My first impression of Ram Sivasankaran’s the Peshwa was that this book attempts to cash on the popularity of the film Bajirao-Mastani. I thought this was a film made into a book. But thankfully the book proved my preconceived notions wrong. This book is about Bajirao and not about Mastani.
This book traces the journey of Bajirao to the seat of Peshwa. When the novel opens we meet a young Bajirao who accompanies his aging father on his expeditions. His father’s ill-health makes Bajirao a chief contender to be the next Peshwa. But Peshwa’s post was never hereditary. This leads to a power struggle between Bajirao and Sardar Dabhade. Eventually it is Bajirao who becomes the Peshwa.
If Bajirao is the protagonist of this book, then Nizam-ul-mulk is its antagonist. This book is as much about the Nizam as it about Bajirao.
The author does a wonderful job in articulating the dynamics of human relationships. Be it power struggle between Bajirao and Dabhade or Nizam’s relationship with his adopted son, he gets it right. He brings human greed, ambitions, insecurities to the fore. The sect of Scorpions adds intrigue to this fast paced narrative. He does reasonable justice to Bajirao’s wife Kashi as well. The parallel tracks of Dabhade-Bajirao, Bajirao-Kashi, Nizam-Syed-Emperor and Nizam-Rahim make this novel multi-layered, colourful and damn interesting.
What I disliked about the book is that ends abruptly with Mastani’s entry. Perhaps the writer makes way for the next part in the series. However he should have made it explicit.
While the writer gets Maharashtrian Brahmin culture correct at some places, at some places he goes terribly wrong. Maharashtrians do not come dressed in all white for funeral. The same goes true with the names Kashmira and Jamnaben. Kashibai combs her hair in the midnight. Maharashtrian women look down upon combing the hair in the evening or night. For it is only the streetwalkers who get dressed up at those hours. The writer also depicts Maharashtrian wedding incorrectly. I wish he had researched a little more about these aspects.
Yet, I liked the Peshwa. If you are a lover of historical fiction, you will like it too.