Wednesday, October 23, 2019

GUNBOAT JACK, A NOVEL.


Situated in the literary landscape that encompasses E.M. Forster's Passage to India, this brilliant magical novel is about the clash of two cultures - ancient India and modern West - carried out in an epic struggle that is at once part mythic, heroic past and the everyday present.
At the book's centre if Nicky, the young Prince of Tandhapur, on the edge of manhood, torn between his roots as an Indian aristocrat and his western education, passionately devoted to his family's pride, power and dignity in an India that is fast abolishing the role of rajahs.
Nicky's father has allowed the control of his family, its fortune. The great palace itself with its splendours and Victorian opulence, to pass into the hands of his English advisor and mistress, Miss Hobbs. A woman of singular determination and boundless ambition, she has cut the Rajah off from his own children, even from the old Rani; from everyone in fact, except Nicky, who sets out to regain his heritage and defeat the invader.
But the time is 1952, not 1542, Nicky's ally is not a Mongol prince but a stranded American boxer. His test of courage is not a duel with jewelled swords but a boxing match with Miss Hobbs's son, a match which gradually comes to signify all the tensions and conflicts of India and of the family, embracing the Rajah himself, his bullying mistress, the young princess who has to choose between a western education and an arranged marriage, the fate if the American boxer, who is in love with an Anglo-Indian girl, and above all the future of Nicky himself.
Filled with rich, sensuous, potent scenes and images, fast paced, deeply moving, romantic and gripping, Field of Honour is a major work of fiction.

Graham Greene 'I was very much impressed.’
-Hugely dramatic, thrilling indeed. FINANCIAL TIMES.
-Murari can set an exotic scene, enrich it with romantic intrigue, and power it with a dramatic climax. A good novel about man's basic struggle against society, his fellow man and himself. For readers who want suspense with sustenance- LIBRARY JOURNAL.
-A first rate story-teller makes the most of the incongruity of circumstances. -DAILY TELEGRAPH.
-A backwater setting with fascinating characters is brought to life here by skilful, good old-fashioned story telling.
PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.

-Timeri Murari's FIELD OF HONOUR, starts at a disarming level. However, some 70 pages into the story, it quickly acquires grip and subtlety. Murari's use of language is accurate and skilled, and his story is satisfyingly well told. TIMES EDUCATIONAL SUPPLEMENT.
-There are insightful observations, like the author's delicate delineation of the position of the English in the twilight zone of postpartition India or the small details of life in the rajah's household he provides. ASIAN WALL STREET JOURNAL
- He focuses on two groups of misfits in the new India. The Anglo-Indians talk of England as 'home' yet are reluctant to leave for a land they don't know. And the native aristocracy that has absorbed (and been corrupted by?) the western values of its colonial masters lives uneasily in this fledgling socialist democracy. Murari links these two worlds with Gunboat Jack, a spent American boxer who is stranded in Bangalore, where he lives restlessly with the Anglo-Indian community. This is a fascinating tale, powerfully told. THE COURIER-JOURNAL.
-Like filmmaker Jean Cocteau Murari believes every man has his reasons. This is a story of aristocratic cruelty and nobility, of ancient traditions meeting modern exigencies, told so swiftly and well. THE CHARLOTTE NEWS.

 

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

EMPRESS OF THE TAJ, INSEARCH OF MUMTAZ MAHAL.


I will tell you the story of this woman Arjumand and how she loved and how she eventually died, but first you must travel with me over 2000 miles through the cities and villages and jungles of India by train and bus. It will be a journey that will take you many weeks and three hundred and fifty years….

 

An extraordinary book that combines travel- and history-writing with brilliant storytelling to give us a portrait of Mumtaz Mahal, in whose memory Shah Jahan built the Taj, and also a portrait of India before it was changed by liberalization.

In the early 1980s, researching for his bestselling novel TAJ, author Timeri Murari began the first of his journeys in the footsteps of Arjumand Banu, the precocious daughter of a Mughal nobleman. Arjumand went on to become Mumtaz Mahal, chief consort of the Emperor Shah Jahan, and empress of the Mughal kingdom until her death in 1861, giving birth to their fourteenth child. Over the next two decades, the grieving Emperor had the Taj Mahal built in her memory – their final resting place, and the world’s most enduring symbol of love.

Timeri went on his journeys at a time before air travel was common in India, when they were protracted affairs and undertaken mostly by train. Accompanying him was his wife Maureen and sister Nalini, his talismans in the face of the many difficulties that travel in India throws up.  In these travels of discovery—in Delhi; in Agra, the centre of Mughal power and site of the Taj Mahal; in the desert cities of Rajasthan, where Shah Jahan waged campaigns, Mumtaz Mahal at his side; and in Burhanpur in the Deccan, where the empress breathed her last – the author found fascinating glimpses of an empire at its zenith, and of consuming love. Intertwined with these insights were the shabby realities of modern India – the obstinacies of the bureaucracy that controls monuments, the industries which deface them, and a citizenry that remains unaware of its own history.

A brilliant meld of travel and history writing, Empress of the Taj, is not only the story of a fabled queen, and the magnificient obsessions of royalty; it is also an invaluable record of a lost era of India.

Publisher: Speaking Tiger. www.speakingtigerbooks.com or Amazon.
 
