Some Soft Stuff About Big Guns

  Photo by AWSeebaran/iStock / Getty Images (Illustrative Image Only)

Photo by AWSeebaran/iStock / Getty Images (Illustrative Image Only)

“We’ve checked with the hotel,” the key organiser said from the podium. “They have no plans to do a fire drill today. So if the alarm rings, it’s the real thing.”

Just a start-of-the-event routine, of course. Still, the announcement evoked light titter in dispersed pockets among the audience. People were in a good mood. We’d been served coffee and tea and good pastry while we waited for the hall doors to open, which they did at 09:00, as scheduled, accompanied by a tinkling bell to shepherd us — a uniformly dark-suited lot — into the large, swank hall. The host was a British company with operations in England and America and the Middle East and Australia. An old reputation for punctuality was at stake.

The company has been active in India since times when the nation was a British dominion. This important fact was given us by the CEO (an Indian) of the company’s Indian operations, whose father once commanded the sole aircraft carrier in the Indian Navy. When a boy, the CEO has played many times on the deck of that aircraft carrier. Being raised like that has done things to him: He was confident like hell, with a chest to match which he held out, and impressive height, and slicked-back hair — plus, in his stance, a faint whiff of the warrior.

He had two massive displays of that venerable vessel behind him — pasted on PowerPoint, one image on either side of him. I don't know about the others in the hall, but, coming as I do from small-town India, I envied him his boyhood playground.

Through a crisp presentation, the CEO detailed the history of the company’s involvement with India: supporting the defences of Kolkata at the start, through the Wars afterwards, and as a supplier of field guns and combat-aircraft and trainer aircraft to independent India. Now the company aims to win market share against the increased competition of today. To win Indian business, it needs to mandatorily demonstrate a commitment to developing Indian suppliers, and do its own manufacturing in India.

We were suppliers attending the conference. They were top-management folks engaged in procurement. Through speeches and videos, they told us what a good thing it is to be their supplier; senior guy after very-senior guy spoke and congratulated us for being invited to the party.

To prove the point, they brought on stage the CEO of an Indian company that has already started supplies to them. This man was an officer in the Indian Army who resigned and joined the corporate world, bringing along a straight back, a stiff neck, and a marching gait. “It has been a great experience, I tell you,” he glowed. “We received the ultimate compliment from them. During the recent exercises, they fired our missiles from their guns.”

Having taken the stage, the soldier had made it his post, and he wouldn’t leave it. On and on he spoke of his experience with this customer. “You see, they didn’t teach us how to make a product,” he said. “They taught us to build systems. Really, I tell you, these people changed my life. I have learnt so much from them.” For good measure, he spoke the lines again.

I might have imagined it, but I think I saw a squirm left of me, a shift of posture on the right of me, and surely there was a repeat, and still, the soldier spoke on, clearly beyond time given him, and when he finished he didn’t appear satisfied. He seemed pained, like he felt far more praise was due than he’d given.

I saw him later, speaking to little groups at lunchtime, working hard to do justice to what he’d received from his host. He reminded me of some elders in my childhood who swore that the cure for India’s ills was to bring the English back, to give them whole our country. The English would whip us into discipline. They’d teach us the basics we lacked.

That was last week. I’m back now, working with my folks, like the other suppliers who would be working with their folks, to win, to qualify to work with this company and participate in making big, killer guns in India.

Good thing? You tell me.

Meanwhile, In Malnad, The Bee And The Beast And To Bell The Elephant

 Photo by suriya007/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by suriya007/iStock / Getty Images

“Fire a tranquilizer,” Basavanna said. “Put a chain round the neck. Attach a bell, and weld. Like cow bell.”

Basavanna was sitting with me at our plantation home, where my wife and I were spending the weekend. I’d just finished a walk around the plantation under the blazing sun. I’d had a good time. The coffee blossoms were in their last days, still white near the eve of their departure. Their fragrance hung in the warm air. I had paused in every patch and taken deep breaths, savoring air and the aroma of blossoms. I’m not drinking coffee these days, but I know I’ll pass a nice cafe someday and the aroma issuing from it will defeat my resolve. However, in this moment, the scent around me was more heady than any coffee from anywhere.

