New Book: ‘The Pledge: Adventures to Sada’

I have a new book out!

The Pledge: Adventures to Sada has been published by Speaking Tiger Books, and has been written in collaboration with film-maker Kannan Iyer, of Daud and Ek Thi Daayan fame (yes, finally my blog gets linked, even if it’s a tenuous link, to more recent cinema).

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The stones that make the Taj

Show anyone a photo of the Taj Mahal complex, and chances are, they’ll immediately recognise it—and even be able to say that while the mausoleum (the ‘rauza’) is made of white marble, most of the subsidiary buildings are made of sandstone. The Jilau Khaana, for example, where visitors would dismount before entering through the Darwaaza-e-Rauza. Or the mosque and its mirror building, the Mehmaan Khaana.

A view of the mosque at the Taj Mahal

A view of the mosque at the Taj Mahal

Wrong on both counts. The rauza is not made of white marble, and the other buildings are not of sandstone. In fact, all the buildings in the complex are made of brick; the marble (‘sang-e-marmar’) and the sandstone (‘sang-e-Gwaliari’ is the name for grey or yellow; ‘sang-e-surkh’ is the name for the red) are only the cladding, which forms the attractive outer face of the buildings.
And that’s not all. Approximately forty different types of semi-precious and precious stones were used in the decoration of the buildings.

Accounts of the construction of the Taj Mahal complex refer to the sources from where material was procured. The most abundant—the white marble and the sandstone—came from close at hand: the red sandstone from Fatehpur Sikri and the white marble from Makrana (in Rajasthan).

The rauza at the Taj Mahal

The rauza at the Taj Mahal

The more rare stones were brought from some very far-flung areas: malachite from Russia, jade from Kashgar in China, turquoise from Tibet. From as far west as the Nile Valley came cat’s eyes (also known as ‘lahsunia’); from the east, in Burma, came yellow amber. Lapis-lazuli were brought from Afghanistan, rubies from Sri Lanka. Other stones—orange-red cornelian, jasper, grass-green chrysolite, and deep blue (or green) heliotrope—were also procured.

[Note: You can click the illustration below to see a larger version].

Sources of some stones for the Taj

Sources of some stones for the Taj

These stones were used in the pietra dura inlay (known in Hindustani as ‘parchinkari’) that decorates many of the buildings, most notably the mausoleum itself. To create a panel of parchinkari, a master artist would begin by drawing the pattern, in henna, on the surface of the marble. This pattern would then be carefully gouged out by the parchinkar, and the empty spaces thus created filled with very finely cut slices of the coloured stones. Variations in colour and pattern within the stone were used to create stunning effects of light and shade.

Parchinkari detail at the rauza, Taj Mahal

Parchinkari detail at the rauza, Taj Mahal

Engraved in Stone contains more fascinating information about how this parchinkari was done, so if you haven’t bought your copy yet, do so—there are some mouthwatering deals on at Flipkart, BookAdda, Landmark, etc! If you live outside India, you can order the Muzaffar Jang series on Amazon, Abebooks, and Infibeam, among others.

Book Launch: My Lawfully Wedded Husband and Other Stories

This year, 2013, saw the launch of the Delhi Literature Festival (February 9-10). Not a huge affair, and not drawing the sort of crowds, publicity, and general ‘must-be-thereness’ of the Jaipur Literary Festival, but this was, after all, only the first tentative step. I do hope it continues, and grows.

The festival featured panel discussions and conversations with some interesting people (I was lucky enough to be able to attend part of a conversation with the mesmerizing Ashok Vajpeyi – brilliantly eloquent, and with a great sense of humour).

And, the festival began with the launch of my first non-Muzaffar Jang book, My Lawfully Wedded Husband and Other Stories.
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Book Review: Housefull: The Golden Age of Hindi Cinema

Despite the fact that I love reading as much as I enjoy watching films, I don’t read too much cinema-related writing. Part of the reason is that a lot of what I see in bookstores consists of biographies or autobiographies, and I have a horror of picking up one of those, only to find myself reading the sordid details of people’s personal lives. I’m really not interested in that; what I do like to read is about films themselves, and the professional side of those who make them. (Though I’m happy reading anecdotes like how Madan Mohan persuaded Manna Dey to sing Kaun aaya mere mann ke dwaare, or how Mohammad Rafi got to meet his idol).

So, when I came across Om Books International’s Housefull: The Golden Age of Hindi Cinema (Ed. Ziya Us Salam) and saw that it was a collection of mini essays about the best films of the 1950s and 60s, I decided this might be right up my street.

Housefull: The Golden Age of Hindi Cinema

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Introducing another guitarist: Sammy Daula

Do you recognise this tune? (The clip’s only a few seconds long, so it won’t take much time to listen to it). I’m sure most of you who like old Hindi film music will be able to guess this one.

O P Nayyar’s favourite guitarist was a man named Hazara Singh, but occasionally, he’d let another guitarist play a piece. As in this case. The man who played the guitar here was my father’s cousin, Samuel Naseeruddin ‘Sammy’ Daula.

Samuel Naseeruddin 'Sammy' Daula

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A new book: My Lawfully Wedded Husband and Other Stories

For those of you who associate me only with Muzaffar Jang and historical fiction, this may come as a surprise (though a pleasant one, I hope): my third book has been released, and it has very little to do with history.

My Lawfully Wedded Husband and Other Stories(published by Westland Limited, ISBN: 9789381626870) is a collection of contemporary black humour, with some stories being more humorous than black, while others are darker and less funny. All, however, do have one signature element that I particularly like: the twist in the tale.

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More about Muzaffar…

… and about me, and my sister Swapna. Swapna did a repeat of the Muzaffar Jang walk through some parts of Shahjahanabad – especially Chandni Chowk and just around, for a journalist, Priyanka Kotamraju of The Indian Express. Priyanka interviewed us along the way, and here’s what she came up with: a story about the Liddles and their love of history.

An Interview with Madhulika

Anuradha Goyal, blogger, prolific reviewer of books, and a travel writer, interviewed me recently. Anuradha’s questions ranged from my early attempts at writing to how Muzaffar Jang was born, to what advice I would offer to aspiring authors who wanted to write historical fiction.

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Body of Evidence: Notes from a Crime Fiction Conference

It is tough being a writer of crime fiction in India. Especially if you happen to write in English.

I have actually had other writers – of more ‘literary’ fiction, generally – look at me with faintly raised eyebrows, as if wondering if I’ll be able to respond intelligently, should they condescend to address a few sentences to me. I’ve had readers ask, “Since you’ve done so much research, why don’t you use it to write something constructive? Like a book on what India might have been like if Dara Shukoh, instead of Aurangzeb, had succeeded Shahjahan?”

(That reader actually added that crime fiction, after all, was a ‘hobby’).

So it is a very refreshing change to be part of something that doesn’t tolerate crime fiction, it celebrates it.

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