 
 
Anodya Mishra Scroll In
Travellers and tourists from around the world visit India every year to savour a view of the iconic Taj Mahal. The white marble mausoleum was commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. For almost four centuries now, it has been sitting on the banks of Yamuna in Agra, telling the tale of Shah Jahan’s love for his wife Mumtaz.
While the world considers it a symbol of a man’s undying love for his wife, it is also perhaps an embodiment of the power an emperor possessed to build one of the greatest monuments ever. However, the story of the woman who lies in this tomb has been lost in the pages of history. Her identity is associated with her death, and any signs of her life before the Taj was known is associated with her husband.
Thus, it is her voice that is the subject of Timeri N Murari’s quest in Empress of the Taj: In Search of Mumtaz Mahal. Essentially, the book is an account of Murari’s travels around India searching for bits and pieces of information on Mumtaz Mahal, which helped him write his earlier book, Taj: A Story of Mughal India, back in 1985.
So, Murari, who has spent much of his working life in the UK and America, travels through the hills and plains of India, in both comfortable and harsh conditions, searching for his muse, Arjumand, who is remembered by the world today as empress Mumtaz Mahal. He shuttles between the past and the present, constantly drawing himself back to his protagonist.
The search for Arjumand takes him on a tour around the Mughal capitals of Delhi and Agra, the Rajputana territories of Udaipur, Ajmer, and Jaipur and finally, towards the last leg of his journey, Murari visits Burhanpur, Arjumand’s initial resting place. The book doesn’t attempt to stick to one theme and explores a mosaic instead. Travelling as he was in the 1980s, Murari uses both memory and immediacy to write of his journey and, in the process, provide a glimpse of modern India more than three decades ago. His troubles with the Indian Railways, encounter with riots, conversations with unemployed youth, accounts of nepotism and politics, and his love for the grandiosity of royals, are all intermingle here.
Ghosts of the past
“History, as I am to gradually discover as I excavate a shard of our past, is either gossip fashioned into fact, or worse, outright distortion...”
Unlike many historians (and like some novelists), Murari has a romantic take on history. He writes in a Herodotean style – one which looks at history as an art – rather than the scientific Thucydidean one. With Arjumand being the focus of Murari’s research, it is no surprise that history is viewed romantically. But does he take this approach just for the purposes of writing this book? Or is it simply easier to view the past through the lenses of nostalgia, romance, and beauty?
Travelling around Delhi towards the beginning of his journey, Murari gives his readers a history lesson. Describing the changing landscape of Delhi from a mud settlement to a thriving capital, Murari writes, “No one knows when mud turned to brick and when the name changed but here Delhis lie on Delhis”. This refers to the seven historical cities of Delhi, which are today divided into administrative districts of the same city.
What is fascinating is that while Murari travelled around these cities almost 40 years ago, his experiences leave you with an uncanny feeling that alternates between “nothing has changed” and “it has been a lifetime”. One is bound to travel through space and time and get muddled somewhere in this transition while reading this account because, on the one hand, Murari travels in the 1980s while reminiscing the 1600s, and on the other hand, we are reading this account almost forty years later, in the 21st century.
Murari’s own observation about the past is worth noting. He writes, “The past, not only here but everywhere in the world, comes down to us in fragments, bits of a puzzle we piece together”. Here, Arjumand is the puzzle that has taken over his mind, and he is trying to search for fragments of her and put them together. He feels her ghostly presence everywhere he travels and “with the romantic imagination of a novelist”, he attempts to set up a narrative around the purpose of her presence in each of the places he visits.
On approaching their guest house in Mandu, which lies amidst the ruins of another forgotten empire, Murari “imagines himself ensconced in those rooms sitting on the balcony and listening to the ghostly music and laughter”. However, his perception of reality is far removed from the actual surroundings – his wife and his sister aren’t too keen on dining with ghosts and sleeping in rooms infested by mice and prefer to spend the night in a place away from the ruins.

Living and dying a nomad

“Briefly, in death as in life, she led a nomadic existence but then as the marble sarcophagus settled down with her, eternity claimed her forever...”
Murari travels through India, his homeland, in search of Arjumand, an empress who was travelling around the same places hundreds of years ago. Arjumand came from the family of a Persian nobleman who had yet travelled all the way from Persia to the Mughal Empire in search of a better life. She had married into the royal Mughal family, who traced their lineage to the nomadic tribe of Mongols.
Thus, Arjumand’s life, by birth and by marriage, was supposed to be a nomadic one; but was her death to be nomadic too? She died in Burhanpur, far from her native land of Persia. There her body rested for a few years, before being transferred to another temporary tomb in Agra, and finally being buried in Taj Mahal.
Arjumand’s nomadic existence reminds Murari of his own life. He writes, “What better proof of our nomadic existence than my mother’s death in Lahore, 2000 kilometers from our ancestral home in Madras.” Paralleling Arjumand’s life with his own, Murari seems to be searching for his own self and for stories from his past through this journey. There is constant banter between him and his sister throughout the journey as they try to locate their collective memories in their individual ones.
Being the child of a government employee, Murari had had a fair share of moving around, leaving him with fragments of memories from everywhere and a feeling of uncertainty about home. However, during one of his journeys, his wife Maureen is engulfed with a sense of foreignness while traveling in India. At that instance, a realisation dawns upon him when he writes, “India can never frighten me. I suppose that is the definition, for me, of home”.
Murari’s search for Arjumand ends with Burhanpur. As they near Burhanpur, Murari has second thoughts about visiting the her first grave. He considers letting Burhanpur remain a “figment of his imagination and a figment of India’s memory, long forgotten on the banks of Tapti”.
However, after his initial apprehensions, when he is finally standing at the tomb with the sun setting, there is a deep sense of closure in the reader’s mind. Murari’s “private pilgrimage” comes to an end. He makes one final journey the next day, early in the morning, to look at the grave a second time, this time all by himself. “The grave begins another day of solitude on earth, protecting nothing, marking nothing but memory”.
 
