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humayunDUSK IS AROUND THE CORNER and festivities are in full swing when Humayun sets down his glass goblet. Quietly, he makes his way past the musicians, gangs of mirthful friends, lone ranting drunks and the grim, star-crossed couple. He goes up the stairs to the upper chambers, walking in first to the room called the House of Pleasure. From what he remembers, it has been done up excellently but he really couldn’t tell now for the crowd that has made itself comfortable on the gilded bedstead, pillows and sandalwood chests.

Everyone is either helping themselves to the generous spread of fruits and beverages or offering it to their neighbours, between non-stop conversation. Humayun catches sight of a favourite dervish with whom he exchanges warm greetings. He would stay longer but he would like to take a quick round of these rooms before hopefully making it in time to the terrace to catch a sunset view of the celebrations along the banks of the Yamuna.


This painting assists in conjuring a tame picture of the House of Pleasure on the day of the Mystic Feast. Image: From a 16th Century painting recreating an interaction between poets and scholars during the Delhi Sultanate (Royal Asiatic Society)

From here, he dodges past the odd stragglers to make his way to the room dedicated to the soldiers, vazirs, mirzas and chiefs – the House of Dominion. The room glows from reflections off the displays of the freshly-buffed military equipment, gilded armour, daggers and jewelled scimitars. It is in the last room – the House of Good Fortune – that Humayun is most at home. Arranged here is a dramatic display of picture books, calligraphy, portfolios and gilded pen cases with meditative stringed music coming from a corner of the room. He has inherited his father’s literary interests and commitment to libraries. This inclination goes back even further. Tamerlane, his ancestor, used his vast collection to build a celebrated library in Samarkhand.

Humayun quickly rushes up to the terrace in time for the last moments of sunset. He rests his hands on the parapet and looks out over the banks of the river. Colourful tents and pavilions have been pitched here. As the sun sets, he catches the glittering outline of the dome of his mobile palace. Humayun’s specially commissioned barges have been tied to the banks, not far from the movable bridge, which brought over many visitors from the other side of the river.

He thinks of Dinpannah, the city he has just founded within Delhi, on what he had been told is the very site of the ancient city of Indraprastha. Work has only just begun and he has greats hopes for it. We have all dreamed of living in a city of like-minded people with shared dreams, tastes and concerns. Humayun has envisioned this for the spiritualists who need it more than anybody else. This city will be their refuge. It will be his capital. A Refuge for the Faithful. 

His thoughts are interrupted by urgent missives delivered to him by a general.

Clouds have begun to gather on the horizon. Daggers glint in the shadows.