Friday, July 31, 2015

The Cursed Kohinoor

This story was written at a workshop for children's writing, inspired by a door knob. 

The Queen was livid. How could this be true? No, there was no way this was possible. After all the Kohinoor has belonged to the Royal family for over a hundred and fifty years when it was first brought to London from Bombay on that special ship.

“Good Morning, Krishna, where is father?”

“Sahib has already left for the treasury with someone, baba.” Krishna replied as he lay the breakfast at the table.

Edward’s father had left early again. Edward had hardly seen him since his return from London; he could barely wait to hear the stories of the voyage. Oh! How he loved them. His favourite was the one in which father had defeated three pirate ships in one night. No wonder he was the Queen’s favourite.

Edward on the other hand never had much news for father. He went to an uninteresting school with uninteresting boys in the uninteresting town of Bombay. He terribly missed his old school and if given a chance he would run back to London today. But the last four days had been different; he had at last made a friend. And he so badly wanted to tell father about him.

“Father! I have been waiting to see you.” Edward hugged his father tightly as he saw him coming out of his study that afternoon.

“Hello Edward! His father said smiling at him.” Meet Governor Paul Nash.

“How do you do, Sir?” Edward bowed to the gentleman with a smile. He had not noticed him until now.

“How do you do Edward? I see you are fine boy. John will be glad to meet you.”

“John?” Edward was surprised to hear his new friend’s name.

“John is my son, he has joined school just four days ago.”

Edward could not believe when he discovered that father’s new friend Governor Paul Nash was John’s father.


“John, Do you know I met your father yesterday? He had come home”

“Yes, father told me too. I could hardly believe you are the fortunate one with the Kohinoor.”

“Kohi….. what?”
“Kohinoor. You don’t know? That diamond that your father is taking to the Queen and my father is helping him do it.”

“My father is going to the Queen? You mean to say he is going to England again?”

“I don’t know everything Edward, but I overheard father telling mother about some precious diamond called Kohinoor, which has been presented to Her Majesty by an Indian prince. Your father seems to be in-charge of taking it to London. And do you know it is supposed to be haunted?”

“Kohinoor? Haunted? I don’t understand anything. And father has just returned from London, how can he go back so soon? He has not even told me the stories from the ship yet.”

For the rest of the morning Edward could barely pay attention to his lessons. His father had been rather busy since his return from England and they had not spent any time together. And now John was saying he was to go back. But what Edward was most worried about was the Kohinoor and that thing about it being haunted. He decided to ask father.

In the evening, as soon as Edward reached home, he ran to the study. He had seen father’s carriage in the driveway and was sure he was in the study. The doors to the study however were shut. This was unusual. He was wondering if or not to go inside when he saw Krishna, carrying tea inside.

“Good evening, baba. When did you return?” Krishna asked cheerfully.

“Good evening, Krishna. Is father inside? I want to see him.”

“Not now, baba. He is very busy and does not want to be disturbed. He has asked me to serve you supper and put you to bed.”

Edward walked towards his room glumly, his head full of questions and feet heavy with disappointment. “I need to find out what is happening.” He said to himself and decided to take matters in his hands.

After supper, when Krishna had retired to his quarters and father was still at the study, Edward crept down the staircase into the hallway. He quietly walked up to the door and stood next to it trying to listen the conversation inside, but all he could hear through the thick wooden door was muffled voices so he walked to the other end of the hallway where the window was. He could now hear them clearly.

“It is a dangerous exercise, Sir. I have heard the stone is cursed and ….”

“I am aware of that Governer Nash, but it is an honour for me to carry out this exercise for Her Highness. Plus there is no evidence of the curse, it’s just folklore.”

“Don’t you know that anyone who has laid his hands on Kohinoor has met with the same fate. Look what happened to the Mughals, and Nadir Shah and Maharaja Ranjit Singh they all…”

“I am aware of it Governer Nash, but one must carry out his duty. We shall leave in two days by the special ship that reaches here tomorrow from China. The chest will be transferred to my bungalow at night and in the morning we will carry it with us along with our attach├ęs and trunks, lest someone suspect it of having the Kohinoor.”

“Very well then, Sir.”

Edward could hear his heart beat in his chest. His legs trembled and he sat down on the carpet next to the large marble statue of the Queen. “So what John had said was true. Father was indeed carrying something for the Queen which was cursed and may have caused harm to father like it did to all others.”