 
 

 

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

A COUNTRY OF NO RETURN Chapter one.


A COUNTRY OF NO RETURN

By

TIMERI N MURARI.

 

 

 

-The Struggle of Man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.

Milan Kundera

 

THE DEPARTURE

                       

The man, David Richelieu, knowing he was going to his own execution for unspecified crimes, looked down at the sleeping woman. Her hair, revealing white at the roots, shielded half her face, tousled from a restless night; her breath shallow, gently reassuring. He bent, breathed in the perfume, and kissed the air goodbye.

It was early morning, the light muted by the shades, as he moved to the door. A stocky man, broad shouldered, unruly grey hair, was surprisingly light on his feet, not a rustle of sound as he stepped into the corridor. He patted the pockets of his summer jacket, wrinkled and a size too large to check he had his passport and wallet. The gift was in the inner pocket.  He had a new phone, the old one hidden in a suitcase, switched off.  At times, he could be absent-minded, but on this day he was alert to the possibilities of a fatal error. He walked out of the hotel to a near deserted city, stepping out of a long darkness into the light, tensing for the journey ahead. His hired car was parked down a side street with the overnight case in the boot.

He had not told Marge of his planned misadventure. She would have wanted to accompany him, a sprightly woman who loved him and accompanied him everywhere. They were on vacation, sleeping late, seeing the sights, indulging their appetites for wine and good food. When she woke, she would believe he had gone for the morning newspaper and would join her for breakfast. If he wasn’t there, she would start searching for him, pacing the room, calling reception, calling the embassy, calling the tour organisers, calling the police finally when she could not find him. She would not panic, not just yet, allow him a day or two to find his way back or get in touch. She knew at times he needed his solitude and would vanish, then return with no explanation, relaxed, as if nothing had happened. He did not have a lover; she was positive of that but never understood what he did on these excursions. Just the need to think something through, he would reply and she accepted the explanation. He was a thinker, after all, a man with a past.

The drive had taken longer than he had calculated, nine hours, not six, as road works were in progress just as he had started out, and was trapped him in the traffic back up. The road leading to the border was only two lanes and he had to drive carefully, as the trucks and cars raced with the familiarity of knowing the idiosyncrasies of the route too well. Two hours out the traffic thinned, an occasional truck, then just the quiet hum of the car, the warm breeze through the window, lulling his senses. He was enjoying the drive through the forest, keeping within the speed limit, suspicious of police speed cameras. He stopped at a village hotel for lunch, putting on sunglasses and pulling the fedora low over his head and, as he was ahead of schedule, rented a room to nap. He had slept badly, anticipating this journey, mentally preparing himself for it. He woke late evening, checked the time and continued his journey. Darkness came swiftly, only the intensity of the headlamps drew him along the winding road. He peered to look up, a clear sky, the half moon and the stars without light pollution so visible. The radio had long fallen silent as he moved further from the city, and he hummed to keep concentrated. It was nearing four in the morning, when he stopped at a curve, got out and walked down the road, past the bend, and saw the border check post.

He remained watching a long time, deciding whether to drive on or drive back. He had come this far, and saw no harm in crossing and finding a good hotel in the city. His passport was in his inside pocket, it had a valid visa. A good man, the vice president marketing for CCP International, selling its financial products – investments, start ups, inside information – to clients around the world. A successful corporate type, bland, ambitious only for his success, one day elevated to President of CCP International, if all went well. The corporate world as dangerous as the real one in manouvering for power. This journey was a break from business, a private holiday to explore the beautiful capital with its wide roads, monuments, cafes, museums and expensive whores. No, he had no meetings planned, no investment opportunities to sell, his diary blank for the next two days. But should he meet, by chance,a possible client, he had a list of these investment and start ups memorized, every one of them bonafide, not cons, easily checked by reading the financial papers or online. Even a call to the CCP Inc. head office would vouch for his authenticity. The switchboard would connect the caller to his office, a secretary would regret that  David Richelieu was on vacation and back next week.

‘I am David Richelieu, vice president of CCP International,’ he said out aloud to the night, speaking to the trees, the bushes, up to the starry sky. Fading now, as the dawn light had begun to steal away the magic of night. He spoke to reassure himself, to be what he was, and returned to the car, the motor still idling as he hadn’t wanted to break the silence by starting up. It would be heard miles away, and knew why he had taken such precautions. He treasured silence, the hum of insects, the first stirrings of the birds, waking from their sleep, even the trees reaching out to the early light.

