Saturday, 18 July 2015

Taj - Colin De Silva

An ambitious tale about court intrigue and power play in mughal rule.

As the title aptly suggests, it is about the famous monument and the ruler who built it. The central protagnist is Shah Jahan and the novel starts off with him as a young lad, still in training, watching his grandfather Emperor Akbar rule. He is the mute spectator as his father usurps the ailing Emperor and takes over the reins of the empire not realising that someday he will be doing the same.

The line of treachery and violence that mars the mughal rule makes for a great story. Taking his pick from the mughal period De Silva does a very good job of deciding on a timeframe and sticking to it.

However, I had my doubts when I picked up De Silva's Taj. A Srilankan writing about the Taj? How good can it be.

But De Silva has done a good job with it and produced a compelling and an engrossing tale.


A young Shah Jahan watches his father take over the reins of the empire by force and learns to defend himself from treacherous enemies at an early age. The female protagnist is Noor Jehan, the ambitious conniving queen who sets her sights on Emperor Jehangir in order to procure power for herself.

The two protagnists clash over the need to hold on to power and the book very ably touches on their personalities and their circumstances as they manipulate their way to power. 

The circumstances that result in building of the Taj Mahal, is yet another element in the story.

What works:

  • It is apparent that De Silva has a big job on his hands, handling two powerful protagnists, at the same time keep focus on the famous monument but it is well done.
  • I loved the way the story swiftly encapsulates the rise of the mughal empire in a few paragraphs paving the way for the Shah Jahan bit of the story. The story also rounds off with the entry of the British, as the reader is only too aware of how the British will end up winning power eventually.
  • The story takes off after a few hundred pages and the De Silva's good story telling comes to fore when we see the various obstacles that Shah Jahan has to face before he becomes the king.
  • The author also shapes shah jahan's personality quite well and marks the changes in him after he becomes an emperor. 
  • Noor Jehan's character is also well etched she works her way through a male dominated society. Her transition from a clever lady of court to a power hungry empress to a desperate aging queen is very well narrated.
What doesn't:

  • The book starts off on a slow note but picks up pace after a good 100-200 pages into it. 
  • It feels that De Silva took his time outlining the story but suddenly realised he was losing a lot of ink and rushed to tie up loose ends and get to the end.

Apart from that, a great story about the mughal period. Alex rutherfurd has a similar series that covers the entire mughal period starting from Babur to Aurangzeb.

This one is a lot better. It leaves you educated and entertained and makes it well worth your while for picking it up.

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