An exclusive excerpt from Raza Mir’s Murder at the Mushaira (Published by Aleph Book Company, 2021), which is a brilliantly constructed murder mystery that is solved by the great poet laureate of the realm – Mirza Ghalib.
THE RIDER FROM MATHURA
2 May 1857, 11.45 p.m.
Hawas ko hai nishaat-e kaar kya kya
Na ho marna to jeene ka maza kya
Through manifold ways, desire sparks action
Were there no death, life would be bereft of fun
In the dead of night, there is something called ‘too silent’. Sarfaraz Laskar felt he was not riding, but floating on a lake of silence that stretched all the way to the invisible horizon. The shape of the moon, a near semicircle, indicated it was the eighth day of the lunar month; it promised to sink soon, hopefully enveloping him in total darkness. He would then have a few hours to disappear into the big city, before it began to wake up, earlier than usual because it was the holy month. The early Ramzan bustle in the Muslim quarter could be his ally. It would help him slip into the Red Fort unnoticed, find the soldiers he needed to contact, give them the package, and be done with his task. However, to reach the city undetected, he had to swim through this liquid stillness, a stillness so vast even the tiniest clop of his horse’s hooves could be heard miles away. Forty miles of intensely patrolled landscape, but he had made thirty three of them without being discovered. The Yamuna, silvery in the moonlight, had been his lodestar, the lapping of its waves the only sound in the implacable lull, providing some cover. From Mathura to Delhi, southeast to northwest, the vast river where Lord Krishna had defeated Kaliya, the poisonous snake that had once terrorized the citizens of Braj, had been within earshot. But now, there was a new Kaliya in the land, and he was the one who could direct Krishnas towards it.