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Book Review of “The Lotus Queen” by Rikin Khamar

The Lotus Queen

By Rikin Khamar

History never fascinated me. Until now.

Maybe it was the narration style of this book that brought such a valued historical account to life as I flipped through the pages.
The story is essentially about the Rajput Queen Padmavati (Padmini). The beautiful queen is married to the king of Mewar, Rawal Rattan Singh. When praise of her beauty reaches Delhi, the Sultan, Ala’uddin Khilji, is intrigued and he expresses his desire to see her. This demand comes across as major disrespect to the Rajput kingdom because queens had to follow the tradition of the veil system (parda). What follows is an attack on the kingdom of Mewar. The queen resorts to a bold step to freedom and honor, a decision, historians would quote, to lead her people to a fate yet unheard of in history.

The Lotus Queen is a beautifully written tale of bravery, honesty, love, trust and sacrifice whilst surrounded by intense distress and pain. And like I confessed earlier, I’m not a great fan of history, but this story of the Rajput bravery, valor, pride and tradition is quite an intriguing read.

The non-linear narrative is quite simple, but it does not lose out on depth. You might be a little startled in the beginning with the style, but as you proceed, it becomes more and more enjoyable. From describing the striking beauty of Queen Padmini to the picturesque and colorful traditions; from describing the sturdy and secure fort of Chittor to the rugged landscapes of Mewar; and from the passion shared by the legendry couple to the emotions portrayed and shared by all the characters in the book; Rikin has captured it all delicately and quite accurately.

The pace is quite decent. Given the fact that the story traces back to about the 1300s, no aspect of the book (or the writing) boggles you down. Also, the artwork on the book cover looks quite inspired by that era. Very traditional. Very beautiful. Yes, the story could be a little more tightly written. But then, it’s his first attempt. And quite an incredible one.

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Interview With Rikin Khamar

Not many know about the man whose first book has garnered rave reviews and is topping the bestseller charts steadily. We are talking about a bright new author Rikin Khamar and his first book
The Lotus Queen.

There’s more about this bright author who grew up in London; enjoyed his vacations in India; professionally is a business strategy advisor; a passionate photographer and artist; and a poet by choice.

The Lotus Queen, is the story of the beautiful and spirited Queen Padmini. Based on actual historical events and figures, the novel is a tribute to one of India’s greatest heroines. Set in the backdrop of 14th century Rajasthan, the narrative weaves together a tale of love, friendship, and inner courage.

Tell us something about your growing up years in London – campus life in London and the vacations in India. Was it during your early days that your tryst with writing began? And how did the shift to Dubai happen?

Wow – this question covers my whole life! I guess the short answer is that my life growing up and even now is filled with the people that I love and books that have become as close to me as some of my friends. My early days were filled with memories of being either very British or very Indian activities or surroundings. I guess being in Dubai allows me to have the best of both!
As for writing, I didn’t really set out to be a writer. I have always been an avid reader, and thought unless you can write as well as the greats, you should really bother. Ultimately, however, as with many authors I imagine, my writing has just powered its way through the surface – spurred on by the Legend of Queen Padmini, and my need to create something, something on paper. How good it is, and how it is received only time (and my readers and publishers) will tell!

We read somewhere that you are a senior business strategy advisor for a global real estate and finance company. How do you balance time off to write, given the fact that strategy advisors barely can spare time for family sometimes?
The honest answer is that I can’t. People can choose to be the best in a certain part of their lives, but that usually means trading it off with another part. I imagine great writers often have to sacrifice some part of their personal lives to do what they do best. As for me, I cannot make that sacrifice so fully. I am content to be good at many different areas than great in just one. I have a family, and I have a job that takes up twelve hours of my day, and so writing usually comes last. I would love for that to change in the future but I guess for now it remains a passion that unfortunately occupies very little of my time,

What triggered the passion for photography and painting? How and when did ‘Invisible Horizons’ commence?

I have always loved art – since I could hold a pencil or a brush. For me, I have always been fond of sketching Animals and Nature. I still have sketches of trees since I was four and portfolio of sketches of African animals made during my teenage years. As I grew older, somehow art or love for nature seemed to creep into my life – I found myself working next door to the National Gallery in London, taking my wife on our honeymoon to Cuba, or my holidays in Nepal or Africa.
Since I have no training as painter or an artist, I turned to photography. Invisible Horizons project is just a collection of my favourite pictures that I wanted to see showcased. It is a private project that perhaps is there just to forcing me to search for beauty in the world around me.