He drove slowly, almost coasting to the border post, his lights off. The wall emerged gradually from the surrounding grey light. He had seen photographs of it, looking so much like other walls, built to last centuries- the great wall visible from the moon,  walls of ancient forts, long breeched by invaders, inhabitants salughtered, the walls of prisons too to incarcerate men, and women. As the first rays of sunlight touched the wall, he saw that it was made of steel and granite, at least fifteen foot high, an admirable wall, topped with barbed wire, that guarded the borders of this nation as far as he could see. It followed the jagged imaginary line drawn on a map to define the nation’s existence. It didn’t inspire, it filled him with despair at such a world that imprisoned itself to keep out the alien. That was the nature of all walls, to keep the outsider out, the insider in. The wall was now 17-years-old, a new born, and had weathered well, formidable and impregnable. In far distance he saw the camps of those excluded, desperate to enter a promised land, praying that wall would vanish when it heard their incantations and chants.  He imagined the children, mothers and fathers staring all day at this barrier in their lives. In a forgotten age, a trumpet blast disintegrated a great wall. Once, before the wall, there was a view of fields, villages and in the hazy distance the hint of a city just below the horizon. There was a break in the uniformity of the wall, a metal barrier, wide enough for a motorcar to slip through and on the other side, the border control office. To right side of the post, half way up the wall was the signboard, blurred by the rain and heat, concealed by weeds, no longer proud of boasting to the outside world  ‘Welcome to AKRANDAH.’ Now, that was another country, obscured too by the passage of time, the wall and just a memory and a longing.

He stopped the car at the border post, got out, stretching, as a border guard came out of the office, stifling a yawn, rubbing sleep from his eyes.  The second one stood at the barrier, already waiting to lift it.  He took out his passport, ready to hand it over. The guard took it, opening the pages slowly, finding the visa, comparing his face to the photo. He went to the office, took out the stamp and placed the seal on the page. The barrier lifted.  Just beyond it, Richelieu caught sight of a man walking towards the post, purposefully. He looked straight at Richlieu as he neared and Richlieu knew that someone had betrayed him.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

ART OF THE BRIBE


Like many Indians,  I try to have as little personal contact with our bureaucracy. Keeping them at digital arm’s length works best for me. They’re disembodied, like my tax man or woman, whom I never have to set eyes on or sit across the table. I don’t have the necessary crores to perk up their interest.

Unfortunately, for something legal, I had to break my aversion for personal contacts. I need a piece of paper signed by someone. I visit the authority closest to my address. It’s  a neglected building set in an unkempt compound; a few stray dogs wander around, two women sit by the gate, well endowed ones too in lovely sarees. They have a stack of forms for sale and offered me one.  The entrance is crowded with many women, clutching papers, the currency to enter. Here is humanity pressing to beseech the inhumanity of our state for a favour. There is no gate keeper. Inside, stacked against the walls are large bales, piled high to ceiling, leaving a narrow passage for suplicants to pass. I ask for directions and as pointed up the stairs. Here too are these bales; they flow into the office of the man I need to see. A narrow gap leads to the chair opposite him. He is immaculate in a safari suit, princely at a vacant desk. I tell him my simple needs; he understands and asks for 5,000 to do the needful. I didn’t have it. I invoke the name of our PM Narender Modi as a mantra but it fails to have the desired affect with the official. Come back tomorrow, and I’ll have the paper ready. I return to same press of humanity milling around, he presenteds me with the paper; I reluctantly pass him the bribe for it. It turns out, he is the wrong man in the wrong office and refuses to return the money. He promises to help me with my quest, however.

I discovered the city is divided into minor kingdoms, and you have to know where the palace of your needs lies. My palace is on a busy main road, not far from home, with three tea kadais lined up outside, taking up the pavement space, as guardians. At one of them, a young man sells single cigarettes, teas and biscuits. More humanity mills here and at least the office looks recently built and maintained. Here too are bales and curiosity breaks through - they are filled with dhotis and sarees as pongal gifts for ration card holders only, I’m informed. There is a minor fortune of freebees along the walls. I wander down a corridor to the left of the entrance. One side, a large space, glassed in, furnished with rows of desks. On each desk, files a foot high, all held together by a grey ribbon. At the last desk, a man is diligently tearing strips off a grey nylon sack and using that to bind the files.So much for red tape; I am in a world of grey ones.  On the right are the closed doors with the titles of the many princes who rule this kingdom.

The official I need sits at a desk behind the glass divider. He’s slim, in a bush shirt, trousers, a look of infinite patience. He is the direct connect with those pressing for needs and not protected by the closed doors of his princes. Yes, I am in the right office for what I need. It will take some days; fill in the form, proof of identity and wait.  He has to visit me at home to confirm I am who I said I am and live at that address. But, as always, there is a price for his services. The paper I needed was free, gratis of a generous government, but his services need some gratification. There is no point invoking our PM eradicating corruption. There is no fear for the demand, matter-of-fact, well rehearsed. Either or at the end of his sentence.  I have a legal right to the paper I want, it makes no difference; he’s a busy man, the files piled high on his desk too, and over flowing from cupboards behind him. Demonetisation be damned, my weekly pocket money from my account for the week is below his demand. He’ll wait for me to accumulate enough. I am now a fellow corrupter; it’s not a role I want. For him, like the majority of our bureaucrats, corruption is genetic. It is his legal right to demand it for performing a legal act. It’s not only him, it’s in all our psyches – politicians, business person, even the poorest farmer, labourer. We conspire together to feed the insatiable appetites of those demanding payments, over and above their safe salaries, lifelong employment while we, outside this privileged circle, have to meet their hunger for black money. But he’ll start the work. Stay at home, I’ll come he says, not saying which day. Tomorrow, maybe.

