A wonderful cover
Sober, respectful but yet arresting.
I’m very pleased with the publisher on this and several other accounts
A wonderful cover
Sober, respectful but yet arresting.
I’m very pleased with the publisher on this and several other accounts
It’s been a week since a friend asked me to do a write up on my forthcoming book on to my blog or website.
I’ve never been hesitant about promoting any of my books, but suddenly I feel that in this case although the book is important and deserves in my view to be widely read, I wish to be a bit more restrained about it
It’s just such an issue…
THE SALT OF THE EARTH: ON SOLVING THE GLOBAL WATER CRISIS
Whenever I hear of the global water crisis, I think of the large oceans surrounding us and of the famous lines in Coleridge’s ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’
Water water everywhere and not a drop to drink.
We cannot drink sea water because it is salty and salt makes us thirsty. So water has the important function of diluting salts in our body whenever we drink it; and so salty water would not work at all.
I understand also that while we can drink salt water, we cannot even drink sea water. The concentration of salts in sea water is such that our bodies cannot process it. Fluids from all over the body would rush to try and flush the excess from your system. In fact if you drink too much sea water, it will be too much for your kidneys to cope with and they will simply shut down.
So if someone is dying of thirst, sea water is not going to help him at all. Neither will drinking alcohol or urine.
The next question that comes to mind is that well in that case why don’t we just remove the salt from the water, sell the salt and also sell the water – which is increasingly getting to be an expensive commodity.
What would happen if we diluted fresh water with sea water? Surely the sea water would become drinkable then. Possibly so. The water experts can say how this can work and whether it is useful in any way.
So why can’t we convert seawater into drinking water? Actually, we can and we do. In fact, people have been making seawater drinkable at least as far back as the ancient Greeks. But when taken to the scale of cities, states and nations, purifying seawater has historically proven prohibitively expensive, especially when compared to tapping regional and local sources of freshwater.
Also, But when we’re talking about seawater, we’re not just talking about common salt. Other compounds and elements and minerals called salts are found in ocean water, such as epsom salts, potassium salts, iodine salts, and so forth. Some of these taste bitter or sour, although they may be of value to the human diet, such as magnesium chloride and potassium chloride.
One question? Don’t crocodiles, and other sea animals drink sea water? Why can they drink and not we? Short answer is: their kidneys have adapted, ours haven’t
Why should it be so difficult to desalinate water? I recall an experiment in school. All we have to do surely is just to boil the water. The salts will be left behind, we remove these and wait for the water vapour to cool down and become fresh water.
But before that one other question. Is it possible to irrigate crops using sea water? After all sea weed exists and is very popular in many parts of the world such as Japan where it is also considered to be very healthy.
Land could also be reclaimed. So we get more land on the planet, conserve our fresh water, use a fraction of a resource (98 percent of the world’s water is sea water)
It is possible? And China, as country with very little arable land has started doing that.
A report on the Internet provides the following information:
[Chinese scientists are experimenting on irrigating crops with seawater in vast areas of coastal provinces, in an effort to help feed its huge population bothered by land and a fresh water shortages.
Like killing two birds with one stone, developing seawater-irrigated agriculture is believed to be a way to create more farmland and lower irrigation cost.
China’s population accounts for one-fifth of the world’s total, but it only has 7 percent of the world’s arable land.
It is estimated that another 40 million hectares of cultivated land, approximately one-third of the total of the land that can be cultivated in China, could be gained if all the alkaline land and beaches across the country can accommodate crops.
If all that extra land can be used for planting crops, 150 million tons of agricultural products could be yielded, about 30 percent of China’s yearly output.
In another aspect, seawater irrigation can mean a lot for China whose per capital possession of fresh water equals only about one-fourth of the world’s average.
Water consumption for agricultural use in China accounts for 70 percent of the nation’s total, and 60 percent of the cultivable land were desperately short of water supply.
According to Professor Xu Zhibin with the Zhanjiang Oceanic University, as much as 300 billion tons of fresh water could be saved, if seawater is used directly to irrigate crops on alkaline land and beaches.
Compared with the technique to turn seawater into fresh water, it would cost only one-thirtieth of the price to bring seawater directly through canals or to plant crops directly in saline soil, suggested Xu.