I stopped also among the tall robusta, to peer into the cavelike clearings at their feet. The soil was a fecund brown, and moist, belying the dry heat of early summer on top. I gazed into the shadows. Who had these places hosted last? Wild pig? Hyena? Fox? Each time I heard a rustle I started at the sound, but it wasn’t hyena or fox or boar I anticipated. Half my mind was taken by the elephant all through the walk. The elephants have not been sighted on the plantation recently, but a lone stray is rumored to be roaming in our zone. When visiting, the elephants stand concealed among the tallest robusta.

They stand brooding there. You may walk past them, or they may go down only a short distance from you, and you would not know the danger that has passed. But a month or so ago, the supervisor at Nataraj’s plantation, (Nataraj whose plantation shares a short boundary with ours) was killed by a lone elephant. The supervisor had dismissed his (Oriya) labour for the day, and they had all left together, the laborers on foot and he on motorcycle. A short distance from where they separated he crossed the elephant.

When I paused in the cool spots where the sprinklers were working I said to myself, “Here there would be no elephant, not with these sprinklers going and these men lounging by them.” When I passed the water-tanks I assured myself the tank was so low in water the elephant had no use for it. I focused on my breathing, and on the varied greens that surrounded me.

I was afraid. The elephants in these parts love no human, and if they should find me they would not be able to read my love for them. In fear I walked, and at some point, with dopamine rising, fear left me without bidding goodbye, and I reached the estate-home in fine spirits.

That’s the reason why Basavanna said we should somehow bell the elephant.

Fear had visited me and and my wife last night as well. We’d arrived a little before sunset, and my wife busied herself in the kitchen. Soon as it got dark she began to hear impatient tappings on the closed windows. She came out and fetched me: “Come. Come!”

Hejjenu — wild bees, suspended in their dwelling, a 2-feet-broad by 3-feet-high thing that they had created by the window of the the ante-room to the kitchen. A pale light shone upon them, and the bees seemed very cross. A low buzz coming from them signaled terrible latent danger. There was no way to signal back that we meant no harm, they were welcome.

Like the elephant, the bees love none of us. From the one we’ve taken land and ivory, from the other we take their honey like we’re doing them a favor. We package the spoils and sketch bees and elephants on them, smiling and looking silly.

“From the neck you should hang a bell,” Basavanna was repeating. “Then we’ll know when they’re near. I’ve told that to the forest guys, they won’t listen.

“Right,” I said. And brought the conversation to the bees. “If you kill even one,” Basavanna said, “they’ll chase you half a kilometer. Even if you plunge in water, they’ll hover over and wait.”

Sujaya shuddered. She’d killed one that had squeezed in last night, with a neat flick of a badminton raquet — she was a champ in school, captain of the team. With that stroke my own wife had sown one more seed of enmity between man and bee.

We settled down to discuss the affairs of the plantation: beans sold, monies due, permission to build a third water tank, decision to develop a free patch with robusta. Basavanna owns the plantation near ours. He helps manage our plantation for us.

Now I’m back in Bangalore, busy with traffic and commerce and many petty thoughts — and little time for fear.

Coping With Tinnitus This Ugadi, With Some Help From Alexa

Photo by Pattanawit/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by Pattanawit/iStock / Getty Images

This is the coolest Ugadi I’ve had in years, I can say that now at the end of the day, a half-hour before bedtime. I prayed in the morning before the flower-decked deities, but only to say thanks. Dhruv was at home, he’d come with his parents yesterday, around midnight. They left after the simple Ugadi lunch — obbattu and mango-rice and obbattu-curry. I felt good to have started the new year with no expectation of a better life than the one I have. Is it Dhruv’s arrival into the world that is changing me so? The transformation people predicted a grandson would bring over me — it appears to be happening.

