Kusum Choppra

Mastani

Rupa Publishing, 2012


Kusum Choppra

Mastani

In India’s first historical novel that offers readers two different endings, MASTANI's second ending plugs all the holes left in traditional myths surrounding her. 25 years of research and 3 of writing reveal a dramatic tale that turns the entire Mastani dancing girl story on its head, from nuggets that egged me on, alongside my work as a journalist and as mother, with trips to Pune and its surroundings, Indore, Mhow to seek out Mastani's descendants, who till that point of time, had not delved into her history. Mr. Ahsaan Awara, a retired post master of Banda, with a lifetime in search of Mastani, was a mine of information for me. Ahsaan saab and Mr. Mabableshwarwalla, my schoolteacher, pushed me to start writing the story as it unspooled, despite not having reached the end of the search. They always argued that I had to start shaping up what was fresh in my mind before it went stale, as age crept up and might stall the book forever; already other controversies had emerged. A major one over the interpretation of the cause of the death of Baji Rao: was it merely a heat stroke or the end result of a deadly combine of alcohol withdrawal, a sense of betrayal by his entire family, deep depression caused by the absence of his beloved Mastani? and finally her untimely death? Unfortunately Ahsaan Saab who gave me his Mastani legacy did not live to read my Mastani, which was so welcomed by Mr. Mahableshwarwalla. 

HOW MASTANI CAME TO BE WRITTEN

Now: a bombshell.  Several weeks after the finish of the book with an ending I was not satisfied with personally, one night I saw a dream in which Mastani's story unspooled with an ending that was startling.  It offered answers to all the unanswered questions that plagued Mastani's story.    Making swift notes before the dream vanished from memory, morning saw me reviewing all my material to find that it actually made a lot of sense, even if it was dramatically different and incestuously controversial.   Thus the two endings in MASTANI. The genesis of my Mastani: two historical novels by an intrepid researcher, Dr. Bhagwandas Gidwani.  Digging in the mountain of material available from French and other non-British sources, he paints a refreshingly different person in his “The Sword of Tipu Sultan”; while in "The Return of the Aryans”, Gidwani turns prevalent history on its head, tracing the evolution of  Ancient India from pre historic times to the so-called Aryan age. I must do something to offer different perspectives of history to readers, I resolved.


Book Reviews

Mastani, daughter of Chhatrasal Bundela, the second wife of Bajirao Peshwa was not welcome in the Peshwa family. Baji was not even able to perform their son, Krishnasinh's upanayanam. His first wife Kashibai led the Brahmin opposition to Krishnasinh's integration into the household and the Bhat Konkanasth community. Kusum Choppra creates two alternate scenarios to fit known facts - and both scenarios are startling. (I would not want to rob the readers of their moment of discovery by telling the details of the story.)

It is difficult to read the novel - it is sad to realize politics and greed in a family can destroy a nation and a dream. Hubris and egoism added to the poisonous mix that prevented Baji, his brothers and his Sardars from working together in achieving their goals.

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Mastani!!------------ The Warrior Queen
This Book gives the insight about a beautiful Warrior Queen lost in the history due the history manipulated some who have had narrow mindset.
Kudos to you that you wrote this Book..... I could not put this Book down and read it in 2 days ..... Never thought that this would interest me so much.
Facts that have woven into the storyline coincide with many other books of this clan and gives you a true understanding of the nature and political view point to even the "love".
Now it so evident why we know them -- who were in so much love as "Bajirao-Mastani" and not any other titles or names...

-Satya

Kusum Choppra’s Mastani is a meticulously researched account of one of the most misunderstood women in Indian history.
There is a time and place for everything, and nowhere is this more true than for books bought and then forgotten! After lying on my bookshelf for two years (and moving two homes in between), Kusum Choppra’s Mastani finally made it to my current reading list, thanks to an interesting article on the subject (No, the  article was not about Sanjay LeelaBhansali’s magnum opus in the making).Reading about the author’s pursuit of Mastani across Pune, I remembered the much forgotten Choppra book, picked up from the Book Fair a couple of years back, and decided to read it before SLB inflicts his version of the story upon us!
Choppra’s research is fairly extensive and her sources are varied, ranging from interviews with eminent historians such as P.N. Oak and from archived research material on the Peshwas. Her meticulous inquiries lead her to reject several  rumours associated with Mastani, ranging from speculation about her origins and religion to disputed accounts of her marriage with Baji Rao. For instance, Choppra dismisses the notion that Mastani was a Muslim – she was neither  the daughter of the Nawab of Nizam, nor a Muslim dancing girl. In fact, Mastani was the daughter and favourite child of the Bundelkhand King Raja Chhatrasal and a follower of the Pranami faith that was practised by her father. Her mother, a Queen in the King’s palace, was of Persian origin. Choppra also avers that  Mastani was very much married to Baji Rao, not just once but in two separate ceremonies.
Choppra’s Mastani is beautiful, intelligent, clever, resourceful and well-trained. The narrative is largely sympathetic towards this much-forgotten historical figure. Piecing together various seminal dates in Peshwa Baji Rao’s much documented life as well as  verifiable accounts about Mastani, the story attempts to dispel the unsavouryrumours that have been spread about Mastani since her death in 1740. The charge of distorting the truth to render Mastani into a nameless figure is laid squarely upon Baji Rao’s first wife, Kashibai, Kashibai’s son Nana, and her own brother in law.
Of particular interest to me was the author’s willingness to challenge the popular narrative around Mastani’s death, which claims that she died of heartbreak following Baji Rao’s death in April 1740, unsung and soon unremembered. But Choppra suggests that Mastani committed suicide in 1740 after a rape attempt by her own stepson Nana, and it is Baji Rao who followed Mastani to her grave. Of course, the incestuous rape attempt is covered up and the lady in question is soon denigrated in official records!
Possibly in an attempt to attract more readers, the narrative reads more like a romantic story than a factual history. This can be a bit problematic for readers like me who like to have the facts laid out clearly – as I read through the first few chapters, I had difficulty deciding whether this was a historically accurate account or a romantic ballad inspired by true events. It is only towards the end of the book that the author decides to clearly lay out the outcome of her research. Repeated interjections by the author, in italics, about what was to happen later in the book and a writing style that appears to shrink back from brevity also proved irksome. The book would have been much more enjoyable had it stuck to a single narrative, but to be fair to the author, most of these shortcomings should have been addressed by a competent editor.
However, the subject of Mastani and Baji Rao makes for an enthralling story and it is to Kusum Choppra’s credit that she has undertaken painstaking research to get to the bottom of it. Reading the book made me understand SLB’s near obsession with the tale – from romance to politics, betrayal and tragedy,  it has all the dramatic ingredients of a Bollywood blockbuster.