Edward could hardly sleep that night. He did not know what had happened to the Mughals or Nadir Shah or Ranjit Singh, but he knew it could not be anything nice. No, there was no way he could let any harm be done to father, with mother already gone he was all Edward had.

“John, can you tell me more about the Kohinoor?” Edward asked John at school next morning.

“Oh! Kohinoor! Father was saying whoever possess it dies. He said it had killed Nadir Shah, and the Mughals and now even Maharaja Ranjit Singh.”

“I think it is only a story. Don’t all kings die eventually?” Edward tried to act nonchalant even though a slight chill ran down his spine as he tried to imagine what could the diamond do to his father: Shipwreck? Pirate attack? Death?

That evening when he returned father was not home. Krishna told Edward that he had gone to meet the Viceroy and had instructed that under no circumstances should Edward go to the study. He was to have his supper in his room and sleep early.

Soon Krishna got busy in the kitchen, Edward avoided his eye and ran straight to the study. He was sure the study hid answers to all his questions. The doors to the study were fortunately ajar unlike yesterday. He went in quietly ensuring Krishna did not hear him. What he saw there surprised him.

In the corner of the large room he saw Governor Nash squatting in-front of a small chest struggling with something. Every few seconds he glanced over his shoulder towards the window as if checking for someone. Edward was not sure if he should stay or leave. He was not supposed to be here, but even Governor Nash should not have been here, should he?

Curious about what was going on, Edward also squatted beside the large desk. He could now see everything. Mr. Nash had a red velvet pouch in one hand and with the other he was struggling to open the chest with a large brass key.
Edward was frightened: was Governor Paul trying to steal something? And was this the chest father had spoken about last night? He decided to go and tell Krishna about it. As he stumbled up to his feet, his head hit against the desk and a vase fell off. The noise startled Mr. Nash and he swiftly made his way out of the open window. In the rush he left the key and the red velvet pouch on the carpet.

Edward was confused: should he go and call Krishna or should he check what Governor Nash had been holding? He decided to look at the things first: what if someone tried to steal them again?

The content of the little red velvet bag – a large shiny stone – almost blinded him. Was this the Kohinoor? And the key? Why was Governor Nash trying to steal it? Wasn’t he here to help father?

A thousand questions cropped up in his mind as he sat on the carpet clenching the pouch in one hand and the key in another. Before he could answer any he heard his father’s carriage draw inside the gate. He picked the two things and ran to his room.

He had barely hidden the key and the pouch in his trunk when father walked inside.

“How are you Edward?”

“I am alright father.” Words barely came out of his mouth.

“Would you like to come to London with me, tomorrow? I have some work and you could spend some time at granny’s.” I will have Krishna arrange your luggage.

“Are we taking the Kohinoor with us?” Edward could barely control his words.

“Oh! So you found out.”

“John told me, father.”

“It is a matter of great pride to serve the Queen, Edward. Soon the diamond will be embellished in Her Highness’ crown and will make England shine all through the world.” Edward saw father’s eyes lighting up and chest swelling with pride.

“I will come with you, father.” It was better to go with dad and face the same fate as him than let him go alone to the sea with the cursed stone.

“By the way, Governor Nash is not coming with us. He has suddenly taken ill and has left for a hill station with his family.”

So what Edward was thinking was right. Governor Nash had come to steal father’s diamond and replace it with the other one before going on a holiday. Soon a plan started to brew in his little mind.

Edward and his father boarded the ship next morning. Along with their trunks came the small chest that had been in the study last night. Edward was carrying the key and the stone in his trunk. His plan was well thought out.

He had a lovely day at the sea. Father told him all his favourite sea stories and some new ones too. Krishna cooked his favourite biryani and curry and they ate at the deck over looking the large ocean and the seagulls ducking and catching the fish around their ship.

Father retired early that night. He had been tired with all the work he had had to do in the last few weeks and needed rest. Krishna kept him company until late and told him Indian war tales including that of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and the Moghuls. Late in the night after tucking Edward in bed, Krishna also went to his cabin to sleep. But Edward could barely wink.

The rays of a bright full moon steamed inside the chambers of the ship through the small windows. As he slowly walked up to the inner chamber, all Edward could hear was the sound of his own footsteps. It took his some time and effort to find his way, but for the moonlight he was sure to be lost.

His hands trembled as he settled inside struggling with the lock in the dark. He didn’t even know if the key belonged to the chest, and what would happen if father or Krishna were to see him? Will they think he was stealing? But this was no time to think. He worked quickly; once inside the slot it took only two turns of the key to unlock the chest.

