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Beginning The Writing Process For My Novel ‘Taj’, by Timeri Murari

Back when I was writing my novel Taj I worked on a typewriter. I stared at the blank sheet for a few days and then I plunged into the writing with my newly acquired knowledge.  I had the actions and personalities of my characters outlined and also beautifully painted miniature images of them in the museums where I did my research. So I began writing this opus, consulting my notes and books, filling up many blank pages. However, the characters wouldn’t come alive; they remained wooden and, worse, silent. I wrote around 200 pages and it wasn’t working. Without Mumtaj, the focus of my historical interest, I found it difficult to portray the other characters. Apart from that, how does one write a historical novel? I’d hit a dead end.

I thought I’d better read a few historical novels to see how they were written, so I went back to my favourite – I, Claudius by Robert Graves. It’s a brilliant novel full of passion, intrigue and political manoeuvring in the Roman Empire. I read a couple more historical novels – I can’t remember their titles now – in the hope I could see my way through the thicket of historical information I’d accumulated. I waited for inspiration and when it didn’t pop up, I set aside that draft. I wasn’t a historical novelist and I thought I should stick to contemporary themes.

Then I realised that history cannot be detached from the geography of places and time. In my contemporary fiction I could describe the street my character lived on and in history I needed to become just as familiar with details. In my notes, I knew my two main characters met at the Royal Meena bazaar in the Red Fort in Agra.

This was documented in other history books and the bazaar was an annual occasion when aristocratic women could remove their veils and pretend they were shopkeepers in this royal game. So, in a way, it was fate that brought them together, instant love, when they each other in the bazaar. But she had to wait four years before they married as he was forced to wed a Persian princess for political reasons.

Mumtaj now had a belief in love and patience. Once they married, she accompanied him on every military campaign and stayed with him when he rebelled against his father and went on the run with him. She was a brave woman: she could have easily lolled around Agra in a palace awaiting her husband’s return. To make her life even harder, over 14 years of marriage she bore 14 children, the delivery of the last one killing her at the age of 30. She was slowly coming together in my mind.


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