Fictionalising Indian history: Setting a new trend (Book Review)

By Frederick Noronha,

Panaji : Indian history presents one of the richest tapestries that can inspire any writer of fiction. In this “fascinating mosaic”, the Mughal period is like an exquisite miniature, says author Aroon Raman, whose second book is a historical fiction set in this period.

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“The main players and colourful personalities lend to this age the quality of high drama. I was drawn to it naturally and so ‘The Treasure of Kafur’ (Pan Macmillan) is set at the height of the Mughal Empire under Akbar,” Chennai-based Raman told IANS during a visit here.

“The wonderful thing was that the book offered me the liberty I could take with certain facts and characters. The result is a seamless blend of fact and fantasy – to take the reader out of himself/herself into a world that is completely believable, but without necessarily being subject to the tyranny of facts that non-fiction writers are subject to,” added Raman, whose first book, “The Shadow Throne”, came out in 2012.

Raman’s new book starts at a time when the Mughal empire is at the peak of its glory under emperor Akbar. But 20 years of war have made him many enemies, in particular the Deccan kingdoms, who expect him to invade at any time.

Against this backdrop, the evil king Asaf Baig hears of a fabulous lost treasure – the secret of which is known to an old woman on the southern border of his kingdom. He kidnaps her to force her to reveal the secret. Her grandson then embarks on a desperate journey to Agra to enlist the help of Akbar to save his grandmother – and the empire as well.

Along the way, there are many adventures when he meets strange characters and is thrown into the world of kings and princesses and faces down the forces of implacable evil as the novel builds to its climax.

Raman, who turned a family company into the world’s largest transformer board manufacturer with a presence in 25 countries before divesting it to start a material sciences laboratory in Mysore, found the researching for the book the most exciting and the most challenging.

“Contemporary records of the Mughal period are extensive, but not necessarily accurate. Akbar, however, is one of those monarchs about whom we know more than most – both in written record and in folklore,” Raman said.

“Hence the Akbar I have portrayed is I believe an accurate picture of the man. The geography of Hindustan of the time has also been preserved in the telling of the tale,” the author added.

Raman noted that the “pure Indian adventure-thriller” is still an almost unexplored category in Indian writing in English, which is dominated by literary fiction. Thus, Indian readers of thrillers turn mostly to Western authors. In this context, writing this book, for him, was aimed at producing “a taut, fast-paced Indian story”.

(Frederick Noronha can be contacted at [email protected])