In Conversation with Madhulika Liddle

Writer Madhulika Liddle of Muzaffar Jang Series speaks about Indian Crime Fiction and Historical Crime Fiction at the 2nd Pune International Literary Festival.

An avid historical detective fiction reader, writer Madhulika Liddle of Muzaffar Jang Series feels Indian Crime Fiction is yet to come of age, but can achieve that goal. 
At the recently concluded 2nd Pune International Literature Festival, one literary gem, Madhulika Liddle, was well-received for her work and thoughts in the session ‘Changing Trends in Detective Fiction’. This New Delhi-based writer is known for her Muzaffar Jang Series. Belonging to the Historical Crime Fiction genre, Muzaffar Jang is a detective from the Mughal era.
Madhulika has always been an avid historical detective fiction reader since her teen years. She admits, “By the time I was in my mid-twenties, I’d read detective novels set in just about every period and place with an interesting history to it. I wondered why there wasn’t an Indian historical detective and decided it was time to create one.”
Being a Delhi citizen for quite some time, it is but obvious that the city became the backdrop of her efforts. “Then, the fact that the Mughal period – especially Shahjahan’s reign – was so colourful and interesting, made it attractive for me. Building a base for the series involved a lot of research. I read a lot of Mughal history – not so much political, but social, cultural, even obscure facets like the history of technology or cuisine – to make sure every detail in my books is accurate. And I’ve walked miles around Delhi’s older localities in an attempt to try and imagine what they must have been like 350 years back. It’s an ongoing research; it never stops.”
While most of us know this legendary Mughal emperor as the mind behind the Taj Mahal, Madhulika feels that her research work was easy thanks to documentation by western travellers in that time frame. “Plus, living in Delhi, which was where Shahjahan built his capital, Shahjahanabad made it a logical setting as far as I was concerned.  Also, that’s a period of history that I find especially fascinating. A lot of interesting developments were taking place at the time. For instance, Urdu was coming into existence then. Some of Northern India’s most beautiful architecture & art were being created and India’s trade with far-flung countries meant that everything from glass hookahs to European clocks was becoming fashionable.”
History and detective fiction was always in her favourites’ list. And, this meant that well-written and well-researched books combining these two topics appealed to her more. “I love the way a lot of the best writers of historical crime fiction – Ellis Peters, Peter Tremayne, Steven Saylor, PC Doherty, Robert van Gulik, etc. – are able to recreate, through their stories, a completely different era. And much of that lies in details. How did a Chinese judge pass judgement? What form did medieval Irish books take? What food did the ancient Romans eat? And all of this with what is anyway one of my favourite genre – detective fiction. The combination can be fantastic; entertaining, but also, in a way, educational. I wouldn’t be able to pick a favourite historical detective series, but among my top favourites would be Ellis Peters’s Brother Cadfael series, Steven Saylor’s Gordianus the Finder series, and Robert van Gulik’s Judge Dee books.”
For 14 years, this Hotel Management graduate climbed steps of the corporate world. “I’ve acquired knowledge about diverse occupations, all the way from hospitality to advertising to IT. Somewhere and somehow, it’s helped in my writing. I’ve used settings from previous jobs in my stories. I’ve based characters on people I once worked with. I’ve honed my writing skills at certain jobs.”
Speaking about the Indian Crime Fiction genre in English, Madhulika does feel that it is yet to come of age. “Thankfully, it’s come a long way since the first Muzaffar Jang book was released in 2008. Today, there are many more authors venturing into the genre and trying new ideas with it; all the way from contemporary noir to historical detective fiction to Holmes pastiches. I would think it’s only a matter of time before we begin to get noticed outside India. Perhaps achieving a ‘global phenomenon’ status is a little distant right now, but there’s no harm in making it a goal!”
Now, one is very much keen on what Madhulika has in store for the future. She announced that the fourth book from the Muzaffar Jang series is finished. “It should hopefully be released in early 2015.
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