31 May 2013

Escape from Harem by Tanushree Podder

Khurram, Arjumand, and others

Zeenat, a young girl whose mother happens to work in the harem of Jahangir, catches the fancy of the Mughal emperor. This story is about what happens to her and how she copes with the way her life turns out. Through Zeenat we get a glimpse into a Mughal harem – the luxury, the pain of captivity, the intrigue, the ruthlessness. Tanushree Podder also takes us out into the countryside and gives us a strong sense of this period of history and its geography, and the lives and struggles of the ordinary people. I asked about her sources for the book and how much was imaginary and how much pure fact. She replied:
I pored through dozens of historical tomes: the accounts written by European travellers like Francois Bernier and historians like Sir Jadunath Sarkar and R. Nath; the Jahangir Nama; books like The Mughal Empire from Babar to Aurangzeb by S. M. Jaffar; The Empire of the Great Mughals, History, Art and Culture by Annemarie Schimmel. The history and events are absolutely factual, only the protagonist is imaginary. I wanted to portray the entire story through the eyes of a harem inmate so I invented Zeenat.
Some years ago, I read this sentence in a school textbook: “Unfortunately, most of the masterpieces in art in India have been destroyed by the idol-smashing Muslim rulers.”
This books makes an interesting read. But to me it has the infinitely greater value of giving its readers a better sense of perspective of what the people of India inherited from their ‘Muslim rulers’.