Murder at the Mushaira: A Book Experience

Mushaira means a gathering of poets. It largely dictates to Urdu poetry. Most of the people who either have an interest or are oblivious to poetry, do know the name of Mirza Ghalib. It is impossible for an Urdu or Hindi speaking person to have not heard of atleast a single sher or couplet composed by Ghalib. A person with such an artistic and philosophical value when becomes the protagonist of a book based on Murder, was reason enough for me to read “Murder at the Mushaira” by Raza Mir.

Set during the time of May 1857 when there was a highly coordinated rebel group was active in India. The rebels constituted of soldiers, peasants, artists, and other civilians. The intent of the rebels was to overthrow the British rule from Delhi and then continue liberating the rest of India. Had the book only been about rebels and their coordination, then probably Ghalib could not have been the central character of the premise. But the book revolves around a Mushaira in which a poet is murdered. Ghalib during those times was also regarded as a detective by many and is asked to assist in solving the crime. The entire story is based on this narrative and gives new insights of the murder, it’s intent, and it’s outcome.

The book is a lovely read, not just for the thriller part, but for the abundance of beauty it carries. Raza Mir has described the ambience of each location so well that while being in the guarded campus of my residence society, I could feel the Delhi of 1857. I have unfortunately never been to a Mushaira, but I felt that even I had a cushion below my elbow and am lauding the poets with “Waah Waah” as they recite their composition. The food prepared too has been discussed such that one can smell it, and taste it through words.

Another lovely part of the book was the interaction between Mirza Ghalib and his wife Umrao. The two are no young couples. Both are more than 60 years old and have known each other for a lifetime. The camaraderie between the two is extremely beautiful. The general scolding and blabbering of the two against each other, while caring for one another immensely, makes them someone with whom you can relate. Coincidentally, it was only a year back that I saw the serial Ghalib on YouTube. Naseeruddin Shah played the role of Ghalib, while Tanvi Azmi played the role of Umraao in it. It was thus even more satisfying to imagine these two fine actors while reading this book as well.

A stilt from the serial Ghalib showing him and his wife Umrao. Ghalib sings
“उनके देखे से जो आ जाती है चेहरे पे रौनक,
वो समझते हैं, कि बीमार का हाल अच्छा है।”

It was a great book to read. Embellished with metaphors that justified the premise it was set in, the chaos and eagerness of people to overthrow the tyrants, and the concerted efforts of people from different walks of life to help the other and thereby largely themselves, the book is well written and quite certainly engaging. You can buy the book from Amazon.

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