JAHANARA—Princess of Princesses, India 1627 (The Royal Diaries) by KATHRYN LASKY. Scholastic, Inc., New York. September 2002.
In this most secret and personal method of writing, 14-year-old Princess Jahanara shares her deepest thoughts and feelings about her exciting yet closed world, a world in which history was lived and made. The great-granddaughter of Akbar, the greatest of the Moghul rulers, she is also the daughter of Shah Jahan (Khurram) and Empress Mumtaz Mahal, the wife for whom he built the Taj Mahal.
As a princess, Jahanara has everything except freedom. She is raised with immense wealth—sparkling jewels, exquisite fabrics, sumptuous feasts—yet she cannot venture out of the zenana without covering herself completely. She has many trusted servants to see to her every need and whim, yet she cannot experience the warmth of their touch. Her brothers are free to come and go as they please, yet she is rarely allowed to see outside the palace windows. Hidden behind a veil or a screen, she is imprisoned by the customs and structure of court and religious life. When she discovers that someone has read her diary, she eloquently expresses her frustration when she writes: “Is it not bad enough that I must live in the world of purdah behind screens of purity, forever veiled, locked in a cage of lace shadows that despite their prettiness might as well be iron bars?”
In the face of these stifling restrictions placed upon women, she is an insightful girl who learns through her mother and her paternal step-grandmother (Nur Mahal) that a woman’s power is her voice. While her step-grandmother uses it for evil, plotting family members against each other to meet her own needs, her mother uses this power for good, advising and influencing her husband from behind the screen. And being young, Jahanara has dreams and goals she would see realized if only she had the freedom she so craves. It is like her great-grandfather and her mother that Jahanara aspires to be.
Through her diary, Jahanara weaves her own exquisite fabric, one that sees both war and victory between Dec. 1, 1627, and June 24, 1631. The patterns she chooses include family love and hate; birth and death; conspiracy and political maneuverings; religious separation and tolerance; and a desire to be a part of the world.
In keeping with “The Royal Diaries” series, the book features informational and educational materials, including an epilogue; historical notes on life in India; a Moghul Dynasty family tree; pictures; a glossary of Indian words; a glossary of characters (non-fictional and fictional); and information about the author’s extensive research.
The diaries are fictional, but Jahanara is real. While the author has taken some liberties with certain aspects of court and religious life of the time, she has created a portrait of the royal family that brings them to life through the colors, the intrigues, the customs, and the splendor of the time. Young (and older) readers will find Jahanara’s story fascinating, suspenseful, poignant, and—perhaps most importantly—inspiring.