Conjurers of Moghul zenanas and battlefields
By Deepshikha Punj
14th October 2012 12:00 AM
It’s a beautiful weather today, but rather windy, don’t you think?” asks author Diana Preston as she smiles and poses for the camera. The simplicity of the celebrated author — she and her husband Michael Preston write jointly under the pseudonym of Alex Rutherford — doesn’t miss us in the glitzy surrounding of the hotel. The couple are on a three-week tour of India and have plans to know what is still unknown to them. “We are taking our friends around and have already visited the Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur. We are now heading to Bagdogra, Sikkim, Darjeeling and then Kolkata,” Diana reveals.
After studying at Oxford together, Diana and Michael got married. The keen travellers, as they are, then had come to India for their honeymoon. “Our greatest love is India where we’ve spent at least two years of our lives. Our research into the building of the Taj Mahal for our non-fiction book A Teardrop on the Cheek of Time, led us to explore the early history of the Moghul dynasty that built the Taj,” says Diana who alone interacts with the media. “To understand the minds of the founders of the Moghul dynasty for our fiction quintet Empire of the Moghul, we’ve read all the chronicles of the time. And while we were researching, we realised what amazing personalities they all were, and had the most extraordinary stories associated with each of their reins. We wanted to fictionalise their lives and get into their heads, so to speak,” she adds.
Diana recalls how it all began when they retraced the steps of the Moghuls, from the Ferghana Valley in Kyrgyzstan — home to the first Moghul emperor, the boy-king Babur, to Iran, to the blue domes and minarets of Samarkand in Uzbekistan, across the red deserts to the Oxus River, over the Hindu Kush to Kabul and Afghanistan, and down through the Khyber Pass to the plains of northern India. The characters in the chronicles, and their stories in particular, excited the couple’s imagination. “There are lots of universal themes running through. There is ambition, love, passion and envy… almost everything. I personally liked Babur for his visceral energy and sheer guts. And even though he was knocked back so many times in his life, he never gave up. On the other hand, I find Akbar to be very attractive. He was more multi-faceted than Babur and was a warrior. He did well for his subjects. But the one who really struck me was Noor Jahan. She was a strong woman in an essentially male-dominated world,” Diana believes.
Their writing process has been simple. Diana says: “At the beginning of the series we had a detailed structure of what would happen in each book. We would talk about our ideas on each of the characters. Michael would work on the battles, and I would probably work on the dialogues. We made sure we wrote on every page… someone wrote bigger portions and someone smaller.”
Though they started working on the Empire of the Moghul quintet, the couple recently decided to write Aurangzeb’s story as well. “When we started going around India on publicity tours, and when we started the website www.Empireofthemoghul.com, 80 per cent of the comments were about when we would come out with a book on Aurangzeb. When we started to work on our fifth book, which should be out next year, we thought that he plays a very central role… the feud with his brothers, the way he imprisons his father to occupy the throne… The more we thought about it, we realised that even though he was a controversial character, he was the last of the great Moghul emperors.”
So how will their Aurangzeb be? Diana says even though she has a picture of how Alex Rutherford will present Aurangzeb, time will give them more researched material on this divisive character. And as they give themselves two years to research and write, the author couple are, as of now, travelling around the country to write travel pieces.