The Tree Bears Witness

by Sharath Komarraju

Read time: about 2 minutes

Birbal is a familiar name in every household. We’ve all watched our own share of episodes of Akbar–Birbal, or read our share of comics on the duo. There have been all kinds of jokes made about the duo as well. So when I received this email from Veena about Westland sending out the review copy to me, I went over to Goodreads to see what the book was about.

The blurb intrigued me.

Cover: The Tree Bears Witness


The cover is simple. It’s a stock image of a gate of a structure ostensibly from the Mughal era. There’s an old man standing, wearing a turban, holding a stick. Not among the interesting covers I’ve seen. The typographer in me disliked how the text was in gold against that background; the text doesn’t stand out at all, makes reading really difficult.

I would definitely overlook this book in a book store.


Akbar and Birbal are the main characters here, of course.

Then, there are these Rajput royals—Hira Kunwari (a.k.a. Jodha), Raja Bharmal Singh (her father), Bhagwant Das (Jodha’s brother), Man Singh (Bhagwant Das’s son) and Sujjamal (the one who dies; Bharmal Singh’s nephew).

Then there’s Gulbadan Begum (Akbar’s foofi), Mirza Hakim (Akbar’s half-brother from Kabul), the two guards, and the hakim.


The plot is pretty interesting. Akbar has recently married Jodha, who’s of the Rajput origin. The idea obviously is to have nice ties with one of the respected clans of the time. One evening, within a few days of the wedding, the new queen’s cousin walks to the royal orchards, passing two guards. The cousin reaches the the platform where two mango trees stand—beyond the fountains—and starts pacing. A while later, the guards hear a scream. They rush to the platform to find the cousin on the floor, dead.

The elder guard among the two requests sounding of the gong, while the younger of the two faints. And Birbal is summoned. When the interrogations begin, the guards (who are the first-hand witnesses to the incident) themselves give out conflicting narrations.

Birbal is given two days to solve the mystery, and Akbar himself is among the suspects.


The language is very simple. The flow is steady. The story isn’t fast-paced, but the knots are periodically untied. Nicely done!

Good points

I liked the steady flow. The characters are relatable. And there are no shortcuts taken.

Bad points

The cover. And that’s about it.


Overall, I liked the book. It doesn’t show Birbal as a superhero or anything. He doesn’t have magical powers, and is shown as a normal human being who is also flawed in his own way.

The conversations seem really polite, and very civilised.

Whom do I recommend this to

I recommend this to fans of Akbar–Birbal, and to the fans of historical fiction.

Mystery fans would also like the book.

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Ram Iyer

Writer, PowerShell addict, typographer, self-acclaimed rationalist.

Bangalore, KA