrasal’s daughter does not find a mention. She looks upon him as her master and he sees her as just a dancer, although an extremely attractive one. The initial attraction is mainly physical as he’s taken in by her stunning beauty. But as infatuation turns to love, it is easy to understand Mastani getting increasingly involved with the charming, strong, invincible Bajirao.
What I didn’t understand was his love for her. I know there’s no explaining love blah blah, but I kept wondering why does he love her? I guess I’m too much of a 21st century girl because I was looking for a personality, for inherent qualities other than ‘I will stay at your feet and forever serve you’. That servile attitude quite bothered me. But there are certain hints, like when she dances she transforms from a shy woman to a confidant artiste, or when she accompanies Bajirao on his military campaigns ‘riding stirrup to stirrup’. Perhaps the way she gives all of herself to him, standing with him in face of such intense hostility is what drives him to her. I would’ve liked to know more about the enigma that is Mastani.
The best thing about the book is of course, Bajirao. The book begins when he is already a much feared Peshwa whose military exploits and acute stratagem are legend. But it is Mastani who becomes his one weakness. Slowly, you see the erosion of his hubris. The man who makes ‘the Delhi Badshah’s throne shake’ is brought to his knees by a society that refuses to accept his love for a Muslim dancer. He starts taking refuge in alcohol, just to lose touch with reality. He still continues to win battles on the field, but starts losing to his own family.
The most moving part was when after being separated for days from Mastani and being avoided by his own family, he returns to her and asks ‘is that what my prestige commands? Is that what my glory boils down to?’ You see his vulnerability, his pain, his deep love in the face of a world that doesn’t wish to understand. Yet he refuses to part with her, even building her a Mahal in Shaniwar Wada.
This is what got me so involved in him, how can anyone love so unconditionally? It seems like it is he more than her that made their love story immortal. But when Mastani is imprisoned by his own family while he is away on a campaign, you see him break. He chooses to leave the city and his family behind, eager to unite with her in death if not in life.
I was left hoping for more.