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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”.