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18 May 2021

Tuesday Talk Guest Spot with Juhi Ray and The Final Puzzle


where guests can have their say about...
anything they want!

How it all began...

In the summer of 2017, I tucked my daughter in with a bedtime story I had read in my childhood.

The story is as follows:

A butcher and an oil seller both lay claim to a bag of gold coins. Local law enforcement, unable to decide who the gold belongs to, escalates the matter to Akbar's court. Akbar was the Mughal emperor. His wise advisor Raja Birbal has a reputation for rendering justice even in the most obscure and baffling cases.

Raja Birbal hears them both, then orders a bowl of hot water. "Empty the bag of gold coins into the bowl," says Raja Birbal.

The court waits as the bag is emptied into the hot water and a thick film of oil floats to the top.

"Padshah (emperor), the bag belongs to the oil seller. Every time he was paid with a gold coin, it passed through his greasy fingers. The butcher is lying and should be imprisoned."

As my daughter fell asleep, I could not help but wonder if something else I had read a long time ago was true; Birbal had been deceived and killed by his enemies. I did a quick online search, and a sentence stood out to me: "...but his body was never found."

Which prompted the question--was this brilliant man killed, or did he pull the wool over his enemies' eyes and stage a daring escape?

Raja Birbal

From this point, I asked myself several questions:

There were multiple attempts on Birbal's life, some of which are described in the comic books. He always escaped unharmed and got back at his enemies. So what changed? Did something happen before his "death" in 1586? If yes, what was the trigger?

I utilized two non-fiction books for most of my research:

Akbar, the great Moghul by V.A. Smith and Raja Birbal by P.P. Sinha.

There were two attempts to kill him and two separate attempts to malign Raja Birbal described in the book by P.P. Sinha. The worst was an accusation of incest. These four events happened in the space of three years after Akbar defeated the Islamic clergy-backed rebels who attempted to dethrone him.

Convinced there was enough of a loophole in the story and sufficient motivation for Birbal to go underground, I pondered: If Birbal staged his death, was Akbar in on the plan? If the two close friends had wanted to meet secretly, it would have been challenging to do so at home, where Birbal was popular and well-known.

They would have planned it to coincide with Akbar's move to another place, where Birbal could also live incognito.

Then I found my answer.

When did Birbal die? 1586.

When did Akbar move his capital/court from near Delhi (Fatehbad) to Lahore? 1586.

Next question: If Birbal left his family in northern Hindustan to move or be closer to Akbar, what was his relationship with his wife?

And more importantly, why did Akbar bestow the title Raja Birbal?

I also utilized Ain-i-Akbari, the official chronicle of Akbar's court by one of his nine "gems" Abul Fazl. Birbal was the most well-known of Akbar's courtiers or his nine "gems."

What I enjoyed the most about researching and writing The Final Puzzle was finding answers to support my hypotheses. Imagine the excitement when you suspect something had happened, and actually find the evidence to show you were right!

One example is a trip jointly undertaken by Raja Birbal and the main villainous character Zain Khan.

Towards the latter half of the novel, I write about the Raja of Rewa, a king who hesitated to declare fealty to Akbar. I wondered if Raja Birbal and Zain Khan had been sent there together on a diplomatic mission and if something from this trip may have enlightened Birbal about Zain Khan's weakness. This then may have been of value in the story's climax where the two men are pitted against each other and Zain Khan is plotting Birbal's murder.

Had I not specifically looked for proof that Akbar had sent Birbal and Zain Khan together on this mission, I would not have found it.

Five hundred years later, our society is dealing with almost all the issues The Final Puzzle explores. Religious leaders who cling on to power and mislead the masses, intelligent and good people like Raja Birbal becoming the target of jealous enemies, and above all the importance of clever and capable leaders like Akbar who can protect good people and toss out the bad ones, no matter how powerful or close to "God" they may be.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it!”

 (George Santayana-1905)

 About The Final Puzzle

 Set in 16th century Hindustan (the modern-day Indian subcontinent), Emperor Akbar discovers an incomplete astrological chart. It may hold a secret that could threaten his life and the Empire. He assigns the sensitive task of uncovering the chart's mystery to his brilliant adviser, Mahesh Das. This journey takes Mahesh to the heartland of Hindustan. Mahesh however, was not expecting to fall in love. He is torn between his heart and his loyalty.

Why did Emperor Akbar bestow the title of Raja Birbal on Mahesh Das? His closeness to the Emperor and meteoric rise spark jealous enemies to target him. 

Amid the backdrop of religious tensions in the Empire, Akbar moves forward to promote religious tolerance and root out corruption. Rebellions against Akbar and personal attacks against Raja Birbal become more common. After multiple attempts on Birbal's life, his enemies believe they are successful.

In 1586, while battling the hill tribes of the Northwest frontier, Raja Birbal is declared dead. But his body was never found. 

What really happened?

Buy on

Read the Discovering Diamonds Review

About Juhi Ray

My first attempt at writing was in grade school when I sent a story to a comic book series. It was about friendship. The piece was not accepted, but that didn't stop me. Every now and then, I would participate in poetry and short story writing competitions with modest success. And then in high school, a short story that I wrote during my English exam excited my teacher so much, that she published it in our school magazine​.

I pursued a career in the medical world. My literary aspirations dwindled.  Every year, my top three New Year's resolutions would include " write more regularly".

Yet, besides publishing in my college magazines, I never took my love of writing very far. 

And then something happened --something that may have been a misfortune. Life handed me the proverbial lemon. I decided to make a lemon souffle. My decision to quit an unsatisfying job gave me abundant creative space and time to pursue my passion ardently. So here I am. And this is where I want to be.


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  1. What an intriguing story. I know so little about India before the East India Company really began to exploit it, so this will be a treat to read. One tends to forget that fascinating people lived outside of Europe as well.

  2. Such an intriguing tale and so tantalisingly presented. I shall definitely be looking up this book!!

    1. It's so interesting to read about these different things

  3. Thank you @LittleAngelicRose @AnnieWhitehead and @HelenHollick for your comments. I hope you enjoy the story!

  4. Thank you for the background information to a very enjoyable and enlightening novel. Will there be another along these lines, Juhi Ray? I hope so.

  5. Many thanks for your feedback and review @JGHarlond. I hope to, although my characters have yet to "find" me as Akbar and Birbal did in The Final Puzzle!

    1. They'll turn up - usually at an inconvenient moment!


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