1658: Prince Aurengzeb of India has imprisoned his own father, murdered his brothers, seized the throne of Delhi and declared himself Emperor. He immediately begins a reign of tyranny, invading neighbours, banning music and the arts, destroying temples and churches, and unleashing terror on a vast kingdom comprising a fifth of the world's humanity.
During this time his own beloved daughter, Zebunissa, forms a secret poetic society called the Makhfi (Hidden One) in Persian. Through this society she practices the arts secretly and plans rebellions to overthrow her demonic father and restore justice in the kingdom. Bestowed the title of Princess of India and then Empress of India, she dupes her father and his vicious nobles in a courageous and dangerous attempt to save her people from the Emperor's tyranny.
Part fiction and part history, The Hidden One brings a tear to the eye while thrilling the heart as we witness 17th century India through the eyes of an unsuspected character - a Muslim princess. It narrates the powerful story of Zebunissa, and the Makhfi - the secret society that has been lost over time but deserves its rightful place in history for its role during one of India's darkest eras. Available historical data has been analyzed to bring to light this obscure group about which very little has thus far been written or known. An unforgettable cast of characters and progression of fateful events.
There was no plan to write a sequel to Mistress of the Throne, which focused on Jahanara, a Mughal Princess, as its inspiration. However, the emails I received from individuals across the world commending me on the book and asking for a 'second edition' were truly overwhelming. My mind immediately wandered to a little known nugget in the history of the time - the Makhfi. Though there is a transient mention of the Makhfi in Mistress of the Throne, I had no plan at the time of writing, to construct an entire book around this secret society. Immediately, I began researching this secret poetic society and its founder - Zebunissa. Using information from Mughal sources as well as the writings of European travellers of the era, Zebunissa's life began to come into clearer focus -the fact that she was her father's most beloved child; that it was she who decided to form the secret society; that her original suitor, Sulaimon, was executed; and that she herself was ultimately imprisoned.
The Hidden One is a work of fiction, but the story is based on historical facts. Unlike the story of Jahanara, for which there were ample sources available, it appeared that history had relegated Zebunissa to a minor footnote; to lie buried in the dust of those turbulent times when the Mughal Empire was in its heyday. Yet the concept of a Muslim Queen, the daughter of a sitting Emperor, personally supporting her brother's coup against her father seemed like a story worth telling.
The research seemed to point to two separate but parallel events in Zebunissa's life - the formation and functioning of her secret poetic society and her support of Akbar's rebellion. It was at this point that I decided to use poetic license and merge the two to show the secret society was in fact formed for the purpose of fomenting rebellion - a concept for which there is no factual basis. That is not to say it was not indeed the case, but there is no clear evidence to support it.
As with my first book, I tried to stay as close to the historical record as possible. However, since there was so little recorded information on Zebunissa, there was also ample room for creativity.
I used actual poems from Zebunissa's writings to support the events of the time. Again, it is unclear if her writings were influenced even in part by political events. But it would be wrong to write a book about the Makhfi without any mention of the actual writings they composed. Thus I have inserted a couplet or two at the beginning of every chapter to support the events in that chapter. In doing this, my hope is the reader will appreciate the beautiful work of Zebunissa herself. Ultimately, that is what she herself would have wanted most.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
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