Notes from the Chandigarh Literary Festival, 2015

Long-time readers of this blog probably know by now that I’m a writer. Those who’ve been reading this blog for a couple of winters may also remember that, come autumn, and when India’s 70-odd literary festivals swing into action, I generally end up going to one of these dos. I must admit to being no good when it comes to networking, and I’m usually so busy with my writing that I can’t spare the time to frequent lit fests. But if I’m invited, I will go.

This year, it was Literati, the Chandigarh Literary Society’s literary festival. 2015 was the third year the society organised the function, and I was invited for two sessions, both on the 7th of November, which was the second day of the festival (which was inaugurated on the 6th and ended on the 8th).

A view of the Sukhna Lake club grounds and the lit fest stalls .

A view of the Sukhna Lake club grounds and the lit fest stalls .

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Muzaffar Jang is back! Announcing: Crimson City

(Plug alert: my latest novel, what it’s about, and some background)

Some of you who’ve been reading this blog for a while—or who know something of what I write about besides classic cinema—probably know by now that I am also the creator of a fictional 17th century Mughal detective named Muzaffar Jang. Muzaffar first appeared in a short story in a collection of South Asian women’s writing, called 21 Under 40. I had, however, already half-written a novel featuring this protagonist, and that book, set in the summer of 1656, went on to become the first full-length Muzaffar Jang novel, The Englishman’s Cameo, published by Hachette India in 2008.

Seven years later, and here I am, at the fourth book of the series.

Crimson City, the fourth book in the Muzaffar Jang series.

Crimson City, the fourth book in the Muzaffar Jang series.

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… and back from the Pune Lit Fest

As I’ve mentioned earlier (nearly a year ago, to be precise), I am – despite being an author and not an absolute recluse – not really one of the regulars at Literary Festivals. Which, if you’re keeping track, are now a staple event in the post-monsoon calendar of almost every Indian city worth its salt. Good, I say, but I go to very few of them, and only when I really feel like it.

This time, I got an invitation for the Pune International Literary Festival, September 18-20, 2014. Would I be interested, asked Dr Manjiri Prabhu (the director), in being part of a panel discussion on detective fiction? Considering home-grown detective fiction (I’m not talking Christie, Rankin, and the like) invariably takes a backseat when it comes to the average Indian reader – who, if bookstore displays are to be believed, is more likely to jump at mythology, self-help, or coming-of-age books – well, considering that, I figured anything I could do to help further the cause of Indian detective fiction was work well done.

The Pune International Literary Festival, 2014

The Pune International Literary Festival, 2014

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Sabz Burj

Next up on my list of occasional articles on little-known tombs of Delhi. Yes, macabre as it may sound, Delhi does have a lot of medieval tombs, mainly because—like mosques or forts—tombs were among the few buildings which could endure because they were usually built of stone; ordinary buildings such as houses were often of wattle and daub, or of brick, and therefore less likely to last long. This time, it’s Sabz Burj. Not exactly little-known, since it’s very visible: it stands on the traffic roundabout outside Humayun’s Tomb, at the intersection of Mathura Road and Lodhi Road.

A view of Sabz Burj.

A view of Sabz Burj.

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A little-known Sufi saint, and an unidentified tomb

Most of the tombs I’ve listed so far in my on-and-off series on little known tombs of Delhi have been tombs I’ve been aware of for at least the past 15 years. It’s time, therefore, to move on to a tomb I got to see for the first time just about 6 years back: the tomb of Yusuf Qattaal, near Malviya Nagar.

The Tomb of Yusuf Qattaal.

The Tomb of Yusuf Qattaal.

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Eid Mubarak!

A very happy and blessed Eid to all of you who celebrate!

And, because I can’t resist the temptation to share knowledge I come across while I’m doing my research, here’s a little tidbit about Eid as it was in the time of the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah ‘Zafar’. (The illustration, which dates back to 1843, depicts Bahadur Shah in an Eid procession, with princes and other salatin – distant family members of the Emperor – following on elephants, horses, and on foot).

Bahadur Shah 'Zafar' rides on elephant back in an Eid procession, 1843.

Bahadur Shah ‘Zafar’ rides on elephant back in an Eid procession, 1843.

Since the date of Eid—as now—was decided based on the sighting of the moon, it was the emperor’s responsibility to ensure that the moon was sighted and duly recorded. For this, he would send horsemen out of the city to spot the moon. If there were clouds, the riders would go further out, to a village or up a hill. Their sighting of the moon would be recorded and signed by a ‘reliable witness’: a qazi, for instance. The news, when conveyed to the emperor, would be transmitted to the rest of the city by means of fired cannons.

Eid, of course, was a very important festival, celebrated with much feasting after the long days of fasting. Traditionally, the emperor would go to the Eidgah, accompanied by the princes, other salatin, prominent officers (and even, in what was definitely a political move, the British Resident in the early 1800s). On the occasion of Eid-ul-Zuha, he would sacrifice a camel at the Eidgah.

Sultangarhi: ‘The Sultan of the Pit’

The locals—and the local signboards, when written in Devnagari—mostly refer to this little-known tomb as ‘Sultangarhi’ (सुल्तानगढ़ी), which sounds more like a fortress than a tomb. The actual, correct pronunciation, is सुल्तानग्हारी (or, if you can’t read Devnagari, approximately ‘Sultanghaari’,). … Continue reading