Standing there gazing at the brick-red dilapidated building, it is hard to imagine it had once been a fort. A witness to conspiracies, raging wars, executions, ousts, nobles, harems, court hearings, dances recitals and performances put forward for majestic crowd.
As a cool breeze brushes through my hair I urge my friend that one of us hide and the other seeks. An excuse to explore the structure alone for sometime. The waft of air might just carry with it the scent of the time. I might just be able to unearth a treasure which the hawk eyes of historians have missed. Feel the presence of the heroic emperor or at least some sign that I was part of this majestic world. As I draw away from my friend and go deeper into the fort. I am stunned by what I see. I take a step back and quietly try to sneak out towards the other corner but alas here they are again. They are everywhere, there seems to be no escape . Embarrassed I call out to my friend for help she hasn’t gone very far for she hears me and comes to my rescue.
“They are everywhere.”
“I know” she smirks.
“Do they really need to spoil it for us?”
“Well, They are in love.”
“Whatever! They should seriously get a room”
“Rooms! When they have a fort as grand as this!”
“hmmm…lets go grab a bite.”
I have always been enchanted by Taj Mahal and its glorious history, but the history texts at school did no justice to such a grand portrait of historical love. A poorly put chronology is not what I want. This is why I decided to pick up “ Beneath a marble sky” by John Shors.
What does the back cover say
Journey to dazzling seventeenth-century Hindustan, where the reigning emperor, consumed with grief over the tragic death of his beloved wife, commissioned the building of a grand mausoleum as a testament to the marvel of their love. This monument would soon become known as the Taj Mahal—a sight famous around the world for its beauty and the emotions it symbolizes.
Princess Jahanara, the courageous daughter of the emperor and his wife, recounts their mesmerizing tale, while sharing her own parallel story of forbidden love with the celebrated architect of the Taj Mahal. Set during a time of unimaginable wealth and power, murderous sibling rivalries, and cruel despotism, this impressive novel sweeps you away to a historical Hindustan brimming with action and intrigue in an era when, alongside the brutalities of war and oppression, architecture and the art of love and passion reached a pinnacle of perfection.
So this is how it got home with me. and then the author’s note happened
…insofar as is possible. Then the larger story surrounding beneath a marble sky is historically accurate; to dramatize these epic events I have taken necessary liberties with events, customs, and the actions of characters drawn from history. It is therefore a work of fiction.
Well how far from truth can a fiction be when it is based on research and is historically accurate. John Shors has put in great efforts in portraying seventeenth century Hindustan, but the novel is more about the eternal love than about the mysteries surrounding Taj Mahal. The love between Khurram and Arjuband ( famously known as Shahjahan and Mumtaz mahal and the same legacy carried forth by their daughter Jahanara and her lover Isa. With the beginning of the novel and its description of the palace, the Red fort, We feel the joie de vivre of the harem and the social life women of those times. Sibling rivalry between Jahanara and Aurangzeb does not take long to be captured by the author. Gradually we see the influential figure Mumtaz Mahal is and she molds and trains Jahanara the same way. Decay of the Empire start soon after the death of Mumtaz mahal as if it was her, whose presence was crucial for the harmony of the entire realm. If the love between ladli and Jahanara and of that between Dara and Jahanara will mesmerize and charm the readers they would also feel a rising animosity for the callous and unfeeling Khondamir and Aurangzeb. In Jahanara’s husband the author has caged a malicious, vindictive and brutal beast. There are moments in the novel where readers would cringe with revulsion and others where the description of Taj mahal would enthrall them.
What surprises me is the creative liberty the author uses in not only portraying Jahanara’s love but a love that crops between her and Isa the chief architect of Tajmahal. As we know that Isa is actually Isa Muhammad Effendi who was actually behind the architectural design of the Taj mahal. Another one of such invention is Jahanara’s marriage and her daughter. As far as I know Mughal princess were barred from marrying and as far as facts go Jahanara never married. Affairs yes, but marriage? But if we look beyond these the novel is well written and makes an interesting read. But I still found the real Jahanara missing. Her strength under portrayed her willingness to nurse Shahjahan in solitude often downplayed by her memories and longing for Isa. We do get to see time and again her astute nature and survival instincts though.
What put me off: Well! There are some instances where if I didn’t know better the novel could be taken as set in modern times. Picture this for instant.
…And so I kicked off my sandles and pulled up my trousers. I hadn’t run, truly run, in years…
And then 2 pages full of how they have fun in the sea. And all I could think of 3 hippies acting silly in Goa.
Sometimes it just loses the feel of history and I could connect to it so much so that Jahanara and other characters ceased to be a from history.
What turned me on: Well portrayed splendor of the Taj Mahal.
Verdict: you will love reading this novel if you read it for what it is. A Fiction!
photo courtesy : http://www.facebook.com/Eeshu.S?fref=ts.