By Mallika Bhaumik

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It was an October morning when the call came from the hospital. Anwesha’s Puja vacation was not yet over. Her eyes were glued to the laptop screen when her phone rang. She heard and quietly went and stood near the kitchen door where Bina di was cutting vegetables. Though the news was not at all unexpected, yet Anwesha could not find the words to express it. Bina di, who had worked in the house for the last fifteen years, looked up and saw Anwesha standing.
The stillness of the moment conveyed the loss. She pulled her anchal (loose end of a saree) over her mouth to stifle a sob.
Anwesha changed into her jeans and shirt, took her handbag and went out. She called two of her colleagues who had always been with her through thick and thin.
Anwesha wished Kuhu mashi (maternal aunt) was by her side but she was visiting her daughter in Sydney. She was her mother’s childhood friend and had stood behind their family like a rock.

The Best Asian Speculative Fiction

“Do you want to play with us?”

He looked at them warily. He was used to being ignored. This was one of those playgrounds for rich kids after all. The ones who came in fancy limousines and who carried their own smartphones and credit cards even before they had sprouted pimples on their faces.

And yet, here they were. Three of them, two boys and a girl, staring at him with frank, appraising eyes. The girl was pretty. She couldn’t have been more than ten years old, exactly his own age, with strawberry curls and dimpled cheeks. The boys were similarly good looking, blond, fine boned with firm jaws. They would grow up to be dashing young men. Arrogant and entitled.

 

Flawed-final front

 

Title: FLAWED: The Rise and Fall of India’s Diamond Mogul Nirav Modi

Author: Pavan C. Lall

Publisher: Hachette India, 2019

Links : Amazon 

 

 

 

A BILLIONAIRE FROM NOWHERE: The Creation of a Diamond Mogul

 Nirav Modi did not leave Belgium as a successful entrepreneur, nor did he have any kind of work experience with top Western jewellery houses. While it’s not clear what he intended to do when he returned to India, what is certain is that by around 1999 Nirav Modi had arrived in Mumbai and begun his tutelage under Mehul Choksi. Why did he not, instead, join hands with his other uncle, Chetan Choksi, who was already in Europe? The answer is that there wasn’t much love lost between him and Chetan. Aside from his rapport with Mehul, another factor may have motivated his return. India was at a crossroads after the liberalization of its economy. The future was wide open and for a young entrepreneurial expatriate who had returned to start with the support of an entrenched player, India was a land of endless opportunities.

Once the die was cast, Modi learned how gems and jewellery worked in India. What he learned he would, in turn, pass on to his brother Nishal, including how to work within tight budgets and how to buddy up to midlevel employees in factories by sipping on cutting chai with them during breaks.

 

Modi has claimed that he had always planned for a luxury brand, but during the years that he was with his uncle, and shortly after, he was building up businesses of the diamond supply chain that were of lower-value and that included polishing and trading. But it was fluting, essentially the manual bagging of diamonds for other manufacturers, that gave his company the launch pad it needed, or so Modi would declare publicly. Modi first called his company Firestone, but then changed it to Firestar in 1999 because the former sounded too much like the automotive tyre company. In Modi’s own words, the company gave him consistent profits for the better part of five or six years and, by 2004, Firestar’s revenues crossed `400 crore.

The Best Asian Speculative Fiction

Maharathi Debdutt saw the hennaed foot, dainty, as the passenger stepped off the palanquin. Then the wheel went over it. His deed was done. He did not hear the shrieks that rent the air. From the beautiful princess who was to be wed, she became the hobbling one, the unwanted one.

Ever since Maharathi Debdutt had set eyes on the little one, Rajkumari Heeramoti, she had fascinated him. Her absolute milk white skin, the fragility of her limbs, her big black eyes and tumbling black curls, were a delight. He would watch her at play from a distance. He was a horse rider and a charioteer, and he was not allowed within the palace.

The Best Asian Speculative Fiction

The sulphur gas hissed and smoke was issuing every few metres from the porous rocks. The clouds churned in the sky with lightning in ugly shades of grey black. The landscape lay broken and crying from the third cataclysm.

But what scared Rangar the most wasn’t the dangers on the land but what lay ahead.

The road, once upon a time it may have been a road, was broken. It was littered with potholes, rocks lining hot mud pools that steamed and an occasional geyser of magma. His blistered feet hurt, even wrapped in multiple layers of clothes. He looked up at the path he was following up to the mountain which was still spewing smoke and gases into the air.

How did the witch Manap survive here, he thought?

The Best Asian Speculative Fiction

They said the fog was made of the tears of the old soldiers, those who left the town to make long journeys to god-knew-where. The soldiers grieved, those who stayed back said, for the homes they had left behind, and for the memories that were forced to linger. After all, if you left the fog behind you, there was nothing left of your past. You left your memories at the brink of the cliff, and started anew.

The fog covered the town in its entirety. There were days the thumb-shaped hill across the river would disappear in the mist, then there were days when the fog sneaked into bedrooms. It had a peculiar taste which everybody said was the taste of longing—a taste of the tears of the men who had left.

