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Posts Tagged ‘Beaten By A Beard’

I loved Nandini Sen Gupta’s first book ‘The King Within‘ which came out last year. When I discovered that her second book ‘Beaten by a Beard and other stories‘ was coming out, I was so excited. I started reading it yesterday and finished reading it today.

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Beaten by a Beard and other stories‘ is a collection of eight short stories. All the eight short stories are historical short stories. The historical short story is the rarest of rare birds. I have read some books and stories in my time across a wide range of genres, but I haven’t read a historical short story yet. The closest I have come is when I read a book called ‘The Mammmoth Book of Roman Whodunits‘ which had fictional whodunits set during the Roman era. Writers who write historical fiction rarely write short stories. Almost never. They try to use the  historical facts, that they unearth in their research, in a full-length novel. But Nandini Sen Gupta breaks new ground here, and presents eight historical short stories in this collection. The most fascinating thing about these short stories is that they are not pure fiction, but are based on facts, on actual happenings. Many of the actual events behind these stories are less well known – atleast for me – and so they make the reader see the past with new eyes. Didn’t Marcel Proust say that “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes“? This book takes us on a journey into the distant past and makes us see it with new eyes. For example, the title story ‘Beaten by a Beard‘ is about a queen in a small kingdom in Ancient India. Her husband, the king, passes away, and her son is too young, and the queen ends up governing the kingdom. The interesting thing though is that she is of Greek origin – her name is Agathokleia – and her culture is different from that of her subjects. How she navigates this tricky terrain and fends off the attention of neighbouring kings while trying to govern her kingdom – this is told in the rest of the story. The author explains in the note after the story that there was an actual Queen Agathokleia during ancient times on whom this story is based. I knew that after Alexander left India, some of his generals and retinue stayed back. But I didn’t know that there was a Greek queen who ruled a kingdom. Very fascinating! ‘Dahir’s Daughters‘, the longest story in the book, is about the Arab conquest of Sind and how King Dahir and his daughters are caught in the middle of it. It is in some ways a beautiful and in other ways a sad story. ‘The Pillar‘ is a love story about a diplomat of Greek origin and a courtesan. ‘My Husband the Saint‘ is a story about a princess who marries a Buddhist scholar / saint and how her experience turns out to be. It is a beautiful, poignant story. ‘Parthal‘ is about a young woman who yearns for the independent, everyday middle class life, but who ends up attracting the attention of not one but two kings. ‘Tears of Mahmud‘ is about the last days of Mahmud of Ghazini and it poignantly depicts that death the leveller catches up with even the greatest of conquerors. ‘The Last Book‘ is about the burning of the Nalanda university and library by invaders and how one book, the last book, is saved by a surviving monk. ‘Begada the Venom Veined‘ is about the love of a Sultan for a woman in his harem. It is beautiful, poignant and heartbreaking. And yes, it is not a story from the Arabian Nights, it is based on an event that actually happened. One of the things that stood out to me was this – most of the stories in the book are also about women who wanted to live life on their terms during ancient times, the challenges they faced, and how they responded to those challenges.

I loved ‘Beaten by a Beard and other stories‘. I love the way the book takes a less known fact from ancient history and shines a light on it through the form of a story and takes the reader on a fascinating journey across time. I also love the notes at the end of each story in which the author describes the historical fact or event on which the story is based and points out the historical sources so that inquisitive readers can explore them further. I love the fact that the author has experimented and broken new ground and probably invented a new genre, the historical short story. I am so happy to have read my first collection of historical short stories. I can’t wait to find out what Nandini Sen Gupta comes up with next.

Have you read ‘Beaten by a Beard and other stories‘ by Nandini Sen Gupta? What do you think about it?

Note : From what I know, ‘Beaten by a Beard and other stories’ is available only in digital form. If you’d like to read it, you need to install the Readify App, which is available at the Google Playstore, on your smartphone and search for the book in it. You can buy and read the whole book or you can buy and read individual stories. Happy reading!

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