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PLAYING THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE

 Jhinuk Sen |  2013-09-14 22:53:54.0  |  New Delhi

Perhaps the typical first question - why the pseudonym/pen-name? Why not just be co-authors?
We like to keep our fiction separate from our non-fiction. We weren't originally intending that anyone should know who Alex Rutherford is. Also, we understand that publishers prefer a single name on the cover but you'd better ask them. We've now got very used to 'Alex' who's a real person to us.

What inspired you to write Empire of the Moghul series? 
Our travels in India first sparked our interest in the Moghuls as well as the country's other cultures and dynasties. We've spent over 18 months of our lives in India at different times. It inspired us, among many other things, to start reading the Moghul chronicles and then to write a non-fiction book on the Taj Mahal (under our real joint names!) before embarking on the Empire of the Moghul series.

Since it is history you are dealing with – whose side are you on? The victors as always or do you have some sympathy for the losers as well (in this case the rest of India that the Moghuls conquered)?
It's true that history favours the victor because that's who generally writes the history. Victory often goes to the strong, not to the best or nicest people, so, of course, we have sympathy for those who do not win and have to live with consequences and still preserve their culture, which the Indian people did magnificently. Even within the Moghul hierarchy, there are winners and losers. We have great sympathy for Dara and Jahanara for example.

Who is your favourite Moghul and why? 
Gosh, that's a hard one. We liked Babur for his determination to succeed in the face of all the odds and for writing such frank memoirs, even though Baburnama now only exists in parts. We also have huge admiration for Akbar for trying to make his empire inclusive of all peoples and all religions – something very rare for his time anywhere in the world, especially when different sects of the Christian religion (Protestants and Catholics) were killing each other in Europe and fighting cruel wars.

Why write about the Moghuls and not go further back in time and write about the Guptas? Or Ashoka? (Alternately - would you ever write about another dynasty?) 
We are currently thinking of going back further – with the encouragement of Hachette India – perhaps to Ashoka, but first we still have one more Moghul book to write, about Aurangzeb.

Does the fact that the dynasty had Islam as its religion give it a more global appeal than writing about a Hindu dynasty or one Hindu ruler with a glorious career?
That wasn't a factor in our choice. We chose the Moghul dynasty for its richly-textured story. We hope the books are about characters and universal themes, such as love and ambition.

From a publisher's point-of-view, how feasible is historical fiction? 
We think historical fiction is still very popular and we're very grateful to people in India for reading our works and hopefully enjoying them. The question about how marketable historical fiction is really should be aimed at the publishers.

Is it harder to write historical fiction than a mythological one?
Never having tried to write a story based on mythology, so this is hard to answer. But perhaps historical fiction imposes more constraints, particularly where there are detailed chronicles and other sources to which the writer has to have access.

In The Serpent's Tooth, your sympathies tend to lie with Shah Jahan and not with Aurangzeb. Will the loyalties shift by the next book to Aurangzeb?
Aurangzeb is a complex character who had problems in his personal life – imprisoning and fighting several of his children as well as killing some of his brothers. In his public life, he alienated by his actions the majority of his subjects. We will try to understand what in his character and early experiences led him to do these things. For example, in a letter he wrote that his father never loved him. Perhaps, there lies a clue.

There have been problems with revisiting Mughal history, as there is a rise in Hindu nationalism at present in India. Does that bother you?
We always try to be true to what happened. We try to look at people's characters and hopefully to cause offence to no one. We want people to enjoy our books and not be offended by them.

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