A portrayal of the Mughal era in terms of timelines, characters and geographical locales, Niraj Srivastav’s Daggers of Treason seamlessly blends fiction with historical facts. Excerpts...
Tell us about Daggers of Treason.
Daggers of Treason is a historical fiction (debut) novel, covering the life and reign of emperor Khurram Shahjahan. It is the first volume of a four-volume series titled The Curse of The Mughal Series.
It begins with the birth of prince Khurram in 1592, as the most prodigal and munificent of Akbar’s grandsons. A 400-page chronicle of the court intrigues, the book also covers the assassination of Sheikh Abu’l Fazl and the deaths of Akbar’s sons, prince Murad and prince Daniyal. It brings alive the eternal mystery of Anarkali and her secret trysts with prince Salim Jahangir, which threatens to bring down the empire.
What triggered this? How and why did you choose this subject?
I had initially thought of writing about the dark years of Khurram Shahjahan’s life, when he was a prisoner of his own son, Aurangzeb, in the Shah Burj of Agra Fort. I often thought of the public rendering that Khurram Shahjahan spent his last years, gazing at the tomb of his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal, and also died gazing fixedly at the Taj Mahal. Having immersed myself in his life and personality, I found it hard to believe that an emperor so ambitious and valiant, would allow himself to decay in the Agra Fort.
I have tried to give a different meaning to his existence. I chose this subject since I believed that the Mughals had everything that a good story needs, in abundance — treachery, love, passion, betrayal, intrigue, harem politics and sex, blood, violence, gore.
What type of research did you do for it? How challenging was it? Did your royal roots help? (Srivastav is the direct descendant of Diwan Rai Gurbuksh Singh, Diwan to the erstwhile Maharaja Chet Singh of Benares)
I am basically a management executive, with a doctoral in International Business Management, and hence, Mughals and history were alien subjects. However, I am a true ‘storyteller’ and therefore, the rich history of Mughals was just the piece of intriguing maze, where I could sail unfettered with my flair for mixing facts with fiction!
My richest store of ancient Mughal documents and manuscripts has been the Khuda Baksh Oriental Library at Patna, which is supposed to be the ‘Mecca’ for original documents. I have also researched at the Bihar Central Library, Patna, as well as the State Library at Allahabad.
But my biggest education has been travelling to the ancient forts and abandoned caravanserais of the Mughals, which lie derelict and forlorn. I travelled by car, crisscrossing the old Mughal routes from Agra to Burhanpur, Illahabad and the Subas of Bengal and Bihar. I have also travelled on the old Agra-Lahore route upto Amritsar to get a feel of the terrain.
I am just a lost Mughal in these present times now. My eyes have seen all that I write, and reflects in my language, too.
Tell us about your personal library known to have around 15,000 titles.
I have been collecting books since I was in Class III, and my father was a great force multiplier. He never refused a book and set me on the path to reading. My personal library now covers everything from the Encyclopedia Britannica to the soft copies of Nick Carter and Harold Robbins. I have very rare sets on Wildlife, Occult, Science, War & Military, Fiction and almost everything under the sun.
My most prized set is Britannica’s very rare and priceless, 60-volume set — Great Books of Britannica. I believe there are only three full sets available in India, mine being one of them.
For my research on Mughals, I have collected some 200 books which includes some priceless gems like Muntakhab Ut Tawarikh by Al Badauni, Tezkereh Al Vakiat by emperor Humayun’s ewer bearer etc.
You won the Beverly Hills Book Awards for this. How do you see that?
Daggers of Treason was placed as winner in the 5th Annual Beverly Hills Book Awards (Multicultural Fiction). Fiction is also the most heavily competed category, and hence, the award is a celebration of my story and writing skills. It has brought me international recognition, and great personal satisfaction. I also hope it will make Indians proud.
You have signed up with a Hollywood company to develop a television episodic series over this. How did this come about?
The Beverly Hills Book Awards placement as ‘Winner’ brought it to the notice of Hollywood Studios. They contacted me in March 2017, and after protracted negotiations, we signed the deal in September 2017 for Film and TV Rights. James Ram and Alice Neuhauser are the main producers.