“Genghis Khan believed in equal rights for women” – Sutapa Basu

Posted: October 15, 2018 in Uncategorized

The Legend of Genghis Khan by Sutapa Basu has been published by Readomania recently

Sutapa Basu’s earlier two works Dangle and Padmavati had strong women protagonists. But this time she has turned her attention to a man. It’s not just any man it’s Genghis Khan, the historical figure, who has been known as one of the most ruthless conquerors in history. Basu’s story brings forth different aspects of the character of a man that has rarely been talked about. The writer for instance, points out that Genghis Khan believed in equal rights for women and property rights for widows and gave administrative position to women in his army. This was at a time when women were treated as mere shadows of men.

In this interview Sutapa Basu says why she wanted to write a book on Genghis Khan, how difficult it was for her to do the research and how she took help from a Mongolian language expert.

The interview:

In both of your earlier books Dangle and Padmavati the protagonists have been women. Is it the same with Legend of Genghis Khan?

No, it is not. Here the chief protagonist is Genghis Khan, an ultra-masculine figure.

We know very little about the lives of women during Genghis Khan’s time (1162-1227). Does your book shed light on that?

Certainly. A unique aspect of Genghis Khan’s administration was the revolutionary change in the status of women of his Empire. These changes are remarkable given that during the 11th and 12th century women were little more than chattels of men across the rest of the world and especially in the so-called civilized Europe. Genghis Khan bestowed women with equal rights as men so that they were respected as matriarchs of their families. Property of widows remained with their families. Thus, his men went into battle with an assurance that their families will not be deprived on their death. Even a share of the plunder was handed over to the bereaved families. Genghis Khan encouraged women to train in warfare and often during his campaigns they were given administrative roles in his army when the men were busy fighting. The conquest of Nishapur during the Mongolian campaign of Khwarezm was spearheaded by Genghis’ daughter.

Sutapa Basu did extensive research to write the book

Why did the character of Genghis Khan interest you and how did the idea of creating a mystery woman and weaving a story around it come to you?

After the accolades Padmavati received, I was encouraged to go beyond Indian history and look for a World History figure to write about. I began to research and quite soon Genghis Khan stood out among historical personalities. He was head and shoulders above all. I realized that other than a couple of academic books, nothing much had been written about him that would interest story seekers. And yet his life itself had been like an unbelievable story. Very little was really known about him other than the fact that he was a ruthless conqueror. As I delved further into his life, I was intrigued to discover endless depths to his personality. There was no question of looking anywhere else for my protagonist for the great Khan had eclipsed everyone else.

The idea of creating the mystery woman came from one of the many anecdotes connected to Genghis Khan’s life.

How did you do the research for the book?

I researched by reading printed books and downloaded PDFs of books on Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire, saw documentary films on Genghis Khan and did online research on customs, food, clothes, language, maps, environment specific to the historical period and region. I was very fortunate that I was guided and mentored by the famous historian and Mongolist, Dr John Man. I got all the regional terms in the book validated by an expert in Mongolian language.

“I was very fortunate that I was guided and mentored by the famous historian and Mongolist, Dr John Man.”

Was it difficult to write a book on a historic character like this or did you breeze through it?

I certainly did not breeze through it. There was a great deal of concerted research and painstaking effort but when my passion is involved nothing seems like work, nothing seems difficult. I enjoyed every bit of it.

How long did you take to write this book?

It took me around 7-8 months to give my final manuscript to the publisher.

What is your writing regime like and do you have any rituals, superstitions or eccentricities?

I prefer to write at my desk in my study, though I do jot down points on my phone or a small notebook on my bedside table when inspiration strikes. Usually, I try to write every day. My only superstition is I don’t discuss the topic of my book with anybody other than my publisher until it is published.

There are a number of books available on online sites on the legend. How is your book different?

I discovered a few academic books written by Dr John Man. There are English translations of The Secret History of the Mongols and ‘Ala-ad-Din’ Ata-Malik Juvaini’s Genghis Khan, The History of the World Conqueror which I read.

My book is different because it explores the whys of Genghis Khan’s life. I have attempted to find the man behind his universally redoubtable fame. Who was he? Why did he do what he did? What makes him tick? I firmly believe that through my story, Genghis Khan will come alive for the readers. He will no longer be a cardboard cutout of a bloodthirsty barbarian that many historians have made him out to be. Readers will see him as a man of great strength and indomitable will who struggled against and won over circumstances that would have destroyed a lesser man.

“He will no longer be a cardboard cutout of a bloodthirsty barbarian that many historians have made him out to be.”

Padmavati was made into unauthorized copies and were sold at roadside stalls. Did this flatter you or distress you?

I would say piracy of a book is a compliment to its author. Yes, I was very flattered that there was such a demand for my book that book pirates found it profitable to make it into contraband.

As an author what makes you most happy and terribly sad?

I am most happy when a reader identifies so much with my protagonist’s pain that he/she passionately accuses me of wrongfully putting the protagonist through so much suffering.

Sad? I am sad when I see people spending so much on food, clothes or other luxuries but not on books even though they cost much less.

“I am sad when I see people spending so much on food, clothes or other luxuries but not on books even though they cost much less.”

What are you working on next?

Another historical fiction. Maybe a nonfiction book too.

About the author:

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) and her second historical fiction, The Legend of Genghis Khan has been released on 20th September this year. A poet, author, publishing consultant, she is the 2016 First Prize winner of the Times of India’s Write India Campaign for Amish Tripathi.


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