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My new novel, THE TALIBAN CRICKET CLUB, is set in Afghanistan 2000. Ecco Press, New York, and HarperCollins Canada will publish it in July 2012. Allen & Unwin publish it in the UK and Australia August 2012. So far, foreign rights sold to Cargo, Netherlands and Juitrzen, Norway. It's a must read novel about a woman, the Taliban and cricket. I’ve written 17 books which have been translated into several languages. Twelve are works of fiction, including the best seller TAJ that was translated into 14 languages. Penguin published my new non-fiction work LIMPING TO THE CENTRE OF THE WORLD about my trek to Mount Kailas.
I also wrote a young adult novel, CHILDREN OF THE ENCHANTED JUNGLE published by Scholastic.
I wrote and produced the Award winning film THE SQUARE CIRCLE. TIME magazine voted it ‘one of the ten best films of the year’.
In 1999, I adapted and directed it as a stage play for the Leicester Haymarket Theatre, an exciting experience. Parminder K. Nagra of ‘Bend it Like Beckham’ fame played the main lead.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
as I am to gradually discover as I excavate a shard of our past, is either
gossip fashioned into fact, or worse, outright distortion...”
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
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.
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.
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.
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
in death as in life, she led a nomadic existence but then as the marble sarcophagus
settled down with her, eternity claimed her forever...”
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.
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.
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
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”.
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”.
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”.
Struggle of Man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.
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 thatDavid 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
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.