Synopsis

'An exotic, passionate novel, sensual and violent by turn, always compelling' - THE GUARDIAN
In the final analysis, Taj remains an expertly crafted novel with richly textured details, especially of violence and erotocism. It takes the reader through the corridors of history, pointing out lanes and by-lanes hitherto uncharted. Here the refrain of Mughal history “The Kingship has no Kinship” rings loud. THE TELEGRAPH
-Only a masterly historical novelist like Timeri Murari could skate so teasingly near the lip of a volcano. SUNDAY OBSERVER
-Murari has written much more than a historical romance, he has skillfully recreated the period against which the story is set. Though erotic in parts the book has factually kept to the happenings of that era. DECCAN CHRONICLE
TALES WITHIN TALES
Taj: A Story of Mughal India By Timeri N. Murari, Penguin, Rs 275
It is ironical that the Taj Mahal, the marble mausoleum hailed as the most splendid emblem of love came to be erected in the Mughal period — tarred by hatred, cruelty, torture, and fratricide. Timeri N. Murari’s novel, Taj, plays out this irony, highlighting the paranoia which gripped the minds of Mughal princes and emperors confronted with the bewildering choice of “takt ya takhta” (throne or coffin). The novel cuts a swathe of 59 years (1607-1666 AD) from Mughal history. It is conspicuously marked by a warped time sequence as Murari does not stick to the linear pattern of historical time. This time-tampering in the narrative is coupled with the epilogue predating the prologue. The monkey and the blind, old man episode of the prologue projects the entire novel as a flashback, underscoring the futility of power-struggles and individual glories represented in history.
The two parallel narratives contrived by Murari progress with varied pace in alternating chapters. The odd-numbered chapters are titled “the love story” and touch on events like Shah Jahan’s courtship, his marriage with Arjumand Banu (later named Mumtaz-i-mahal), Mehrunissa’s conspiracy, Shah Jahan’s flight from the Mahabat Khan-led Mughal force and his eventual accession to throne, culminating in Arjumand’s death — all happening in the years between 1607 and 1630 AD. The even-numbered chapters, titled “the Taj Mahal”, are devoted to chronicling the story of Murthi, a Hindu idol-carver who is somewhat mysteriously employed to fashion the famous marble jali around Arjumand’s sarcophagus. The mystery is later resolved as the full identity of Isa, Arjumand’s favourite eunuch and Shah Jahan’s trusted attendant, is revealed. This second narrative covers the time period 1632-66 AD.
Another feature that distinguishes the two sections is the difference in the narrative voices. While the first proceeds through monologues of Shah Jahan, Arjumand and Isa, the second is basically a narrative. As a result, the immediacy of intimate personal details contrasts with the suspenseful narrative which brings alive the tricky twists and turns of politics. Each narrative has its own climactic points which are discreetly played against each other. Often the content of one narrative seeps into the other and the overlap turns up interesting perspectives.
In the final analysis, Taj remains an expertly crafted novel with richly textured details, especially of violence and erotocism. It takes the reader through the corridors of history, pointing out lanes and by-lanes hitherto uncharted. Here the refrain of Mughal history “The Kingship has no Kinship” rings loud, reminding one of the life of those 22,000 architects “who lived and died building” the proud monument of love. The filmic quality of the novel may tempt a filmmaker to put it on the celluloid in near future. THE TELEGRAPH

-Only a masterly historical novelist like Timeri Murari could skate so teasingly near the lip of a volcano. In choosing the love story of Shah Jahan and Arjumand (Mumtaz) and tracing the subtle decline of the Great Mughals after Akbar, the author is able to build a remarkable framework which echoes the triumphant emergence of the Taj Mahal. The structure of this novel is as fascinating as the building it describes. BILL AITKEN, SUNDAY OBSERVER. (THIS WAS A FULL PAGE REVIEW)
This powerful novel tells the story at two different levels. The first one talks about the love affair of Shah Jahan and Arjumand till her death. The latter narrates the story of the later years of Shah Jahan till his death. It is an old fashioned and stylish novel, told to perfection. More than a historical romance it brings out the political and social life of the Mughals. A historical novel written with amazing simplicity, the book also gives a fascinating description of how the immortal monument of love was built. THE STATESMAN.
It is not surprising that nearly two decades after the book first came out, Penguin India has chosen to bring out its edition of Timeri N. Murari’s TAJ. Both are clearly backing a proven winner. Murari fashions it well, skillfully weaving fact and fiction, steering the narrative back and forth in time…the reader is swept along easily by the inevitability of the historical denouement that must come, and by the classic love story that never ends. OUTLOOK.
People come from all over the world to visit the Taj Mahal and this book proves that India is all that its been made out to be, a land of fable, culture and a rich glorious past. This is a book portraying India in all her cultural finery, replete with fact and folklore. In this fascinating book Murari has written much more than a historical romance, he has skillfully recreated the period against which the story is set. Though erotic in parts the book has factually kept to the happenings of that era. As a historian I would definitely recommend this book. DECCAN CHRONICLE.
Timeri N Murari has recreated this evergreen love story of the 17th century India with the lucidity of a poet. It’s more than a period love story. Murari deftly weaves this magical tale with the story of Murthi and his wife Sita, both fictional characters who, in the novel, are invited by Shah Jahan to assist in the building of the mausoleum. The grandeur that marked the lives of royalty is juxtaposed against the stark poverty just outside the palace gates. The parallel story Shah Jahan and Arjumand, Murthi and Sita’s struggle to survive at the mercy of the nobles touches one’s heart. The book reverberates with the message that love is all powerful. THE TRIBUNE.
What Timeri N. Murari has attempted is to give life a life to Arjumand beyond the tomb by which alone she’s remembered. His most thrilling chapters deal with the Mughal army’s chase of Shah Jahan and his family over four years for trying to usurp the throne. His sketch of Mehrunissa’s characters outshines all others. Along with the palace intrigues Murari also tells the story of Murthi, a Hindu carver of god’s statues, who is sent to Agra by his ruler to help build the Taj Mahal. The author’s strength lies in the way he has tackled several stories in one. HINDUSTAN TIMES.
-A sense of impending tragedy prevails throughout the novel, foreshadowing the destruction of brothers pitted against brothers in bloody pursuit of the Peacock Throne. One can read into the symbolic undertones, and find this a complex and disturbing novel. ASIA MAGAZINE.
-Much that is banal has been written about a passion that became woven into history, but in TAJ, Murari avoids the temptation for tears; instead he has written a book of powerful simplicity, and at the same time evokes those far off days when a great man buried his heart in a mausoleum. GLOUCESTERSHIRE ECHO.
-The writer does convey successfully au aura of 17th century India by having an eye and ear for detail. We learn of the incredible wealth and sumptuousness of the Mughal court we learn of the intrigues within families where Tamerlane’s law forbidding the killing of next of kin breaks down as brother plots against brother. BBC RADIO.