He comes mid-afternoon, riding pillion on a scooter, driven by the man who sells cigarettes and biscuits. They are an inseparable duo, I discover. Questions asked are answered and noted; identity confirmed, aadhar, but no ration card. That disappoints him; it looks serious from the dour look. He loves ration cards, and not new fangled ones like passports. It will have to do, as he gathers more evidence, meticulous as detective accumulating evidence against me. I may be found guilty of not enough paper to fill the government requires, reams more needed it turns out over the days. The tea kadai is the go-between when my official isn’t to be found. He knows his whereabouts, has his cell number, and reports to me his exact movements, like a good GPS.

Finally, the day comes – the paper I want is ready. I have the money, the official holds the paper. He wants the money first, I want the paper first. We have a Mexican stand of. He is aggrieved – you don’t trust me. I have to smile at his plaintive tone, here he is demanding money, committing a crime, and I am to trust an amoral man. And I am one too, so we’re at stand still. Tea Kadai intervenes, it is his role. He will take the money, and I am given a copy of my paper. Tea man tells my official he has it, the official hands over my paper. It’s what I needed, it has all the stamps, looking as authentic are new 2000 rupee note, I think. He’s richer; I’m poorer as I leave the office. I hope I never have to visit another office again. I just can’t afford it.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

TAJ A story of Mughal India.


blurb as on Goodreads……….

When his queen, Arjumand Banu – Mumtaz-i-Mahal, the Chosen One of the Palace – died, Shah Jahan wanted to build a monument that was the image of his perfect love for her. For twenty-two years, twenty thousand men labored day and night to fulfill the emperor’s obsession. The result was the Taj Mahal, a marble mausoleum lined with gold, silver and precious jewels.

This powerful novel narrates the story of the Taj on two parallel levels. The first one tells the passionate love story of Shah Jahan and Arjumand till her death through the voices of three main characters – Arjumand, Shah Jahan and Isa, Arjumand’s favorite eunuch. The second recounts the later years of Shah Jahan’s reign, the building of the Taj Mahal and the bloody pursuit of the fabled Peacock Throne by his sons. Intertwined with the narrative about the building of the Taj is the story of Murthi, the Hindu craftsman sent as a gift to the emperor to carve the famous marble jali around Arjumands sarcophagus.

In this complex and fascinating book, Murari has written much more than a historical romance. He has skillfully recreated the period against which the story is set: the opulence of the palace and the grinding poverty of seventeenth-century India, the vicissitudes of Shah Jahan’s reign and the often bitter conflict between men of different faiths.

review………….

The mask is off- the charm is wrought-

And Seh Jehan to his heart has caught,

His Mumtaz Mahal, his Haram’s Light!

And well do vanish’d frowns enhance

The charm of every brighten’d glance,

And dearer seems each dawning smile

For having lost its light awhile,

And, happier now, for all her sighs,

As on his arm, her head reposes,

She whispers to him, with laughing eyes,

“Remember, love, the Feast of Roses.”

With a flair and enthusiasm for history and culture, Murari creates a story full of rich details that bring the reader deep into the world of the lives of Indian emperors and their struggles for power and consequence.

While Galileo suffered under house arrest at the hands of Pope Urban VIII, the Thirty Years War ruined Europe, and the Pilgrims struggled to survive in the New World, work began on what would become one of the Seven Wonders of the World: the Taj Mahal. Built by the Moghul emperor Shah Jahan as a memorial to his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal, its flawless symmetry and gleaming presence have for centuries dazzled everyone who has seen it, and the story of its creation is a fascinating blend of cultural and architectural heritage. Yet, as Timeri Murari vividly convey in the first narrative history of the Taj, it also reflects the magnificent history of the Moghul Empire itself, for it turned out to mark the high point of the Empire’s glory at the same time as it became a tipping point in Moghul fortunes.

The roots of the Moghul Empire lie with the legendary warriors Genghis Khan and Tamburlaine; at its height, it contained 100 million people, from Afghanistan in the north and present-day Pakistan in the west, to Bengal in the east and southwards deep into central India… With the storytelling skills that characterize his previous books, Murari brings alive both the grand sweep of Moghul history and the details that make it memorable: the battles and dynastic rivalries that forged the Empire alongside an intimate chronicle of daily life within the imperial palace. A tale of overwhelming passion, the story of the Taj has the cadences of Greek tragedy and the ripe emotion of grand opera and puts a memorable human face on the marble masterpiece.

In 1631, the heartbroken Moghul Emperor, Shah Jahan, ordered the construction of a monument of unsurpassed splendor and majesty in memory of his beloved wife. Theirs was an extraordinary story of passionate love: although almost constantly pregnant – she bore him fourteen children – Mumtaz Mahal followed her husband on every military campaign, in order that they might never be apart.

