BackStory: Four Questions with Sudha Balagopal
Author of Samyukta
What inspired you to write ‘Samyukta’?
I have always wondered about the power of a love that could impel someone to swoop into a crowded wedding hall and literally take off with his lady love.
Who is your favourite historical fiction writer and why?
I read M.M. Kaye’s The Far Pavilions decades ago and I still remember the sweeping, magnificent tale set during the time of the Mutiny in India―mid 1800’s. I found her writing powerful and the scope of the book impressive. And yes, there is romance!
How much research did you do while writing and editing this piece? Did you discover anything that surprised you?
The story of Prithviraj and Samyukta is as familiar to me as the story of Romeo and Juliet. I cannot quite remember when we learned about them in school―likely as part of history class. However, the forbidden love story of Prithviraj and Samyukta made an impression and embedded itself in my mind.
I did do some research on Prithviraj and Samyukta to get an idea of the time period in which they lived. What surprised me is how young Prithviraj was when he became ruler, and how early he died. Apparently he was born in 1166 and died in 1192―only twenty eight years! Samyukta’s swayamvar (the wedding, and scene of the dramatic rescue) happened in 1185. It broke my heart to find out how little time they had with each other!
What do you think is the most challenging and/or rewarding aspect of writing historical flash?
I believe the challenging aspect and the rewarding aspect are related and intertwined. Yes, presenting history by adding flesh, bone, humanity and emotions without changing the facts, and writing all of that in flash form is challenging. Yet, when one takes on the challenge, the retold story springs forth like a precious nugget and the results become immensely satisfying. Historical flash takes both the reader and the writer back in time, allows them to feel and experience the immensity of history in a concise, yet impactful form.
Sudha Balagopal is honored to have her writing in many fine journals including Monkeybicycle, CRAFT, Split Lip, and Smokelong Quarterly. Her novella-in-flash, Things I Can’t Tell Amma, was published by Ad Hoc fiction in 2021. She has stories included in both Best Microfiction and Best Small Fictions, 2022. Find her on Twitter @authorsudha.
Detail of illustration of Samyukta, as scanned from Indian Tales of the Great Ones Among Men, Women, and Bird-people (1916) written by Cornelia Sorabji, and illustrated by Warwick Goble, via Wikimedia Commons.