Romancing history

Indu Sundaresan on how the past can come alive with a touch of imagination

Updated - October 18, 2016 12:45 pm IST

Published - January 18, 2012 07:44 pm IST

Author Indu Sundaresan at the Hyderabad Literary Festival 2012 Photo: Vishnupriya Bhandaram

Author Indu Sundaresan at the Hyderabad Literary Festival 2012 Photo: Vishnupriya Bhandaram

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.”

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