Husbands and wives had learnt to use their other senses than their sight. The children would play with the mist, sometimes twirling it around their fingers as they did with fireflies that ventured into the town, drawing shapes as one would on a fogged-out glass pane. Or they would play hide and seek in the fog, even though everybody warned them not to trust it as they would their dogs, or their cows, or the goats. The fog was not a pet, the women whose faces had wrinkles of sadness said, it had been here since forever, even before they settled in this bowl near the river.

The Best Asian Speculative Fiction

Tia’s eyes fluttered open. She looked about herself— blinking at the bright blue sky. Where was she?

A town square of some sort. The landscaped roundabout at the centre had a marble fountain that spouted water energetically in the air, and wrought iron benches arranged just out of spraying range, but there was nobody around. There were shops all around, their awnings fluttering gently. An ice-cream shop, a café, a tattoo studio, a garments shop, a salon and spa, a gym … all empty and shuttered.

Even as she took it all in, she felt a growing sense of familiarity. The other question in her mind—where had she been all this time?—began to fade. She had a vague sense of a long incarceration, but where, by whom, and for what, evinced no ready recall in her consciousness. She looked down at herself. Did she imagine it, or had the pale grey of her incarceration changed before her very eyes to the red top and embroidered denim cut-offs that were familiar and comforting so that she knew immediately that they had always been hers? Had that bracelet on her wrist with those particular charms, the red polish on her nails, the auburn highlights in her hair and the sequined heels on her feet appeared just now, or had they always been there? With every passing moment it was getting harder to know. Or to care.

The Best Asian Speculative Fiction

When she walked into the room, every eye in that place rested on her, as though she was a magnet and we were all iron filings.

Sarika was her name—I found that out later, after my eyes had examined every inch of her body and her face from where I was sitting. A mad wave of desire swept over me and I felt as though I was possessed. Have you ever felt like that? I hope not. It was something which had no hint of romance in it. I had to have her. The last vestiges of propriety and polite behaviour that had been long back instilled into me were cast off, like winter clothes at the beach.

The club was noisy, filled with nameless faceless people, gyrating in time to the dull droning of one hip hop song after another. I walked over to her, drink in hand, a salacious smile on my lips. I looked around to make sure that she was alone.

Translated by Abhisek Sarkar

The Best Asian Speculative Fiction

Chhabi has expired.

Chhabila died close to day break. She had been choked to death. Her one year old child Etim, following his usual morning practice, is trying quite hard to suck some milk out of one of her breasts.

Patuki has no inkling about who killed Chhabi. Although it is not unknown to him that this is not a natural death, he is yet to discover that the man he spotted approaching Chhabi’s house early in the morning was the killer. But the very next night Patuki would come to know who killed Chhabila. The one who would be his source of information is the most reliable of all. The rich and the poor, thieves and thugs, the good and the bad, all have respect for him. It is only Patuki who he speaks with. But the day is still young and he has to wait long for nightfall. How long will he have to cope with this hubble-bubble in his stomach, with this uncanny sensation running through his veins?

The man who visited Chhabila at dawn had also been seen coming out of her house late in the night. Patuki spends the whole of the night at the southern bank of the pond behind dense bushes, fishing pole in hand. Long aerial roots of a great banyan tree surround this place. These bushes entice him. The night has its own allure. Only Allah knows why people waste these hours sleeping. Patuki does not sleep; he cannot. The long fishing line of Patuki does not have a hook hence the float also is redundant. He has seen people climbing up his fishing thread from the water— many of them. They climb throughout the night and bless Patuki. Then they climb up those roots of the banyan tree. Now they turn into fireflies and fly around the Banyan pir.

Dara Shukoh

 

 

Title: Dara Shukoh: The Man Who Would Be King

Author: Avik Chanda

Publisher: Harper Collins India, India

Links: Amazon

 

 

In the majlises at his residence, Dara revelled at the prospect of pitching the proponents of different faiths against each other, in a theosophical joust. For a while, Jesuits, with their fervour of preaching and advocating the superiority of their faith, were the fashion of the season in Dara’s mansion. Father Estanilas Malpica, Pedro Juarte, Henri Buzeo and Heinrich Roth shocked and regaled those present, and later, after the debate was over, sat at table with the Prince and shared the wine together. As regards the Prince’s own views in the matter, as Bernier, who came to know him personally, commented: ‘Dara was in private a Gentile with Gentiles, and a Christian with Christians.’ This stemmed not from any innate sense of diplomacy – indeed, Dara had none – but a firm belief in the commonality between religions, an advocacy of the tenets that sustained like an unbroken thread across them, rather than the rituals and doctrines that separated them, causing strife and suffering.

And yet, there were times Dara was not so aloof from the world that none of its news reached him. There was strife and dissent in the empire – and it was directed against him. It was not only the greybeards at court, the statesmen and generals, who felt slighted by him. There was another, equally powerful enemy: the orthodox Islamic clergy. Since ages, there had been an unwritten agreement between the religious and administrative leadership. There was the rule of the Church – and that of noble kings, Brahmin priests and Kshatriya rajahs, and elsewhere across the Muslim empires, ulema and sultans divided the land and their people between themselves. But now, here was Dara, the Crown Prince of Hindustan, who challenged their authority; scorned them for their rigidity, and supposed lack of divine insight and spiritual experiences; and vilified them in his speeches and published writings. Dara had far overstepped his mark as a Prince of the realm, and amongst the disgruntled orthodoxy, there were rumblings of heresy.