But then Mumtaz died in childbirth. Blinded by grief, Shah Jahan created an exquisite and extravagant memorial for her on the banks of the river Jumna. A gleaming mausoleum of flawless symmetry, the Taj Mahal was built from milk-white marble and rose sandstone, and studded with a fortune in precious jewels. It took twenty years to complete and involved over 20,000 laborers, depleting the Moghul treasuries. But Shah Jahan was to pay a greater price for his obsession. He ended his days imprisoned by his own son in Agra Fort, gazing across the river at the monument to his love. The building of the Taj Mahal had set brother against brother and son against father in a savage conflict that pushed the seventeenth century’s most powerful empire into irreversible decline.

The story behind the Taj Mahal has the cadences of Greek tragedy, the carnage of a Jacobean revenge play and the ripe emotion of grand opera. With the storytelling skills that characterize their previous books, in this compelling narrative history, Timeri Murari succeeds in putting a revealing human face on the famous marble masterpiece.

Skillfully blending the textures of historical reality with the rich and sensual imaginings of a timeless fairy tale, Taj sweeps readers up in the emotional pageant of Khurram and Arjumand’s embattled love. First-time novelist Timeri Murari charts his heroine’s enthralling journey through the years, from an ill-fated first marriage through motherhood and into a dangerous maze of power struggles and political machinations. Through it, all, Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan long with fiery intensity for the true, redemptive love they’ve never known — and their mutual quest ultimately take them, and the vast empire that hangs in the balance, to places they never dreamed possible.

Shot through with wonder and suspense, Taj is at once a fascinating portrait of one woman’s convention-defying life behind the veil and a transporting saga of the astonishing potency of love.

The Moghul emperors are still bloodthirsty and entirely ruthless; they control a quarter of the world’s population and have wealth beyond imagining. But this is the final flowering of a doomed empire and, while Shah Jahan mourns his dead wife and obsesses over the Taj Mahal, her monument, his son Aurangzeb is planning to take his father’s throne, by any means necessary.

Critically acclaimed author Murari picks up where he left off, returning to seventeenth-century India as two princesses struggle for supremacy of their father’s kingdom.

Trapped in the shadow of the magnificent tomb their grief-stricken father is building for his beloved deceased wife, the emperor’s daughters compete for everything: control over the imperial harem, their father’s affection, and the future of their country. They are forbidden to marry and instead choose to back different brothers in the fight for ultimate power over the throne. But only one of the sisters will succeed. With an enthusiasm for history and a flair for rich detail, Timeri Murari brings readers deep into the complicated lives of Indian women of the time period and highlights the profound history of one of the most celebrated works of architecture in the world, the Taj Mahal.

The daughters of Emperor Jahangir, Jahanara and Roshanara, plot and scheme against one another in an attempt to gain power over their father’s harem. As royal princesses, they are confined in the imperial harem and not allowed to marry. However, this does not stop them from having illicit affairs or plotting the next heir to the throne. These royal sisters are in competition for everything: power over the harem, their father’s affection (still focused on his dead wife), and the future of their country. Unfortunately, only one of them can succeed. And, despite their best efforts to affect the future, their schemes are eclipsed, both during their lives and in posterity, as they live in the shadow of the greatest monument in Indian history, the Taj Mahal.

In Taj, we meet the great Mumtaz Mahal, known for both her beauty and the beauty that stood for her and in her respect- taj mahal. the author beautifully explains the story of Mumtaz Mahal as a wife of Shah Jahan and the mother of his sons and daughters, and the royal, imperial and remarkable character of the power of jahanara begum – the only Mughal woman to write a spiritual treatise on Sufism, the sister of Aurangzeb and the padshah begum after Mumtaz’s era and Shah Jahan’s favourite child, owner of the most lucrative port in medieval India and patron of one of its finest cities, Shahjahanabad.

Ever since I have started reading Murari’s books – the first of which is this book itself- but only a sample chapter on my kindle, I have become a fan of her. history is a critical subject and more critical is it’s retelling as if you do not know the tale properly and cannot narrate it in a gripping way then the reader would not find it interesting. I feel it is just a cup of tea for Timeri Murari for retelling history.

the best part of the book is its beauty in the simplicity of language and the complex and gripping narrative. I felt that the beauty of the enchanting narration makes the book truly a “masterpiece”. one cannot put down the book in the middle if you have started once. Through the characters of Arjuman and Jahanara, Murari beautifully captures the epitome of a heroine and a “veiled” warrior and rebel, and even a perfect daughter and a sacrificing queen. The qualities of this particular character, the way she handles both her brain and beauty, the way her words and tactics slash through people will truly make you enter into hero worshipping for Jahanara and Mumtaz.
for the narration, it is just mind-boggling. the way he captures each character and emotions in their pen would leave you enthralled.

the author even beautifully sketches out the backdrops and the intricate and intense scenes of both Mumtaz and Jahanara’s turbulent and powerful life, of her journey from the royal power and politics of the empire to her house arrest along with her father, will leave you mesmerized even after you complete the book. the book truly captures your mind and leaves a mark on your heart.

the book is a fiction and it totally stands for its genre. you would read new tales like the tales of some characters and some fights, scenes and dialogues. still, you would never ever feel that the book deviates from the real story, it does not, it just adds up more spice to the real story framed in the Luminous Tomb and Padshahnama.
the book is even very intensely researched for there is a lot of details about how the Mughals lived, walked, talked and even what they wore and ate. the book would give you every detail about the Mughal empire under the period of Shah Jahan. the book even gives a great note on the power play and political instability and intrigue during that turbulent times.

another perk of the book is its philosophy. you would see a lot of beautiful ideas of philosophy hidden within tales. the way the fight scenes are explained truly captures the full attention of the reader. The action scenes of how the armies fought and how each step is taken will keep you riveted till the end.

the book is very meticulously researched and this intense work is very well channeled through their extraordinary narration and captivating plot. the intense research which even includes English translated quoted lines from the Mughal texts like The History of Hindostan, Storia do Mogor, Padshahnama, and others.

