Taj: The Woman and the Wonder
While Shakespeare was composing his sonnets and the Puritans were settling what would become the American colonies, a love affair that may have been otherwise forgotten was in full bloom in Mughal India. Prince Khurram, known by the royal title of Shah Jahan, was devoted in mind, body, and spirit to Arjumand Banu Begum, the Mumtaz Mahal, whom he called “Taj.” Jahan, young heir to the Fourth Mughal Emperor Jahangir, grew to adore the companionship and counsel of his arranged bride so that after her premature death he dreamed of a way to commemorate her into eternity, a dream realized two decades later in the glorious Taj Mahal. Author Sandra Wilson, an international speaker and teacher based in Deer Harbor, Washington, brings the loves, lives, and monument alive in her novel “Taj.”
Wilson opens her historical tale at the “end”—in 1666 we observe a dying emperor Shah Jahan reflecting on his life. This scene serves as exposition, and soon we are transported to 1614, as the young couple anticipates a Mughal conquest of Rajasthan. Jahan is the son of the Fourth Mughal Emperor—the Mughals being a group who claimed descent from the Mongols, and came to rule Persia, Afghanistan, and India. It is from this name we get our word “mogul.” As the prince’s responsibilities and burdens grow, so does his appreciation of Mumtaz’s worth as a confidante. “Taj” served far more function than that of a bearer of royal progeny—a dubious distinction given that her aunt Nur Jahan, wife of the current king (Jahangir), was the wily power behind the throne. Indeed, the empress was nicknamed, behind her back, “Cobra Queen.” Such a reputation caused both the prince and his wife to view Nur Jahna with suspicion.
The narrative paints a vivid illustration of Mughal tradition, superstition, art, and politics. Readers who seek either intrigue or aesthetics will find both. The war chests, the myriad royal servants, exotic animals, and luxurious treatments foreshadow the “Can you top this?” ambition of the construction of the Taj Mahal. What results is a richly woven tapestry of an important period in the history of India. Wilson’s exhaustive research is rewarded by insight into how factors such as Islamic belief and Mongol tact shaped the empire. While the love story is the focus, this is no florid fare. Central to the lover prince’s character is his heart, never more evident than when a trusted aide meets danger. For all his victories, the widower Shah Jahan is lost for a way to maintain some element of his beloved “Taj.” Had his mourning not led him to a vision of a floating, paradisal mausoleum in her memory, their love would be lost in the sands of time, rather than preserved in the jewels of monarchy.
Bijan C. Bayne is a Washington-based freelance writer, and author of “Sky Kings: Black Pioneers of Professional Basketball,“ which was named to the Suggested Reading List of the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2004. The book is also cited in “Booktalks Plus: Motivating Teens to Read” by Lucy Schall. In July 2002, Bayne, who speaks Spanish, won the Robert Peterson Research Award for his presentation “The Struggle of the Latin American Ballplayer,” given at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y. He currently writes for “Pro Basketball News.”
Bayne’s chapter on Black baseball in North Carolina appears in the book “Baseball in the Carolinas” (McFarland 2002). In addition to appearing in the upcoming documentary on the historic Baltimore Orioles, “The Forgotten Birds,” Bayne has been interviewed on radio programs in Puerto Rico, Boston, Providence, Durham, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. A member of United States Basketball Writers Association, his essay on schoolyard basketball appears in the anthology “Basketball in America” (Haworth 2005). Bayne has been a writing instructor in afterschool programs and at adult education centers, as well as a public relations writer. He is currently at work researching a documentary film.
Bayne has guest lectured on the social significance of the life of Jackie Robinson each year since 1996 at The George Washington University, at classes, and events such as Charter Day 1996 and Unity Week in 1999. His travel articles have appeared in AAA Horizons, Family Digest, Atlanta Goodlife, Ohio magazine, Arrington’s Inn Traveler, and Hotel Executive, and his book reviews have been featured in “Washington Post Book World”, “The Boston Herald,” and The Crisis. He is a columnist for Sports Central, and has served as a consultant for film, television and corporate clients such as Aviva Kempner, Jennifer Lawson, and Jay Smith, Spike Lee, Nike, and CINE. On June 10, 2006, Bayne was a panelist at the annual conference of Washington Independent Writers, on the topic of marketing as an independent writer. He is an Executive Board member, and Media Relations Director of the Association for Professional Basketball Research.
His sports commentary may be heard most Monday’s, Wednesday’s and Friday’s at 8 p.m. EST on Outsider Radio. Bijan C. Bayne’s sports analysis and NFL blog have earned him a spot in High Heat Radio’s “Living The Dream” competition, wherein sports bloggers will compete for a salaried national radio talk show. He is the weekly radio sports commentator for http://www.blackcoffeechannel.com/.