Thursday, July 17, 2014

#BookReview: The Last King in India: Wajid 'Ali Shah, 1822-1887 by Rosie Llewellyn-Jones

On the jacket:

The thousands of mourners who lined Wajid Ali Shahs funeral route on 21 September, 1887, with their loud wailing and shouted prayers, were not only marking the passing of the last king but also the passing of an intangible connection to old India, before the Europeans came. This is the story of a man whose memory continues to divide opinion today. Was Wajid Ali Shah, as the British believed, a debauched ruler who spent his time with fiddlers, eunuchs and fairies, when he should have been running his kingdom? Or as a few Indians remember him, a talented poet whose songs are still sung today and who was robbed of his throne by the English East India Company? Somewhere between these two extremes lies a gifted, but difficult, character, a man who married more women than there are days in the year, who directed theatrical extravaganzas that took over a month to perform and who built a fairy tale palace in Lucknow, which was inhabited for less than a decade. He remained a constant thorn in the side of the ruling British government with his extravagance, his menagerie and his wives. Even so, there was something rather heroic about a man who refused to bow to changing times and who single-handedly endeavored to preserve the etiquette and customs of the great Mughals well into the period of the British Raj. India's last king Wajid Ali Shah was written out of the history books when Awadh was annexed by the Company in February 1856. After long years of painstaking research, noted historian Rosie Llewellyn-Jones revives his memory and returns him his rightful place as one of India's last great rulers.


History fascinates me. Specially, Indian history. And reading about the Mughals is always intriguing. The richness, the greatness, the power, the wisdom, the courage - everything is so fascinating! With all this in mind, I started reading this book. It's no secret that India is rich in heritage, stories and inspirational people. Reading a successful ruler's biography is no less than an amazing experience in my opinion. And I was so right!

I knew there was a lot in store for me in the book, but I didn't anticipate how much. What the book revealed was exhiliarating! A king, with deep interest in poetry is intriguing. What would you say of a poetic king who had around 350 wives? A king who was the last nawab of Awadh, and someone who is credited for the revival of Kathak in India. Wajid Ali shah was an extremely fascinating personality. A ruler, a nawab, he took keen interest in theatrics, music, dance and poetry.

He couldn't rule for a long duration, he was sent into exile where he lived the rest of his life, in comfort. An extremely well researched and put together account of the life of the last nawab of Awadh, The Last King in India is a truly fine read.

Rating: *****/5

[This review is for Random House India. The opinions are strictly my own and not been written under any obligation.]

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