Going to London’s King’s Cross area is always exciting – for positive reasons nowadays. As I write, the final pieces of the station’s hideous 70s extension are being pulled down, and the elegant brick facade of the original building coming back into view. Across the road, the once neglected rooftop Lighthouse is being restored. The new public space in front of the station will be a great place to sit and admire the architecture when all the work is complete.
Meanwhile, the nearby British Library foyer is perfect for watching the world go by — especially with a book and a cappuccino to hand. And that was where I headed en route to the Library’s current exhibition, Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire.
Displayed around a giant jade terrapin carved for the emperor Jahanghir are exquisite miniature paintings, Korans with delicate cursive script and bejewelled objects including a crown with gold tassels and an encrusted flywhisk handle. The story of the Mughal dynasty (1526-1858) is brought to life, from the first six great rulers, each of whom added lustre to their empire, to the sorry bunch who followed. The glorious six, from the founding warrior Babur to the ruthless Aurangzeb, are depicted in imperial splendour: riding to battle, hawking and holding court. Their successors went on to squander their inheritance. A photograph of the last emperor, Bahadur Shah, captures him horizontal on a bed, his glazed eyes staring out unfocused above a hookah pipe.
The detail and variety of this show calls for concentration and a good two hours. You’ll want to relish every petal in every flower and ponder over maps and architectural renderings of buildings like the Taj Mahal. The man who built this wonder of the world, Shah Jahan, also compiled a cookbook, and his compendium of recipes for flatbreads and curries is another pleasure of the display.
By the time you reach the end of this exhibition, you might, like me, suddenly feel a craving for Indian food. Things aren’t helped by the sitar background music which always sets off a Pavlovian reaction of wanting to order an aloo gobi and rice. So it’s off to the Ravi Shankar vegetarian restaurant in nearby Drummond Street for the all-you-can-eat buffet. I first came here years ago and I’ll swear the prices haven’t risen since then. It’s nothing fancy but the dishes are fresh, wholesome and delicious. I’m sure even Shah Jahan would have been happy to have their recipe for dhal in his book.
The Mughal India exhibition at the British Library, London, runs until 2 April.