Ira Mukhoty iscertainly an author to keep an eye out for. After reading this I went out to the bookstore to do a bit of browsing, I wanted to grab copies of this and scream at everyone to buy one. I’m sure you don’t really need to read my review after that statement but I shall write one anyway.
Heroines is a book that outlines, in light detail, the lives of eight women in Indian history (one from mythology) who aren’t really given the credit they deserve by Indian MALE historians. The author takes the time and trouble to give more realistic versions of them instead of painting every female hero either as stupid and manipulated or as a perfect pativratha (a woman who is absolutely scared of and revers her husband as a god). These women were used to make real women feel guilty about disobeying a single word their husbands said but Ira Mukhoty talks about how evidence says otherwise and how male historians turned these women into whatever form was acceptable for them before writing their stories.
We read about Draupadi, Radha, Ambapali, Raziya bint Iltutmish, Meerabai, Jahanara Begum, Rani Laxmibai and Hazrat Mahal as they each fight for their rights, fight their circumstances an fight the society as a whole. The amount of effort she has put into the research is astounding, bringing out facts that we haven’t heard before and telling them in story like form to entertain and explain the circumstances that each woman was in. Right from Draupadi’s real character to Raziya Iltutmish’s capabilities as a ruler to Meera’s disdain for traditional life; she makes each woman seem real and relatable so we can feel their frustrations more than we could in the traditional story.
It is obvious which characters she likes more because you can feel that radiate in the writing style. And for me, personally, those were my favourite characters as well so that made the reading experience even better. I particularly enjoyed the Draupadi chapter because it is exactly as my grandmother told me, exception being she supported the Pandavas and this one doesn’t. Although there are certain facts in here that are different from what I was taught (I was told that women were treated badly only during and after Manu’s time and that women were mostly treated with respect before) it was still a brilliant read and certainly very inspiring. I’d recommend this for every Indian and for everyone else who wants to read an unbiased book that doesn’t have ulterior motives. 4/5 stars.
The idea of heroism in women is not easily defined. In men the notion is often associated with physical strength and extravagant bravery. Women’s heroism has tended to be of a very different nature, less easily categorized. All the women portrayed—Draupadi, Radha, Ambapali, Raziya Sultan, Meerabai, Jahanara, Laxmibai and Hazrat Mahal—share an unassailable belief in a cause, for which they are willing to fight to the death if need be. In every case this belief leads them to confrontation with a horrified patriarchy.
In the book we meet lotus-eyed, dark-skinned Draupadi, dharma queen, whose story emerges almost three millennia ago; the goddess Radha who sacrificed societal respectability for a love that transgressed convention; Ambapali, a courtesan, who stepped out of the luxurious trappings of Vaishali to follow the Buddha and wrote a single, haunting poem on the evanescence of beauty and youth. Raziya, the battle-scarred warrior, who proudly claimed the title of Sultan, refusing its fragile feminine counterpart, Sultana; the courageous Meerabai who repudiated her patriarchal destiny as cloistered daughter-in-law of a Rajput clan; the gentle Mughal princess Jahanara: who claims the blessings of both Allah and the Prophet Muhammad and wishes ‘never to be forgotten’; Laxmibai, widow, patriot and martyr, who rides into legend and immortality fighting for her adopted son’s birthright; and Hazrat Mahal, courtesan, begum, and rebel queen, resolute till the very end in defying British attempts to seize her ex-husband’s kingdom.
*I received a review copy from the publisher but opinions expressed are my own.