Living with the past


Madhulika Liddle tells Khushbu kirti that Delhi, in her new novel, The Garden of Heaven, is a beautiful and diverse garden with its share of thorns, snakes in the grass and the occasional poisonous plant

The first Indian woman to win the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association’s short story competition in 2003, Madhulika Liddle is known for her deeply researched and engaging works. After all, 17th century Mughal detective Muzaffar Jang is, indeed, his original idea.

Being born in Delhi, Liddle embarked on a new journey to entangle the secrets of the pages of the history of the City of Love.

His freshly published Speaking Tiger Books, The Garden of Heaven, is the first in The Delhi Quartet saga. Beginning shortly before Mohammad Ghuri’s invasion, and extending until just after the partition; the saga will cover 800 years of Delhi history. And you guessed it, the first 200 years of this stretch are covered in Le Jardin du Ciel.

In a rather interesting conversation, Liddle talks about his works and shares his thoughts on the history, the city and the history of the city. Read on for excerpts from an exclusive interview:

Congratulations on your recent release, The Garden of Heaven. Please give us an overview of the same.

What inspired you to start this saga?

Thank you! The Garden of Heaven is a historical novel, the first in a four-book series called The Delhi Quartet. The whole saga will cover 800 years of Delhi history, seen through the life of a group of interconnected families. The first novel covers the period of 1188 CE, just before Mohammad Ghuri defeated Prithviraj Chauhan and established the Sultanate of Delhi; in 1398 CE, when Taimur sacked Delhi.

A somewhat similar, but much more ambitious book, Sarum by Edward Rutherfurd, inspired me to write this series. Sarum is about ordinary people living their lives against the backdrop of thousands of years of history (from the Ice Age to 1984) in and around Salisbury in England, which was previously known as Sarum.

What is the meaning of the title “The Garden of Heaven”?

The Garden of Heaven is the name the stone sculptor, Madhav, gives to the exquisite stone frieze he carved in his later years, a frieze depicting a garden. I also meant that the ‘garden of paradise’ was a metaphor for Delhi itself, a beautiful and diverse garden, but (like any real garden), with its share of thorns, snakes in the grass and plants. occasional poisonous …

Many people’s lives are intertwined, their stories run parallel in the book. Thus, making it deeply layered.

What is the goal behind the same?

I wanted to write a historical novel that doesn’t focus on the important people, the larger-than-life historical figures of that time, but on ordinary people: I wanted to explore how they might have felt, even as the story was happening in their own lives. I also wanted to show how people come together, how a family divides and separates, or how two disparate families come together: these are themes that interest me, and placing them in a historical framework allowed me to give it a new dimension: exploring how people cope with difficulties, with circumstances beyond their control.

Important people like Razia Sultan, Amir Khusro, Ibrahim Lodhi, Mohammad Ghori, Prithviraj Chauhan, and so on, exist and their personal efforts are beautifully transmitted. How close is the story to reality? Can this be called historical fiction?

Most of the time, the episodes and incidents involving the real personalities in this book are based on fact (or, as in the case of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, on folklore). Razia’s struggles to win and then keep his throne; the attempts of Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq to suppress Nizamuddin; The invasion of Taimur, and so on: this is all factual. It is mainly only in their interactions with the fictional characters (Madhav, Jayshree, Girdhar, et al) that a fictional episode in the lives of these historical figures is introduced.

So yes, I would call Le Jardin du Ciel a historical fiction.

It is said that Dilli was destroyed and built seven times. Would you like to include this trip in your books?

There is some debate as to whether Delhi has been destroyed and built seven times, or more – some historians believe there could be as many as ten cities in Delhi, maybe even as many as fifteen. Listing all of this (or even just seven) over the course of four novels could lead to an overly large book set, so I’m just telling the story in broad outline. Sometimes the destruction of the city (or rather the fall of one district and the coming to power of another) is emphasized; at other times, the change of power is a little less dramatic, and a city slowly fades away, too gently for anything other than an oblique reference.

It is the first of four of the Delhi Quartet. What is your vision for the next books?

As in The Garden of Heaven, the other three books will also follow a similar pattern: ordinary people living in Delhi, their lives sometimes touched by the history being made in Delhi. Some important real-life historical figures will appear from time to time, but otherwise the focus will be largely on the fictional characters. Each book will cover, as The Garden of Heaven did, approximately 150 to 200 years of history.

Have you studied history since your novels are so well documented. Would you be a historian, if not a writer?

I have always been interested in history, especially since my sister, Swapna Liddle, is a historian.

If I had not been a writer, I would probably have been one of the many professions I have had during my career: hotel manager, advertising, editor, educational designer … for me, the interest for the story came a bit late in life, having decided (as I thought) what career I was going to adopt. By then, it was too late to begin serious study of history. My interest in history therefore remains (and will remain) a love, not a profession.

Historicity and meaning. What do you think is the antinomy between history and truth?

I think history and truth are not quite synonymous, simply because, like science, history is also a discipline that draws conclusions from available evidence, offering logical theories for interpreting that evidence. . For example, ancient chronicles, artifacts, archaeological evidence, etc., can help historians get a feel for what may have happened in the past. While artifacts and archaeological evidence may be more compelling evidence, the chronicles can be biased, thus distorting the truth. And, as in the case of science, until more evidence is revealed, only one story, one accepted truth, can prevail. Newly discovered evidence may change this truth, however.

History is therefore for me a perceived truth; believed the truth. Some aspects of it may be factual, some can be reliably so, and some may be until further evidence proves it.

What do you think of the decision of the Ministry of Education to eliminate the Mughal dynasty from the history curriculum of major universities?

Are we depriving our future generation of historical truth?

I think it’s a very short-sighted and fanatic movement. To erase mentions of the Mughal dynasty (or any other, for that matter) or to try, in some other way, to distort historical facts to make them fit for one’s own agenda serves no further purpose than to propagate a lie. .

What will this lead to? A generation (several generations?) Of Indians learning something that no one else in the world knows by the name of history? A lie too, which is absolutely not supported by evidence of any kind? My point is that history cannot be changed; we have what we have. The past is over, and nothing we do now can change it. So what is wrong with living with this past? Good or bad, the whole history of India is our history. Trying to disinfect it is juvenile.

I truly believe that we need more female writers to write women’s stories because they have either been wiped from the pages of history or their truths misinterpreted by male voices.

Want to weigh?

I agree. Women have, for too long, been largely erased from “commonly known stories” – that’s how I would describe it, because there are historians I know who have researched women in history and have found fascinating cases of women going far beyond what anyone can imagine in a patriarchal society like ours. The great queens of Odisha, for example, or the padishah begums at the time of the Mughals: women much more powerful than those remembered by the population today.

How do you like to represent your female characters? For Shagufta seems to be a daring woman in the face of atrocity.

I like to represent my female characters as a mixture: not all determined, not all perfect; Human. Some are more fiery than others, some are much more conformist and gentle than most, but I like having at least one female character who stands up for herself, who is emotionally mature and intelligent.

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