SOME DISTANCE away in the Emperor’s model capital, Shajahanabad, the bazaars are humming with activity. Above the usual din of trade and bargain, poets, jewellers, clerks and masons all seem to be interested in updates on the same thing: the stand-off between the princes and the Emperor’s ill health that appears to have been shared by the city. Only last year, the city had a major health outbreak that affected its very functioning. It unravelled when a minor outbreak of influenza went out of hand and held the entire city in its grip. No one imagined it would get too serious, till it began to claim numbers and even affect members of the royal household. A harsh winter, made the situation dire.
High ranking members of the government called a meeting of senior hakims who after several days of careful enquiry into fundamental causes, came to the conclusion that the water lines were badly compromised, resulting in contamination. The hakims advised immediate measures to ensure the availability of potable water. As for the challenge of recovery, the hakims advised that at as far as possible, foods would have to be slow cooked. A recipe was put out for a certain slow cooked meat dish (nahari). Formulated by the hakims, this heart-warming formula calls for trotters and assorted spices. Understanding that this may be out of the reach of the ordinary citizen, they advise a potent and pungent combination of spices in at least one main dish a day.
Today, as one cook stops by for a late afternoon kebab with a friend, en route to making purchases at the Khari Baoli spice market, they hope for the health of the Emperor. Yet, the inevitable is already at hand – and as Aurangzeb overpowers every obstacle on his way to the throne, Shah Jahan must resign himself to a life in the shadows at Agra.