Praise for My Books

"Manreet Sodhi Someshwar is a gifted writer of great promise. I have a gut feeling we have a new star rising in Punjab's literary horizon. She has an excellent command of English and a sly sense of humour."
- Khushwant Singh on The Long Walk Home

"An enjoyable tale of a sassy girl's headlong race up the corporate ladder."
- India Today on Earning the Laundry Stripes

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Why I Wrote The Taj Conspiracy

I enjoy reading reviews on Flipkart - they are almost always unadulterated, and, therefore, good fun! My latest novel, The Taj Conspiracy, has been receiving its share of bouquets and brickbats, expectedly, and I am intrigued by what readers have to say: from 'India's Stieg Larrson' to 'The Indian Dan Brown' to 'Very ordinary' - we have got ourselves a range of reviews.

Additionally, there is one question I have been asked repeatedly: why did you choose to write about the Taj Mahal? Why not any other Indian monument?

Well, to know the answer, you'll have to hear a story. Ready?

It was a crisp winter morning in ‘08 when I last visited the Taj Mahal. As our guide urged us through the Jilaukhana, forecourt, I caught a fleeting glimpse of the white mausoleum perfectly framed in the arched entrance gateway. Before we could savour the moment, we’d stumbled through the gate into the lush gardens. 

The green of the chahar bagh contrasted with the red sandstone platform upon which stood the famed white mausoleum with its flanking buildings. Everything sang harmony - except our guide. Intent upon hustling us on, he ignored the perfect symmetry of the gardens, dismissed the central pool - almost as famous as the celebrities who pose from across it, gave a wide berth to the garden wall pavilions with their intriguing verandahs accentuated with coupled columns and arches ... 

No, for him, the Taj Mahal was only the white marble building at the north end, which, in turn, was some periodic table, materials and numericals interwoven, in which ‘marble’ and ‘sandstone’ popped with unsurprising periodicity. 

Admittedly, I was nonplussed. I am a writer, I like stories - they tell the truth, about the world, about ourselves, and since inception, homo sapiens have deployed stories to learn and remember by. 

x pheet by y pheet... marble... pheet pheet... sandstone... 

Why then was this guide bent upon dishing us an obscure periodic table? When I objected to the lack of a narrative, he nodded sanguinely and proceeded to a garnish of urban legends. I gaped.

Earlier that year, we had toured the Vatican museums with a guide who had brought alive the magic of Renaissance - Michelangelo’s marble Pieta had since found a home in my heart. Here was the world’s most beautiful marble monument that should be pulsing with life stories, yet its narrative was buried under bloodless piling of numerical detail and credulous myths when the true story of the monument was far bigger?

Did he know that the marble mausoleum at the north end of the complex descended in terraced steps towards the Yamuna as part of a riverfront terrace which was a Shahjahani innovation? That the emperor approached the Taj on a boat over the river as against the approach by tourists today - which is why we never sight the terrace rooms. 

How, while designing the Taj as Mumtaz’s home in paradise, Shah Jahan put all elements to work, even sound. The central domed chamber within the mausoleum has such perfect acoustics that it is renowned for one of the longest echoes of any building in the world.

That an Englishman’s love has illuminated the imperial Mughal tomb for over a century. The bronze lamp that hangs over the cenotaphs was especially gifted by Lord Curzon who, dismayed by the smoky lanterns the guides used to show him around, resolved to present the Taj with worthy lighting.

That the Taj Mahal, Islamic in conception yet imbued with Hindu elements, is a syncretic creation truly symbolic of our culture.

When we departed, I turned once to look at the Taj. This time, unhindered by the guide, I savoured it framed within the arched Darwaza-i-Rauza, the mist swirling around its marble dome. Somehow, the Taj looked forlorn, as if it needed someone to tell its story...

The guide had come highly recommended; apparently his clientele included foreign corporate clients. Imagine what havoc the less recommended guides must yield? 

I resolved that day to write a novel around the Taj Mahal, one that would rescue it from ignorant guides and benighted rumours and show it for what it really is - as the colour white contains all colours within it, this monument of white comprises multiple, diverse threads of a pluralistic India. 

Thus was The Taj Conspiracy born.

If  you get to read the book, I'll be happy to hear your thoughts. So, write in!


  1. Thank you so much for sharing the story behind the novel.

    I love historical buildings and feel sad whenever I visit one in India. I usually make up my own story in my head as I walk along, touching the stone walls and imagining all that they would have witnessed.

    My sister and I collected all of Jean Plaidy's novels and read them countless times. We used to yearn for Indian historical novels that did not fall into the mythology category.

    Haven't read your novel yet. I am really looking forward to it. Will let you know what I think when I do.

    1. Great to hear from you! Yes, we could do a lot with our monuments in India, starting by educating our tourist guides. Ahem! Will look forward to hearing from you,

  2. The next time I visit Taj, I will try to see from your point of view.

  3. the more i read about the taj conspiracy on your blog .. the more it makes me feel like buying the book and start reading it :-)