Tell us something about where you live.
I live in the kingdom of Punjab in India, in the capital city of Lahore, where my husband Maharaja Ranjit Singh has his royal court. Lahore is a fascinating city, filled with the most amazing markets, fortresses and places of worship, as well as the beautiful Shalimar gardens filled with thousands of roses. My favorite place is the Sheesh Mahal, the palace of mirrors, where the king and I live.
Do you have an occupation? What do you like or dislike about your work?
You can’t really call it an occupation, though I am certainly very busy. As a queen, I feel it is my duty to pray for the good of the nation and give alms to the poor. I do this on all our holy days. I also spend a lot of time learning statecraft from my husband—he says I am sharper than most of his courtiers.
Who are the special people in your life?
My husband the Maharajah is very important to me. I fell in love with him when I was sixteen, and he married me soon after, although I was the daughter of the palace’s dog trainer. Equally important to me is my infant son Dalip Singh. I would do anything to protect him. And oh yes, my maid Mangla. She is my confidante and also an excellent advisor. I trust her with my life.
What is your heart’s deepest desire?
To live a quiet life with my husband and son. There are so many intrigues in the palace—I wish I could get away from them. Courtiers are always vying for the Maharajah’s favors. The other queens are always plotting against me. And of course, the British are waiting for a chance to attack our kingdom. I just want some peace and quiet.
What are you most afraid of?
That my husband will die all of a sudden. He has not been in good health, and he drives himself too hard, trying to keep his kingdom safe.
If he dies, I don’t know what will become of Dalip and me.
Do you have a cherished possession?
I don’t know if you can call her a possession, but I do love my horse, Laila. She is the most expensive horse in the entire land, the most beautiful, and the fastest. She does not like most people—she tends to bite them if they get too close! But somehow we became friends from the moment we met.
What do you expect the future will hold for you?
Who can tell? It is a turbulent time I live in. The British grow stronger each day. Punjab is the only large kingdom left in India that dares to resist them. But I know this much: if a day comes when the British attack us, I will resist them even with my last breath.
What have you learned about yourself in the course of your story?
I confess that I am very stubborn. And sometimes I make sudden, hotheaded decisions. I’m loyal to those who are loyal to me. But if someone turns against me, I will not forget. Nor will I forgive.
Thanks for allowing us to get know you a little better!
WINNER of the 2022 INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF WORKING WOMEN AWARD for BEST FICTION OF THE YEAR!
LONGLISTED for 2022 DUBLIN LITERARY AWARD!
She rose from commoner to become the last reigning queen of India’s Sikh Empire. In this dazzling novel, based on true-life events, bestselling author Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni presents the unforgettable story of Jindan, who transformed herself from daughter of the royal kennel keeper to powerful monarch.
Sharp-eyed, stubborn, and passionate, Jindan was known for her beauty. When she caught the eye of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, she was elevated to royalty, becoming his youngest and last queen—and his favorite. And when her son, barely six years old, unexpectedly inherited the throne, Jindan assumed the regency. She transformed herself from pampered wife to warrior ruler, determined to protect her people and her son’s birthright from the encroaching British Empire.
Defying tradition, she stepped out of the zenana, cast aside the veil, and conducted state business in public, inspiring her subjects in two wars. Her power and influence were so formidable that the British, fearing an uprising, robbed the rebel queen of everything she had, but nothing crushed her indomitable will.
An exquisite love story of a king and a commoner, a cautionary tale about loyalty and betrayal, a powerful parable of the indestructible bond between mother and child, and an inspiration for our times, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s novel brings alive one of the most fearless women of the nineteenth century, one whose story cries out to be told.
Chitra Divakaruni is an award-winning writer, activist and teacher, and the author of 20 books such as Mistress of Spices, Sister of My Heart, Before We Visit the Goddess, Palace of Illusions, The Forest of Enchantments, and most recently, The Last Queen.
Her work has been published in over 100 magazines and anthologies and translated into 30 languages, including Dutch, Hebrew, Bengali, Hungarian, Turkish, Hindi and Japanese.
Her awards include an American Book Award, a PEN Josephine Miles award, a Premio Scanno, a Light of India award, and a Times of India Award for Best Fiction. In 2015 The Economic Times included her in their List of 20 Most Influential Global Indian Women. She is the McDavid professor of Creative Writing in the internationally acclaimed Creative Writing Program at the University of Houston.