Review of 'Roving Eyes: Love, Lust and Battles of Indian Royalty' by S. Mahesh
Was this the face that launched a thousand ships
And burnt the topless towers of Illium
Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss...
These famous lines from Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus, have encapsulated the relationship between women and battles in a succinct manner. Even in Indian mythological epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata, women are the raison d’etre of all that happens. However, history has not been so kind towards its depiction of women. Their existence and contribution has been always overshadowed by men.
Filling this vacuum is Roving Eyes: Love, Lust and Battles of Indian Royalty by journalist-turned-writer S. Mahesh. The Hyderabad-based writer has picked 12 stories spanning over two millennia and covering the length and breadth of the country to drive home the point of how women have been at the centrestage of history and historical events. He has portrayed these women not only as casus belli but also as someone who stopped wars from happening. The writer shepherds the readers through the intricate world of history woven with beautiful love stories. At times, history outshines love, but in the end, it is love that emerges triumph changing history.
The writer begins the exhaustively-researched book with the story of Amrapali and Bimbisara and ends it with the hitherto unheard story of Hirabai-Aurangzeb. These women are not only beautiful but are full of substance. They represent all strata of society. They were fiercely independent and have taken radical decisions which turned the course of history.
We first meet Amrapali, a ravishingly beautiful woman to whom both father and son were attracted. Then there is this foreigner, Helena who was attracted to Chandragupta. Then Prabha who was a married woman and yet circumstances force her to leave her first husband and marry the king, Pratapaditya. We also have Pertal, a village belle. Deva Raya was smitten by her beauty but she boldly and flatly refuses to accept his marriage proposal. Some of these stories are known, and others are hidden gems.
These are not just love stories but lessons in history told in the most simple and interesting manner. All stories are packed with history lessons providing adequate historical background to the characters and also detailing what the outcome of the union of protagonists leads to.
Sample this: “No one else’s matters of the heart proved as costly as those of Prithviraj, as they changed the course of India’s future for nearly 1,000 years.” Or for instance, Kundavai-Vimaladitya story ends with, “Rajaraja Narendra, the son of Vimaladitya and Kundavai was responsible for creating a new script for Telugu. He also standardized the Telugu language by commissioning the translation of Mahabharata by his court poet Nannaya, who is known as aadikavi of Telugu. If not for the marriage between Vimaladitya and Kundavai over 1,000 years ago, it is difficult to fathom the course of the Telugu language and culture would have taken.”
The stories are bold and beautiful. Also, reading them tells us the more things change, the more they stay the same. Still, history is made or marred by the choices a man and woman make when in love Perhaps, that’s the most important takeaway of Roving Eyes.
Roving Eyes: Love, Lust and Battles of Indian Royalty By S. Mahesh
pp. 239, Rs.599