In a recent visit with family to Fatehpur Sikri, our excellent guide was rather befuddled by an over-excited woman, screeching with joy when she saw the Durbar hall, the Anup Talab, Akbar’s bed and the Buland Darwaza.
“Yes, yes madam. Would you like a photograph? There as well? And there? And here again? Yes, it is all quite exciting.”
As we entered the first garden and space where Akbar would hold his durbar, the guide pointed to a plain, flat platform raised two feet off the ground, against the backdrop of a columned corridor. “That’s where the king and Prince Salim were weighed on their birthday against gold, silver and other items.”
“AAAAAHHH!” screeched the woman, madly flipping through a yellow-covered book with a gilded title, Akbar and the Tricky Traitor, to an image of Akbar being weighed against the very items mentioned, beautifully detailed by the illustrator of the book, Vandana Bist. Whipping out trusty phone, she stretched her arm out with book, framing the scene with the platform in the backdrop, and clicked.
“EEEEHHHH!” yelled the woman, flipping to another page in the book in which Akbar stands holding court while searching for his Super Six amidst the lot. Hand outstretched… click!
“That was Akbar’s gigantic bed…”
Flip flip flip… click!
The ten-year-old and the eight-year-old offspring of the woman were soon influenced by the fervor of discovering new facts about the place and of photographing every nook and cranny of Fatehpur Sikri that echoed in the book, having read it multiple times themselves.
“What’s this place?” the woman quizzed her kids, pointing to a platform at the centre of a now murky green pond with four pathways linking the pond to all sides.
“Anup Talab! Where Abela plays for Akbar!” replied the ten-year-old, earning himself a bear hug (and Agra’s petha; a traditional sugar bomb, also a new discovery by the children).
The group walked across to the remnants of a gigantic urn that archaeologists had tried to patch together, rather unsuccessfully, with pipes and bolts. There’s more metal there than urn. “This held water for Akbar,” said the guide. “Yes, he was fussy about the water he drank and had Ganga water transported,” said one child.
The guide stood aside amazed. It wasn’t often, I would imagine, that his clients gushed over a place and showed such delight as the three did. The father of the children, a calmer, non-shrieky sort of person, marveled in a dignified manner at the detailing and blend of architectural elements as well as the thought put into every space. It therefore fell upon him to enlighten the by now nonplussed guide while the rest of the brood skipped around. ‘My wife is an author. She wrote that one, Akbar and the Tricky Traitor. It’s set in Fatehpur Sikri. She had researched it but hadn’t had a chance to visit it before now.’
An author visiting the setting of her book makes for an insane afternoon of sightseeing. A children’s book author, particularly one prone to leaping across spaces, accompanied by excitable children, makes for an explosive afternoon where she is likely to risk scalding the family’s bare feet across hot marble at noon inorder to see the Buland Darwaza as it towers majestically overhead.
It was an unbelievable experience and I only wish I could visit more of these places, at least the ones where the walls are still standing, as I write my History Mystery books. In many of the History Mystery books, my setting has been created from references in books about the time, palace layout and the like with huge doses of imagination. Fatehpur Sikri is luckily one of the most detailed since it’s largely all there.
Perhaps, there are ghosts of the past, waiting, wishing that someone would speak of their time when they ruled over a vast empire, stored treasures within the walls of their palace and spent evenings beside rose water filled pools as the greatest of musicians filled the space with music. Another age when they created magnificent structures and left it to us to discover the mysteries of history.