In his latest novel, Empress of the TAJ – In Search of Mumtaz Mahal, author Timeri Murari (TAJ, A Story of Mughal India, published in 1985 in the UK and since then translated into 25 languages) 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.
“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,” says Tim, as he is popularly known in literary circles.
Tim’s journey, in this quest, began in the early 1980s when he was researching for his bestselling novel TAJ, as he followed 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. “It was much later, while rummaging through piles of manuscripts, notes, sheaves of paper and other junk, that I chanced upon a yellowing typed manuscript in an old steel trunk under the stairs – unused and forgotten,” recalls Tim.
Accompanied by his wife Maureen and his two sisters Nalini and Padmini, Tim discovered fascinating glimpses of an empire at its zenith, and of consuming love in Delhi, Agra, the centre of Mughal power and site of the Taj Mahal, the deserts of Rajasthan, where Shah Jahan waged campaigns with Mumtaz Mahal at his side, and in Burhanpur in the Deccan, where the empress breathed her last.
Empress of the Taj, is not only the story of a fabled queen, and the magnificent obsessions of royalty; it is also an invaluable record of a lost era of India. A brilliant meld of travel and history writing.
Book title: Empress of the TAJ – In Search of Mumtaz Mahal
Author: Timeri N. Murari
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
Price: Rs 350.00