Jalil’s essays cover ground trodden by several others. Many buildings are seen, as in Karoki and Charles Lewis’s book, in the setting of ‘urban villages’. Like R.V. Smith, she weaves in local history and myth. There are also quotations from Rahim, Bedil, Zafar and Iqbal; given Jalil’s familiarity with Urdu, we could have asked for more, as well as for some sense of how these monuments were seen by Dargah Quli Khan, Sayyid Ahmad Khan and Bashiruddin Ahmed, writers many of us have no access to.
What makes Jalil’s book different is the photographs (by the well-known photographer-writer D.N. Chaudhuri) and the utterly delightful watercolours by Premola Ghose, whose cheerful family of animals has become as familiar to us as the Air India Maharaja or R.K. Laxman’s Common Man. Through the antics of the animals, Ghose’s paintings draw our eyes to details in the monuments (floor mosaic, gateway embellishments, adjacent buildings) in a way that would be impossible through words or pictures.