The very first attempt to chronicle the woman who played a vital role in building the Mughal empire, Taj is an illuminating and gripping history of a little-known aspect of the most magnificent dynasty the world has ever known.

An enchanting historical epic of grand passion and adventure, this novel tells the captivating story of one of India’s most unknown and hidden empresses — a woman whose brilliance and determination trumped myriad obstacles, and whose love shaped the course of the Mughal Empire. Skillfully blending the textures of historical reality with the rich and sensual imaginings of a timeless fairy tale, Taj sweeps readers up in Mumtaz’s precious love and Jahanara’s embattled and hidden love and her powerplay and politics, and in the bedazzling destiny of a woman — a legend in her own time — who was all but lost to history until now.

 
the book totally is worth reading. and if you have not read it, it is totally your huge loss. overall the book is in simple words a “masterpiece”.a perfect tapestry of history and imagination. the book is such a perfect piece of the whole bloody and imperial Mughal history that I would declare it truly as a “legend in the field of history.”
imaginative. intrigue. intense.
I would recommend the book to all the history lovers and to everyone who loves fiction and I am sure they would love the gripping story.

 

Monday, September 4, 2017

A visit to Kumbakonam


To promote my YA Axxiss trilogy novels and Children’s' books, Children of the Enchanted Jungle, my publisher, Scholastic, has me visit schools. This to both promote reading among the children and, of course, plug my novels. The most exhausting schedule was the one to Hyderabad – ten schools in three days. The routine is the introduction by the older kids, 14 years old, who have scoured the internet for every scrap of digital information on me. Sometimes, they do print up the covers of a few, and read out a short biography of me to the audience. Then my ten to fifteen minute talk - on the importance of reading – followed by a Q&A. The teachers want me on the stage for this, I prefer to roam the hall with the mic to interact with the children. They enjoy asking questions, though some are repetitious. Some googlies though which need careful thought before I answer.
 On Wednesday, I catch the night train to a Kumbakonam, 200 miles south of here.  The principal of Dr. G.S Kalyanasundram Memorial School, Ms Bhavana Shankar, has invited me down. I met her earlier when she was a school principal in Chennai. Froze to death in the sleeper car, 16 decrees C, so was groggy when I got there. The town has 1800 temples and is a major pilgrimage destination for the believers. I managed to see only two of them as we drove to the school a bit out of the town. I am used to some welcomes, this was a major one.
The school band was lined up at the gate and started playing when, like royalty, I descended from the auto rickshaw with the Scholastic person. There was a large display of me, with the titles of my novels before the school entrance and the principal came to greet me. Children gave me roses. Ms Shankar told me that the majority of children come from the surrounding villages. She added that they think differently from those in Chennai schools. How different? They think out of the box, she tells me. After the chat with her, the hall was packed with children, and some parents at the back, and even more photos and a projection of me on the screen. Two girls danced a short Bharatanatyam, two had a singing duet, a dozen sang ‘We shall Overcome’, in English, then a debate between the kids on e-learning or classroom learning. They were articulate, talking without notes.
Then of course I had to talk to them, rapt silence as the great writer spoke words of wisdom – the importance of reading books.  After other speeches, there was a Q&A with the kids, usually happens. The school tried to get me on the stage but I prefer moving among the kids with a mic to close the gap. These were good questions, out of the ordinary other kids asked and I was impressed. A smart boy handed me a box of sweets and pointed to the cover. ‘Murari’ sweets. It was thoughtful of him to have found it, somewhere. Two girls came to compliment me. They expected someone to wearing a suit and not be friendly. But they said 'you are simple, and also the way you dress'. Wasn't sure how to take that.  By that time exhausted so needed a siesta in the guest house and lunch. The school hadn't warned me that I had to talk to the teachers on how to teach. How would I know?  So I have 40, all women, waiting for my lessons. One teacher, dutifully put up her hand to ask me a question. ‘How do you keep a child quiet for ten minutes?’ I hadn’t the faintest idea, and winged it that she should read or sing to them. Apart from that, the teachers were less curious then the kids. Then I had to catch the night train back to Chennai, didn't freeze this time but can never sleep well. I used to in my school days but age has caught up.
 

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

WE'RE NIGGERS ALL, MAN

Years ago, I spent an evening with the American comedian/activist Dick Gregory. He died a few years back. WHat he said then is still so pertinent to America today. Tragically!
 
WE’RE NIGGERS ALL, MAN.

The thin cop is looking worried. He keeps adjusting his glasses as he hovers behind Dick Gregory’sbroad back at the post Frost on Friday studio party. A plump Zapata-moustached producer hovers behind the cop. Dick stops talking to find out what is happening. ‘Evening sir, local police. I’m afraid you’ll have to leave by the back as we’ve had word some blokes are coming to have a rumble with you.’ The producer relaxes as Dick nods, unsmiling, and says he’ll leave. David ambles over, anaemic with make-up, to arrange for the next show.  ‘You were lovely Dick, really lovely. Now tomorrow...’ Ten minutes later, the cops have multiplied to three and all are nervous.

