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Posts Tagged ‘Nandini Sen Gupta’

I was eagerly looking forward to Nandini Sen Gupta’s second novel ‘The Poisoned Heart‘, ever since I read the first part of the Gupta Empire trilogy, ‘The King Within‘. I finally got the chance to read it and finished reading it yesterday.

The story told in ‘The Poisoned Heart‘ starts more than forty years after the events of ‘The King Within‘. There is a new emperor on the throne, Skandagupta, and it appears that there was some kind of trouble with respect to the succession, because Skandagupta was not the eldest son of his father. So eventhough he is the emperor now, his own relatives and brothers and uncles are doing things behind his back to bring him down. We learn that something had happened a few years back and it had had a huge impact on the emperor’s life and the way he was now and the way he thought now. The book then takes us back to those years and immerses us in the events of that time. This is what happened.

Skandagupta is on a campaign at the edge of his empire to beat back the Hun threat. One day a woman walks into his camp. She is half Hun. Her name is Rohini. She says she ran away from the Huns to save herself. She catches the eye of the emperor. People in the emperor’s inner circle suspect her. Is what she says true? Or is she a Hun spy who has been planted in the camp to do bad things, including maybe to kill the emperor? As events start moving at a rapid pace, the characters in the story try to find out the truth about Rohini, while we the readers are not sure whether she is a good person or a spy and an assassin, and we love her and suspect her and it is hard. What happens after that and what is the nature of the truth that is revealed in the end – you have to read the book to find the answers to that.

I loved ‘The Poisoned Heart‘. The story moves at a wonderful pace and we can’t wait to turn the pages to find out what happens next. The palace intrigue and the plotting behind the emperor’s back are fascinating to read. One of the things that Nandini Sen Gupta’s fans have come to expect now is that there will be a strong woman character in her books. Nandini Sen Gupta delivers on that front brilliantly by creating Rohini, who is cool and calm and stylish, doesn’t suffer fools, is a warrior and can wield her sword as well as anyone and sometimes even gets the better of the emperor in a swordfight. I loved Rohini. How does Rohini compare to Darshini, the main character in ‘The King Within‘? It is hard for me to tell. Darshini will always have a special place in my heart, but I loved Rohini too. There is a scene in which she and Skandagupta fight together in the middle of the mountains and keep the enemy at bay. It is one of the wonderful scenes in the story. One of the other things that Nandini Sen Gupta’s fans have come to expect in her books is wonderful descriptions of sword fights. There are quite a few in ‘The Poisoned Heart‘ including the playful joust between Rohini and Skandagupta which is charming to read. The dialogues in the story are cool and stylish when the characters are verbally sparring or trying to seduce each other, and they are filled with intrigue when they are plotting against each other. I loved most of the characters in the story. Rohini and Skandagupta are wonderful and complex characters, of course. And Supriya, who is the emperor’s confidante and takes care of him, is wonderful and very likeable too. But even some of the minor characters, who make brief appearances, have unique personalities and are beautifully fleshed out. The story ends with a huge surprise which I didn’t see coming.

I loved ‘The Poisoned Heart‘. It is a beautiful, insightful, poignant story set during an important period of India’s history. I will never forget Rohini – she was a beautiful, haunting character. I can’t wait to read the third part of the Gupta Empire trilogy now.

I will leave you with one of my favourite conversations from the book.

Scenario : Ghatotkacha Gupta is the brother of the emperor. Govind Gupta is his uncle. They are discussing some intriguing, dangerous things which I can’t reveal. This is what happens at the end of the conversation. Govind Gupta is a cool character – when he speaks, it is almost as if Long John Silver or Tyrion Lannister is speaking.

‘Isn’t this a dangerous game?’
‘Politics is a dangerous game.’
‘What if it goes against you?’
Govind smiled. ‘I am an old man. I have lived my life, for better or for worse. I don’t have a future to care about. But I understand your concern. You’re scared it could go against you.’
Ghatotkacha looked away in embarrassed silence. Finally, he mumbled, ‘That’s not what I said.’
‘It’s what you meant,’ said Govind. ‘Don’t be embarrassed, nephew. Self-preservation is a fine thing. Everyone needs it, especially a prince.’”

Have you read Nandini Sen Gupta’sThe Poisoned Heart‘? What do you think about it?

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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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