“A richly human, layered and dramatic narrative about Delhi on the threshold of a new phase in its long and eventful history, The Garden of Heaven holds the reader in thrall till the end.”
NO MAJOR SPOILERS
In The Garden of Heaven, Madhulika Liddle returns to the world she knows best – Dilli from the pages of history. Unlike her Muzaffur Jung series, this is set in the years of the Slave Dynasty, the 12th and 13th centuries, when Qutb ud din Aibak came to conquer Delhi for his Sultan and stayed to rule. It is a period of transition, when lives and religion are disrupted by the coming of invaders.
Liddle chooses a family of stone carvers to carry the burden of her tale since in the absence of any other kinds of media they are the ones chosen by the new rulers as recorders of history, the creators of mosques and monuments. In the clash of religion and lives there is an echo of the modern India where bigotry is etched in stone.
While the garden she refers to in her title is an elaborate piece of carving of incredible value, Delhi in a sense is also a garden of sorts where the different faiths jostle among the trees and flowers.
Flight is a thread that runs through the novel, men and women escaping or being expelled from families and finding their own means of survival – especially the women who learn to exist on their own triumphing over desertion. The sutradhar or the storyteller who holds the tale together is the impoverished Shagufta who rescues a wounded enemy soldier and spins out the evenings of recovery with her web of words while surrounded by danger. Liddle introduces characters we know from history, Razia Sultan the feisty woman ruler, the elegantly eccentric Amir Khusro and Hazrat Nizamuddin who can make water glow through the power of devotion.
Added 14th January 2022