‘Murder at the Mushaira’, an exciting work of historical/crime fiction, raises readers’ hopes
AM | February 22, 2021
Murder at the Mushaira
By Raza Mir
Aleph / 344 pages / Rs 799
While Indian-English writing has achieved great heights in literary fiction, that achievement is yet to be matched in genres ranging humour to crime. This is curious, because regional literatures have produced great masterpieces in various genres, comparable to the best of world literature. Especially in the crime/mystery/noir segment, curiously, many masters from abroad have chosen an Indian backdrop for their memorable and popular works, but little has come up from here. There have been numerous serious attempts in the last couple of decades, but they each remain singular, exceptional. It is only now that something like a movement is building up, with several talented writers taking up crime fiction from India. Among them is Raza Mir whose ‘Murder at the Mushaira’ is bound to raise readers’ hopes for the future of both crime fiction and historical fiction in Indian English.
Its premise – a murder at a soiree in Delhi during the upheavals of 1857 and Urdu poet Ghalib as detective – promises a feast for fans of historical fiction too, both in India and abroad. Mir has an anthology and an introduction to Urdu poetry and a Ghalib tribute to his credit, and that background comes handy in recreating the charm of the old world, of the bylanes of Shahjahanabad, of that unique period of history. Historical detailing, happily, does not bog down the narrative, but only enhances it. In terms of style, prose matches the ambience of poetry circles of old Delhi. One would wonder a translation in Hindi-Urdu, allowing the great poet to make repartees in his own tongue, would be even better.
As India prepares for the first battle of independence, revolutionaries are networking against the exploitative East India Company. As conspiracies are hatched in secret, on the surface social life goes on. Poetry lovers cannot give up on their soirees in the magnificent havelis, with the best of food and drinks on the side. One of them, however, ends in a murder – and the British officials smell foul. The lovingly named investigating officer, Kirorimal Chainsukh, is exasperated, and seeks help from – who else but –great poet Mirza Ghalib, who historically speaking is known to have a bent for amateur sleuthing. He will need all his extraordinary intelligence, his insider knowledge of the ways of high society and introductory lessons in the new science of forensics.
The genius of Ghalib, needless to say, is equally at home in crime detection, and the resolution is thoroughly satisfying. A rare treat for all fiction lovers.
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