By The Tungabhadra
Translated by Arunava Sinha
HarperCollins 284 pages
It is the Saka year 1352. Bidyunmala, the princess of Kalinga, accompanied by her sister Manikankana is on her way up the Tungabhadra River to marry Devaraya II of the Vijaynagar Empire.
It is a marriage of political convenience. But, given that there is possibility of an attack by Ahmed Shah I of the Bahmani kingdom, the bridal party is going to the groom, which is against tradition.
Along the way, Balram of the wedding entourage rescues Arjunvarma from the water, who is a Kshatriya fleeing Gulbarga that has been overrun by the Yavanas. He too is en route to Vijayanagar.
After a three month journey, as the boats near the kingdom, they are caught in one of the unexpected summer storms. As a result, many of the passengers fall into the river, including the bride. Arjunvarma rescues her and takes her ashore a river island, where they are discovered the next morning by Devaraya’s youngest brother, Prince Kampana.
What follows is a wonderfully told tale of political intrigue, warfare, spies and love that spans across class barriers. It is historical fiction at its best.
The novel has a crisp beginning that introduces a story about love and marriage set against a backdrop of politics, war, and a botched-up political assassination by the devious Prince Kampana.
Fortunately, the plot is sustained till the end, with even the minor characters like the maternal uncle of the princesses, Chipitak Murthy, and the maid, Mandodari, or the physicians Rasoraj and Damodar being well-rounded characters.
The descriptions of the bridal party and the reception that they receive, décor of the peacock-headed boat, the richly done interiors of the palace and guesthouse, as also of the town, its people or of the military camps and the women guards are mesmerising.
Saradindu Bandopadhyay (1899-1970) is a legendary storyteller of Bengal. As the translator, Arunava Sinha says that the writer occupies something of a unique position in the “well-populated pantheon of revered writers” as “despite writing the bulk of his fiction in the twenty-two years between 1948 and 1970 — a period that would normally classify him as a modern writer — he is considered a classic author.”
The translation too is a well-crafted piece of work that reads smoothly, without any hiccups that otherwise somehow get conveyed, even if the reader is unfamiliar with the source language.
By The Tungabhadra is a book worth reading and treasuring.