BOOK REVIEW: LIFE AND DEATH OF SAMBHAJI, MEDHA DESHMUKH BHASKARAN
I’ve read Medha’s earlier book, 'Challenging Destiny,' a historical fiction based on the life of Chhatrapati Shivaji – the great warrior king and one of the greatest patriots and legendary figures of India, out of curiosity. But I ended up more than enjoying it. In fact, I was in great admiration of the writer for the simple, impactful and engaging way she presented Shivaji’s story.
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say, that with 'Life and Death of Sambhaji' (Shivaji’s misunderstood son and the second Chhatrapati of the Maratha Empire) she has repeated the same magic.
Seen as an anti- hero by many, Sambhaji is presented as someone who had the same vision, leadership skills and heroic qualities of his father but one who slips... and makes some wrong choices which cost him dearly later in life leading to being betrayed by some of his own people.
The book starts off by giving us a glimpse of a young Sambha ji barely a child who has been left behind in Agra by his father as he fled from the clutches of Aurangzeb. The nine-year-old boy is surrounded by strangers and knows fully well that if he is captured he will be tortured and put to death. The thought that his Aba Sahib had left him behind to face the wrath of badshah Aurangzeb troubles his tender mind often and creates emotional instability. In fact, later it hampers his decision-making skills leading him to commit grave mistakes and causing much damage to his father's idea of swaraj.
However, Sambhaji is his father’s son is evident from the very beginning. The author describes a young Sambhaji as someone who is sharp, courageous, quick-witted and possessing skills of a warrior.
“I have heard horses; I’m not sure if they’re our men or Mughal spies. It’s best to hide, wait and watch. The docile, soft-spoken boy now sounds authoritative.”
“Self-defence, he intended to harm us,” Sambha ji consoles the guilt-stricken Brahmin while gathering the jewels in his hands.
As a reader you’re already immersed in the story and want to know what will become of this young boy whose mother passed away when he was still a toddler. The initial chapters leave no doubt in the mind of the readers that Sambhaji is everything a father and a king like Chattrapati Shivaji would’ve wished for. And the father is proud of his son. But he’s also concerned about him. He knows Sambhaji is emotionally vulnerable and can be easily swayed by self-serving powerful folks from his own family. In his own way, he tries to caution and guide his son. The father- son relationship has been depicted with much depth.
We also get an accurate understanding of some other historical figures who played an important role in Sambhaji’s life including his astute, sensible and brave wife Yesubai, his childhood friend Kavi Kalash, the Chief Military Commander, Hammbhirao Mohite and many others. The setting whether it is Aurangzeb’s grand court, the diwan-e -khas in Agra or the Mughal camps or the impregnable Deccan forts under the Marathas etc. – the description is lucid. I don’t want to talk about the ending except perhaps reveal that it left me feeling melancholic and wanting to know when and how did Aurangzeb’s rule came to an end in India.
History could not have been presented in a more engaging manner than how Medha has presented it. I hope she doesn’t stop here but completes the story and gives us a closure on how Auranzeb’s jihad was finally brought to an end.