September artist-in-residence, Ruby Lal will read from her upcoming book:
Empress: The Astonishing Reign of Nur Jahan (W.W.Norton, 2018)
"When it came to hunting killer tigers, she was a master shot. As a dress designer, few could compete with her. Ingenious architect, she innovated the use of marble in her parents’ tomb, the jewel-box mausoleum on the banks of the Yamuna that inspired her step-son’s Taj Mahal. More startlingly, Nur Jahan (“Light of the World”) became a co-sovereign – ruling the Mughal Empire.
When it came to hunting killer tigers, she was a master shot. As a dress designer, few could compete with her. Ingenious architect, she innovated the use of marble in her parents’ tomb, the jewel-box mausoleum on the banks of the Yamuna that inspired her step-son’s Taj Mahal. More startlingly, Nur Jahan (“Light of the World”) became a co-sovereign – ruling the Mughal Empire.
Daughter of a nobleman who’d fled Persia, and the widow of a court official implicated in a plot against the fourth Mughal, she became the last of the emperor’s 20 wives – and his most beloved. Thirty four when they wed in 1611, she proved to be a loving wife, a noble queen and an astute politician, governing effectively and conspicuously along with her husband.
Nur issued imperial orders over her signature; coins of the realm bore her name: both vital signs of sovereignty in the Islamic world. She gave audience from an elaborately carved balcony high up in the palace, where no Mughal queen had sat before or would after. When Jahangir was imprisoned by an officer, the Empress led troops into battle and ultimately rescued him.
In the 17th century, Nur Jahan was world-famous. For millions, her legend lives on. But her struggles and actions are forgotten. Ruby Lal, acclaimed for excavating the richness of hidden histories of women and girls, even where scholars say there are no sources, rescues this dazzling figure from patriarchal and Orientalist clichés of romance and intrigue.Empress is a sparkling narrative history of a queen who ruled India 350 years before its first woman Prime Minister.
Ruby Lal is Professor of South Asian Studies at Emory University, Atlanta. She holds a D.Phil in Modern History from the University of Oxford, UK, and an M.Phil in History from the University of Delhi, India. She has taught at the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, in History and Anthropology, and served as Associate Director of the Program for the Study of Women, Gender and Sexuality. Her fields of study include feminist history and theory, and the question of archive as it relates to writing about Islamic societies in the precolonial and colonial world. Her first book, Domesticity and Power in the Early Mughal World(Cambridge University Press, New York, 2005) won much acclaim, including numerous reviews in major international journals and magazines, such as The New York Review of Books, The Economic and Political Weekly, Revue Historique, and The Times Literary Supplement. Her second book, Coming of Age in Nineteenth Century India: The Girl-Child and the Art of Playfulness (Cambridge University Press, New York, 2013) was reviewed extensively in academic journals and magazines with wider intellectual concerns. Her current, creative non-fiction work is a narrative history of Mughal Empress Nur Jahan, EMPRESS: The Astonishing Life of Nur Jahan (W.W. Norton, NY, forthcoming 2018). Her published work is widely cited, and she is frequently invited to speak at academic and non-academic settings. Her short stories have appeared in Indian Literature and in The Little Magazine. She is revising her short-story collection, Rubble and Other Stories.