At first glance, Rikin Khamar’s The Lotus Queen seems like a cross between William Dalrymple’s The Last Mughal and Chitra Divakaruni Banerjee’s Palace of Illusions. However, it manages to isolate itself from these comparisons because it explores an almost-untouched subject buried deep in the hearts of Indian history and does so with finesse. Unlike Divakaruni’s retelling of the Mahabharata from Draupadi’s point of view, Khamar writes from an objective, third-person perspective as he recounts the spoils and glories of Chittor during the reign of the Rawal Rattan Singh and his beautiful wife, Padmini.
What is most interesting about this book is that the author has employed a non-linear writing technique. He writes in a fluid, poetic style that mirror the dynamic state that Chittor is in – with its vibrant colours and architecture. While his writing may seem too descriptive at times, Khamar has rightly understood the need of describing his characters as much as the palaces they live in.
The setting is of a 14th century Chittor when the city is under siege by Ala’uddin Khilji. Six different characters ranging from the Queen’s favoured maid, Deepakshi to the Rawal’s trusted Udham Singh recall their experiences of Chittor after meeting and being with their Queen Padmini, one whose beauty has almost become synonymous to the beauty of their state.
Khamar juggles brilliantly with the exploration of six different perspectives on the same subject. Reading it from someone else’s perspective gives one a new angle to the story. However, this concept might saturate the amateur reader to an extent because these stories have a similar undercurrent running through them.
This book is an example of an almost-perfect mixture of fact and fiction. While the various conversations and inner feelings of the characters are completely the author’s creation, the setting and the way that the story advances is completely factual (yes – sometimes we do our research!). In just 150 pages, the author recreates Chittor for us as with his pages that are boldly sprayed with the ‘Death before dishonour’ slogans of the Rajputs as they try to save their beloved homeland from the Sultan.
In just 150 pages, Khamar makes an impressive debut. The book cover looks like the back of a truck and the artwork is inspired from Chittor itself. The characters are vivid and one can relate to their traits almost instantly. In the end, Padmini is forced to evoke an ancient custom and decide the fate of her land and people as the Rawal leaves for war. Just as the Queen is about to make the brave decision she has taken for her people and her land, one can almost imagine the Rawal asking her as he does earlier in the book, “In thy next life wilt thou come again to me?”