On a blistering hot morning in May 2019, I visited the Rajabai Tower, where the actual events of my novel played out in 1891.
That humid afternoon, the University of Mumbai authorities allowed me to visit the Rajabai Tower, escorted by a lady guard.
"I'm a little nervous," said the guard, as she pulled open the narrow door.
I gave her my flashlight, since she was to lead.
Battling claustrophobia in the narrow vertical tower, its stone walls so close that my elbows brushed them on both sides, we climbed up to the Gallery entrance. On the way we entered two enormous 'resonance chambers' that amplify the bells, opening the doors to admit some fresh air.
The tower bells play the Westminster chime on the hour, followed by the number of hours--two to signify two o'clock. We heard them strike twice as we ascended.
Closed to the public, there was little air in the tower, since many gaps in the stonework have been closed up. I stepped carefully. It would not do to trip on those tall triangular steps. I felt panic scant seconds away--if it got too bad I would simply call it off, turn and retreat. Only the thought that no one was behind me, that there was a way out, kept me going. At the door to the gallery we paused.
"Can you open it?" I asked.
"They didn't give me the key!" replied the lady guard.
The authorities had decided to prevent any chance of harm by denying her the key to the terrace where, a hundred and thirty years ago, two young women had spent their last moments. In Murder in Old Bombay, I explored what might have happened.
Watch the video below to get a sense of what it was like on the way down. This trip was excellent research to sense the atmosphere, dark and closed-off, and get a sense of the interior of this ancient landmark.
The Gallery is not open to visitors due to concerns for their safety.