A tyrant, a megalomaniac and an invader – nothing sounds good when you read these attributes. Yet, Nader Shah caught the fancy of Author Sutapa Basu.
Kaffeinated Konversations interviews her and tries to find out why and the answers she gives takes us by a great surprise! Let’s delve into the latest book by Sutapa and why she wrote this historical fiction.
KK: Congratulations for your newly released book ‘ The Curse of Nader Shah’. It is a greatly engrossing book. The first question that came to our mind is – why a story of a tyrant? Why did you pick up Nader Shah specifically?
SB: This book is the second segment of the series called The Invader Series. The first one was the The Legend of Genghis Khan. Initially, I decided to write about Nader Shah because he was one of the conquerors who successfully invaded India but when I began to research about him, a wealth of information emerged which was as fascinating as surprising. We in India, know really very little about Nader Shah other than his loot of Delhi and that he took away the Peacock throne and the Kohinoor. Do we know that he did not steal either of them as popularly known? He was offered both heirlooms as well as the entire Mughal treasure.
KK: What’s the story behind the crimson color in Persian culture?
SB: In Persian culture, the Safavid dynasty and rulers even before them, had a tradition that the Shahs wore garments of crimson or red when pronouncing a death sentence. But Nader Shah made red into his signature colour. He would wear it on his dress, his soldiers would have flashes of it, even the tents of his army were red! Possibly, he wanted to remind people that Death was at his finger tips and he could unleash it on anyone at anytime at will.
KK: What interesting facts have your research on Nader Shah revealed? Have you put all of it in your book?
SB: Many interesting facts…and no, not all of it could go into the book. The fact that he appropriated Timur’s grand gravestone to Mashhad to lay on his own tomb. Also that Nader was enamored of the conquests of Timur and Genghis Khan and considered them his mentors. Always aware of his low birth, he tried to marry his sons into their bloodlines.
Another interesting fact is that he lost all his teeth as a young man because of his love for sweet things. So he would swallow his food without chewing and thus suffered severe indigestion. That it was his constant problems with digestion that made him irritable and irascible was new to me. Somehow, it made him less of a monster and more human to me.
KK: Do you think that the ‘villain’ characterization is difficult to build up in the story? Why?
SB: I believe it is difficult to ‘humanize’ a villain. You see history chronicles mostly the misdeeds of a man and thus the stamp of a villain is much easier to tag. But it is more difficult to point out why the man became a villain in the fist place. History has always been a study of cause and effect. When I research, I look for the whys of the person’s characteristics and actions. I did it for Genghis Khan and for Nader Shah. While it is true that Persia reeled under his tyranny especially towards the end, Nader Shah was an ill man, disappointed that he had not fulfilled his aspirations entirely and heartbroken with guilt for punishing his son so cruelly.
KK: Nader show different traits as a ruler, husband and father. What feeling do you expect from the readers when they think of him.
SB: I want them to think of him as a human being with the frailties and foibles of any of us. Like all human beings in power, it is natural that he would make mistakes, be misled by people for vested interests, be prey to love and hate. They will hold regrets, suffer sorrows, their lives and characters will be influenced by environment and events. And yes, they play the different roles of a father, husband and ruler. The reader must accept that just like all of us, Nader will be a different person in each of these roles. Basically, I feel one should not typecast a person as a villain or hero but look for reasons behind his actions.
KK: History paints Nader as a megalomaniac. Do all conquerors have similar personality traits?
SB: While demands of environment and time period determines a conqueror’s personality traits, some characteristics are similar. Certainly, they have mega aspirations and to fulfill them, their obsessions are on a mega scale too. Yet, there could be political reasons or security issues that compel them to expand their empires or build a fear psychosis that keeps their enemies at bay.
KK: This book is a historical fiction. How easy or difficult is it to fuse history and fiction together? What were your experiences in the process?
SB: History has fascinated me since childhood and so historical novels and historical fiction has been my favourite genre. Reading books of skilled authors such as Indu Sundersan and Phillipa Gregory, I have learned that one must write without distorting history. Now what is history? It is interpretation of various forms of evidence. If one carries out a discerning study of any period or event, one will soon perceive a pattern. And like all patterns that rely on factual evidence, there will be gaps in the links wherever facts are not available. Well, I use those gaps to weave my fiction through. That way I leave the historical facts as they are taking advantage of empty spaces between them. That is my process of fusing fiction and history.
KK: Are there fictitious characters in this story?
SB: Yes, there are fictitious characters, but these are peripheral characters. The main protagonists for which I have given references are real and have places in history.
KK: Which historical event / situation you found it difficult to merge in the book?
SB: Nader’s terrible punishment for his beloved heir and son even though he did not have concrete evidence of any treachery.
KK: As a historical fiction author (previously having written on Padmavati and Genghis Khan), what tips would you give to writers who intend to write stories in similar genre?
SB: Deep research is imperative to write historical fiction. This is not mythology that you can bend perceptions. One is dealing with facts which need to be studied and adhered to.
Research sources can take the shape of print texts, online texts, online sites, actual visits to the physical setting of the story like I visited Chittorgarh for Padmavati, surveys, interacting with people at the site of the event, popular myths, legends, tales connected to the subject, discussions with experts. The full picture is what any writer of historical work requires before one begins to create the fiction based on historical events.
Thanks for graciously answering our questions, Sutapa! Here’s wishing you all the best for your latest book!
Sutapa Basu is the best-selling author of Padmavati, The Queen Tells Her Own
Story (2017, pub Readomania), a historical fiction. She has authored a
psychological thriller, Dangle (2016, pub Readomania) that was nominated for the
Anupam Kher Award for Debut Novels in 2017. Her second historical fiction
initiating the Invader Series was The Legend of Genghis Khan (2018, pub
Readomania). The second part of the Invader Series, a third historical fiction, The
Curse of Nader Shah was released on 20 August, 2019. A poet, author, publishing
consultant, she is the 2016 First Prize winner of the Times of India’s Write India
Campaign for Amish Tripathi. Her short stories have appeared in anthologies,
Crossed & Knotted, Defiant Dreams, When They Spoke and Write India Stories.
Her poems have been published in Kaafiyana and The Dawn Beyond Waste. Read
her works on her website storyfuntastika.com & Readomania.com.
THE BOOK :
What happens when a megalomaniac builds aspirations of being a world conqueror? Son of a humble shepherd from the remote northern mountains of Persia, his colossal ambition and bold strategy catapulted Nader Qoli Shah from a soldier to the Shah of Persia. However, Nader Shah’s downfall was carefully orchestrated from the day he ascended the throne of Persia. As he compelled his Army to undertake punishing campaigns, squeezed the nation economy to starvation, and piled up mutilated bodies, even his loyal companions rose against him. They all wanted him gone but one of them wanted it the most. Who played him like a game of chess, drove him to insanity, and became his nemesis?
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