Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Temple Dancer by John Speed

This is one more book I thoroughly enjoyed. It is set in 17th century of India. Two women protagonists take the Centre stage and crossover their paths toward their destinies. Dasanas is a Portuguese trader family based in Goa, are interested in reviving their trade relations with the Sultans of Bijapur. To make it happen they have something to offer in return to grand vizier of Bijapur, Maya a fine dancer. Portuguese has family bought Maya paying a hefty price and have to send her off to Bijapur. The caravan to carry her is joined by Lucinda, heiress to Dasanas family and Geraldo, a cousin of Lucinda who has arrived in India. The travel is led by settlement man Da Gama, and Pathan to ensure safety of the caravan. Slipper, a eunuch is also part of the caravan, but he is more than company to women in the journey. He is after something (jewelry and a robe cladded with precious stones) which is his but in possession of Maya.

 Journey begins from Goa via the Western Ghats. They are attacked by bandits, many of the guards get killed, Pathan saves Lucinda from the verge of getting killed from bandits and Maya is saved by Da Gama. Their relationships are strengthened after the incident. They take rest at Chitra’s house in Belgaum. Maya is attracted to Geraldo, and would like to forge a relationship with him but Geraldo has higher ambitions. When Da Gama reaches Bijapur he meets up with Victorio, representative of Dasanas family in Bijapur. Victorio finds that there is one more suitor for Maya, Whisper, head of eunuchs, willing to a pay seven lakh Huns for the nautch girl. Eunuchs are willing to pay a fortune for Maya since the stones she has in possession are worth more than the price they are paying her. That secret is known to only Maya and the Eunuchs. But Maya passes it to Da Gama for safe custody. Da Gama takes the stone to a jeweler shop and gets a look alike, fake stone made for him. He keeps the original stone with him and gives the fake to Maya.

Victorio plays cards with both Wali Khan, chief minister of Bijapur and Whisper offering Maya to both parties. And he has a plan to get married to Lucinda, who is the heiress to Portuguese clan. When the caravan begins journey out of Belgaum towards Bijapur, Victorio gets killed by Geraldo and Lucinda is accused for this. If Lucinda is punished to death, Geraldo would become sole survivor in the Portuguese family, and can become rich in less time and no efforts. He is supported by Slipper, the eunuch who has set eyes on the stones is possession of Maya and he does not want Maya to go Wali Khan at any cost. Both Geraldo and Slipper become a team and begins their journey to Sultana (wife of Bijapur Sultan, who is ruling until her young son Adil grows up to be a king). The travel path has routes through Gokak falls, a tiny passage, which can be passed by one man at a time. Making use of this opportunity, Pathan saves Lucinda again by kidnapping her. Later they both get married.

Rest of the caravan, Maya, Da Gama, Geroldo and Slipper reach the courts of Sultana. Both Wali Khan and Whisper claim ownership of Maya. Sultana decides Maya should belong to Wali Khan. Later in the day at the edge of the river, Slipper tries to snatch the stones from Maya. Since the bridge they were standing on collapses, Slipper falls into the river along with the precious stone. But it was a fake stone he took it away. Everyone who were aware of the stone, think it got lost in the river.
Da Gama returns the original stone to Maya. But Maya gets again sold to Mughals by Wali Khan. When she is set leave Bijapur, she hosts a dinner party to Geraldo. Before Geraldo departs, Maya shows off the stone in her possession for which many fought and lost their lives. Once she wanted to belong to Geraldo but was rejected. Geraldo with all his plots and evil schemes thought he had become rich but now he gets to know the fortune he let it go.

Subject, strategy and language are surprisingly superb for an author who has produced his first novel. John Speed, author, began studying history of India while in his school. While working on his novel, Tiger Claws, the characters of this novel haunted him, so ‘The Temple Dancer’ came first setting the stage for his next novel.

For anyone interested in historical fiction, this novel is surely an enjoyable read.