Until recently, history had relegated Mastani to forgotten pages as a dancing girl - a myth kept alive by lack of evidence about her true place in the Peshwa household. Daughter of Maharaj Chhatrasal of Bundelkhand, Mastani married Peshwa Baji Rao I while he was in power, but she was obscured almost to anonymity by several forces. Her life as a strategist, both on the field and at home, was veiled with intrigue due to the jealousies of women in zenanas and power-hungry relatives in the Peshwai.
What was Mastani's story? Was being a true companion to the Peshwa as well as his most loved wife a threat large enough to snuff her out in the pages of history? Fascinated for years by the secrecy behind her life and death, Kusum Choppra unravels the mysterious surrounding the deaths of both Peshwa Baji Rao I and his second wife. The novel explores Mastani's royal lineage and the elegant bearing of a warrior princess caught in the political web of a changing empire.
I have a new appreciation for people from non Anglo-European cultures who read historical fiction or period fantasy with English as their second language. There's all that generally untranslatable, specific terminology (hauberk, falchion, keep, oubliette). There are deeply Anglo-European cultural motifs and allusions (Biblical references, King Arthur, Greco-Roman mythology). Trying to listen to this book was a learning experience, and despite the great narration and interesting story, it was tough.
This story is very dense with cultural material and terminology, and it's an uphill battle. I tend to obsessively look up any word I don't understand, but it was hard to do that with non-English terms in an audio medium. I could only get glimpses of the far more rewarding experience I might have had if I'd been reading an actual book that I could've used to look up unknown words.
On the other hand, I learned a great deal more about this period in Indian history than I ever would have otherwise. It was really fascinating to slowly piece together the cultural context from implicit clues, rather than having it all spelled out for me directly.