The Liddle world of Mughals

Madhulika and Swapna Liddle walk around Shah Jahan's Dilli, recreating the past and revisiting old haunts

"Ibrahim Hussain's haveli had a restrained, sophisticated beauty to it. The dalaan was an elegant plastered chamber, its walls polished to an alabaster-like sheen. The carpets were Persian; the porcelain, flower vases and lamps understated and fine."

ó The Missing Corpse, The Eighth Guest & Other Muzaffar Jang Mysteries.

His haveli had retained its restrained beauty. The dalaan was still as elegant and the alabaster-like sheen had lingered on. But the haveli wore an air of abandonment, not the chill of a murder that might have happened centuries ago.

The lanes that once housed Shah Jahan's nobility had become a paradise for hawkers and historians. The spacious haathikhanas outside Red Fort had given way to cemented roads, chipped away at many places. When coffee was introduced to Shah Jahan's Dilli, qahwe khane sprung up everywhere in Chandni Chowk serving the hot bitter brew, much like the coffee chains of today. On a wintry November morning, Madhulika Liddle and sister Swapna, walked these lanes conjuring up life in the time of Shah Jahan and Muzaffar Jang.

One is a crime-fiction writer, creator of Muzaffar Jang ó the 16th century detective, weeks away from her third Jang novel Engraved in Stone, set in Agra and the other is a Delhi historian with a penchant for heritage walks. As Swapna weaves through Dariba Kalan, pointing to the street of jewellers ó 18 of them in Shah Jahan's time, Madhulika recounts the first time she visited Chandni Chowk in 1994. "I was working at Habitat World, and was sent out to research a historical walk in the area. We walked past the Digambar Jain Lal Mandir ó there used to be a flower market outside the temple back then ó and through Dariba Kalan, right till the end, where there stands an attar shop which is 200 years old. I remember walking down the stretch in front of the Jama Masjid and seeing vendors selling everything from strengthening oil derived from lizards, to old coins."

... contd.

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