Telling The Story Of Mumtaj Mahal and Shah Jahan, by Timeri Murari
As discussed in my previous post, I had researched the actual building of the Taj Mahal for my novel Taj and I needed a fictional character to describe the 20 year labour. He’d need to be a craftsman of some sort and so I created another fictional character, Murthi, to carve the exquisite marble jali (the screen) that surrounds Mumtaj’s tomb.
I returned to my typewriter and rolled in a fresh sheet of paper. I waited. Then a strange thing happened. I woke one morning with a woman telling me her story in my mind:
“Was it thunder that woke me? I sat up, startled, listening. It was not yet the monsoon season, but the air was tense with that same sense of expectancy and stillness, as if waiting to rage. I could hear nothing, except the first caw of the crows, the bul-bul practising its enchanting scales, and the squirrels scolding shrilly. The sky was pale and clear with the smoke of night lingering at the edges. The mango and peepul and banyan trees outside the window appeared transparent in the delicate light. It might have been my dream that woke me, although I could not recall it clearly. The thunder had struck at my heart, which still beat hard and fast. Was it a warning? I felt no fear, no leaden weight of eternity such as the condemned man might on the dawn of his last day on earth, instead, to my surprise, I seemed to feel a lightness, a delight. The excitement was not in the air but in myself, in the sweet remnants of my dream.”
This, in my imagination, was Arjumand, also known as the Empress Mumtaj Mahal, ‘dictating’ her story to me. Once she began speaking, it literally took me three months to finish the novel. When she stopped, I heard the voice of Shah Jahan telling me his story. I couldn’t keep up the pace with my characters’ voices. The structure of that novel was complex, as I shifted from her voice to his and to her servant Isa’s. The story also shifts between her life and what happened after her death. The present – Arjumand’s life – and the future – the building of the Taj Mahal and Aurangzeb’s rise – run parallel. I love playing with time.
Timeri Murari’s author website: www.timerimurari.com
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