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Research For My Novel ‘Taj: A Story Of Mughal India’, by Timeri Murari

Writers hate to waste any experience, whether it’s ducking gun shots down a dark alley, a bad lover affair or spending hours in a library.

During the research for my novel Taj I read that the Taj Mahal was nearly destroyed by the British. Lord William Bentinck (Governor General of Bengal 1828-33, and later first Governor General of all India) went so far as to announce plans to demolish the best Mughal monuments in Agra and Delhi and remove their marble facades. These were to be shipped to London, where they would be broken up and sold to members of the British aristocracy.

Several of Shah Jahan’s pavilions in the Red Fort at Delhi were indeed stripped to the brick, and the marble was shipped off to England. Plans to dismantle the Taj Mahal were in place, and wrecking machinery was even moved into the garden grounds. Just as the demolition work was to begin, news from London reported that the first auction had not been a success, and that all further sales were cancelled. It would not be worth the money to tear down the Taj Mahal.

Inadvertently, I had laid the first foundation for writing a historical novel – the research. I had read so many books on the Mughals that my head was too full of details and theories. I even found a slim volume written by the Persian architect on the physical construction of the Taj Mahal; from the foundations (200 feet down) to the final dome, cleverly supported by an interior dome that you cannot see.

I was fortunate that before my in-depth research I already had an overview of that period. My advice to start with when writing a historical novel is to skim through the subject so you get a general impression of the characters and events. Then outline the novel and start writing it. If you take too much detailed history on board at the beginning you’ll find that you’ll be bogged down trying to cram in those details you researched, and this will slow down the pace of your writing.


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