My Secret Bookshelf is an online bookstore & they also have an active book club that chooses one book per month to read and discuss among fellow bookworms. The book club organizes virtual discussions on the book of the month, which enables readers to share their thoughts and feelings about it. The book club has made great efforts in trying to make different books available to many readers from different corners of the country.
For September, the book club had specifically chosen, The Begum and The Dastan by Tarana Husain Khan, an author who has received the Kalinga Award for Fiction 2021, and has published several books.
The author is a food historian and has written several columns on forgotten food, and most of her researches and blogs are focused on the history of Rampur. Her research work titled Forgotten Food: Culinary Memory, Local Heritage and Lost Agricultural Varieties in India is a revival of the Rampuri Cuisine.
The Begum and The Dastan is an epic historical fiction which has been adopted from the art of storytelling. The plot is set around the 19th century when patriarchy was at its peak. The storyline revolves around the dark side of the Nawabs which is set in two generations.
The book is based on true events and the characters are inspired by the people that the author has heard or historical characters where she had to go through certain materials to make them come alive through her writings again. Her main inspiration is the women of Rampur who have been through so much yet they have never been mentioned in the historical context. She wanted to bring the women of Rampur to the forefront and give them a voice because they have always been brushed aside either by their own family or by the society. Patriarchy has always pulled them down, and it exists even today.
The author was invited to join the September book club meet up whereby a discussion was held on her book, and the moderator, Abhishikta Ray as well as the audience put up several questions for her regarding a lot of things including characterization, her source of inspiration, her writing process, favorite characters, and many more. Regarding these questions, the author answered them beautifully enlightening her readers and making the session a smooth process with a lot of interaction between the readers and the author.
When it comes to characterization, the author believes that objectivity needs to be maintained. Hence, though there are many characters in the book, they are individually defined with distinctive and unique personalities. The most significant of them is Feroza Begum, a beautiful and wilful woman who was forced into the harem of Nawab Shams Ali Khan of Sherpur. The story of Feroza Begum came to the author through the stories that have been passed down from generations after generations through grandparents to their grandchildren where Feroza Begum has always been portrayed as someone full of life, warmth, generosity, and an impetuous human being. Though people have not met her, they have so much respect for her and were in awe of her being.
The novel consists of three parts, and the most difficult aspect of it that the author struggles with is the piecing of the three parts together without giving the impression of boredom to the readers because the significant thing that the author is trying to reach is the intermingling of all the three parts without any chaos and confusion in the minds of the readers.
The author’s favorite character in this book is Feroza Begum, Kallan Mirza as well as Ameera. Kallan Mirza is someone who resonates closely with the author as a storyteller because she wants to show the people what is happening around them and to represent the times that we are living in, and Kallan Mirza brings to the story the grief, angst, and frustration that the common man feels living under injustice.
At the moment, the author is working on another book titled, Rampuri Cuisine and Culture which will be coming out next year. It talks a lot about the culture of Rampur, its culinary and oral history as well as some recipes. The author is also writing another historical fiction which is based in Rampur.
When asked for an advice to the book club members, the author urged the members to treasure the social connections that they have between them, and to never lose the habit of reading. Because nothing will ever be able to take us away from stress and tension of life other than books that we read and love. They are our one source of happiness and inspiration.