Tanushree Podder has lived in several Indian cities because of her husband who is in the defense forces and has finally settled down for good in Pune. In an interview she speaks about her recently released, historic fiction, An Escape From Harem; routines and why Pune needs book clubs.
What’s it like to write about harem life through the eyes of an escapee?
An Escape From Harem is written through the eyes of the protagonist, Zeenat — a kaneez who was sourced to a harem, to fulfill the lust of the then Mughal emperor Jahangir. Once a woman entered this harem her escape was impossible.
The book narrates how Zeenat escaped in the backdrop of revolt launched by Prince Khurram who became Emperor Shahjahan later. There are many conjectures about life of women in harem. Contrary to the belief that women were unhappy, many enjoyed harem life as it offered affluence and safety. At least they were safe from possible assaults by other men.
How did you research for this book?
I developed an interest in the Mughal period during my travels. The seeds of my first fiction based on the Mughal era were sown while being based in Agra. I visited Mughal architectural masterpieces like Taj Mahal and Fatehpur Sikri. For research, I consulted libraries in Bangalore, New Delhi and Raipur where I was lucky to find the University Library that houses a formidable collection on Mughal history.
Its librarian was helpful; since I wasn’t a student at the University, he would borrow books for me in his name. While working on my first fiction about Nurjahan’s daughter I had collated plenty of information so An Escape From Harem wasn’t tough. However, writing contemporary fiction is easier than historic fiction; you don’t have to keep track of dates and events.
Do you have a set routine for your writing?
Discipline is important otherwise it is difficult to write a book. When I start writing a book, I pre-plan my daily routine to find time.
How is Pune compared to other cities where you’ve lived in?
I am still exploring Pune. Our hangouts and shopping destinations are limited to the Cantonment. When we decided to settle down, Bangalore and Pune were our options. I was inclined towards Bangalore since I’ve lived there for 15 years. Also, it has many literary groups where authors and readers connect over book readings and discussions. What I miss most in Pune is the book club culture. Perhaps, there are clubs here that I’m unaware of.