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Stuff of legends: Warrior Queen of Sivaganga


Express News Service

The act of reading has two core objectives: information and pleasure. When it’s the latter, the combination of a gripping narrative, lucid language, dramatic unfolding of events and an unpredictable twist is much sought after. Among the genres that fit the bill to a T is period drama, which also brings in an additional larger-than-life aspect to the tale, and Warrior Queen of Sivaganga by Shubendra is the latest addition to the entertaining pile.

Stories of warrior queens and princesses are few and far between in Indian historical fiction. Which is why the title immediately grabs the reader’s attention. Shubendra writes about Rani Velu Nachiyar of Sivaganga, who waged war against the Nawab of Arcot and Britishers at Kalaiyar Koil in Tamil Nadu to avenge the murder of her husband Muthu Vaduganatha Periyavudaya Thevar. And, also win back her kingdom.

As the book progresses, we learn that Velu Nachiyar was trained in various combat techniques and martial arts, including archery, Valari and Silambam. She also excelled at horse riding. Rightfully, from the outset, the author declares her a leader in the making. While the story is based on historical characters and events, the dearth of verified sources of information about the queen and her reign allowed Shubendra the room to take creative liberties, and he seizes the opportunity, much like the makers of period cinema.

There is dramatic flair in the way he paces out the development of certain characters. An appropriate example is Kuyili, who first saved the queen from a bounty hunter, then caught a spy, rose up the ranks to become her bodyguard, and in a final act of service, self-immolated to destroy British ammunition. The depiction of guerrilla warfare and espionage to paint the portraits of the brave Maruthu brothers, Periya and Chinna, and the image-conjuring writing of Udaiyal’s sketch, who led an all-woman army, is masterfully executed. That the deaths of Udaiyal and Kuyil among others are bound to break the reader’s heart is half the battle won for the book and its author.

The genre of period drama has a generous repository of tried and tested tropes to fall back on. It benefits from the rich tapestry of history, drawing upon existing folklores and legends to create stories that resonate with readers. It, however, also has to deal with the fact-and-fiction conundrum. Considering the huge number of period dramas—both novels and films—out there, the audience is at risk of consuming historically incorrect information. Seemingly aware of both the pros and cons, Shubendra tries to find a middle ground. It is complemented with engaging storytelling and straightforward prose that enables the reader to finish it in a single sitting, and that is certainly a victory run for the novel.

Warrior Queen of Sivaganga
By: Shubendra
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Pages: 248
Price: Rs 399

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