Indu Sundaresan on how the past can come alive with a touch of imagination
She just finished submitting her book, The Curse of the diamond (The curse of the Kohinoor for Indian editions), based on the last 50 years of the Kohinoor diamond in India. Indu Sundaresan has carved a niche for herself as a historical fiction writer, weaving word after word using imagination, research and history. She brings alive princesses and palaces, kings and queens, the Mughals and the desert dwellers. She has written a trilogy titled Taj Trilogy including the The Twentieth Wife, The Feast of Roses and The Shadow Princess. The books contemplate the life of empress Nur Jahan.
History is made up of facts and Indu's forte lies in doing research; she approaches an idea for a book with her foot set steady in libraries, reading incessantly and taking notes as she goes. “I began with The Emperor's Memoirs for starters because I don't read Persian or Turkish, the original languages the memoirs were written in. The best source of information is also the numerous travellers' tales from India. They left a good snapshot of what Mughal India was actually like,” she says, speaking to us on the sidelines of the Hyderabad Literary Festival. Indu adds, “I write historical fiction but I borrow from my own experiences as well. In The Splendour of Silence, I have the characters visit a biradari in the desert. This stems from an incident when my sister and I went to visit such a place when we were younger and witnessed a cow collapse when a man hit it hard,” she says. The incident, she says, has no bearing on the storyline, but this is how she personalises her work.
Is there a scope for factual errors when fusing history and fiction? Indu says that she made an error in her trilogy, when she wrote of a Mughal recipe with tomatoes; in the time period that she was writing about, India hadn't even heard of tomatoes. “Mistakes are good; they keep you grounded and you'll be careful the next time” she says.
Moving away from the historical fiction genre, Indu has written a book of contemporary short stories, In the convent of little flowers. But she declares her love for research and reading with vigour, “I enjoy recreating this world of the past. To an extent it's a world that we don't know anything about apart from books and other people's narratives. It takes a little bit of more work to create it. I enjoy fusing it with the contemporary to feel the heat, dust and emotions.”