This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Saurabh Sharma. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Book Review, Mandu: “A Rejuvenating Tale Of A Romantic Past”

More from Saurabh Sharma

2020 seems like a year of historical fiction among other things. When the media is helping to manufacture and spew lies, books can be our respite from that. And what better than a known-unknown world. It’s probably why I come to fiction, as a reader; but it’s different for Malathi Ramachandran who has come out with her fourth book, a historical fiction set in the 16th century Madhya Pradesh: Mandu: The Romance of Roopmati and Baz Bahadur by Malathi Ramachandran (Niyogi Books, 2020).

Mandu is located in the Malwa region of present-day Madhya Pradesh. In the past, it’s known as ‘Mandap Durga’ – known for its forts and temples. Before the kingdom went to the Mughals, the last ruler Baz Bahadur had a stint of romance with a beautiful poet and vocalist Roopmati, a shepherdess. The book is about their much-fabled romance.

A King Gets Besotted With A Melodious Voice

In Roopmati’s poems, much has been talked about rains in Malwa, it’s probably why the book begins with the eulogization of the rains when Baz Bahadur meets Roopmati. A typical Bahubali (first part) meeting.

In the woods, Baz Bahadur turns his horse and follows the captivating voice singing Raga Megha Malhar. He finally discovers the beauty who turns and says, “You are very wet.” This is followed by the shepherdess taking the King to her humble place where the father offers “masala chai.” The King asks for Roopmati’s hand but the latter refuses.

It’s nothing else except that she sees Naramada daily. She calls the river her mother and she can’t part with her. So she rejects the proposal. However, as all kings have their ways Baz convinces her and gives her a word that he’ll make sure that she sees her mother daily.

By the time we have a feeling that Baz Bahadur is a hopeless romantic, we learn that it’s not the case. He’s into music and he’s desperately looking for a companion. He’s not a bachelor though, he’s married but thinks of Hiba – his queen – to be “the worst mistake of his life.” And in Roopmati Baz is sure to find the best match – both are into arts, music to be specific, and Baz gave it a thought what could be merrier than having her decorate his kingdom. Yes, you don’t bring someone into your life just so that you can be “personally entertained,” but it’s Baz Bahadur and he’s a king in 16th century India.

The Usual Denial Followed By A Passionate Romance

Roopmati doesn’t find herself comfortable in the palace but she finds Sadiya quite helpful. She’s the whole world at her disposal but she refuses all pleasures. Taking note of this Baz complaints, “I don’t understand. You are now my personal musician. All that is expected of you is to sing for me and with me.” Baz doesn’t take a while to realize and fulfils his promise, he orders that Roopmati be taken to see the river.

Learning that it’s just a musical companionship Roopmati does nothing but rehearses daily but slowly and steadily we see that a certain playfulness and flirtatiousness enters their relationship. One of those first moments is this when Baz says, “When you played just now, the lights came on all over Mandavgarh, but when I sing, they may all go out! If this goes on all evening, what is to become of our city?”

However, Baz loses sight of his kingdom completely. Jana Begum – Hiba’s mother – takes cognizance of the matter and asks Panna – the eunuch posted at Roopmati’s disposal – to give her the developments. She gets tired of telling Hiba that her marriage is in danger but to no avail.

She gets a letter delivered to her sister’s son, Adham Khan. Adham Khan is told about the mysterious beauty at Mandu who would be a great presence in Akbar’s court. Adham doesn’t take much time to ensure that Akbar takes a note of it. But failing once he tries again, and this time tops it up with helping Akbar increase the spread of his empire by capturing Mandu. Akbar agrees and the plotting begins.

Aloof there remains Baz and Roopmati in each other’s arms in the Mandu palace. They talk about music, Bhakti tradition, Hindustani, Meerabai’s songs among other things. Soon we learn that Hiba has completely given up on Baz and is enjoying her time with Gaaya and Batasha – who sometimes massage her and sometimes provide much-needed pleasure. She finds their company overwhelming and even tells her mother off: “Amma, I don’t care. Let him do what he wants. I plan to live my life as I want from now onwards. I don’t need a man to make me complete.”

Capture Of Mandu

Roopmati were to pay a visit to her father’s place after his demise, but couldn’t she calls it off asking the troupe to take her back to the palace. She knows that it probably be the last time that she’ll be able to see Baz. It’s well known what happens later: Adham captures Mandu, and Roopmati takes her own life telling Sadiya to remind Baz that she waited and hands over a book of her hand-written poetry.

The book is written in a much simpler language but is in no way inferior to other historical fictions out there. But what I do feel is that the historical texts could’ve found more space in the book and we shouldn’t have seen Baz as someone who’s brave enough to be back. He’s terribly defeated in the war, once he regains the kingdom to eventually become part of Akbar’s army.

Having said that the book is a rejuvenating tale of a romantic past, something which we seem to have cherished less from our history chapters. And we can thank Malathi for telling us such stories.

You must be to comment.

More from Saurabh Sharma

Similar Posts

By Amya Roy

By Mythili Kamath

By IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute

    If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

      If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

        If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

        Wondering what to write about?

        Here are some topics to get you started

        Share your details to download the report.

        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        Share your details to download the report.

        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

        Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

        Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

        The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

        Read more about his campaign.

        Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

        Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

        Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

        Read more about her campaign.

        MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

        With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

        Read more about her campaign. 

        A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

        As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

        Find out more about the campaign here.

        A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

        She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

        Read more about the campaign here.

        A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

        The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

        Read more about the campaign here.

        A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

        As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

        Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

        Find out more about her campaign here.

        Share your details to download the report.

        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

        A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

        Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

        A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
        biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

        Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
        campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

        Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below