The Taj Mahal – this magnificent white marble tomb! It has been six years now from when it has begun to be built. However, all hell breaks loose when the chief architect, Ustad Ahmad Lahauri, is kidnapped. Emperor Shah Jahan is all set to give the further contract to an Italian architect, but the ghost of Mumtaz Mahal has other intentions. She sends her most trusted maid to the 21st century to seek help of the DOA detective agency – an agency which has a time machine and solves crimes back in the past! Among political conspiracies and harem secrets, will the DOA gang be able to find Ustad Lahauri?
This paperback cover description of Trouble At The Taj, can scarcely begin to describe the roller coaster ride that the book is. A very engaging thriller in all respects, Trouble At The Taj is a mind numbing mystery. Though the storyline is purely fictional, it involves lots of historical tidbits which happen to be entirely true, a scenario as rarely seen in historically based stories as a cold month of May in Mumbai! In the end, authoress Sonja Chandrachud herself compares the history written in this book with actual history and tells her readers of all the small details scattered across the book.
Trouble At The Taj starts off to an intriguing and distinctly promising start with a lot of confusion in Agra as the chief architect of Taj Mahal disappears into thin air. How will it be constructed further? More importantly, who will construct it further? are the two questions that reign supreme in this hullabaloo.
The answer to the latter is the reason why the ghost of the late Empress is upset. She loved the design of Ustad Lahauri but can't bring herself to like the suggested design of Geronimo Veronio – the Italian architect who is being appointed as the new chief architect. So she sends her most trusted maid (also a ghost) to the DOA detective agency which comprises of a group of three children very different from one another, a monkey and an auto (TukTuk) which is incidentally a time machine too!
Even though the premise of the book is stretched by the looks of it, but it certainly is a very good read. The language used is lucid and highly evocative, though never once I felt the need to scamper around for a dictionary. The simple language adds to the beauty of this story.
There are many historic facts that are not connected in reality on the face of it, but the authoress very tactfully weaves them in a string – a string you would not wish to break until you have seen the whole of it. The seamstress of fantasy that Ms. Chandrachud is leaves us surprised in the wake of the realization of how one seemingly distinct event perfectly leads to another by entwining the different strands of history into a masterful fabric of storytelling.
About all the main characters presented in this novella are real. Even those carved out of the authoress’ imagination seem real too. This book literally takes you to the world of Shah Jahan and his children – Aurangzeb (the ever defiant adamant son), Jahanara (the sensible eldest daughter and in charge of the harem), Raushanara (in her late teens – very rebellious, ambitious, defiant and the gossip loving one) Dara Shikoh (the religious and peace loving one), Shah Shuja (the quiet but rebellious one), Murad Bakhsh (in his early teens) and Gauharara (still a kid). A complete package with royal secrets, scandals and spies of harem is what the writer here serves while delighting us with the making of Mughal period’s greatest surviving legacy.
The varied characteristics of the three DOA detectives and their relation with one another is very beautifully described. The book offers a good laugh at many places, generously tickling our funny bones. The best part is that being an Indian book, it has the quintessential myriad flavours of India. The things an average Indian experiences in daily life find mentions here and a vivid comparison drawn with the same things in the times of Shah Jahan will leave a satisfied smile across the reader’s face. In the end one realizes that whatever be the place or time, human nature never changes. The basic tendencies of pride, fun, ambition, greed, lust, etc. were as prevalent in those times as they are now. This primal thing about the human race is most beautifully brought out in the book and can be, in many ways, said as the over-arching theme of Trouble At The Taj.
But then, a coin has always two sides. There are times when you experience edge-of-the-seat thrills but also times when suddenly the story slows down. There are times when you are astounded speechless by the creativity of the authoress and there are also times when you think that ‘Hey! This doesn’t seem logical enough, okay!’ Let me assure you that the latter instances are few in number and scattered sparsely across the book to keep your interest in the story intact. The story is rock solid and with each new chapter another layer of the authoress’ historical and creative skills is unravelled, making the reader immerse himself into a pool of machinations at work in the devious court of a Mughal Emperor.
Overall, it is a very absorbing read. Political scandals, harem gossips, secret alleys and passages, royal secrets, irrepressible jealousies and above all, a fascinating tale about the nuances of India’s crown jewel, the Taj Mahal will surely not let you get bored at all during your read. Cheers! Happy reading!