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.