Manreet Sodhi Someshwar talks of her series heroine, the scholarly Mehrunisa’s and her fascination for all things Mughal
The lovely Mehrunisa Khosa is caught up in a race against time Manreet Sodhi Someshwar’s The Hunt for the Kohinoor, the second of trilogy featuring the exotic Mughal scholar. In this email interview, the Hong Kong-based writer talks about the book, her love for Mughal history and renaissance art. Excerpts.
How did Mehrunisa come to be?
I wrote The Taj Conspiracy, Book 1 of the Mehrunisa trilogy, to rescue Taj Mahal from ignorant guides and benighted rumours and show it for what it really is — as the colour white contains all colours within it, this monument of white comprises multiple, diverse threads of a pluralistic India. I created Mehrunisa as a human metaphor for the Taj — strong yet vulnerable and of mixed heritage.
Mehrunisa who was so gutsy and intelligent in The Taj Conspiracy spends a large part of The Hunt for the Kohinoor as a damsel in distress waiting to be rescued...
The Hunt for Kohinoor, is set in the tangled triangle of India Afghanistan Pakistan where history collides with gunfire. This adventure takes her into the heart of the region which even the US has admitted has rung its death knell. It pits her against hardened jihadis and the only skills Mehrunisa has are a deep knowledge of history and personal courage. As the clock counts down to the deadline, the question propelling the narrative is: will Mehrunisa save the nation and get out of this alive?
Was the shift from history to politics in the books intentional?
History and politics are intertwined, especially in the region of India Pakistan Afghanistan. The book is set against the backdrop of our shared Mughal history and the more contemporary history of Indo-Pak wars.
The book moves at a spanking pace. Do you feel you had to sacrifice character for plot?
Thank you. It is a high-adrenaline chase with a clock ticking down to 96 hours. The spine of the trilogy is Mehrunisa’s personal life story, the vacuum in her life, and her desire to seek answers. I believe actions define the characters and that is how the plot unravels in this book.
The next book in the trilogy is The Peacock Throne Prophesy. What is it about the Mughals that fascinates you?
Outsized characters. The mix of grandeur and hardship. Their defining architecture. At its very heart I suppose is the story of how a 12-year-old refugee from Ferghana came to India and went on to establish one of the greatest empires in history, the name of which is today a byword for power and magnetism, mogul.
Your descriptions of the place and people of Afghanistan — the whole Pathan ethos are very evocative. How difficult or easy was the research?
Research in the subcontinent is not for the faint-hearted. Wikipedia-dump oft passes for research. For writing the book I drew upon a mosaic of resources: my abiding interest in the history of the region, following journalists who cover the region, speaking to people on the field, travel.
Did you always conceive of the books as a trilogy?
No. Writing The Taj Conspiracy took me several years since research was a stumbling block. I started with a simple, or so I thought, question: what does the calligraphy on Mumtaz’s tomb say? Nobody could answer that. The five years it took me to research the iconic monument for which India is world-famous and yet of which Indians have abysmal knowledge, led me to spend a lot of time with my characters. I got to know them so well I decided to send them on more adventures.
Will Mehrunisa find love? Or rather who will she choose Raghav or Singh?
Ha ha! (Writer rubs hands with glee) You will just have to wait for book three to see.
Do you feel overwhelmed by Mehrunisa and her world?
I love Mehrunisa and her world! She is my heroine, gutsy, capable, with an abiding love of my own two interests: Mughal history and Renaissance art.
Kohinoor like Taj Conspiracy reads like a film. Any offers for film? There was some news about Priyanka Chopra being interested in Mehrunisa…
Yes, that news did go viral with media from Canada to Pakistan and Dubai in between, not to mention India, carrying that report. High time we had a historical-spy thriller film with a woman in the lead, no?