Sunday, April 5, 2009

A Princess I Don’t Envy

Having grown up on an extravagant indulgence of fairytale romances with princesses in distress and knights in shining armor, I have always envied the lives of the royalty across geographies and cultures – the Victorian splendor, the Mughal opulence, the Arabic excesses.

I have read legendary tales of birds in gilded cages but I always felt that in any given period in history, I would rather be a wealthy queen with no freedom than a woman who has to struggle. My argument goes like this - a Victorian princess must have been much more blithe and contented than a woman from, say, the bourgeoisie. Going by that logic, till yesterday, I’d not mind being an Arabic heiress with plenitude and luxury at my beck and call. Ignorance is bliss, they say and I agree. On my mother-in-law’s recommendation, I decided to spend my weekend reading “Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia” by the American writer, Jean Sasson. The book has been classified as the top 500 books written on women.

The story is a non-fictional heart wrenching autobiography of a princess that takes its readers to the forbidden realms of the royal house in Saudi. The princess, unfortunately, has an indomitable spirit and great courage, both causes of grave threat to a patriarchal society that sees women as only objects of possession. The men in her life – her brother, her father, her husband rule her life and do everything possible to annihilate her chutzpah. Much as the tale is about the harassed weaker sex whose only sin is the missing male organ, it is also a tale of the decadence of the male community who continue to live in the barbarism of the dark ages.

The powerful indictment of Sultana, the pseudonym of the central character of the narrative, made me shudder in first, disbelief, then anger and frustration. The thought of a contemporary undergoing such an arduous and torturous life in this age – yes, Sultana is still living, if her existence can be passed off as that, is abominable. This is not a prehistoric saga but a 21st Century extraordinary account of the ordinary lives of women in a part of the same world that we inhabit. I am inevitably forced to compare our lives. Is my equal status to my husband something I should feel privileged about? Should I be grateful to my dad for having educated me? Am I honored that the society I live in considers polygyny a crime?

A profound sadness shrouds the book, leaving little room for hope even though the Princess tries every trick from open defiance to subtle manipulation. The story ends as it begins, the closest men in her life visiting the mosque, leaving her alone behind. There is this helplessness that is so intricately woven with the unfolding of events that no reader can escape the despair the reading of the book brings. I have little courage to read the other two books as part of the trilogy – Princess Sultana’s Daughters and Princess Sultana’s Circle.
Equality of men and women is debatable in any society, but this blatant denial of basic human rights to women, and relegating them to a status worse than that of animals and slaves, is very disturbing, to say the least.


  1. it comes as an eye appaling revealation..never thought that behind all the ostentation ,wud lie a stark paradox..m raring to read d book...

  2. the whole blog seems to boil down to revelling in the freedom we r empowered wid n respect the priviledges that des ethereal n beautiful women living in luxury r denied to..

  3. yep...the book is a must read

  4. hey will be checking out this one too.


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