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Interview with Tanushree Podder, author of Escape From Harem – a Mughal saga of romance, revenge and retribution.
Tanushree Podder considers travelling and writing as her twin passions. Her latest book, Escape From Harem, goes into the Mughal zenana and examines the lives of its women inhabitants.
Many historical novels are based on kings, queens, wealthy or influential people of the times. Why did you choose to cast Zeenat, a kaneez (or servant girl) as your protagonist?
I don’t like to travel trodden paths so I deliberately chose to reflect the historical events through the eyes of Zeenat, a kaneez in the harem. It also provided me the scope to add the elements of drama, without which the novel would have been just another historical fiction. The daring escape of Bahar, Jahangir’s concubine, along with her kaneez has the ability to stir the imagination as much as the historical events of the time. I have sketched the protagonist’s life from age 15 to almost the age of 60, which gave me ample scope to document a vast series of events. Also it provided me the opportunity to mirror the Mughal harem right from a teenager’s rose tinted glass to an astute mature woman’s perception.
Escape From Harem presents the brutality and subterfuge behind the wealth and glamour of the Mughal court. Was it hard balancing the writing about an era and the lives of ordinary men and women, the human stories?
The Mughal courts as in any other court had their share of palace intrigue, subterfuge and machinations behind the glossy façade of a hedonistic lifestyle. Sometimes, it requires a vivid imagination to write about an era which one has not seen through one’s eyes. Yet, neither human emotions nor nature changes with the changing times. The basic elements of human traits remain unchanged. The gamut of relationships, avarice and romance still remains the same. To be honest, it is a challenging task to write historical fiction since extensive research cannot be avoided.
What sources did you consult while writing the novel? How did you choose the bits of history to leave in and out?
I did extensive research in various libraries, reading and copying vast material from the books written on the subject. The process began with my first book – Nur Jahan’s Daughter. While I was compiling notes for that book, I came across a lot of information about the Mughal harem. I was mystified by the life of the inmates, their dreams, joys and sorrows. I decided that the protagonist of the next book would be a woman who escapes the harem and lives to tell the tale. The exhaustive research I had done for the first book helped me flesh out the details. Since I had already decided to stick to a timeline that began with Jahangir’s regime and ended with Shahjahan’s reign, it was easier for me to formulate a storyline. Most of the important events in that timeline have been included in the book.
Escape from Harem is said to be a preview of the Mughal way of life and culture; what did you find most intriguing about the Mughal era?
Undoubtedly, the life of women in the Mughal harem was of immense interest to me. There is a lot of mystery and intrigue connected with a harem in the minds of most people; the idea of unravelling the mystery excited me. There was much that went on within the confines of a harem yet the aspirations, emotions and dreams of its inmates were not very different from those of the modern women.
One book that you would love to have written?
I would have loved to have written Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind. The character of Scarlett O’Hara is one of the most fascinating characters ever created. Her trials, tribulations, triumphs and tears take the reader on an emotional roller coaster ride. Long after you have put the book down, you continue to live in the world of its protagonist.
You have written many non-fiction books as well. As a writer, which do you enjoy more – fiction or non-fiction?
As a writer I have evolved over time. It has been a long journey from the world of non-fiction to the world of fiction. One step at a time, I have covered a long distance during which I have experienced joy, frustration and satisfaction. I am an impulsive writer. I write about subjects that make me curious and throw up a challenge or one that makes me feel strongly about. For instance, I wrote Death Of A Dictator – the Story of Saddam Hussein after the US invasion of Iraq because I was so angry about the invasion. Boots Belts Berets, set against the background of the National Defence Academy, was written as a tribute to army officers. To be honest, each book has been a fascinating experience and a joy.
*Photo credit: Tanushree Podder.
Now dear readers, a book giveaway for you!
Simply answer this: What is it that attracts you to a historical novel? What are you looking for when you read historical fiction?
Just leave your answer as a comment below – and the best comment wins a copy of Tanushree Podder’s Escape From Harem!
Please note: Only 1 comment per person. The book can only be sent to a valid address in India. Giveaway closes on 9 AM IST 21st May 2013.
So what are you waiting for? Comment away!
UPDATE: THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED.
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Congratulations to Tanushree Podder for delving into historical fiction, especially the Mughal period. It’s amazing that given the rich historical and cultural heritage that we have, so few novelists have explored it. For me, historical fiction is not only about creating authentic settings but about telling a compelling and entertaining story. I will definitely look out for Ms. Podder’s novels.