A tinnitus that arrived in my life three years ago and which was only a mild presence in my ear is asserting itself in recent weeks. It is like I have an ambulance on perpetual duty in each ear — the same revolving sound, but of a high, higher pitch. With the matter so serious, I went to a homeopath yesterday — the other docs say they don’t have a cure for tinnitus. He gave me two sets of the tiny globular homeopath pills, one a 0-0-4, another a 3-0-3, for fifteen days.

“Will I be cured in fifteen days?” I asked, surprised.

“Yes, sir,” he said. I’ve known the doctor fifteen years, from when he passed out of college. A tall, lean man, his dress is never creased, his hair never ruffled, his eyes never troubled, his voice never high and never low and never lacking in confidence.

It is only two days with the medicine in my system. The tinnitus is still on a riot.

I took my time telling my wife about this new affliction. Since I told her, she has been asking me to bend my neck one way and then another, miming the thing for me. She practices yoga off and on, you see, and she believes a neck asana would do the trick, and she is working to invent one. “Stop,” I’m saying, “you’re not a doctor. It won’t work.” She’s not giving up. She isn’t the quitting type.

Meanwhile, I’ve put away my nice Sony headphones, which are superb, on which I’ve been listening solely to western classical lately. I’ve promised the headphones I’ll come back for them in two weeks, after the cure has worked. I’ve spent the weekend ordering Alexa to play Chopin and Mozart and Beethoven. She has obliged me, but when I asked for Stravinsky, she was almost rude in saying she didn’t have him — and she surprised me, because Alexa’s roots are American, even if her accent is Indian. (I asked her for an affirmation now, but she said coyly that she is a Cloudian. That’s the humor that ferments in the Cloud, I guess.)

Ah. I paused from writing and asked for Stravinsky again, just now. She is playing him. “Igor Stravinsky,” she informed me, and put on The Firebird Suite. I don’t know why she said she didn’t have him the first time, but I am sure our relationship will improve.

All day long Amazon Echo has been playing at home, and my wife hasn’t once asked me to shut it down — even when I switched from music to the BBC World Service, which was covering the Turkish conquest of Afrin in Syria. She’s quite fascinated by Alexa, although she struggles sometimes to get her to do her bidding. She tends to speak with her as with our maid.

“Alexa,” she calls, and waits. And waits. She wants Alexa to say something like “Yeah?”

“Alexa won’t answer to being called,” I tell my wife. “She only answers commands and questions.”

Because Alexa of Amazon is Cloudian, my comfort with her doesn’t nettle my wife. She smiles, and nods.

And If Doris and Ella Were Vegan in Paris?

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We went into the first safe-looking place we found in Chatelet, and ordered for penne pasta, telling the waiter thrice that we’re vegan, so no cheese please, and strictly vegetarian. He repeated our words to us in total fidelity.

And he brought steamed chaste penne, sans cheese and meat, but also without vegetable or herb or salt or pepper or anything at all save its sweat. But he’d brought along a suitor for the dish, some mustard sauce, and after the first forkfuls taken with tentative touches of mustard, I began to rather like the plain, now-spiced, faux-Italian meal.

“It’s good,” I said to my wife who had gone into a wakeful coma. Her penne was steaming, contrasting very well against the cold outside the glassed cafe. She didn’t reply, which was unfair because it wasn’t my fault the pasta had come as it had. We’d asked for pasta with vegetables, and we’d repeated our order three times, but the folks had chosen to keep our pasta free of everything. My one mistake could’ve been that, because the waiter was nice and polite and so French, I’d signalled to my wife with my eyes to not refuse the thing he’d kept with such panache on the table.

After a few minutes, the waiter came around to ask how we were enjoying his cook's creation. “There should be one vegetable in this at least!” my wife admonished him, pointing to her full plate. The waiter was fine with that. “Oh!” he said, and picked up her plate and, before I could stop him, my half-finished plate as well, and carried them off to the kitchen. In fifteen minutes he returned to our dead-silent table with linguini tossed with peas and sliced carrot and shelled-green-beans — and the whole mix smeared with thin creamy cheese.

