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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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