Novel revisits Agra of intrigues

Teeming tourists, Mughlai gardens, glittering bazaars, yawning Yamuna and the Taj Mahal; sights and sounds of Agra are unmistakable. But, picture Agra three-and-a-half centuries ago: Turban-clad nawabs scouting cattle markets for finest horses, Kinari Bazaar flowing with rich fabrics, luxurious havelies dotting the river and a Taj too young to care for a mud pack face-lift; This is the historic city Madhulika Liddle chooses for her latest book in the Muzaffar Jang series.

Liddle won the Commonwealth Short Story award in 2003 and Engraved in Stone is her third novel about the exploits of a Mughal detective.
Jang Sahib, brother-in-law of the Kotwal of Dilli, is a young investigator of sorts. While escorting his sister and her friend to the city, he is called upon to solve the murder of a rich Bijapuri trader.
These are unsure times for Hindustan, with palace intrigues and conspiracies abounding. Dara Shikoh, the heir apparent sits in Delhi with the Badshah, while his brother Aurangzeb is sent out on distant mission from which he emerges stronger each time. With the state coffers emptied on jaw-dropping architecture the Badshah is easily lured into attacking jewel-laden neighbours: Golconda and Bijapur.
Mir Jumla, a shrewd trader who had fast risen in the Badshah’s favours to be made Diwan-i-kul, or chief minister, has arrived in Agra on a mission. He is locked in talks with Mumtaz Hassan for several days when one night Hassan is found dead with a note in his hand.
The Diwan-i-kul assigns the investigation to Muzaffar Jang with a short deadline and a warning against failure. Liddle’s novel works at two levels: as a historic fiction and as detective fiction. The result is gripping. The historic setting of the novel gives a refreshing twist to the usual detective game. The rules here are different. Jang Sahib can’t get warrants to search the house of the suspects, he can’t even question people directly without losing the trail. His best bet is at staying unknown, even wearing clothes smelling of horse dung to pass off as a wage labourer. Then there are matters of honour and prestige in a still conservative society. His access to women is limited and this poses a great difficulty since the note found in the dead man’s hand points to a clandestine affair. Shireen, his sister’s friend seems to be his only hope not only in the matter at hand but also in the matter of heart. But having burnt his hand once, Muzaffar is not sure if Shireen can be trusted.
Opulent havelies, fashion-conscious amirs, boastful jewel merchants with their tales of fresh-mined lapis lazuli and meals of mouth-watering balushahis make the Liddle’s Agra a fascinating one.
Every aspect of the murder mystery is seeped in history magnifying its effect several times. From Muzaffar’s prudent meetings with Shireen under the watch of a chaperon to his visit to a poverty-ridden widow of an artisan, Liddle knows the art of detailing that many other writers may find tedious. As Muzaffar is piecing together the puzzle of Mumtaz Hassan’s murder he stumbles upon yet another mystery, that of Ibrahim, a craftsman who once worked at the Taj Mahal.
While Muzaffar has a long list of suspects — Hassan’s son Basheer, an unnamed lady love, assistant Taufeeq, trade rivals and suspicious messengers from Bijapur, the ‘unhinged’ Ibrahim accuses his own son Mehmood of the murder. As Muzaffar delves into Ibrahim’s past, the story of a missing wife, a dead friend and an unloved son emerges and our detective begins to believe that the two mysteries at hand are connected.
Liddle, however, handles the historic theme better than the detective one. Infact, one begins to anticipate the plot a few pages ahead of its revelation but the sepia film of history softens the red spatter of the murder trial. What keeps you going is its rich track that runs through gardens, stables, sarais and dwellings of parchinkars and sang tarashes.
There is a bit of everything in this story: intrigue, art, mystery, passion, even action. Liddle’s Agra, like its Taj Mahal, is young, vibrant and dazzling. It makes you yearn for the times when people fell in love with beautiful hands, built astounding mausoleums and chased mysteries riding a horse and sporting a saber.


Post new comment

<form action="/comment/reply/223957" accept-charset="UTF-8" method="post" id="comment-form"> <div><div class="form-item" id="edit-name-wrapper"> <label for="edit-name">Your name: <span class="form-required" title="This field is required.">*</span></label> <input type="text" maxlength="60" name="name" id="edit-name" size="30" value="Reader" class="form-text required" /> </div> <div class="form-item" id="edit-mail-wrapper"> <label for="edit-mail">E-Mail Address: <span class="form-required" title="This field is required.">*</span></label> <input type="text" maxlength="64" name="mail" id="edit-mail" size="30" value="" class="form-text required" /> <div class="description">The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.</div> </div> <div class="form-item" id="edit-comment-wrapper"> <label for="edit-comment">Comment: <span class="form-required" title="This field is required.">*</span></label> <textarea cols="60" rows="15" name="comment" id="edit-comment" class="form-textarea resizable required"></textarea> </div> <fieldset class=" collapsible collapsed"><legend>Input format</legend><div class="form-item" id="edit-format-1-wrapper"> <label class="option" for="edit-format-1"><input type="radio" id="edit-format-1" name="format" value="1" class="form-radio" /> Filtered HTML</label> <div class="description"><ul class="tips"><li>Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.</li><li>Allowed HTML tags: &lt;a&gt; &lt;em&gt; &lt;strong&gt; &lt;cite&gt; &lt;code&gt; &lt;ul&gt; &lt;ol&gt; &lt;li&gt; &lt;dl&gt; &lt;dt&gt; &lt;dd&gt;</li><li>Lines and paragraphs break automatically.</li></ul></div> </div> <div class="form-item" id="edit-format-2-wrapper"> <label class="option" for="edit-format-2"><input type="radio" id="edit-format-2" name="format" value="2" checked="checked" class="form-radio" /> Full HTML</label> <div class="description"><ul class="tips"><li>Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.</li><li>Lines and paragraphs break automatically.</li></ul></div> </div> </fieldset> <input type="hidden" name="form_build_id" id="form-ccdfc54ab94ae2f23ce4c5ebf28ea80d" value="form-ccdfc54ab94ae2f23ce4c5ebf28ea80d" /> <input type="hidden" name="form_id" id="edit-comment-form" value="comment_form" /> <fieldset class="captcha"><legend>CAPTCHA</legend><div class="description">This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.</div><input type="hidden" name="captcha_sid" id="edit-captcha-sid" value="74792400" /> <input type="hidden" name="captcha_response" id="edit-captcha-response" value="NLPCaptcha" /> <div class="form-item"> <div id="nlpcaptcha_ajax_api_container"><script type="text/javascript"> var NLPOptions = {key:'c4823cf77a2526b0fba265e2af75c1b5'};</script><script type="text/javascript" src="" ></script></div> </div> </fieldset> <span class="btn-left"><span class="btn-right"><input type="submit" name="op" id="edit-submit" value="Save" class="form-submit" /></span></span> </div></form>

No Articles Found

No Articles Found

No Articles Found

I want to begin with a little story that was told to me by a leading executive at Aptech. He was exercising in a gym with a lot of younger people.

Shekhar Kapur’s Bandit Queen didn’t make the cut. Neither did Shaji Karun’s Piravi, which bagged 31 international awards.