Book Reviews

The Ivory Throne

I have never been a good student of history as I’m very forgetful when it comes to dates. That includes my own anniversaries and birthdays. So being forced to remember dates for exams, made me hate history as a subject with a passion. Recently though, my husband got me interested in reading historical books like The Devil in the White City, books which are written beautifully like a story (which is right up my alley because I like reading fiction). When I kept seeing The Ivory Throne recommended by many people, I thought it will be a good addition to my lacking non-fiction reading list.

Every school day for 6 years (except a few when I didn’t go), I have passed the gates and outer walls of Kowdiar kottaram (palace) on the school bus; numerous other times in my parents’ car too, but I am specifically mentioning the school bus because that is the height you need to peer into the compound. 😀 There was nothing much you could see except the overgrown green backyard and rooftops, but I have wondered a handful of times about the lives of kings and queens who may have lived there when they were in power. Now, the funny thing is, I had always assumed that Kowdiar is the most important royal residence in Thiruvananthapuram. The other ones I knew,  like Kanakunnu kottaram for eg., were museums and grounds for various cultural programs like exhibitions and dances for as long as I can remember. I didn’t even know the existence or the importance of Satelmond palace. The royal family was seldom in the news. I can only remember a few instances from my childhood – when Sri Chithira Thirunnal used to lead the procession in Padbhanabha Swami temple every year, when he passed away in ‘91 (naadu neengi, and at the time, I also found out they use special words for the regular everyday activities. As a 9 yr old, I thought it was pretty funny.) and the adoption of Lekha thampuratti in ‘94. I had no expectations on what I will be reading in the book other than a vague idea that it is about the Travancore kingdom.

A major point which stuck with me after reading this book as a Malayali woman is that, the policies of Princess Sethu Lekshmi Bayi did the ground work for all that I have taken for granted while growing up. Generally in Kerala, a girl child is valued the same way as a boy child despite the socio-economic standing or the urban/rural location of a family. We are always encouraged to get a good education and is expected to rise up in careers the same way as boys (at least from my mom’s generation). Same way, the religious/caste minorities have enjoyed the same privileges in society when it comes to living anywhere or finding a job. I’m sure it was evolved over the years and was accelerated by the communist movement, but I feel the greatest thing the policies brought about, was the change in mindset of Sethu Lekshmi Bayi’s subjects to accomplish the above.

Manu has done an excellent job telling the story of Maharani Sethu Lekshmi Bayi. I really enjoyed reading the intro he gives about the previous historical happenings and their significance which brought Travancore kingdom to prominence. There were lot of areas in the book when I didn’t want to put it down. It was  fascinating to read about the childhood spent in the palace by the two adopted ranis and how the difference in their temperament as children came into prominence when they became adults. To be honest, I wished Regent Sethu Lekshmi Bayi’s part went on and on, ha ha! At the risk of sounding clichéd, this book has everything- drama, love, palace intrigues, humor, tragedy and what not. I would recommend this to anyone despite their varied level of interest in reading history, especially to all women who grew up in Kerala, or have a connection to Kerala.
ps: I loved this book. My expression of how much I liked this book is limited by my horrible writing skills. :))
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