The Princess and the Political Agent by Binodini (translated from Manipuri by L Somi Roy)

Book Review: Sanatombi is fierce, unruly, defiant and independent. Sanatombi is the eldest child and daughter of Maharaja Surchandra of Manipur. As a child , Sanatombi is favoured by her grand queen mother ,Maharani Kumudini. The grand queen mother recognised the boldness in Sanatombi and never stopped her from becoming who she wants to be. Sanatombi grew up how and who she wants to be — free-spirited and unrestrained.

Born in an era where women are silenced, Sanatombi is often wished by people around her that she’d been a son rather than a daughter. She spoke up for her place to succeed the throne. But that did not materialise because she’s a woman. She was given off in marriage to Manikchand of the Nongmaithem family as a royal arrangement. But there really was no love in the marriage.

After four years of Maharaja Surchandra’s reign in Manipur his half brothers started a rebellion which was led by Prince Koireng ( Bir Tekendrajit) to overthrow the ruling king. The rebellion was a success and Maharaja Surchandra (Princess Sanatombi’s father) was exiled to Calcutta. Maharaja Kulachandra becomes the new king. In an unknown circumstance Sanatombi’s father dies in Calcutta and she becomes traumatised by this incident.

Bibodini 2

During Maharaja Kulachandra’s reign Manipur is attacked by the British which leads to the Anglo- Manipuri War or the battle of Khongjom. The British emerged victorious leading to the execution of Prince Koireng and the imprisonment of Maharaja Kulachandra. The seven-year-old cousin of Princess Sanatombi , Churachand is installed as the Maharaja of Manipur by the British after the Anglo-Manipuri war.

The Princess and the Political Agent is a translated work of Binodini (Maharaj Kumari Binodini Devi , the youngest daughter of Maharaj Sir Churachand Singh of Manipur) by her son Somi Roy from Manipuri to English. This book is a historical fiction that entails the love story of Princess Sanatombi of Manipur and the British representative to Manipur , Lt Col Henry St P Maxwell. The book is written is flashback technique where Sanatombi’s younger days and older days dashes back to back. In what may seem a love story there exist the political and family feud in the backdrop of the story . The Manipur royal family where the sons started fighting for the throne after the death of their father Maharaj Chandrakirti and the eventual subjugation of Manipur Kingdom by the British leading to the downfall of Manipur

“What bothered Maxwell most was not being able to express all that he wanted to say, and not being able to understand all that Sanatombi was saying. He thought, ‘How difficult Meiteilon is!’”

In this turmoil was born a love that defies cultural norms— a member of the royal family falling in love with the enemy! Princess Sanatombi and Maxwell’s love was more of a vanquished than that of a defeated. People began to question the Princess’ integrity . The royal family is struck with an arrow but the madness between the two lovebirds could not be undone. The Princess left her husband Manikchand and went away with the Saheb (British man Maxwell). But Maxwell knew he cannot settle in Manipur forever. Someday he has to return to his land. True to her nature, a carefree soul, Sanatombi refuses to leave Manipur. She could never leave her beloved Father’s land. Did they truly love each other ? Was it really true love ? Well, read on and decide .

“But Sanatombi could now understand what he was saying. She had gotten used to the way he spoke. She was getting used to him.”

I have not read the Manipuri version of this book so I cannot tell how much justice is done to this translated book but the vocabularies used in this book is commendable. Themes such as gender disparity , family feud, love, political and historical accounts take the centre stage. I love how this book educated me immensely on the history of the royal family of Manipur. Binodini’s vocal quality is prominent in this book. She intricately weaves her rebellious aunt’s story in a manner that will remain a treasure in Manipur’s literary sphere.

This is a translated work of Binodini by L Somi Roy from Manipuri to English.

Publisher : Penguin Random House (2020)

Pages : 312

Price: Rs: 399

You can buy the book from Amazon here

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Themreichon Leisan is an avid reader and an Independent book reviewer.

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