Over 15 years ago, my friend, the cool and fantastically successful music producer, Biddu, lent me a book.
‘Guard it with your life,’ he implored, explaining that he had bought several copies, when he first found it but had given them away as gifts. He, now, only had the one copy left and he had not been able to find the book since. However, he wanted me to read it and so was trusting me to take care of it.
I did. I carried that pristine white hardback everywhere with me while I had it. I let others read extracts from it in my presence but did not let it out of my sight for a moment.
I then returned it, safe and sound to Biddu.
But I had got the bug too. I wanted my own copy. I wanted to own this incredible book, maybe even give copies to my friends, to share how amazing it was.
So, I looked in all the obvious places; bookstores, on the internet, libraries.
I searched for it in other countries when I visited. It was on my ‘must do’ list on my one and only trip to India – find the book.
I would ask friends going abroad to look for it when they had a spare moment. After a lengthy search, one friend, excitedly, returned from a trip with a book and triumphantly placed it in my hands. I didn’t have the heart to tell him it was a different book with the same title.
Christmas 2020. A small package was among my presents.
A paperback copy.
The book is Taj by T.N Murari. It’s an extraordinary fictional account of the building of the greatest monument to love – the majestic Taj Mahal.
One of the 7 wonders of the world, the Taj Mahal sits in the Indian city of Agra, a rather dismal dump of a place where the only other building of note, we were told on our visit, is a mental asylum.
Often thought of as a palace, the Taj Mahal is actually a mausoleum, built for the beloved wife of a Mughal emperor by her grieving husband. He wanted perfection for her resting place and pretty much bankrupted the empire achieving it.
I have long been fascinated by the Mughal empire and its emperors and queens. Their tales of power, opulence , love, debauchery, revenge, intrigue, patronage of the arts and sheer cruelty rival anything the Borgias have to offer. And the Taj Mahal epitomises everything about the empire and its rulers in one building. Behind the breathtakingly beautiful creation is a story to indeed take your breath away.
I love this book. I recommend it highly.
After the death of his much loved queen, Arjumand (Mumtaz-i-Mahal), the emperor, Shah Jahan, called together 20,000 of world’s greatest artisans to build the perfect monument to her.
For 22 years these men laboured day and night to fulfill the emperor’s obsession. They left behind their families and worked themselves into illness and death to create the marble mausoleum lined with gold, silver and precious jewels.
Taj is an historical novel narrated on two levels:
- The initial love story of Shah Jahan and Arjumand followed by the later years of the emperor’s reign when he oversaw the building of the Taj Mahal as well as the bloody consequences of his obsession.
- The story of Murthi, the Hindu master craftsman who carved the marble jali (screen) around Arjumand’s sarcophagus.
The detail of the opulence of daily life in the palace is staggering. Against this the grinding poverty of the builders and their private tragedies is heartcrushingly stark. The faiths of the two central characters, the Muslim emperor and the Hindu craftsman are also highlighted in one final, unspeakable tragedy.
This novel is a magnificent piece of work and deserves to be read more widely and, in my opinion, filmed. Another friend of mine who has a famous film director son suggested I send the book to him. I will do …..if I can only find another copy because he ain’t getting mine!