Duckbill’s History Mystery series comes with an appropriate tagline, “Mysteries you’ll never find in history books”. Indeed, the things that happen to Razia Sultan (who ruled Dihli from 1236-1240 CE) in Natasha Sharma’s book are quite fantastical in nature. While it was common practice for rulers to get lavish presents, poor Razia Sultan finds herself the recipient of some really pesky presents, including a palanquin for a delicate woman, really girly clothes, and even a really bad poem. Someone is challenging her right to rule, simply because she’s a woman. Although, as the author explains at the end of the story, her book is a work of fiction and there are no historical records of Razia Sultan receiving such pesky presents. However, that being said, there are many important historical facts tucked into the story.
As the unwelcome gifts pile up, Razia Sultan gets angrier and angrier, and at the same time, there are other conspiracies playing out. What follows is a fabulously funny story that talks about gender equality and women’s rights. Sharma writes with confidence and humour and the book is a delightful read for any age-group.
Priya Kuriyan’s black-and-white illustrations bring the book alive for readers, inviting them to step back in time as her quirky pen conjures up the frustrated Sultan, her bemused followers called the Fabulous Forty and the royal environs.
Children who know their history will know that Razia Sultan did not like to be called Razia Sultana, even though a 1961 Bollywood film starring Nirupa Roy insisted on ignoring her wishes. Twenty years later, another film on the life of the monarch, stuck to the name Razia preferred – namely, Razia Sultan. Bollywood trivia aside, Sharma’s book points out that Razia Sultan was a brave woman who came out of purdah to hold court, wore male attire and led the charge when the army went on military expeditions. All of which just goes to show that the truth can be as interesting as fiction. Now only if our history textbooks could be as much fun as this book!
By Bijal Vachharajani
RAZIA AND THE PESKY PRESENTS
Author: Natasha Sharma
Illustrator: Priya Kuriyan
Subject Category: Contemporary/Fiction/Series