Since ancient times, almost all agricultural plants have to be irrigated with fresh water. However, with crossbreeding and gene techniques, Chinese scientists have cultivated a group of halophytes capable of living in a saline environment.
A special species of wheat developed by Professor Xia, for example, reported nearly 400 kilograms of yield per mu (1 hectare equals 15 mu) and tastes exactly the same as wheat grown using fresh water.
Employing special techniques like cloning or “pollen canal technique,” scientists in the Chinese Academy of Sciences successfully induced an hereditary element of halophytes into eggplants and pepper and produced special species that can grow in a mudflat.
So far, the experiment is moving forward smoothly from the Yellow River Delta in east China to the Pearl River Delta in south China, where wheat and rice are growing in abundance.
Dongying and Binzhou counties, where seawater was first introduced for irrigation, reported an annual increase of millions of kilograms in agricultural output.
The sterile alkaline land in Guangrao County was no longer a nightmare for local farmers like Li Jianbin, who netted 100,000 yuan per year by planting rice and wheat that was resistant against salt.
A halophyte garden, cultivating some 80 species has been recently set up in Shandong Province. However, scientists predicted that the number of plants capable of using seawater can topple 400.
During the past five years, Chinese agriculture has witnessed marked progress, but the Chinese government still regards it as a major priority to restructure the agricultural structure, increasing farmer’s income and insure food safety.
Science and technology, the Chinese government believed, will be the keystone for progress in the national economy including agriculture.
Now that the technical bottleneck has been conquered, China is very likely to use land irrigated with seawater on a vast scale early next century, said Xu confidently.
When I see the above information I can’t help thinking of how in the future this is how food will be grown. The salt resistant species of wheat and rice and other crops will be grown along the coast line. Sea or ocean water will be used to irrigate the crops. It’s true that this may interfere with the fishing so perhaps the fishing villages will be left alone to harvest fish along the coast but irrigation canals will come back from the sea into the mainland and there it will help with the farming. This will happen because there just won’t be enough fresh water in the world, the way our cities and the world’s population are growing. Aside from the availability, there will be issues regarding pollution, how polluted all our lakes and rivers have become.
There may of course be minor or major consequences of human eating these genetically modified crops. So far China says the wheat and rice is just fine – but it may take some time when the full effects are known. A certain kind of genetically modified wheat had the effect of making bees sterile. This is well documented and led eventually to the abandonment of that species.
So also it may take years before the full effect of this new food is fully understood. It may not lead to sterility; there may be other harmful effects. Is it possible that there might be even beneficial effects such as increased fitness, muscle power and longevity? (Who’s to say that sterility itself, not for bees, but for the human race might actually prove to be hugely beneficial, not only for humans but for all those other animals and plant species our continually expanding presence is endangering.)
They say that from the moon one of the few man made creations that can be seen is the Great Wall of China.
And now satellites will show another curious phenomenon: the phenomena of vast farming networks along China’s coast line – while the rest of the worlds coast lines are bereft of farming activities. But depending on what happens with China’s great experiment we may see more of this around the world in the future?
WHY THE HINDU RELIGION IS THE LARGEST IN THE WORLD
Last time I was in India one of my friends complained that the Hindu religion had not spread as far and wide as other religions, namely Christianity and Islam.
Now I’m not much of a believer myself. I am happier with the idea that all religions hide great truths within their bosom, and they are at the end of the day saying the same thing. When Christ teaches that ‘if someone hits you on one cheek, show him the other’ he is not saying something that is in any way unique to the Christian religion. All religions, in their highest avatars treat the virtues of tolerance and restraint.
But, just for the sake of argument, I told my friend that I had a hunch that he was wrong. There was no need for him to be so unhappy. It depends on the way you look at it, I explained.
How was that? There are statistics, he explained, a bit morosely. We are much far behind.
What do they say?
He wasn’t sure.
So we went over to his laptop and typed major religions in the world today, and we came across a site Adherents dot com which is regarded as pretty reliable.
I studied the website for a few minutes and marshalled my arguments.
It’s as I told you, I said.
How so? He shook his head doubtfully.
Check out what it says.
According to this website which is supposed to be pretty authoritative, Hinduism comes fourth on the list.
