The Mughal Empire has always held a fascination for English writers who have written novels based on the history of India. The rich display of pomp, splendour and luxury, the internal conflicts and fratricide, the intrigues and plottings among family members have all made for great stories. These elements have existed in all kingdoms and empires, but with the Mughals, they were very obvious and open.
In Shadow Princess (Paperback), Indu Sundaresan paints a similar picture of the Mughals, but what sets her apart from other writers is that she mainly concentrates on the powerful females of the dynasty. Although they were not as visible as the men, they still wielded power from behind the scenes and influenced the destinies of the empire.
The first two books written by Indu, The Twentieth Wife and The Feast of Roses, focused on Mehrunnisa, the beloved of Emperor Jehangir, who was more popularly known as Nur Jahan. This book moves ahead two generations and introduces the Emperor Shah Jahan, the son and successor of Jehangir, who is heartbroken after the death of his wife Mumtaz.
Shah Jahan withdraws himself from public life and neglects the duties of his kingdom. His eldest daughter Jahanara is forced to take up the administration of the empire, but has to face opposition and competition from her own family, including her sister Roshanara.
Forced to give up her own dreams and the idea of marriage, the beautiful princess nevertheless runs the empire efficiently. She has to balance her relationships and the affairs of her empire, to keep the empire from falling apart due to her father's apathy.
It is a sweeping and moving account of a daughter's love for her father and her loyalty to him, and her effort to compete with his dead wife for his affection.
The construction of the Taj Mahal runs like a golden thread through the tale, providing a background for the story.