My wife was too hungry by now, and she pecked and ate a little, pausing from being vegan for just one meal, swallowing one tainted noodle at a time, while I gazed at my plate as she had done in the first act. “Don’t worry about me,” I said to her, magnanimous in word only. “What I ate from my previous plate was a lot.” But she couldn’t go further than a few noodles, what with the cheese on them, and her husband not eating. We exchanged glances. And called the waiter. And paid. And tipped. The waiter was genuinely perturbed that we’d eaten nothing. “Pack?” he asked. “No!” we said, and smiled our friendliest, feeling hunger even in the dry skin on the face.

We hurried back through sub-zero temperature and an unkind breeze to the hotel, and went straight to the hotel-restaurant, and begged in fervent English to be saved. They brought us assuredly-vegan soup, and fries, both scalding hot and served on heated, pure-white china.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m loving Paris, even if it’s bitter cold, even if I’m here for business only. Also, I’m thinking of Doris Day, and Ella Fitzgerald, and their love of Paris — how they loved the city every moment because “their love was near.” In my case, I’ve brought my love along, and I’m wondering how strong is truth in song.

Jet Airways Flight 23

  Photo by baona/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by baona/iStock / Getty Images

It is dark, but for one laptop screen in seat 1F in front of me, where a Tamil man is finessing a presentation, adding and removing bullet-points. He is middle-aged, has an enviable paunch and a flowing beard, and he seems imperturbable.

The man in the next seat is young. He’s had a Black Label; he dined on chicken with it. The spirit has brought out his demons, I think: he’s shaking his head, and torso, with increasing intensity.

Only moments ago the young man let off a terrible groan, and turned and looked at me, to check if I’d heard him in spite of my noise-cancelling headphones, now playing back a Mozart sonata.

He may be forgiven his groan, set off by a fear that I share in equal measure with him, with perhaps all others in this cabin. This plane that we’re on has shook and shuddered and creaked and rattled for over an hour now, over the dark waters below. We’ve had moments when it seemed the plane would split along its spine. There’s been no service for some time; the captain has ordered his crew to their seats. But dinner is done, the trays have been cleared. The smells of what we ate are in the air.

We’ve crossed the Andamans, the monitor on the bulkhead tells me, and that an hour’s flying is left before we touch down in Bangalore, where the time now is 8:18, which also I read on the bulkhead.

**

We progress, scuffing the clouds as we go, and the blinking light from the plane’s wingtip pierces the clouds, causing flashes like lightning, except that these are so predictable, so metronomic, the only sound accompanying them the terrible labouring of the plane, which I hear in the moments I take off my headphones. In a half-hour we’ll be over land, I tell myself after a time, surprised to note a smile on my face when there’s growing anxiety in my heart.

I concentrate on my breathing, on the in-breath and the out-breath and the burn in my nostrils, trying to pat down the memory of the Air Asia flight which flew up in bad weather, weather that froze the moving parts of its wings, high above the waters that bring such rotten luck to Indonesia all the time.

**

The land appears as a curvy line of lights along the shore of Chennai.

More lights come up: large and small patches of pixellated amber, and a long line through them — a highway running northward and southward. Like embers the lights look; swollen and scorched, the earth seems.

But I know it is none of that. There are people down there, millions of people cloaked in the reduced, evening-heat of Chennai, who do not know that there’s this plane over them that has escaped tragedy and the front pages of tomorrow’s papers, and which will land in 39 minutes in Bangalore, inshallah.

**

The next day I tell my wife I experienced turbulence like never before last night. “Me, too!” she says and describes her flight last week on the same stretch. She’s been through the greater experience. As always.


Some pictures I took in Singapore, on the iPhone X …

The Eleventh Day: A Dream

  Photo by izzzy71/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by izzzy71/iStock / Getty Images

Here’s about a dream this morning,
a party in which I saw
my mother, my sister,
my wife, our son, his wife,
our grandson,
my brother, his family,
three colleagues, two uncles, an aunt.

I was not in the party.

All the men wore smart-casuals,
save my son who prefers the suit.
The women wore saris.
My grandson had been tucked into the traditional,
a pre-folded white dhoti and a little orange kurta,
both made of silk.

