I remember reading an article (circa ~1975) in “The Illustrated Weekly of India” (or was it the magazine section of the Indian Express?), by one Prof P N Oak. The essence of the article was to claim that the Taj Mahal was not the tomb of Mumtaj Mahal, but was actually a Shiva Temple called Tejo Mahalaya. I was surprised to read that at that time, because it went against what I was taught in history. Oak raises several valid questions about the origins of the Taj Mahal, based on its naming and on some architectural features of the structure.
The Taj Conspiracy, a mystery-thriller, written by Manreet Sodhi Someshwar, revolves around a conspiracy built on the above premise. The story begins with the protagonist, Mehrunisa, a researcher on the Taj and its architecture and history, stumbling upon the body of the Taj supervisor at the historic monument. There are also a set of clues at the site of the murder. There is clearly someone who would like to raise a religio-political controversy, and thereby benefit from it. The story goes on to describe how the mystery is solved and a religious conspiracy is averted. In the process the author takes the reader through some of the history of the Taj, its structure, myths surrounding its origins and other little known facts and anecdotes about it and its builder.
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- Manreet Sodhi Someshwar has used the Dan Brownesque pattern successfully. The elements of the story are similar to a Dan Brown mystery – with a murder, a set of clues to crack -like a treasure hunt, a mystery villain, a conspiracy and a merging of religion, contemporary politics and history. Despite the common elements, the narration and writing style make it original. The characters are believable, if, a little stereotyped.
- Mehrunisa, the delightful female protagonist, stands on her own, despite the book featuring several significant male characters, some of them even macho.
- The language used by the Sodhi-Someshwar to describe the gestures of characters. I found them unusual and quaint: eg. “… wagged a knowing head”
- Manreet successfully invokes the readers’ empathy with the characters by highlighting their feelings in the course of events. The author, by casually passing some off the cuff remark, effectively strikes a chord with the reader (for me it was the reference of the SSP’s children studying in Salem).
- Linking contemporary events to events and characters in the story. The book, published in 2012, to a certain extent reflects the political climate of that time, and it is easy to make out the veiled references to some of the political parties and leaders of the time.
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- I wouldn’t call it a negative, but the author clearly takes a pro-establishment (and thereby anti-conspiracy theory) stance. Not that it matters, but I’d have liked an objective, neutral view on the issue by the author.
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- I had initially given it “Worth-a-read”, but as the review proceeded, I decided that it deserves a “Must Read”.
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- The period of Emperor Shah Jahan (1628-1658), according to me, is fairly recent history. It is less than 400 years ago, so significant events and happenings of this period, should be well documented and verifiable. So it should be easily verifiable whether the urban legend holds any water. Anyway I’d like to know the readers’ opinion on the issue of whether it is indeed a Shiva temple – please share your views in the comment.
Intriguing and gripping, as a conspiracy ought to be.