'Anamika: A Tale of Desire in a Time of War' book review| When Passions Run High
The story is set against the backdrop of the Mughal era in the fictional Vishal Nagar, the capital of Purana Zilla.
A civil war is on in the 18th century, and it is the time of anarchy. The story is set against the backdrop of the Mughal era in the fictional Vishal Nagar, the capital of Purana Zilla. Established by an enterprising young king, the town consists of a palace, a school and an observatory.
The daughter of the king's chief minister is the book's protagonist, Anamika - the clever 20-year-old wife of Abhijit, the son of a great wealthy merchant, banker and leader of the community.
Anamika has been brought up like a boy - educated, trained in horse riding, archery, martial arts and sword fighting. On her wedding night, tragedy strikes in the form of a horse accident, as a result of which, Abhi is unable to walk and is bedridden for life.
Unable to consummate their marriage, Anamika is under pressure to bear her father-in-law’s son. It is then that she encounters Abdul Khan, the illegitimate son of emperor Shah Ahmad Khan.
Abdul is bewitched by Anamika, who also notices the handsome stranger. "Something had happened in Anamika’s dull daily life. What did it portend?"
Abdul's step brother, Hassan, is the crown prince and the former's sworn enemy. When Abdul comes with his armed men to attack Anamika’s family, she makes a secret pact with him - agreeing to give herself to him while keeping him hostage in their home, in return for a promise to protect Abhi and pardon all the villagers.
The book is filled most memorably with an intriguing cast of powerful women characters, starting with the fearless Anamika to the enigmatic courtesan-turned-bodyguard Nadya, the formidable Niloufer and the spirited young warrior princess Sonal.
"Men went off to war leaving women in their homes and zenanas, and came back flush with victory. Or the men who had defeated and killed these other men became the women’s new masters, and life resumed with new kings enjoying the women of the zenana."
Several of the scenes in the book remind you of Mughal paintings, recreating imaginings of a timeless era gone by. Truly a "tale of desire in a time of war", where courageous women are the brains behind the men fighting wars, often helping them with solutions and strategies, schemes and manipulations - thus, strongly steering the plot and taking it forward.