When we see the lives of men and women around us, particularly of a generation before us, there is stark difference in their personalities and challenges that they faced. The men would go out to work, socialise with others, face professional challenges and grow their stature in the society. The women on the other hand would live at home and manage the household activities. Being restricted at home due to domestic responsibilities had its own challenges, primary of them being the friction that would develop between women within a family. This has many times blatantly been reasoned on the attitude of women itself, with there being even a famous Hindi dialogue for that “एक औरत ही दूसरी औरत की दुश्मन होती है” (it is only a woman who is the greatest enemy of another woman). However I consider this too to be a part of patriarchy. Already being labelled as second class with respect to the men in their family, each woman would naturally like to increase her importance atleast amongst the second class citizens. Secondly, with having no other new challenges than the redundant domestic work, it is very natural to get too much involved in the lives of other family members. Why I start this narration is because in this book also I felt the shadow of patriarchy being heavily responsible for the life of Queen Jindan Kaur as well as the other Queens of the kingdom of Punjab.
This book “The Last Queen” by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, is about the last queen of Punjab, before the kingdom fell prey to the British. Queen Jindan was one of the many wives of King Ranjit Singh. Each of his queen loved the king equally. Having more than one wife has been reasoned through importance of diplomatic relations, as well as his feeling of desire. But because the king has a kingdom to look after, wars to win, strategies to make, apart from being concerned about the lives of his wives, he certainly has a different world view and is oblivious to the household friction in his own palace. The wives on the other hand have a shared husband, that would naturally lead to insecurities given the fact that they were not to participate in any other societal activities. Thus the first part of the book dictates only to how Queen Jindan, the youngest wife and most beautiful as well, has to deal with the dirty royal household politics. It frankly reminded me of the many serials of Ekta Kapoor where women have no other job than to conspire against other women.
In the second half of the book, the life of the widow Queen and her young boy Dalip has been discussed. Rani Jindan was no ordinary woman, as can be seen from the many hardships she faces but all with a strong will and an erect spine.
But instead of being invested into the life of Jindan Kaur, I was made to think constantly of how much the women have been struggling ever since. The rules set by society on character, dignity of woman, etc have pulled women to stay in their palaces, cottages, shacks, huts, wherever they are. It is one thing that unites the women of all classes. Today we women have so many opportunities. But still a lot more has to be done. There are many of our fellow sisters whose life is still heavily governed by the men around them. There is no harm in getting suggestions, but the importance and fun of making your own life decisions, good or bad, is each human being’s right.
Thus if you read this book, read it with empathy, not just towards Jindan Kaur but towards all the women around you as well.