It’s not an easy task to weave historical facts with imagination to build up a story . Often the venture on the part of the author goes awry. But Nandini Bajpai ‘s Starcursed is an exception. Set on the backdrop of twelfth-century India it is a story where historical facts get mingled flawlessly with imagination giving rise to a sweeping tale , the tale of a girl who has that intelligence and knowledge to challenge and change the age old dogmas and doctrines .
Bhashkaracharya was a renowned Indian astronomer and mathematician who authored a book named Siddhanta Shiromoni . The book has four parts of which the arithmetic portion is said to be named after his daughter Leelavati . According to the legend Leelavati was extremely talented and grew up to be a beautiful maiden but according to her birth-chart , she was a Mangalik ( assignment of Mars in a wrong place which could lead to a disastrous married life ) and so was left unwed . However Bhashkaracharya , after much calculation precised a moment which could evade that curse of the star and wanted her daughter to get married on that precious moment. But Leelavati , being curious leant over the water clock made by her father to remind them of that rare moment and one pearl from her necklace fell into it making a blockage. The auspicious moment passed without being noticed and she was left unwed for her life .Taking cue from this story , Nandini Bajpai has created the character of Leelavati in her novel Starcursed.
Twelfth century was a turbulent period as the country was facing the war threat of Muhammad of Ghor and his band of Turkis . Muhammad of Ghor came victorious in many battles and stories of his violence and brutality has made him an infamous character in history. It was this time when Leelavati was born to Bhashkaracharya and his wife . Leelavati’s talent was recognized immediately by her father who taught her along with his other students and she proved her superiority in no time. Bhashkarcharya was the head of the observatory of Ujjayini and so Leela grew up to be proficient not only in Mathematics but also astrology . She was aware of her horoscope and so when she got attracted to her childhood playmate and classmate Rahul Nagarseth , she was determined not to reveal her true feelings in front of Rahul . Rahul , a Jain by religion fell in love with Leela but when he expressed his love to her , it remained unrequited which hurt him. Rahul was not aware of Leela being a Mangalik so he failed to fathom the reason behind Leela’s silence. Meanwhile , Rahul’s step-mother ,the Sethani , arranged his engagement with Roopmati , the beautiful daughter of the Oswal ‘s , another big business family who was equally rich and famous like the Jagatseths .
Incidents began to happen fast as Leelavati and her family returned to Ujjayini from Anhilwara. Bhaskaracharya allowed Leela to teach students in his school and Leela eventually became more proficient in every field of Ganit , Falit Ganit and Jyotish . She even learnt Chinese so that she could decipher the Chinese manuscripts on astrology. Rahul , on the other hand , was busy to train a band of warriors under Prince Subhrata of Malwa so that they would be competent enough to stand against Muhammad of Ghor and his forces . As Rahul returned to Ujjayini , Leela again found herself deeply in love with him and finally she explained everything to Rahul ….that being herself a Mangalik she never wanted to bring ill fate on the person she loved most . Rahul accepted the fact with an open mind and logically inferred that nothing in life actually depended on the alignment of stars . Their love was true and pure and that it had the power to conquer everything , even ill fate.
But to a society , conservative and cautious , it was a blasphemy. Bhashkaracharya , in the meantime , found out an auspicious moment to join Leelavati with a suitable young man in the holy wedlock . Rahul was defending his kingdom far away against the Turks . Would it be possible for him to return in time to save her beloved from getting married to a wrong person ? Would the society and their family permit such an inter-religion marriage ? And Leelavati ? how should she react against her family ? against the stars ?
The book is not only a love story , it’s a story about racing against Time , it’s the fight of Leela to stop time for her. The narration is a proof that the author has studied extensively before writing this book. Different astronomical terms of ancinet India , quotes from the Leelavati section of Siddhanta Shiromoni have been used to make the narration realistic to the twelfth century .
The condition of society at that time , the narrow mindedness and beliefs of the high society that they should even avoid the shadows of the people of lower classes to retain their sanctity , the class-conscious attitude of the Brahmins , the shrewd nature of eminent scholars and the chicanery they used to play to prove their supremacy , everything has been depicted impeccably and the readers find themselves almost transported to a time long past .
Coming to characterization , the protagonist Leelavati has been depicted as an intelligent , learned and compassionate woman. She has all those qualities to be an obedient daughter , a serious teacher , a notable orator , a beloved friend and a good wife . The pivotal character of Rahul Nagarseth has been delineated to complement that of Leela . But even the other characters like Sethani , the astrologer across the river , Bittan,Mahendra , Lokasamudra and Bhshkaracharya and Leela’s mother , have been portrayed painstakingly with minute details.
The language is like a smooth flowing stream devoid of any bombastic effect . The author has succeeded to hold up the pace and tension till the end of the story and there lies her credit .
Things I don’t like
The cover : It looks like some children fairly-tale as we see a dark-complexioned lady is sitting on a crescent moon under a sky-full of stars .Though it’s not fair to judge a book by it’s cover but people who do that might become disinterested to dig through .
The engagement between Rahul and Roopmati was terminated without any fuss . Was it really possible in those days to do such thing so easily ? more so when two big business houses were involved in the matter ?
Small pox scars were big things at that time. It was not possible to erase the scar marks so easily once one became a victim of the dreadful disease.
The book is , otherwise , really enjoyable and gives a feel-good sensation once you finished reading . I recommend it for all readers .
From my side it’s 4/5
Nandini Bajpai grew up in New Delhi, India, one of four sisters and many cousins, in a family that liked to read. Although she dabbled in corporate finance, business analysis, and fostering shelter animals, her first love is writing. Her novel Red Turban White Horse: My Sister’s Hurricane Wedding was published in 2013 by Scholastic India. She lives in the Boston area with her husband, kids, their dog Yogi and cat Rakhan.
Goodreads : https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18684549-starcursed
Amazon : http://www.amazon.in/Starcursed-Nandini-Bajpai-ebook/dp/B00GLLKWAU/
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