Very few of us know that the famed Koh-i-noor was last owned by Maharaja Ranjit Singh and was wrestled away by the British East India Company from his minor son and eventual successor Dalip Singh.
Indu Sundaresan’s latest book, The Mountain of Light, is a fictionalised account of the relatively unknown story of the Koh-i-noor as it passed hands from Shah Shuja (a Persian King in exile) to Ranjit Singh to Queen Victoria. It is also an account of how the British systematically drained Indian States of their wealth.
Though slow-paced at first, the novel picks up pace and the chapter on the journey of the diamond from Bombay to Southampton is nail-biting. Each chapter is a different time and has different subsidiary characters though the main character – The Diamond is always there. My favourite is the last chapter in which the aged Dalip Singh recounts his experience in England to his daughter. A touching moment is when the re-cut Koh-i-noor is handed to Dalip Singh by Queen Victoria who promptly gives it back to her feeling that the ‘Mountain of Light’ is now a mere ‘Hillock of Light’ and is not the diamond that was once his.
I have read the Taj Trilogy by Indu Sundaresan and I love how she writes about history without making it sound like a collection of facts/information. This book is no different and is a must read. It’s not just about a diamond but is about that period when India transitioned from a collection of sovereign states with whom the British did business to a British Colony.