A PEARL WITHIN AN OYSTER

There is a place

where jewelled cobwebs

dot the hillside

my father’s smile

never wavers

and the rocks

feel solid beneath my feet.

The mist swirls in the valleys

a potent sea

spewing stories

which my brother

conjures out of the vaporous void.

A magician

spinning a different web each day.

And yet it is I

who tell tales now.

Fishing in that timeless sea

of the past

finding

old shoes

a rotted corpse

but sometimes

a pearl within an oyster…

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Rani Lakshmibai


The fascination probably dates from having to learn the poem “Jhansi ki Rani” by Subhadra Kumari Chauhan, or maybe the Hindi lesson in which young Manu (Manikarnika was the Rani’s original name, changed to Lakshmibai when she got married) helps a frightened Nana. It could even possibly be from a history lesson on the freedom movement–though it seems unlikely considering our oh-so-boring history books. However, ever since I picked up Mahashweta Devi’s biography I had a secret hankering to some day write about this astonishing woman. Call it serendipity or the fact that somewhere someone is listening, but the book happened on its own, being commissioned. Reading about the freedom movement, especially the 1857 War of Independence is heady stuff–can arouse strong emotions. Personally, I feel this inner turmoil contributes much to the writing process. Sifting fact from legend can never be completed to your absolute satisfaction, especially where a figure like the Rani is concerned, so some doubts will always remain. The incident I liked best was when young Manu, denied an elephant ride by Nana and Balasaheb, retorts: ‘I will ride ten elephants!’ What a sense of destiny (if correctly recorded)!
And then the postscript–bumping into someone related by marriage to the Rani’s paternal family. Too bad it was only after the book came out–but that’s life for you!