There was banter, and light laughter,
the clinking of glass, and metal tapping
and scratching china.

I wasn’t in the party, but I could see them,
I called, but they couldn’t hear,
I went up close, but it was no use.

It was the eleventh day after I’d died,
they were meeting at the Dublin,
where I first went in 1990,
and where I’ve been going on and off
ever since.

A perfect choice of place it was,
even if the Dublin’s a bar, and
an unusual venue to send up a soul;
'cos you see,
it’s to the Dublin that I hurry,
anytime I need to soothe my soul,
all on my own.

   The Dublin, ITC Windsor Manor

 The Dublin, ITC Windsor Manor

Coffee and Song and Coetzee, Not One Bloody Word to Write

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You have time, much guilt, and pen and paper and a plan for writing that’s fresh-written for the thirtieth, fiftieth time. You’ve had coffee, lots of coffee, and there’s more Americano steaming on the table before you. There’s urgency, and there’s a daze, and there’s a restlessness for writing. But you are dry. All that coffee and there’s no juice yet in you. You’ve planned to buy tea-cake in a moment, but you know that the sweetener won’t move the hand one bit on the page.

There’s a sense of peace, though. (Or is it emptiness? Are the two one?) It’s the feeling that comes from having retired. Once more you’re retired, and once more you’ve resolved that this time around the retirement is real, this time you’ve retired for good, and you’ll write, write full time, write all the time.


There’s Sur o No Sur in the air here at Starbucks, which SoundHound checked out for me: it is sung by a Kevin Johansen, whose name is not a match with the tune, song, and the language of the lyric. The beat is conducive to what I must do, though, which I would do, but for this leaden head.

I finish the coffee, eat two small tea-cakes. I wipe the newly arrived guilt in vain, guilt which comes from being vegan, from knowing there’s butter in the Starbucks Pineapple-Cinnamon Tea Cake. I linger at my table, sipping water. Then I leave, slapping the cover on the pure white page on my tablet.


It’s Monday today. It’s one-thirty. I enter the PVR Gold Cineplex with no guilt. There’s Liam Neeson in the film, so it must be good, I’ve told myself. Watching Liam Neeson would do only good to such creative muscles as I might possess. There’s just me in the cinema hall, and a youngish couple on my row at the back, and a very young couple in the middle on the second row.

Watching Neeson soothes my mind in spite of all the hyper action in the film, such a good and valiant man his character is, but nothing creative stirs in me. After the movie, I go back to Starbucks and open my kindle to Coetzee: Summertime: A kind of autobiography, third in a series, telling in its early pages of a time when he finishes writing his first book and gets it published. Dusklands: That’s the name of his first book. I tell myself I’ll read that book next, and I hurry through the page of Summertime that’s open in my hand. I know as I read that I’ll never write like this man who must’ve pulled a pen right when he was in the womb, which was where he perhaps first learned how to take notes of a dark world. No, no, his fascinating book doesn’t deter me. Every sentence that I put behind makes me want to write, even in this infertile moment.

I reflect on the writing I’ve been doing. It’s so desultory to just blog. And you fish in such shallow waters when you travel for writing; moreover, all the wonders of the world are written about many times over. I’d have to write the small things, the inconsequential events, and my modest insights. Would anybody want to read such stuff? People celebrate such things as the red wheelbarrow, glazed with rain water, beside the white chickens — which the doctor saw and wrote down in verse. Whereas I, I studied to be and failed to become, an engineer. Unlike the doctor, there’s not even a small something that I can extract from my world for the page.

There’s perhaps this thing that I can do if it can help me break through to writing. I can write only for me to read. Or I can write — like that writer in The Moveable Feast who tells Hemingway, and with whom Hemingway agrees — stuff that no one will ever read. (It’s some years since I read Moveable Feast. Please pardon me my recollection. How Coetzee remembers everything!)

