And so on a narrow Jaipur road, I suddenly remembered Alok Dhanwa reciting his famous poem where a girl who has run away from home can be found anywhere, even in upcoming countries where love will be an entire occupation. On wine evenings, I dream of this country that exists outside maps, inhabited entirely by refugees : there are no native citizens in this country, even the children of its soil can only return after having been tortured by the outside world, when the absence of love threatens their very existence. No one knows the address of its embassy, or where and how to apply for asylum, or what are the rules for its citizenship. It is just that while walking, some people disappear, never to be seen again. Only sometimes, in remote parts of the world, one can hear strange voices while tuning the radio. The frequency remains unknown.
All day I spend writing, something or the other, but on a page covered by a hard shadow, in the middle of writing about the many colours of transparent roses on shadowless chiffons, I stop and with a paused hand I wonder if this is betrayal, if writing anything else is an act of betrayal (to what?), if writing to myself is like keeping a secret, if writing this sentence is like kissing the whole world: a mad thought, of course, but it occurs.
There is the myth of the golden fish in the desert that were seen only by the ancient unknowns, swimming and writhing in the sand making their way through the glittering infinite. Deep in the Thar, one can observe lovers looking for myths that are never to be found. Barthes defines the lover’s fatal identity : I am the one who waits. I am the one who goes fishing in the desert. I am the one who wears the gold remains of the prehistoric fish as eyeshadow. In the unbearable heat of 42 degrees, I am the one who shimmers.
I loved those small boxes on which there were paintings made of crushed semi-precious gemstones : flowers, trees, the sky, the jewellery, the sheer veil, the woman – copy of Nihal Chand’s Bani Thani from the 18th century – and one afternoon, while sitting in that beautiful little palace belonging to the younger brother of the ruler of Amber – their rose kheer is a delicious shade of pale pink and the cocktails particularly good – I suddenly realized that if I wanted to, I don’t know where I’d buy crushed gemstones. If I were ever to attempt that old art, I will have to grind whole gems into dust myself.
In 1820, Franz Schubert started composing an opera in three acts on Kalidasa’s Abhijnanasakuntalam but never completed it. In 2002, the Danish composer Karl Aage Rasmussen was commissioned to complete the opera based on the remaining fragments, copies of which were acquired on microfilm from the music collection of the Vienna library. The third act was omitted from their version because they believed that Schubert would have done the same. In 1792, Goethe wrote about Sakuntala:
Wouldst thou the young year’s blossoms and the fruits of its decline
And all by which the soul is charmed, enraptured, feasted, fed,
Wouldst thou the earth and heaven itself in one sole name combine?
I name thee, O Sakuntala! and all at once is said.
If I say the name, will the incomplete opera be complete? Will I have found the missing third act?
As a child, I loved opening my grandmother’s miniature perfume bottles – she had one small box of fragrant little glass containers, and there is one I particularly remember : a diamond shaped blue phial with a red cap, it was the most wondrous thing to me. A diamond whose fragrance notes I forget, I think it opened with sambac jasmine but how did it end? What are the forgotten perfume’s end notes, and how will my skin now, with its unique history, alter it?
In half-light half-shadow of some evenings, I whisper into the air koh-i-noor, the koh-i-noor word.
This was first published in Kindle Magazine, where I write a monthly column on cities, memory, etc.