Email this review


 The first known modern Indian novel, now abridged and translated into English, is a beguiling tale of love and life under the more tolerant British Raj of the 18th century. Written in 1790, in a strikingly realistic form that emphasizes dialogue over action, the largely autobiographical tale is narrated by Hasan shah, a descendant of a famous Mogul family who's now employed as clerk to a British officer and Member of Council at Cawnpore. Reflecting the more relaxed customs of the period, when the British often adopted the local culture, Hasan's employer, locally known as Ming Saheb, ``belongs to the breed of large-hearted, bold and adventurous Englishmen'' and puts Hasan ``solely in charge of his business.'' It's a charge that includes arranging performances of dancing girls, the famous nautch girls, and providing a mistress. And it is the arrival of these dancing girls, a class famous as much for their beauty and talent as for their availability as courtesans, that occasions the tragic romance of Hasan's life. While riding out on business, he is invited to meet the recently arrived troupe, and is instantly smitten with the beautiful but feisty Khanum Jan, who has vowed never to be a courtesan. Ming Saheb is persuaded to employ the girls, which enables the lovers to meet secretly, declare their passion, and eventually marry--also secretly. But their love is doomed: the army is ordered to leave Cawnpore; the dancing troupe must look for work elsewhere; and, though Hasan arranges to meet Khanum downriver and take her away as his wife, he is fatally delayed by his official commitments. Khanum falls ill and dies, and the grieving Hasan, affirming that ``love is superior in honor and unique in contentment,'' will never forget her. A charming and agreeably accessible portrait of a unique culture in a lyrically realized period setting--as well as an affecting love story. A multicultural plus.

Pub Date: Nov. 29th, 1993
ISBN: 0-8112-1265-4
Page count: 112pp
Publisher: New Directions
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1993