Zelaldinus, A Masque

by Irwin Allan Sealy

Read time: about 4 minutes

Fatehpur Sikri is a stunning example of city planning which has been inspiration for many architecture students and professionals alike. The set of buildings which were prime inspiration for Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore; never fails to awe you. Fathehpur Sikri was later abandoned due to unavailability of water and thus a whole city was left to whether.

A masquerade surrounding this beautiful place, that houses a chequered chess board, where Akbar played with actual people as pawns, is meant to be a beautiful experience.

Cover: Zelaldinus, A Masque

Cover page

Akbar understood what no other monarch from of foreign origin ever did. To rule your subjects you have to understand them, and better, infuse with them. And hence the language of art and architecture evolved. He has Indo-Saracenic architecture and miniature paintings to his credit. The book is set in Fatehpur Sikri, at least in the beginning, and the cover art is a miniature painting.

One cannot help but appreciate the comedy that follows the masque which is ever present in the painting. Akbar wearing swanky shoes and holding a tape recorder is funny, to say the least. A good amount of research has gone into designing the cover which includes the painting as well as the dull grey background.

As a history lover, I am delighted to have seen such thoughtful cover design.


Irwin is a traveller who is awestruck with Fatehpur Sikri. He is an artist. He writes novels. And that is the reason he is the chosen one. The ghost of Akbar dreads solitude. He misses the comfort of being a King; now that he is just an apparition. Akbar justifies his cruel means of justice. He demands air planes and what not. But he cannot have all of it. Not even water. Since he is a ghost and ghosts do not need much of it anyway.


Irwin is fascinated with Fatehpur Sikri. He loves the red stones and the breeze. He imagines what life would have been like; and then he meets Akbar’s ghost. Akbar seems thirsty and lonely. He cannot move beyond Buland Darwaza. Hence, he seeks the friendship of Irwin, a novelist whom he mocked for the art earlier.

Irwin obliges. He promises the King to put him in a story and take him to places but for that the King will need to do what Irwin asks. Move as he says and stop likewise.

This begins the strange journey of Zelaldinus.

The book is a masque. It is a great mix of history, fiction, magical realism and political commentary. The author talks about Akbar. His education (or the lack of it). He gives us a glimpse of the court life and the special place Jalal has for the jewels of his court, especially Tansen. It is a meeting of history with the future and the comedy that follows. The lyrical prose and poetry-like passages are the highlights of the book. You sing and dance your way into the world with appropriate background noises.

gum pink, not red, really tink tink tink
quarried nearby tink tink tink tink
worked with saw and hammer and chisel tink tink tink
chisels-zuh plural tink tink tink tink

The dreamlike events transpire into political message swiftly. A lover wishes he shaved before he met love of his life. He wonders if he will find a Barber in their country only to realise why wouldn’t he; it’s the same bloody country! The past meets the present, and wonders why are there borders when the entire land is one. Trains do not go to another country. Maybe Jalal could take a plane, but is it that simple?


This is not the prettiest part of the review. The language is TOUGH! It tests your patience! The language is like this high class mistress with social grace that you wish you could be Friends with but the class difference makes you wary.

There were words… difficult words; words that would make you keep running for a dictionary.

The poetry and prose have a beautiful lyrical balance. Random capitalization and eloquent narration makes drama more desirable. These were a joy to read but the alien words kill it. Imagine coming across small pebbles in a delicious biryani that you really want to eat. You take them out patiently in the beginning; but eventually start swallowing it.

Good points

The cover design is thoughtful. The content is dreamlike. The setting is beautiful.

Bad points

The language is difficult to understand. It may take more than one reading to understand the book entirely.


I am glad to have come across this book. This is my first masque. I look forward to reading similar literature in future. I wish to see this performed on stage some day.

Whom do I recommend this to

This book is for those who like experimental literature.

Quotable quotes

sin’s a function of One’s own capacity to err.

every train has one superb uncommon woman. she is always across the aisle, and she will stay on the train when you get off, or if you stay on she’ll get off. this is law.

we lose things, history loses people.

Veena Choudhary

An avid reader and history fanatic.

Mumbai, MH merakipost.com