Tuesday, July 16, 2013


cover photo by duyum dulom
On the fourth day, the clouds cleared, and the heat returned, and silence still prevailed as a rule. I hadn't slept for the third night in a row. But I couldn't complain of fatigue or pain as it was all shrouded in a kind of ineffable numbness. I did not lament about boredom either, with the wide blue sky, stretched out in front of me, cheering me with its ever-changing reflections of clouds, now scantier and less menacing than the days before, frolicking endlessly in it, changing shapes at will.  I never got bored of that sight all my life, even though I was staring at the sky of Kotah-ki-Sarai for the first time. I could spend a whole day looking up there, but this was the fourth in a stretch and here, I had no other option.

My earliest memory is of the vast blue when I lay on my back trying hard not to wink, while mother on my side coaxed and fed me along with her tales of Gods and their lovers who lived up there. The wide open green in the garden adjacent to the Palace Zenana is where she took me whenever I refused to eat. There looking up at the heavens is how I took most part of my feedings in my initial years. Every few minutes her face, obscured with light, loomed into sight, blocking the light and the view, thrusting another mouthful. At times she sang from her folk collection as well. And occasionally had loud conversations across the court with other servant girls who refused to step into the heat. Even on starless nights, it gave me definitive solace when I knew that the dark I stared into was of that familiar world of clouds, stars and sun, also of mother's countless mischievous Gods.

The birds and the wolves were not back yet after sunrise. Only the merciless heat returned with a bang. The smell of putrefaction around me was turning into a deflated impression, although hard and real. Death surrounded me in its advanced form, and the creepy crawlies, never tired of amassing food, clamored in excitement around bodies and blood soaked in the dust.

Sandstones at the tips of one of the towers along the Haati-Pul gate gleamed in the sun in one corner of my vision range as my head was tilted towards the fort. Clouds lumbered into sight in no hurry to clash with each other, all peaceful and coy. Now, as I lay waiting for death, this was the most comforting picture I could ever have asked for, the vault of heaven, the ever-tempting bait from my formative years.

The heat was killing although it did not get as bad as the day of the battle. It only ignited a new kind of burn, when sweat streamed down into the fissures of my maggot filled wounds. I still couldn't move from chest down with the dead animal lodged there like a mountain. But, except a few pangs lurking here and there, the pain had lost its significance. The last it actually manifested in a decipherable magnitude was when the damned horse, hit with the Englishman’s canon, reeled out of balance and ploughed right into me. When I regained consciousness, it was all over and from my neglected state, it didn’t take much to know which side made it. My hands were dead for two days already under the rotting weight of the martyred colt, and the rest were heading there by the minute. I remember, I had wailed for help immediately after I regained senses, but had gradually lost it to thirst, exhaustion and a broken throat.

Anticipation for death was always in my immediate scheme of things after what happened in Jhansi, and there was nothing more gallant than death on the war-field for a soldier. But stranded in a world in-between for almost a week is not what I expected when we overthrew the Gwalior fort, fleeing Jhansi. I'm not sure if I was still more worried than curious about the Rani. The last I saw of her was her frantic silhouette eviscerating a Hussar with her blade in the middle of a conflagration of dust and blood. Little Damodar Rao should have survived, as he was not bundled up on her back this time.

The color of the sky gradually dimmed. Was it twilight already? Or was my time up? The vultures, with their prayers for me to die out completely, have gotten back on circling. The blue up there, even with its lusterless display still had all my attention. Was it that, which made my hair stand on end? Or was it the tugging on my feet that I could only faintly feel? The wolves were back, and they were making their first move on me.

The distant persuasive voice of mother rang from beyond the blue. It went on for some time, and then it abruptly stopped.
(This short story was entered for an online writing contest with NOSTALGIA as the theme and word-limit 1000. The results were taking too long, or, taking the hint, I lost already!)

Tuesday, July 9, 2013


When it comes to suspense and intrigue, one definitely has this inner calling to sit through till the end even if the curled up legs under you dies from sleep. So one is riveted to the chair when BBC’s The Shadow Line, the seven part mini series about murder, deceit and conspiracy, is on, from beginning till end. But was it worth all that paralyzing numbness killing your lower half? Well, guess what! There is good news as well as bad news. 
To start with the good side, it is as much intriguing and riveting in plot elements, as it is striking in its visual imagery. The series deals with crime and human nature, dwelling prominently on the grey areas of morality. It follows the investigation of a murder, presented in visceral details in the opening shots, and carried out, at the same time, by the two affected parties, the cops and the criminals. In that way, we are presented two different views and approaches that more often than not collides, leaving sparks on the way. The plot tightens, thickness and deepens as we are unhurriedly (operative word) shown layers after layers of the characters and their lives closely knit around the chronicles of events involving, among other things, drug trafficking and dirty money.
One is fascinated by the way silence is handled all through. The calm after the storm, rather than the storm itself, is very often and interestingly used to incite chill in the viewer. They are then pepped up with half-lit faces and silhouettes making the chill to shiver. There are some pitiless bone-chilling scenes that will stick in your craw long after it is over.
Another commendable effort is the use of striking elements of film noir.  A few minutes into the narrative, it becomes quite evident that the director has preferred style to realism, and the style is noir, which is efficiently washed across the screen in consistent lavishness till the last minute. The slickness of the looks add to the precision with which The Shadow Line slashes through the story with the cunning of a surgical blade- clean and quiet.
Now, for the bad news, The Shadow Line was not a love at first sight. It took time before the  the long brooding conversations in whispers and the silhouettes against lit windows, sank in. The apathy that you feel towards the characters in the beginning of the show continues till its over. In brief, you don’t really care as to what happens to them, except that you enjoy the way it happens. There are times when you feel, “come to the point, already!” when the dialogues get all tedious and indirect in succession. I shall reserve my comments on the suspense, as that is for you to decide.
But all in all, The Shadow Line is a technically sound package with some great cinematic moments and it will certainly appeal to a section of the audience who unconditionally appreciate suspense thrillers and crime dramas with an artistic touch.

