Author: Ira Mukhoty
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
Publication Date: January 1, 2017
How does one define bravery? Is it brute strength? Is it standing against the accepted social norms or is it an assailable belief in a cause? It’s quite easy to define bravery in men. A man is often called brave when he displays physical strength and valour. But bravery is not easily contained or categorised in women. Ira Mukhoty’s book Heroines is a search of that bravery in women. Heroines is an anthology of eight women with extraordinary destinies and courage.
Heroines covers the life of eight women across five thousand years of India’s history-right from a fabled queen, a Turkish Mamluk warrior, a princess of Chittor to a begum of part-African descent. Some are still a part of the Indian psyche and some are forgotten. There is Draupadi, seldom held as an example of a perfect woman, but Mukhoty included her in Heroines because Draupadi fails, makes mistakes, is volatile but she still remains true to her heart’s call.
All the women in Heroines are very different on the surface. They belong to different historical periods, different religions, different ethnicity and different family backgrounds. But deep down they are similar. They all share an unshakable belief in a cause -whether it is Hazrat Mahal’s stance against the might of the East India Company or Ambapali’s decision to be a nun in the prime of her life. These women have transgressed and challenged the social norms in some way or the other. There is Meera, who defied her family’s traditions in search of divine love. There is Razia Sultan who challenged the Delhi court and became a ‘Sultan’. All this ultimately leads to a confrontation with patriarchy, leaving it horrified.
History is written by victors and victors are generally men. And when men write the histories of women, they are generally glossed over with little regard to women’s valour and contribution towards history. So as Mukhoty writes in the introduction of Heroines, “successful narratives are when women tell the stories of women.” Heroines is beautifully written. Radha’s despair and loneliness as she parts with Krishna or Rani Laxmibai’s fear and uncertainty as the British bombard the fort of Jhansi with cannons is so intensely moving.
What I really liked about Heroines was its inclusion of women like Hazrat Mahal and Ambapali. These women are not well-known but their stories are just as inspirational as the others. All the eight heroines reflect the changing pattern of human movement and settlement in North India.
Yes, all the women in Heroines are from North India. So the scope of the book is limited and I felt this was the only drawback of the book. The rich history of India is filled with several brave women who are slowly being forgotten. They could have been a part of this book too.
I recommend this book to every Indian because we need Indian stories now more than ever to counter the hangover of our colonial past which is still lingering in our educational system and culture.
Note: If you liked this review and wish to read more about great Indian women, here are some pointers for you:
- Rajmata Jizabai: mother of Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. She was an intelligent and brave woman and an able administrator and she help lay the foundation of the Maratha Empire.
- Maharani Ahilya Bai Holkar: She was the queen of Malwa. An able administrator, she also lead her soldiers in battle.
- Chand Bibi of Bijapur: She defended Ahmednagar from Akbar twice.
- Kittur Chennamma Devi: She was the queen of Kittur and one of the first rulers to rebel against the East India Company.
- Rudramma Devi: She was the queen of modern-day Telangana and belonged to the Kakatiya dynasty.
- Savitribai Phule: She started the first girls school in Pune along with her husband Jotiba Phule. She also started a care center for pregnant rape victims.