David disappears and Dick wishes goodbye to Malcolm X and an entourage of flowing robed black men.  You go down with him to the waiting car, flanked by cops, feeling very much like a train robber or a presidential candidate. A cop opens the door and says ‘Sorry sir but...’ Dick pats him and says “ Yeah man. You’re just doin’ your jobs.’ His wife sits beside him.

Dick Gregory has changed since you last saw him. Two years back he was an American comic, dressed in an expensive suit spieling prussic acid satire for the late show.  Two years! He’s done some suffering. A couple of spells in goal, a couple of fasts, a couple of “whuppings” by cops. Now he’s dressed in very casual clothes and has a beard. He’s grown too, and you watched it happening. From comic to semi-statesman for Black America. He has...dignity in him and he’s more relaxed, as though he knows what he wants and where he’s going. ‘You do a load of thinking in goal man. A load of it...’

The driver wants to know if violence is the only answer.  ‘Violence is no asnwer man but it’s the only way you got when you’ve examined every legal and moral ground on the subject,’ Dick says, ‘and get no where.’  He’s a non-violent man so you want to know what he’s going to tell the ghetto. ‘I’ll tell him my way of life and let him choose. But if the cat decided to get a gun...’ he looks out of the window. The driver’s been waiting to ask him about Tariq Ali, the British leftist. ‘Yeah. I dig him. He’d leading a revolution in this country and what they don’t understand is that they think they’re dealing ith a bunch of hoolgans. It’s the same back home.’

Either Chicago or the driver makes him slump deeper into his seat. He tells his wife he’s tired and gets back to Chicago. ‘It didn’t surprise me. The syndicate has killed over 1,000 people there.  In 1896, 2,000 draft resisters were gunned down in...’ He asks his wife, she shakes her head. ‘’...somewhere of Michigan Avenue. And you’re asking me to be surprised by Chicago. One cat told me it was becoming a poh-lice state. He’s wrong. It is a poh-lice state and it only proved a beautiful point to every black cat in Amrica. That him and the young white cat better get together fast. And the white cat knows it now.’

There’s a crowd waiting for his midnight show at the Arts Laboroatory.  They sit him atop a piano and listen.  He philosophises on America and answers questions.  There’s less bitterness and just an.... immense sadness.  His humour is gentler now and there’s no talk of hte.  He’s a change from the passionate rhetoric of Jimmy Baldwin and the hysteria of Sammy Davis.  It’s a calm man talking to a crowd of young people... a few black.... and a lot of white.  The tragedy is that they are the young and already understand.  The only elder is a sun-tanned sporty type who wants to know why there are no great black swimmers.

“You can’t blame the cops for what happened in Chicago.  They were just doing their job ... protecting the system.  They’re like my mom.  She’d whup me if I didn’t behave myself.  She was tryin’ to keep me in the system.  And the cop is the keeper of the hosue and he’s doing his best.  Sure he gets scared.  The administration offers him $20,000 if he dies ....”   He shrugs.  His chain-smoked, two-hour monologue is given in a total silence.  He’s done a lot of reading in gaol too for historical facts shore his philosophy.   “When Rap (Brown) says get a gun .... he’s not being original.  What do you think Paul Revere said when he saw the British coming?  America needs a nigger.  We’ve only made the scene lately.  Before that the Southern red–neck had the Jew for his nigger and even then you had to tell the dumb bastard what a Jew was.  Now he’s got me ... and you can see me comin’ from three blocks away.  There are other niggers in America.  You found them in Chicago.  The hippies and the yippies ... and the cops.  We’re niggers all, man.  The hippies and yippies are trying to break out of the system and work their way down, we’re trying to break in and work up.  And when we meet ... American will die.  It will die in eighteen months.  I don’t give my country more time than that.  She’s reached the point of no return.  Britan stole enough wisdom from all them countries she colonised and may ... may save herself.  But America is too dumb and too stupid.”

He stops talking, and the room is quiet.  The questions, American and British accented, only want to know how to be saved.   “You young are the only ones’s who can save the world.  Either the Government deals with you ... or you with the Government.   Yours is a moral revolution, not a political one.”  When questioned he mentions his write-in presidential efforts.  “All I will do is try to tie a tourniquet.”  You spot his wife at the other end sitting with the impassivity of a Masai warrior’s woman watching the lion hunt and the inevitable end.  The black men in the audience ask no questions and sit silent as if ... as if they already know the answers and need no more telling.   You leave at 3.30 with a non hippy-yippy white American. He’d never liked Gregory before.   Now he’s enthusiastic.  He’s going to write him in and get his friends to do the same. “Wouldn’t it be great,” you naively say.   “If he became President with all the hippy, yippy and black votes?  He laughs. “Man, if they thought he had a one per cent chance of making it they’d wipe him out as they did the others.  They’d get him in thirty seconds even if it meant dropping an H-bomb on him.”  You bow to a 21-year old infected with the frightening fatalism of America.  “In fact,” he adds, “Gregory is already a dead man.  It’s only time now.“