Human life was likely to be “nasty, brutish, and short”, said 17th century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes, in the absence of a political community, but his words might have well described conditions for the less fortunate in the contemporary Mughal world. There, rank conferred privilege, and power, even of life and death, over lesser men and there was no definite system of redress, let alone investigation, until any crime became serious enough to excite discontent and strife.
It is this colourful but chaotically unpredictable world that a young aristocrat forsakes the life of relaxed indolence he may be expected to lead and nor evinces any interest in a career of a glory in the imperial army but charts out his own new course – trying to solve crimes he encounters, draw in someone he knows or is ordered to probe. But then Muzaffar Jung with his sense of justice and obligation towards his fellow men and a yen for perseverance is scarcely the average Mughal noble.
It is Shahjahanabad of 1657. Mughal armies are fighting in the Deccan but under the ostensible calm, there is a certain restiveness. Our newly-married hero, trying to adjust to his new life and finding presence in the imperial court not to his liking, gets drawn into investigating the inexplicable murder of an ordinary merchant, when he accompanies his brother-in-law, Farid Khan, the city Kotwal, to the scene.
Soon, Muzaffar has another case on his hands: a local moneylender is threatened that his infant son will be kidnapped unless a ransom is paid – and the child is soon spirited away. It doesn’t take much time for our detective to understand what had happened and rescue the child. But his success has an unexpected outcome – his brother-in-law’s angry admonition to stay out of the way of the official machinery.