Human mind may have changed over the ages but human emotions and the complexity in relationships have not. Seeing characters in a historical setting makes it that much more interesting and thought provoking.
the thing which attracts me to a historical novel is i want to know about the lifestyle of our ancestors ,be it in terms of food/ clothing/ carrying responsibilities/ managing daily activities etc.according to me time has changed and will keep on changing but the basic human essence is still the same , woman of those times would have the same emotions of love, hatred , empathy etc. as today’s woman have , but it would be really interesting to know how history has generated leaders like noor jahan, razia sultana how they manage to make a mark ,, what were their priorities , challenges their daily routine as a child/ wife/ mother/ queen,, in a way i would love to relate our leaders to the modern woman.
as a kid i was always fascinated about history. joining architecture made me read various monuments and lifestyles of people. mughal architecture somehow touched my heart. i believe that culture, say food, building or dressing always depend upon the climate and mindset of people. i feel may be i can find the moods and emotions of people of that era in this particular book, which would help me understand the evolution of culture better. hope to get the book. 🙂
I will look for an interesting story in historic background, which covers all details about place, culture, tradition and mindset of people. i expect the book to be educational as well, i expect author to have done enough research that reading the book will give a different perspective on the characters, life style and mind set. There might be both positive and negative things about culture that the book discusses, i want to understand all without bias. Hope i get the book, it seems to be interesting from the interview above 🙂
Historical Novel or fiction actually provides the real glimpse of the life style of that era which is surely missing in the sugar -coated or vague version presented in general history books. I get attracted to any book when I am able to almost visualize the main characters and can relate to what is going in their mind. Any book set up in periodic backdrop has its own plethora of diverse relationships, myriad emotions and sundry characters. Well researched historic novels can connect with the reader through nice mish-mash of facts & fiction.
There is something magical about reliving an age – breathing the air just as it used to be then. The prime reason I pick up a historical novel is to time-travel. No matter how science may still claim failure, writers achieved such a journey decades ago! A novel of this genre must be well researched, written with an eye for detail, yet focused less on trivialities and more on the lives of the characters whose story it tells.
When I read historical fiction, I expect a keen sense of language and word fitment – to suit the era whose tale it is. If the novel draws the reader in, much like any other genre of literature, half the job is done. The other half is accomplished if the reader finishes the book, closes his eyes and is transported to a sacrosanct place in history that people thought could never be reached again.
Here’s wishing Tanushree Podder all the very best with her new book! 🙂
As a reader , the historical novel engages and takes me in to a different world mostly for its unexplored larger than life backdrop away from the mundane and monotonous everyday urban lives. Through empathizing myself mostly with protagonist( if a female), the historical novel educates with the culture, lifestyle food, the mind set and the showcase of power and will power and impacts my heart with the rich and soulful, mysterious experiences. The rich tale weaved along the relevant times and setting is a perfect edutainment leaving indelible imprints. And now Tanushree Podder’s book about Mughal Harem is already sounding so appealing for the glamour and intrigue about Harems!!!
When I was in school I remember I used to hate history classes. There was a famous hindi film song “Sikandar sey Porus, jo ki thi ladaai, jeeti thi ladaai to mai kya karu / Translate : Porus did battle with Sikandar ( Alexander ), and he won, what am I supposed to do?” —- I used to sing this song loud to show my frustration that what am I supposed to do by learning which king was born when or died when, in which battle etc
But, it was much later when I grew up, I realized that history is so important to learn. Its so important to know what happened in the past, the events that happened that has led to present day circumstances. After all whatever happens in present times is a result of what happened in past. And I try to read whatever I can today of history.
Last few years, I have more than made up for the knowledge that I used to ignore and hate while I was in school. I have even visited many of the historical sites to see them with my own eyes. I attended a ‘light n sound’ show at Red Fort and was mesmerized by the drama that was enacted via use of sound and light. That of course roused my interest and made me want more of it.
Since, this book is a historical fiction, I’d love to go through that era once again and it’ll be a treasure for my book shelf.
Historical fiction fascinates me at two levels.
As a reader, it gives me a tremendous adrenaline rush to plunge headlong into a story that is set in the past. To read any book is to live another life, but a good work of historical fiction makes the experience richer. Also, to read about the past with the advantage of the hindsight of the present is a lovely experience.
As a writer, I can appreciate the amount of research the writer must have done, sifting through mountains of information, connecting the dots, making sense of it all – and finally creating a landscape in her mind, out of which the final story and the characters spring to life. It is hard work, and I am always very eager to see how the writer has handled it, and learn from it.
What is it that attracts me to a historical novel? The possibility of being transported in time. The prospect of stepping into an era when monuments were grand and rulers majestic. If the author can recreate those times in all its splendour, reveal the lives of people – whether living in penury or as royalty – let their stories unfold, that would be one fascinating journey. What can be more compelling than the story of our ancestors?
There is something very enigmatic in the lives of historical characters. They seem so distant – a cut above the rest of us. Historical novels depict the human side of these larger than life characters. The aspect that remains hidden behind the projected image is appealing. Hence I like reading historical novels.
I have always been fascinated by historical stories and the characters involved. One of the most important things that leads me to a historical novel is to understand the gamut of emotions prevailing over the people during that period – what were their joys, their sorrows, the intrigue involved in their lives. Were they the same as present times? How did the socio-economic situation of that period affect the lives of those concerned? What kind of role play was there between the husband and the wife/concubine? I wish I could travel to those times and observe the shy glances, the giggles, the tempers, the whispers, the preenings, the pinings, the sound of bangles, the clash of weapons…
My best wishes to Tanushree Poddar…I am sure she must have done a fantastic job!
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