EDC Creations Announces
Intimate Conversation with author Indu Sundaresan
Author Indu Sundaresan
Indu Sundaresan as brought up in India and came to the USA for graduate school in economics and operations research. The Twentieth Wife, Indu's first published novel, is the first part of the Taj Mahal trilogy. She's the author of The Feast of Roses (second novel of the trilogy); The Splendor of Silence; In the Convent of Little Flowers and Shadow Princess (third novel of the trilogy) published in March 2010.
Ella: Welcome Indu, introduce us to your book.
What genre is this book?
IS: Shadow Princess is historical fiction, set in 17th Century India, during the Mughal Empire and, during the building of the Taj Mahal. It's the story of Jahanara, who at seventeen is by her mother's bedside in June of 1631, as she dies after a long and labored childbirth. Jahanara's father, Emperor Shah Jahan, is devastated by her mother's death and he transfers all of the deep love he had for Empress Mumtaz Mahal onto their oldest daughter. In his grief, the emperor also briefly considers giving up a throne and is convinced by Jahanara not to do so.
But that one fleeting decision, soon revoked, sets into motion a rivalry between two of Jahanara's brothers that will last for the next quarter century of their father's rule-they each want the throne, and each enlists the support of a sister to do so.
During her father's lifetime, Jahanara is immensely rich (given all of her mother's income) and powerful. She champions one brother, Dara; her sister Roshanara supports another, Aurangzeb and thus the two women engage in a political rivalry within the walls of their father's harem.
Never given permission to marry, they also fall in love with the same man, a noble at court, but it is Jahanara who wins and keeps Najabat Khan's love, and engages in a clandestine affair with him all of her life. In the end, all these events will overshadow Jahanara's life, none more important to posterity than the tomb her father builds for her mother-the Taj Mahal.
Shadow Princess is the third novel in my Taj Mahal trilogy. The first two, The Twentieth Wife and The Feast of Roses, are based on the life of Mehrunnisa, Empress Nur Jahan, who marries Jahanara's grandfather, Emperor Jahangir.
Mehrunnisa is also Jahanara's mother's aunt, and the moment she steps into the royal harem as Jahangir's wife, she manipulates affairs to bring together her niece (her brother's daughter) and her husband's son, Shah Jahan. So the three novels of the trilogy are based on the two women who were aunt and daughter of the woman for whom the Taj Mahal is built.
Ella: Who were your mentors growing up? How did they shape your life?
IS: My father was a fighter pilot with the Indian Air Force and this took our family to various postings in India. The bases were usually outside city limits, sometimes in proximity to the many forts and palaces in the country. Dad would take us on trips to these monuments and tell us the stories of the kings and queens who inhabited these palaces, point out crumbling battlements and guard towers, and show us battlefields and elephant stables with large iron rings still embedded in the sandstone floors to which the animals were tethered.
He told my older sisters and me bedtime stories also-some from his imagination (two ongoing sagas of an elephant named Jumbo and a horse named Silver come to mind); some from Hindu mythology. Dad had a flair for dramatic timing; I remember that he would (much like Scheherazade) insist upon "ending" his stories at night at a point of climax, leaving me to ponder on how they ended until he had the time to take up the tale again.
I write today, largely due this influence from my childhood. I learned to write stories in my head long before I came to put them down on paper. And as children, we also read extensively, again due to our father's influence and his example.
Ella: What specific situation or revelation prompted you to write your book?
IS: Shadow Princess, this third novel of my Taj Mahal trilogy, has been a few years in the making. I had done a considerable amount of reading and research for the first two novels of the trilogy-The Twentieth Wife and The Feast of Roses-and it was during this that I encountered the stories of Mehrunnisa, Empress Nur Jahan's grand-nieces, Jahanara and Roshanara.
Mehrunnisa's history was fascinating to me because of just how unlikely it had been for someone of her background and upbringing to become, eventually, the most powerful woman in the Mughal dynasty that built the Taj Mahal in India. She was the daughter of an impoverished Persian nobleman who had to flee his homeland to India, dogged by debts unpaid. Her father rose through the ranks of the Mughal nobility to become the treasurer of the Empire, but it was her marriage to Emperor Jahangir that changed the course of Indian history. She was a widow when she married Jahangir, had a child from this previous marriage, and her family had fallen into disgrace at court-her father embezzled money from the imperial treasury and her brother had attempted to assassinate the emperor.
Yet, Emperor Jahangir loved her enough to forgive her real (and perceived) flaws and grant her immense power. She then made sure that her niece married Jahangir's grown son, the man who became Emperor Shah Jahan.
Mehrunnisa' grand-nieces had a (comparatively) easier life. They were born royal, into the first tier of the imperial family and their father became emperor in 1628 after a difficult decade when he was fighting for the throne. But the two girls, Jahanara and Roshanara, had their own battles to fight.
When their mother died in childbirth in 1631, Jahanara assumed the position of eminence their mother had enjoyed and received more than a fair share of their father's love. This led to a bitter and lifelong rivalry between Jahanara and Roshanara. They fought for their father's affections and for the affections of the same noble at court whom they both fell in love with. They were not allowed to marry and step outside their father's harem. They supported different brothers as heir to their father's crown.
During my research of the first two novels, I found many foreign travelers' accounts of these two princesses, with an emphasis on Jahanara-on how they attended to their father's injunction on staying unmarried, but smuggled men into the harem and entered into illicit alliances in search of love.
Shadow Princess, which focuses on Princess Jahanara's life is also, much like The Twentieth Wife and The Feast of Roses, the story of a woman who was omnipotent in the world she inhabited, despite all of her disadvantages-she lived in a harem, behind a veil, was never seen by the men at court-and yet managed to have a say socially and politically in contouring the map of India's history.
Read the entire interview at Black Pearls Magazine. Enter here.