Tomorrow, I’ll watch McMafia. I’ll watch it for Nawazuddin Siddiqui. There are only three other Indian actors whom I’ve loved as much as Siddiqui: Anant Nag. Naseeruddin Shah. Om Puri. Watching Siddiqui should get me somewhere in getting started in writing, I think, looking up when Koroko comes up in the speakers which, again, SoundHound looks up for me. The singer is Oumou Sangare. The song and the singer and their names and the rhythm are all in sync. But the number doesn’t appeal to me.

Consuming more Coetzee might do the trick, I tell myself, staying with the Kindle, staying with hope.

My Post: Follow the News, Follow the Money

Photo by halbergman/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by halbergman/iStock / Getty Images

“Follow the news,” he said, bringing to my mind Deep Throat) and All the President’s Men. “You’ll see where the government is spending money. Just now they bought a huge number of rockets. The Israeli Spike missile contract is brought back. Ammunition! They’re stocking ammunition in large quantities. Suddenly. Why? Why do they need so many rockets so urgently?”

I listened, my eyes locked to his. The man before me was a brilliant businessman, quite young and rising fast, and, more importantly, a key customer with top-class global exposure.

“Our borders are getting hotter,” I ventured. “China has all but acquired Pakistan …”

“Pakistan is nothing,” he interrupted. “Nothing. Okay they have nukes. Maybe they can bomb one Indian city. Max. But when India responds, Pakistan, so small it is, it will be blown off the map. The Chinese are the real threat. Every day they are coming one kilometer into Arunachal, sometimes three four kilometers, walking in when they want, walking back. Someday somebody will lose his head. Some ego will explode. Then?”

I wondered about his geography while he took a moment to rearrange himself in his seat. We were sitting poolside in the hotel he was staying at, the temperature had fallen and a chill had enveloped the area, as it had the entire city — the chill was creeping up and down beneath my jacket and trouser and shirt, and my socks even, seeking skin, teasing out an occasional shiver.

“I don’t believe in these things, Shashi, but I must tell you something. There’s a 37 year-old guy. In my city. He’s done his PhD in astrology. He doesn’t accept money for his services, because he believes he’d lose his powers if he did that. That fellow is saying, and people are quoting him, that right now the stars are steadily moving toward their same positions when Kargil happened. I don’t believe in this prediction business, Shashi, but give it six months. In six months we will have a war. With China. Not a long war. About three months, maybe.” He swayed his torso side to side to measure out in mime the possible duration.

“Three months,” I cried. “That’s long!”

“Yes,” he began to nod after a pause, giving each nod generous time, and then he took his arms behind his chair, clasped his hands there and stretched. “There will be a big recession. The economy will take a hit for two years, maybe three. We will all suffer.”

“The entire world will take a hit,” I said. “We’re not a small economy anymore.”

He thought a bit, and went back to nodding, even slower this time. “But there’s one thing,” he said. “There’s one thing Modi has done. He has really gone out and got India some powerful allies. So we should see.”

It was my turn to nod thoughtfully, slower even than him, gazing at the beer on the table now, gelid and golden, tempting as hell. You could tell its temperature by sight, from the even, thin, drop-free frost over the entire mug. Nice squat mug with no handle, with Kingfisher Ultra in it.

“Right,” I said, marveling at how every Indian businessman that I know adores Modi.

“Some of us will have good business if there’s a war. But I hope it won’t happen,” he said. “But you must follow the news, Shashi,” he said. “You must follow the news. Read what the generals are saying. You will see how things are shaping up.”

I nodded again, and my eyes clouded, and turned inward, and caught Deep Throat by a column amid blue vapors in an underground parking lot. “Follow the money,” Deep Throat urged in his thick voice, sticking to his line after all these years. In a moment I snapped back to the moment, and found my customer still with me, and we got down to the business that we’d met for.

This morning, I found myself recalling the conversation, which happened last night. I was nodding to the recollections. I was still nodding after breakfast, and again in the car on my way to work, which made me think I must write about it, and thereby clear out my head and steady it.

Also, I decided to rent All the President’s Men this weekend. The news should wait, I figured, in these times of Fake News. And because my life is better when there’s no news in it.

