Mountain of Light-CoverTitle : The Mountain Of Light

Author : Indu Sundaresan

ISBN-10: 1451643519

ISBN-13 : 978-1451643510

Paperback : 352 pages

The Plot :

In her new book ‘The Mountain Of Light’, author Indu Sundaresan takes us through a journey following the Kohinoor diamond across continents. It is work of historic fiction all about the 186 carat diamond and how it changed hands. The word Koh-i-Noor, coined by the Persian king Babur, means ‘The Mountain Of Light’ and that is how the book gets its title.

For those who are unaware, the Kohinoor diamond is now a 106 carat diamond, and held the title of the world’s largest diamond for many years.  The first recorded mention of the diamond can be found in the memoirs of Mughal Emperor Babur, who received it from a Hindu ruler he had defeated. After the Mughals, it slipped out of India and was with Nadir Shah for a while.  Later it was held by King of Afghanistan Shah Shuja and subsequently by Maharajah Ranjit Singh of the Punjab Empire.   Finally it landed in England to be presented to Queen Victoria. Currently in possession of Queen Elizabeth of England, the Kohinoor diamond is displayed at the Tower of England in London. It has travelled through time and around the world, changing hands from one ruler to another in Persia, Afghanistan, India and England for centuries.

The book starts in 1871, in the beautiful Shalimar Gardens of the mansion of Punjab’s Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Here, the Afghan king Shah Shuja and his wife Wafa Begum are held captive after having lost their throne and taking refuge in the court of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. They, Wafa Begum specifically, are in possession of the opulent diamond. They had promised the Maharaja that they would hand over the diamond to him if he helped them escape and win back the Afghan throne. After having successfully escaped from Afghanistan, Shah Suja and Wafa Begum refuse to give up the Diamond to Ranjit Singh as they are sure that once they hand over the diamond to Ranjit Singh, he will surely execute them as he would have nothing further to gain from them. They hold on to the diamond as the only ray of hope for their survival.

After years of keeping them captive in hopes of owning the Koh-i-Noor Magaraja Ranjit Singh of the Punjab finally realises that he needs to take more drastic measures if he wants to get hold of the diamond. He cuts off their food and water supply and starves them. Eventually they yield and hand over the diamond to the Maharaja. As soon as he is in possession of the Diamond he sets Shah Shuja and Wafa Begum free.

The story then leaps many years, to when Maharaja Ranjit Singh, still in possession of the Koh-i-Noor, is now old and weary. The British have made their entry into India under the name of the East India Company and have hopes to annex India from the control of Ranjit Singh and have their sovereign, Queen Victoria, rule over the vast empire. After his death, four of his sons kill each other in wars to take control of the mighty empire. His only remaining heir is the six year old prince Dalip Singh. With the help of his mother Jindan Kaur and her staff they manage to put him on the throne as the Emperor of the Punjab Empire.

In the meanwhile the British sign a treaty with Dalip Singh and his court, to help protect his position as regent of the Punjab Empire, in hopes that they will be able to slowly gain control and push him out of power. They start to take account of all the wealth in the Toshakhana of the king and start compiling lists of items of value that will soon belong to the Treasury of the East India Company. During this process, the East India Company and the British manage to take possession of the Koh-i-Noor diamond.

Soon Lord Dalhousie, comes to India as the Governor General and he plans to present the Koh-i-Noor to his sovereign, Queen Victoria, as a gift from India.  Under the utmost secrecy, two high ranking British officers plan to take the Diamond to England on board the SS Indus. On the way to England, the diamond is stolen and later found.

The story ends many years later where we see Dalip Singh is old and settled in Paris and  he shares his diaries with his daughter that he maintained from when he was sixteen and came to England. In his diaries he talks about how much his life changed since he left Lahore and how he longed to possess the Koh-i-Noor diamond.

Overall the book is an amazing read that transports the reader into a totally different world. The book reflects the opulence of Indian Kings, life in their zenanas, the entry of the British into India, life in England and the majestic scenes in Queen Victoria’s palaces. It documents how the Koh-i-Noor travelled from country to country, King to King, empire to empire and finally settling down in the hands of the British monarchs, where it still lies today, captive in the Tower of London.

The book conveys wonderfully how the urge to own this diamond was so overwhelming that even the dreadful curse supposedly carried by it was conveniently overlooked. Indu Sundaresan uses beautiful imagery to show a glimpse of the life led by the kings in Punjab and the beauty of the Koh-i-Noor. The amount of research that must have gone into writing this beautiful book is truly mind boggling. After reading ‘The Mountain Of Light’ I am filled with the desire to see the Koh-i-Noor once again, and look into its facets and try and see the history it has left behind. A definite must read for historic fiction lovers.


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