Book: The Taj Conspiracy
Author: Manpreet Sodhi Someshwar
Number of pages: 402
Price: Rs. 250
I had been looking forward to The Taj Conspiracy. It sounded intriguing. It reminded me of the many hot-headed debates in college. The book is one straightforward plot, numerous characters and that one mystery begging to be solved. Mehrunisa Khosa, a Mughal scholar, unearths a conspiracy to destroy the Taj Mahal when she discovers the murder of the Taj supervisor and the Quranic calligraphy on the tomb of Queen Mumtaz, which has been altered to suggest a Hindu origin of the monument.
Thereafter, the narrative jumps from Agra to Delhi to Jaipur to PoK Kashmir to Chattisgarh, back to Agra and Delhi, and so on. The places, the characters could all get too much for a reader seeking a light read. But I did enjoy the book. It’s racy and entertaining.
The book begins with an air of mystery, with the presence of a dead body in the first few pages itself. And then you know that every other incident that follows is more or less linked to the dead individual in question. The plot thickens in some chapters, loses its focus in some others. It relies heavily on the prevalent conspiracy theories of the day and mirrors the Indian political stance on most points. And that latter was a bit of a let-down. While both the cops assisting Khosa in her quest are etched in fine detail, the characterization of politicians is vague and sketchy, with little detailing, almost caricaturing some real-life samples. The book also relies heavily on present-day clichés within the Indian political system.
Khosa shares with the Taj an Indo-Persian lineage; a fact, which probably becomes her raison d’être to solve the conspiracy. She is assisted by two cops, SSP Raghav, the head of an Anti-Terror Squad, and RP Singh, an officer familiar with the Naxalites in Chhattisgarh and the high-power corridors of Delhi, alike.
The most intriguing character in the book is that of the dead man. Perhaps a contradiction of sorts but you’ll have to read the book for greater clarity on that. Call him a(the) “behrupiya,” if you will. A sound deceiver.
There are interesting twists and turns in the plot but somewhere toward the end, it falls apart slightly. Almost anti-climactic. The siege to the fabled monument is built up to a crescendo but then you’re left wanting more. The end just doesn’t do the rest of the book much justice, with the author trying to tie up the loose ends in a hurry, like she is running out of ink and paper.
It is a well-researched book, visiting snippets of Indian history often, replete with counter-facts. As a history student, I was delighted. And the language is exquisite. I often reread some passages only to savor how the words emoted. However, the constant shift in narrative was a little distracting. It took some effort getting acquainted with the numerous characters. An index might have helped but I suppose it might have taken away from the mystery and intrigue then.
The Taj Conspiracy is a light one-time read. Fast-paced, eloquent and exquisitely worded. Revisit the Taj Mahal in its pages.
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