Book Review: ‘The Begum and the Dastan’ by Tarana Husain Khan

Engaging and intriguing story.

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Book Title: The Begum and the Dastan
Author: Tarana Husain Khan
Publisher: Hachette India
Number of Pages: 312
ISBN: 978-9393701626
Date Published: Feb. 20, 2023
Price: INR 391

Book Review

Tarana Husain Khan’s novel tells the story of a nineteenth-century Dastan through the lens of a twenty-first-century family lore, in which a quintessential tale-telling, full-of-stories ‘Dadi’ narrates the story of her aristocratic grandmother to her granddaughter, Ameera.

Ameera’s life weaves a gossamer-thin frame-story interlaced with textures of the commonplace and mundane, propelling us into the extraordinary, suspense-thrill-filled life of Feroza Begum, one of Nawab Shams Khan of Sherpur’s many spouses circa 1897.

It makes no difference if you are a begum or reside in a patriarchal society. A woman in the nineteenth century was always referred to as “JUST A WOMAN,” regardless of whether she was a Begum or had official royal rank. The author carefully researched and detailed the Nawabi culture of the nineteenth century.

The language is quite distinct, and the personalities sparkle with such brightness. Ameera, a young girl, is listening to her grandmother recount her great-grandmother, Feroza Begum’s, tale.

This is a novel of parallels, with three stories that attempt to give significance to the primary narrative, which has all the components of a historical pot-boiler. Despite being informed that freshly married and recently pregnant women do not attend monsoon festivities at the Nawab of Sherpur’s palace, the beautiful blue-eyed Feroza Begum persists in following, particularly since the Nawab has a bad reputation with women.

Despite the glitz and grandeur, Khan’s perspective on events is unwavering. She recounts a life of abuse and murder in which women are exploited; they may be married or unmarried according to the desires of the monarchy.

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The story reminds the readers of some movies like Sardari Begum, Umrao Jaan, Zubeida, and the recent web series Mukhbir for the beautiful houses, glassware, chandeliers, and the climate in a Muslim parda home. This book, “The Begum and the Dastan“, is a tragic tale of love, loss, betrayal, and needless suffering, with fantasy interludes that merge with history.

Overall, author Tarana Husain Khan has interwoven fiction and facts to tell a disturbing story about the lives of women and ordinary people under tyrannical dictators in the early twentieth century. A story that is recommended but with a disclaimer: A harrowing story to digest!

The Review was first published in Storizen Magazine March 2023 issue.