We are not fourth on the website I argued because at number Three there are the agnostics, the unbelievers, the atheists, people who tick no religion, etc….The website indicates that there are 900 million Hindus in the world and 1.1 billion Secularists. At 900 billion we have a huge lead over Chinese traditional religion which has 394 million adherents and over Buddhism which comes in next with 376 million.
He was pleased to see but lamented that we were much behind the Christians and the Muslims.
It depends on how you calculate I argued. Although historically there have been times when the Hindus and Buddhists have fought each other there is no such major conflict in the world. And if you think of it, most Hindus regard Buddhism not as a separate religion but as within the overall fabric. So you can actually add up the 900 million Hindus with the 376 million Buddhists and then you have 1.276 billion Hindus. In general terms the Khalistan issue is now well behind us and if you throw in the 26 million Sikhs that the site lists within the overall Hindu community you have 1.3 billion Hindus in the world.
What Adherents dot com and the rest of the world don’t realise, I said
He didn’t contest my logic. It’s true that most of us Hindus, including myself and my family regard the Buddhists as one of our own. Lord Buddha was born a Hindu.
At 1.3 billion Hindus using this argument we were now ahead of the Secularists who have only 1.1 billion secularists but we were still well behind Islam that has 1.5 billion.
It’s a way of looking at the issue, I argued. There is a huge sectarian divide within the Islamic community. The Shia Sunni divide has cost hundreds of thousands of lives, the hatred is so visceral. It’s a sad truth that in the name of religion so many Sunnis have killed Shias and vice versa. The Shias are a relatively small percentage of the total Muslim strength and are supposed to be only 15 percent or so in strength – but this figure translates into millions and millions of believers. So while Adherents dot com may put the figure at 1.5 billion if you take away fifteen percent who are Shias, in effect you remove 225 million. Were there to be a vote today, the majority of Sunnis might actually endorse such a decision. There are enough divisions within Islam that would justify such a calculation. This may change tomorrow, and hopefully will (in the interests of global peace) but till such time that that happens we have to assume that there are only 1.275 million Muslims in the world.
So we are ahead in the numbers game, you see, I explained to my friend.
Okay, he conceded.
But, he complained, we are still well behind the numero uno i.e the Christians which according to Adherents dot com are 2.1 billion in the world.
It you think about it the Catholic Protestant schism has a very long history to it, not so very dissimilar to the Shia Sunni divide. In recent years the scandal with the paedophile priests have disturbed the Catholic community and distanced the Protestants.
Let’s google search population strengths of the Catholics and Protestants, I suggested to my friend.
When we searched the Net it wasn’t easy to come up with reliable data. The preponderance of views favoured a larger number of Catholics than Protestants but no site threw up percentages the way it was for Shias.
I suspect that this may be the case because the two are very close to each other in terms of numbers.
Anyhow we changed the search to ‘Number of Catholics in the Word 2012’ and guess what? We came across the Vatican’s figures.
According to a March 2012 issue of the Vatican insider Catholics in the world are just under 1.196 billion.
At 1.3 Billion, the Hindus are clearly the largest religious grouping in the world today.
Designing a Book Cover - THE SENTIMENTAL TERRORIST
With respect to most of the fifteen odd books I’ve written I’ve played a role in designing the cover of the book. And I think my involvement has added value to the process. With most of these books I’ve had a face to face with the artist and the book publisher, and we’ve thrown up different kinds of ideas; they always paid my view due respect.
Now however with my latest books coming out via Create Space/ Amazon I still have a role to play but its no longer face to face but through images posted by email. It’s not the same as a face to face. Nothing can replicate that, but anyhow, because Amazon has a team of excellent artists you can manage.
With respect to my new novel on Afghanistan titled ‘The Sentimental Terrorist’ due to be released in a week or so from now I wanted the backdrop of the rugged Afghan landscape. A bearded Afghan, ostensibly my sentimental terrorist would be simply looking at it and thinking.
When the sample covers came my way, I realised that the face was wrong.
I had needed a face for my book ‘The Third Sex and Human Rights’ and the artist and I must have gone through dozens before we finally hit upon the right one for our purpose, a hijra with suffering and sensitivity etched across the lines of his face. Wow! It was an Eureka moment for both of us.
But here with the artist in long distance communication this wasn’t any longer feasible.
So I decided to have the man looking away from the reader. Maybe only show the side profile, but definately not his expression.
Here’s what I sent to the artist. As a matter of record, for me to look at some years later and reminsce. Maybe after the film based on the nove is released.
