In Trouble at the Taj, Sonja Chandrachud weaves fiction into fact in the hope that it will encourage young adult readers to see the adventure that lies behind the pages of their 'drab' History textbooks
All is not well with Shah Jahan's grandiose plans to build the Taj Mahal for Mumtaz Mahal. Chief architect Ustad Ahmed Lahauri has been kidnapped and his dead empress' ghost won't allow a new architect to resume work. In the quest to find Lahauri, author Sonja Chandrachud takes the young adult (YA) reader on a roller coaster ride against the backdrop of the Mughal era. Excerpts from the interview:
Why did you zero in on the Taj as the focal point of this adventure?
I was very clear that the first mystery story in the DOA (Dead on Arrival) Detective Files would be located in Indian history, as it is filled with intrigue. The Mughal era, which lasted for over three centuries, is the most fascinating. Shah Jahan's rule saw the creation of one of the Seven Wonders of the World: The Taj Mahal, which took 22 years and millions of rupees to create -- incredibly, all for the love of a woman. This set me thinking: What if someone hated Shah Jahan enough to disrupt his plans? Who would be capable of such a daring act? The more I thought about it, the more I was convinced that the Taj Mahal was the perfect location for a heart-pounding international whodunit with its sprawling surroundings and alleged secret chambers.
You've deftly woven fact with fiction in this plot; how difficult was it to ensure a balance that worked for your storyline, while keeping the reader engaged was maintained?
Balancing fact and fiction is tough, because 99% of the material is based on actual events. You cannot tamper with places and dates. The story has to be woven around loopholes that exist in official records.
How much research did you do?
I research extensively before working on all my stories -- from surfing the Internet to meeting with reputed historians. For this title, I met Ninad Bedekar, a Pune-based historian and expert on Mughal and Maratha texts.
Do you believe that our YA (Young Adult) generation has neither been given opportunity nor the window to learn about our country's history?
Absolutely. Our history is rich, with a colourful scape that spans centuries. It's a pity that our school textbooks are drab and uninspiring, our museums and forts continue to remain unkempt, and our children are least interested in what History holds. I hope that with DOA Detective Files, they are able to enjoy the mystery and adventure that lie behind the pages of a History book.
Trouble at the Taj, Sonja Chandrachud; Puffin; Penguin India; Rs 199. Available at leading bookstores.