A review of Empress of the Taj – In Search of Mumtaz Mahal by Timeri N Murari.
By Nikhil Raghavan
I am not much of a traveler and most of my journeys are through the virtual world in the digital space! But, a recently concluded literary journey with Timeri Murari, his wife Maureen and sister Nalini took me across India on a ‘Mughlai Expedition’, in ‘Search of Mumtaz Mahal’ through his recent book, Empress of the Taj.
In his back cover notes, Tim (as he is lovingly known in literary circles) warned me: ‘I will tell you the story of this woman Arjumand…but first you must travel with me over 2000 miles through the cities and villages and jungles of India by train and bus’.
So I did! It took me 13 days of leisurely reading (no compulsion to speed-read to meet any ‘review deadlines’) to ‘see’ the places he visited, travelling with him and family, going back and forth from history to the present time. ‘In….a journey that will take you many weeks and three hundred and fifty years’ Tim traces the life and times of Arjumand who became Mumtaz Mahal, Chief Consort of Emperor Shah Jehan and empress of the Mughal kingdom until her death in 1631, giving birth to their 14th child.
In the process of neatly mixing Mughal history and his personal, exploratory travels in the presumed footsteps of Mumtaz Mahal, Tim visits several palaces, forts, camp sites, battle grounds, holiday resorts of the royalty and walks through the lanes and by-lanes of cities like Delhi, Agra, Udaipur, Ajmer, Jaipur, Ratlam, Asirgarh, Burhanpur and other towns and villages, and intersperses his present with the glorious (or gory) past of the Mughal royalty.
Empress of the Taj – In Search of Mumtaz Mahal is at once a travelogue, a historical tome, a guide to Mughal centres of power and a personal anecdotal novel where the central characters are not just the unseen Arjumand/Mumtaz Mahal but Tim’s ‘phoren’ wife Maureen and the antique treasure-seeking sister Nalini. A novel like this cannot be slotted into any genre as it would excite the history-lover and traveler, as well as a story book reader, like me!