His heart was beating faster than ever now; his mouth dried and his eyes widened with amazement at what he saw inside. Another red pouch with a similar stone rested in a blue velvet tray. The only difference: this pouch had the royal emblem on it and the stone was shinier. Edward quietly exchanged the contents of the two bags, locked the chest and traced his steps back. Only when he reached the deck and felt the sea breeze on his face did he realize that he was drenched in sweat.

He heart leapt to his throat with fear and excitement as he walked towards the end of the deck slowly but surely. Standing at the edge of the deck with a swing of his hand Edward flung the red velvet pouch in the ocean and along with it the Kohinoor. A smile of relief finally came on to his little face. With the cursed stone now gone nothing could take his father away from him. 

The ship with Edward, his father and the Kohinoor reached the shores of London in a few months. The diamond was taken to the palace and encrusted in the British Crown. Of course no one knows that it is a replica of the real one that lies buried in the sea.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Not So Secret Endevours Of My Friend

My weekend started in an usual manner. Instead of getting out of the bed and heading straight to the balcony like I usually do, I reached for my phone. I had picked it up to check if our guests had reached home fine. They had left late night, and I had fallen asleep soon after. As is the case with smartphones, the messages of their welfare led me to my inbox, and inbox to Twitter. From the app, following one of my published pieces I happened to arrive on a friend's page. Since I do not follow him on Twitter, I decided to browse through his profile.

They say you can tell a lot about a man by looking at his twitter account -- who he follows and who follow him. (OK, I just made that up. But I am certain such a phrase will soon be invented if it doesn't yet exist). Anyway, the first picture I noticed on his page was that of a naked woman: a nice, flat abdomen, and bare breasts. Breasts? I checked again. They were breasts all right. Now, you might be ready for anything early in the morning, but you are certainly not ready for a pair of naked breasts staring at you -- unless you are a man (although I am not sure if they would like it either).

The sight jolted me out of my hangover and curiosity got the better of me. I clicked on the picture and reached a page where I was to see many more such pictures (I shall spare you the details). Since I was on the phone, and quite perturbed by the discovery (I have not heard my heart beat so fast in years), I hardly noticed anything else. I was also worried: what if husband finds me checking out naked women while he makes the morning coffee? I quickly shut my browser, cleared the history and kept the phone away.

For the rest of the morning I found myself distracted and disturbed. Distracted because I cannot handle nudity -- it makes me queasy. Disturbed because I happened to see it on a close friend's page who I greatly respect and admire. Visions of him fidgeting with his phone -- or laptop -- all nightlong, doing unmentionable things started cropping up in my mind. I also found myself scrutinising his behaviour, looking for signs of perversion: did he ever do -- or say -- anything to me that he should not have? Does he indulge in such activities often? Should I continue my friendship with him or should I withdraw? Or at least distance myself from him?

Everyday while looking up things on Facebook I come across numerous pages that sell and promote sex. (I now know they also exist on twitter). A couple of times, just out of curiosity, I have opened them too, only to be repulsed and shut them up quickly. But that is besides the point. The point is: when I cannot curb my curiosity to look at things that come my way, why was I so uncomfortable finding it on his page? Was it be because I did not expect him, a respectable man of over forty, to be looking up porn -- and I am assuming that he was, I may be wrong -- or was it because I did not want to acknowledge that it might be completely normal to do something like this.

Hypocrisy surrounding sex in our society is not new. Sex is like daily ambulations: we all know we all do it but we never acknowledge it. Just as we "freshen up" in the morning, we also "go to bed" at night (and produce babies as a by product). And porn? I am not sure if an alibi for that even exists. So it was only natural for me, a person brought up with with modest middle class values, to begin to judge someone who not only talks about it openly but also flaunts it on his wall.

But then, the same middle class values also tell me what he does in his bedroom is none of my business.

After hours of turmoil (it can be painful, trust me), I decided to tell him about it: I have known him long enough to know this could not have been intentional. No one -- least of all a man so cautious about his public image -- wants to spill the beans on his personal life on a public platform. But the question was -- how do I tell him? I could not tell him on phone: what if I embarrassed him, even worse, myself? Messaging was out of the question: what if his wife read it? And I could of course not wait until we met. So I decided to mail him. I wrote a long mail justifying my being on his page and accidentally discovering his favourite past-time. I got no response, but in a matter or minutes that handle was off his account. I heaved a sigh of relief.

Next morning I saw on his wall a butt vs boobs map of the world. I uninstalled the app from my phone.