How and when did you start penning poetry? When do we get to read Voices Of Silence?

How did I start? I am not entirely sure. It just came out of me one day, when I was at an extremely difficult point in my life. Somehow the poetry provided a release for my sorrow. Since then I have begun, extremely fitfully, to write poems whenever I feel the urge to. Sometimes I write three poems in one go – other times years have passed between poems. ‘Voices of Silence’ is an apt title for this collection – the voices of the silence inside of me. I wrote my first poem roughly when I was eighteen.

As for when do you get to read it…as soon as a publisher agrees to publish it! But given my newcomer status, and the limited appetite for poetry, I don’t imagine that will be anytime soon. I am looking for an outlet for my work, for now there are some examples up on my website.

How did you venture into short story writing? 
House in Ali Bagh, that featured in ‘Urban Shots’ is set in Delhi and is about an old house that is about to be pulled down. But the night before a construction worker experiences something extraordinary. How did the ideation of this story come about?
To answer with a metaphor, I honestly no idea where the where meal came from, but do recognise the ingredients. My wife is from Delhi, so the environment and the house itself comes from my various experiences exploring that sprawling paradoxical city. The seeing the supernatural or super-sensorial is one that I have always desired or wished for, and is a theme of one of my favourite authors L Adams Beck. Largely forgotten, she wrote some unique stories about seeing the ‘real’ world behind the veil of our everyday perception. One particular book, the Ninth Vibration, has probably been the strongest influence on me as a writer. Looking back on it, I think the urge is almost universal – don’t we all want to have an experience with the other world? Isn’t that the object of meditation? Of fantasy itself?

However, where and how the story itself came about I am not sure. My dear friend, and fellow author (and now publisher) persuaded me to submit the story to his evaluation team at Grey Oak. That’s how it came to be in Urban Shots.

Talking about Demon Diaries – are those random doodling ventures or are they true thoughts about the sham our real world offers?

Hehe, a bit of both. Demon diaries is my experiment with myself; stripping away my everyday mundane, emotionally-charged thoughts to reveal an undercurrent of my thinking. It sounds very lofty, but I guess it’s something that’s for me allows me to tap into something deep inside myself. Most of it is therefore a good serving of doodles with some side servings of meaningful insight.

Talking about The Lotus Queen –how did the ideation of the story come about? What prompted you to pick a historical figure (Queen Padmini)? What kind of research did this require? How much time did you take to wrap up the book?
The idea of the story first came about during a family holiday in Rajasthan. We were driving to Udaipur, when we took a detour and visited the fort Chittor. It is not an understatement to say, the fort blew my mind. Or perhaps more accurately got me dreaming. Where the rest of my family saw ruins, I saw gleaming palaces, and tragic queens. Finally a year later, I decided to put pen to paper and the result is The Lotus Queen.

Research for the book was conducted through my visits to Chittor, and through books and the internet. Given obscurity of the era, I had to be informed not just about the events, but about the people: what they wore, what was used in warfare, what was the layout of the fort at the time, etc…,. This was crucial to forming my own version of the story in my head. To answer the last question, I wrote very, very quickly; finishing the heart of the book in less than two months. However, for different reasons, the book then stayed on my shelf for almost seven years. Finally, last year I revisited, and rewrote, the book in about four months.

Apart from indulging in the creative world, what do you like doing the most?
Spending time with my daughter and wife – my ‘real’ world! I usually love lounging at the beach near my house, sitting at a shisha bar with my friends, or watching a movie at home.

What next do we see from your desk? A novel? A short story? A different genre?
I am right now trying to finish the planning around the second in the ‘Chittor’ series – which will cover the events of the second siege during the 16th Century. Given my pace, I hope to have a first cut done over the next year. I would love to keep working on some short stories in the meantime – but sometimes I feel it’s harder to write a short story – it has to be extremely well written and to the point, and that something which requires a lot of inspiration, and of course, practice.

In the future I would love to experience with the mystery and horror genres – I am a big fan of books like Dracula and stories with a twist from authors such as Poe, Dahl, Du Maurier and Saki. A collection of spooky tales perhaps?
Would you like share one thing about:

–          Rikin the author that not many people know?
I am worried about my sacrificing my time away from my family and work to write. Isn’t it selfish, isolationist pursuit after all? At the same time, it’s something that I love and makes me happy…go figure!
–          Rikin the person that not many people know? 
Two of my principal mottos are ‘Try everything at least once’ and ‘Don’t be afraid to go the extra mile in any task that you do…’

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