Having read The Last Queen by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, I was intrigued and interested to know what went into writing her character and story.
As a part of the Jaipur Lit Fest (which is currently on-going virtually), we were treated to an interesting conversation among Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Priya Atwal and Navtej Sarna.
Each one of them have written books based on the Sikh Empire and thus have touched upon or focused on Maharani Jindan’s life as well.
Keeping this in mind, here are some interesting snippets from the conversation that stayed with me.
(The points have been reworded and are not told exactly as the authors said it)
- When asked about how Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni and Navtej Sarna chose to structure their respective books, here’s what they had to say:
Navtej ji says that he chose to stick to the facts. Having done his research, he wrote about Maharaja Dalip Singh (the son of Rani Jindan) with aa keen eye for detail and a choice to keep it as close to the facts as possible. He did not want to deviate much from this.
Author Chitra on the other hand chose to be a little more creative. Having done extensive research, she chose to focus more on the growth of her characters, their feelings, Maharani Jindan’s romance with the Maharaja and so on. She chose to be more creative about some aspects, breathing life into these complex characters, showing us how they came to be in the situations they were and how they dealt with it. Chitra mam chose to also bring in the interactions of the other Queens with Maharani Jindan and to showcase the ups and downs within the confines of the Zenana.
- A question from Chitra mam to Navtej ji: How were the narrators chosen in his book?
Navtej ji explained that he chose to use characters for his narratives based on the timeline of the story. For the initial years, the story was told from Mangala’s point of view. He felt that she would be best suited to tell the story of Maharaja Dalip Singh’s early years. This is followed by the story being told from Dalip Sing’s point of view. After this we move on to the period when he spent time with the British and some of the story is then told from Logan’s point of view. Navtej ji also chose to add some points of view from Maharaj Dalip Singh’s valet, the British spy who kept an eye on Dalip Singh’s activities in Europe and so on.
For me, this sounds like a very interesting way to frame the basis of the a book/story and speaks to the planning that went into the writing of his book.
- In conclusion, a common question that went out to both Chita mam and Priya Atwal was about the lasting image or impression that Rani Jindan has left on them. How they see her from their perspectives.
Chitra mam: According to her, in spite of everything she may have done, her greatest achievement was in turning things around for Dalip Singh when he seemed to have gone off course. Without knowing better and having embraced the British was of life, Dalip Singh was leading a rather happy life when his mother tried to remind him of his roots and his birthright.
Maharani Jindan was a complex and flawed human being. In the end, she loved Punjab and her son and she definitely chose to fight until the very end.
Priya Atwal: As a historian, she chose to take a more diplomatic stand. She agreed with Chita mam’s assessment of Rani Jindan’s character and called her inspiring.
In all this 30 minute conversation was enlightening and inspiring. A good chance for readers to know what goes on in an author’s mind when they write and how they formulate their plots. I truly enjoyed the session and hope to attend more.