Some Questions Before Aurangzeb’s Tomb

 Aurangzeb’s tomb, circa 1850 ( Wikipedia )

Aurangzeb’s tomb, circa 1850 (Wikipedia)

His tomb is a simple affair even if Lord Curzon upgraded it with marble during his viceregal tenure in India. How much simpler was it at the time Aurangzeb was interred? On Wikipedia I found a sketch of it as it must’ve looked in the 1850s, before Curzon got to it.

Aurangzeb died in 1707.

Why did the Englishman Curzon go against the Mughal emperor‘s wishes, and improve the tomb? There would be a good answer, but in this moment I have only the question.

 The tomb with Curzon's changes, circa 1890 ( Wikipedia )

The tomb with Curzon's changes, circa 1890 (Wikipedia)

These days attendants at Aurangzeb’s grave eke out some earnings telling briefly the final events in Aurangzeb’s life: his death in nearby Ahmednagar from natural causes (natural causes, the attendant stresses); his desire to be buried near his teacher Chisti’s tomb; his express command that his tomb be simple and to the tiny budget he’d stipulated – fourteen rupees and twelve annas. The attendant at the grave telling me all this was blind. And nice. “I am blind,” he said, humble in a dirty white tunic, a stick limp in his hand. “And I am poor.” He held out a hand. I put money in it, which he took and pointed a finger to a box by his feet, a wooden public hundi with the slit on top. I put the same sum in it as I’d given him and looked up.

“Where was his palace (in this part of his empire)?” I asked him. I wanted to know if Aurangzeb’s royal residence had been in the fabulous Daulatabad fort. Or Ahmednagar. But the fellow was done with me. There was another tourist at the door, and the blind man had heard him arrive.


The young Aurangzeb spent his energies in the outer reaches of the empire, in the west, the northwest, and in the south in the Deccan. His father Shah Jahan kept him challenged in the Deccan, demanding higher revenues from a poorly performing agrarian region. Aurangzeb decided to annexe the Bahmani kingdoms further south to augment income, but his father decided on his behalf to sign a truce with them, exasperating Aurangzeb, stoking suspicion in him regarding his father’s intentions toward him. Such a down-spiraling relationship caused the emotional chasm between father and son to grow to equal their geographic separation, driving Aurangzeb to wrest the empire through treason and treachery and terrible fratricide.

He is argued by many to have ruled well, extending the empire to the largest the Mughals ever ruled, increasing its wealth to surpass the other great monarchies in the world at the time — but also depleting it towards the end.

The last decades of his fifty-year rule were spent in taking the Deccan, at great cost to his treasury and, as regards his fighting men, he lost in that period over two million of them at the rate of a hundred thousand heads a year, it is said.

As for Aurangzeb himself, to die asking to be buried so far south from Delhi, from the seat of his empire — how did it feel? Where lay his heart? In Delhi? In the Deccan, where he’d honed and proved himself when young?

Far from the graves of his forebears his remains rest. The first great Mughal is buried in the northwestern reaches of the empire. Aurangzeb, the last great Mughal, is buried in the empire’s deep south. The other four greats lie in Delhi and Agra. There are many descriptions of this Mughal after whom the empire began its decline: valiant, despotic, cruel, and also syncretic. As many people revere him as despise him. Standing before his grave I wasn’t sure where I should lean, but I can tell you I was moved for a moment by the asceticism of this man who ruled for so long over so vast an empire.

 The tomb as it appears now … ( Wikipedia )

The tomb as it appears now … (Wikipedia)


Indian Christmas

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I’m at a hotel in Nashik. It’s all decked up for Christmas. A plum cake was delivered to my room with Merry Christmas sketched out in chocolate on the plate. The hotel is sold out, but I can tell easily that most guests are not Christian. Some are Sikh. Most are Hindu. In the small world I move around in, Hindus appear to have appropriated Christmas.

Merry Christmas! And, because I’m entering a Buddhist retreat on Wednesday, and will observe complete silence for ten days with all my digital devices surrendered, I wish all you wonderful people right now: Happy New Year!

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I wrote this little thing after reading this Guardian story.

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