Cover Image of the book 'A Dust Storm in Delhi' by Meena Arora Nayak. (By Arrangement)
Remember reading about Razia Sultan in school? The account was sketchy, but it still inspired admiration — a female ruler who triumphed over patriarchy in those bad old days, gosh.
Meena Arora Nayak has added flesh, bones, and a magnetic personality to Sultan Razziat aka Razia Sultan in this enthralling work of historical fiction. With creative licence on her side, she has picked up strands of historical facts and turned Razia into a stronger, more admirable character than she possibly was.
The daughter of Sultan Iltutmish, Razia is determined to be his heir. That’s all she dreams about during her childhood and her horse-riding and battle-training classes. The only two men she loves passionately are her mentors too: Her father, and his courageous Abyssinian slave Jamal-ud-Din Yakut. While Yakut eventually becomes a free man, he is still metaphorically chained—the Turkic noblemen at court will not let him rise above them.
Yakut is Razia’s friend, confidant, and in this account, a lot more too. His friend Altunia (who later becomes the Malik of Tabarhind) is also a contender for Razia’s heart, but she rejects his frequent marriage proposals. It’s no secret that she favours Yakut, which leads to gossip and anger among the nobles, and eventually her downfall.
Even a Sultan, after all, is not free to do what he/she wishes. Fall foul of noblemen and religious leaders, and the game may well be over. Then there are contenders for the throne among her siblings too. They may love each other dearly, but the desire for the throne is far stronger.
This book gives us colourful accounts of life and strife in the zenana too. If Razia had been male, she would have been a shoo-in for the throne: after all, she’s the sultan’s oldest child, her mother is her father’s legal wife, and has royal blood too — she’s Sultan Ai-Beg’s daughter. Razia’s biggest enemy is the beautiful Husni, the chief concubine, who is determined that her son will be the next sultan. Husni plots and plans murders to fix her rivals in the harem, especially the younger, more beautiful entrants, and uses every trick in the book to win the noblemen over to her side.
Woven into the story are sensitive accounts of the ordeals slaves and eunuchs suffer, gory descriptions of war, and the development of Delhi, a city Razia takes immense pride in: "Dilli has spread like a sadabahar—a forever flowering vine… once the sadabahar takes root, its many-hued blooms are unstoppable. First came the traders, then merchants began settling in, growing business networks and families at equal pace. Soon houses sprouted — thatched, mud, brick and stone, and people who lived in them required bazaars… If it’s not in Dilli shahr, it hasn’t been created; that’s what people say."
The author has given Razia wonderful qualities, the best of which is her resilience. Sometimes she’s up, high on a throne, and sometimes she’s down, deep in a dungeon. At all times, though, her fighting spirit never lets her down.
A Dust Storm in Delhi
By Meena Arora Nayak
pp. 262, Rs.399