The Twentieth Wife

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As the number of women who pick up the quill rises exponentially, there has been a drastic increase in the amount of stories we get that are centered around women. As a result, a fair amount of popular pieces of writing has been reimagined from a gendered lens in the last decade And the previously male-only scrolls of historic literature is no exemption to this shift as well. 

Biographies, memories, documentaries, films…there is no lack for media that portrays the rich culture of our ancestors but conspicuously, until the 21st century a large part of this was always male-centered. While the men in our history books fought wars and ruled lands, we seldom got a glimpse of what life was like for women of the times.  

Indu Sundereshan’s powerful novel, The Twentieth Wife, provides us this missing link that is often left behind as an afterthought in the walls of history. Through the eyes of Mehurunissa, we see the Mughal world of Akbar and later Jahanghir. Here, the central conflict of normal history textbooks and mainstream media sources become just background noises as the story of a girl in a world of men unfolds.

From a young girl to a wife, mother, and a widow, the book takes us through her growth. And surprisingly, in a society that exists more than five hundred years later, we find that we can identify with her life and her struggles. In a world that even now misinforms young girls that there is an expiry date for their dreams,a story like Mehurnissa’s becomes an inspiration.

In the pages of history, we might have come across her as Nur Jahan, the most noted female figure in Mughal history, second only to her niece Mumtaz Mahal. But The Twentieth Wife is not the story of Nur Jahan, the Queen of Jahangir. It is the journey of Mehurunissa, the story of who she was and what she was before she was the Light of an Emperor’s life.

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