The Mountain of Light
The Mountain of Light is the story of a diamond – the famous Kohinoor now on display in the Tower of London – spanning over forty years and moving between the various rulers who possessed it. It begins in 1817 with Shah Shuja, the deposed ruler of Afghanistan, who is now a prisoner of Ranjit Singh, the Maharajah of the Punjab. The Shah’s only leverage is the Kohinoor, but his powerlessness is symbolized by his loss of the diamond before he is handed over to the British as the puppet head of their ill-fated invasion of Afghanistan. While Ranjit Singh is the Lion of the Punjab and builds a large empire, the British Empire and its corporate representative, the East India Company, already loom as threats on the Indian continent.
We watch the diamond as love affairs blossom and wilt within both Indian conventions and Victorian British mores, as empires rise and fall, as men of great power and wealth become shadows. The book is perhaps most emotionally engaging on the subject of British prejudice against the Indian people, even those British who try to support and love the Indians placed in their charge. The relationship is always patronizing and off-balance. India’s glory and grace remain invisible to all but the most sensitive of British citizens, and even they fail tragically in their stewardship – because they are stewards of a foreign land.
Sundaresan has told a complicated sweep of history with clarity and warmth. The reader gains a clear sense of the final days of Indian control of the Punjab and the gradual spread of the British Empire into India. Sundaresan dips into individual stories with compelling detail as she tracks the journey of the world’s most valuable jewel.