I picked up The Shadow Line at the suggestion of a friend whose recommendations had almost always worked for me in the past. The only difference this time is that he hasn’t seen it himself before suggesting. So we decide to watch it simultaneously and exchange our feedback. He is a great critic and the best creative writer (unsurpassed in humor, in particular) I have known personally, all my life. So read on his review here The Shadow Line. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013


The story of the princess who became a slave, and then a saint
The meeting was catastrophic. The Client’s distant relative who tagged along with her “profound insights into the art called architecture” couldn’t shut her trap. We ended up talking way little about the project alongside her obsession on jewelry, and cooking, and her giant Rajapalayam dog called Alibaba, and above all, India! She was one of those ‘proud’ Indians who were always complaining about how the rest of the world was sponging on India to get ideas to incorporate into their culture and how ‘everybody’ has always been stealing off everything from ‘us’ since time immemorial. The overpriced buffet spread at the restaurant with a bad Indianised variant of Mexican food is what got her started off in that area- how the Indian palette swam across oceans to give ‘them’ a little idea on taste! (I was already having a migraine attack and was speculating on the possibilities of pushing her out through the window). She went on and on about it, none of which is worth mentioning here, but an interesting detail about what inspired the traditional dress for women in the Mexican Republic called China Poblana caught my attention, since it involved a little story that amused me. We will come to our petite ‘patriotic’ friend’s version of the legend later, as it’s hilarious. But the widely accepted fable has it that, an Indian girl, who was kidnapped and sold in the slave market to end up in Puebla in Mexico, was the inspiration behind the China Poblana. Her name was Meera.

Meera (1606-1688) was just eleven or twelve years old when Portuguese pirates abducted her and brought to southern India (Cochin, in Kerala) for slave trade. Either that, or she was captured from Cochin, to where her family was displaced by the Portuguese. (There are versions that claim she was a princess in her province in Rajasthan, or Gujarat perhaps). She was evangelized and baptized by the Jesuits in Cochin, and was given the name Catherina de San Joan. Her captors then took her to various ports before ending up in Manila (present day Philippines) from where she was ferried to Acapulco in New Spain (present day Mexico) in a trade ship called Manila Galleon to work as a slave for the viceroy Marques de Gélves. At Acapulco she was in turn sold to Don Miguel de Sosa of Puebla by the merchant captain for tenfold the prize.
Childless Miguel de Sosa and his wife Margarita de Chavez took Meera a.k.a. Catherina de San Joan in as their own child. Her story continues with her not gaining the Sosa inheritance after their death and she beginning to have visions of the child Jesus and angels till her death at the age of 82, ailing and poor. By then lot was done by her presence there. In addition to having her fame grow as something similar to that of a prophetess, the Indian outfit she continued to sport had a lasting impact on her admirers. This is what is believed to have given rise to what is known as China Poblana in Mexico. China Poblana meaning “the Chinese woman from Puebla”, is the name with which Meera was known since Asians in general were called 'Chinese' in those days. 

Coming from northern India (Rajasthan or Gujarat or Agra even), Meera should have worn either Lehenga-choli or Gaghra-choli (skirt and blouse) with odhni (the drape/ shawl/ stole), the likeness of which to the China Poblana is undeniable. Both the outfits have three major components, omitting the frills, a blouse, a skirt and a shawl. Even though the dress has become a distinguishable imagery of Mexican women world over, today you get to see them dressed in China Poblana only during folk dances, tourist fiestas and holiday celebrations.

While Meera a.k.a. Catherina de San Joan has become a kind of homegrown icon in Mexico, many still claims she never existed. But my Client’s ‘patriotic’ relative surely did. In addition to all the known legends associated with the China Poblana, she also had an indigenous version to add on to the details. According to her, Meera was Meerabai, the mystical Indian princess, poet and celebrated devotee of lord Krishna!!! (Don’t mind, the woman is actually nuts). She even drew parallels between Meerabai’s visions of Krishna to that of Catherina de San Joan’s vision of baby Jesus and angels. That Meerabai lived almost a century before China Poblana or that she never stepped out of Rajasthan, least to mention India, did not seem to affect her beliefs. I couldn’t care less as a little later I did a somersault jump out of the window screaming murder. As I plummeted to my death, I could hear her switch to a new topic behind me, how the Spanish stole dance moves from Kathak to pep up Flamenco! She just keeps coming back at you like ninjas. God, save that depraved bitch!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...