Cuckold is a historical tome that bewitches and teleports the reader into sixteenth century Mewar, a powerful Rajput kingdom in the present day state of Rajasthan. It paints the life of Maharaj Kumar, the then heir apparent of Mewar, married and in love with his wife, the Saint Meera.
Maharaj Kumar, the narrator of the story, is the quintessential cuckold. Both his wives have lovers. One is the flautist, the omnipresent God and the other, his step-brother.
Kiran Nagarkar has done a brilliant job portraying the life of a person about whom history tells us very little. After all. history is written by the victors, and Maharaj Kumar was a failure everywhere. Even though he wins many wars, all the glory is taken away by others. His father, under the influence of his favorite wife Queen Karmavati, favors Vikramaditya, her son, to become the heir apparent of Mewar whereas it is Maharaj Kumar who deserves the throne by virtue of age, efficiency, and intelligence. Vikramaditya is spoilt, heartless and idiotic while Maharaj Kumar is portrayed as benevolent, hardworking and intelligent. He is loving, brave, more sinned against than sinning. Nagarkar portrays him as a very interesting person through the various incidents narrated in the book.
Before I read the book I used to be in awe of Saint Meera. I loved to hear her bhajans and was amazed by her love towards the flautist, the blue one or Lord Krishna. After reading Cuckold, I have begun to think differently. I don’t understand her at all. She seemed like someone who was simply too selfish, more like a spoilt child. Blinded by her devotion to Krishna, she fails to notice the affections of her husband who loves her immensely. Yet she is jealous and devious when he becomes close to any other person. She treats him like a plaything and enjoys torturing him in myriad ways. He is frustrated by her indifference and dyes his body blue with indigo and goes to her room playing the flute in an attempt to seduce her multiple times. She plays along, calls him my blue one and acts like a lover with him. I couldn’t believe that she doesn’t realize it is Maharaj Kumar and not the flautist. I was disgusted with her.
The political narrative was not to my liking though the descriptions are interesting. The reason being I was more interested in what was going to happen to Maharaj Kumar rather than to Mewar. The musings of Maharaj Kumar about Mewar, his family, nature, religion are written well.
Some of the quotes that I loved:
“Where do songs go when you cease to hear them? Where does the turbulence of the air disappear after thousands of birds flap their wings homeward at eventide? Where are the cries of the Rajput women who spatter their red palm prints on the wall and leap into the flames of johar? Where is my childhood, my catapult, my broken slate, my first parrot, my youth and first sin and all those that followed, where is my old age and the first time I saw the woman from Merta? Ask Gambhiree. She knows it all.”
“We were that rarest of couples. Even after years of marriage we were madly in love. I with her and she with somebody else.”
““Let nobody fool you, most couples are conjoined on earth. The mismatches, now they are a different story. They are made in heaven.”
“Grammar, he felt, was a sign of competence, not of excellence.”
Recommended to all who love historical fiction.