Yesterday I provided some comments on the two Cover Concepts for ‘The Sentimental Terrorist’.
I’ve realised now that I’ve made a mistake by preferring Option A, and my many suggestions for the improvement of Option A may be unworkable. Also that I may have been unduly harsh. Sorry if these were hurtful. Option B is actually much better than A and very fine – only the face of the man on the cover is not suitable.
So I’d like you to pass the following changed suggestions to my team. Since its the weekend hopefully they wouldn’t have started any work on it.
1. I prefer Concept B, the one with the bearded Afghan. However the following changes will be needed.
2. I like the lettering of The Sentimental Terrorist and the author very much, on reflection I think they are great, so please keep the font, size and placement exactly as they are. However please experiment with black lettering instead of white and see which works better. Leave to you.
2. I’d like the mountain backdrop to be extended to the entire back page, so it appears as just one photograph.
3. Below the title please include the following additional text:
BY THE AUTHOR OF ‘AN AFGHAN WINTER’
‘…keeps you turning the pages’
If the team needs to verify this let me know and I will send them a review.
Both comments, i.e. …cinematic and …keeps you turning the pages are taken from the same review. Just to clarify, IndiaPost is one word which can be written as either IndiaPost or INDIAPOST. Leave to the Project Team to decide how they want to do it.
4. Get rid of the Afghan man on the cover. I don’t like his face, no offence to the owner of the face.
5. I do want an Afghan man but not him facing the reader. I’ve realise its going to be next to impossible for me to find the right face since can’t be face to face with the artist and go over photographs.
6. So the best thing is to use a man whom we see from behind. Since we will get his rear view we don’t need to obscure the nice mountain view by using his entire head. So put in a rear view of the man, shift him to the right, make the rear view of the man about half the size of what is presently seen. That way we get more mountain into the cover.
7. About this man…he is possibly wearing a pakol or head cap like the present one but we cannot see his face at all. At the most just a wee bit of his profile. His ears and beard maybe, but definately not his eyes.That’s it. That will add to the mystery and suspense. Even the present man is fine so long as he was looking the other way – and the head on the cover was half its present size.
8. I do like the lettering in white as it presently stands, I think its VERY GOOD, but do try it in black as well. It may be YET BETTER.
9. The text for the back page has already been provided. No changes to that.
10. If any of the above is not clear please let me know.
Thank you very much.
HANDLING PREJUDICE IN A CHILDREN’S STORY – ‘THE BEARDED PRINCE’ (available on Amazon now)
One of the dilemma’s facing children’s story book writers these days is how to be politically correct without making a book sound too dull. Someone even took out a collection of ‘Politically Correct Fairy Tales’ some years ago, which poked fun at this sentiment.
In my children’s story book due to release on Amazon sometime today, (the Kindle will follow in two to three weeks) I have this beautiful Indian princess who is in a gathering of princes where she has to judge and choose a groom for herself. Now the princess being beautiful herself, is looking for a prince who is reasonably good looking. So she rules out short and fat suitors. In the new politically correct age this has to be written out carefully, some explanation has to be provided, otherwise it may have the effect of hurting the feelings of young readers who may be short, fat or ugly.
This becomes all the more important since the story itself is about dealing with the overcoming of prejudice.
In the story, after much persuasion, Princess Roopali, ‘the beautiful one’, agrees to have a swayamvara. This is an ancient Indian ceremony in which an unmarried girl who has come of age chooses a husband from among several suitors. According to the tradition, at the end of the ceremony, the princess is required to place a marigold garland around the neck of the prince she has decided to marry.
She is happy to meet with all the princes who will attend the ceremony, and are keen to be chosen by her. She explains to her parents, the king and queen that she does not, however, wish to meet anyone with a beard. Over the past few years there have been a string of armed robberies by a gang of tough-looking bearded thugs. The princess has come to dislike beards.
Her father, the king, explains to her that it would be discourteous for them not to extend an invitation to any eligible prince, but he would be surprised if any of them still sported a beard.
That is the background, and its not difficult to guess that Princess Roopali will finally favour the bearded prince.
But before she can do so, she has to struggle within herself to overcome a prejudice that she has against beards, not only because of the criminal activity, but even otherwise.
In a lot of the earlier fairy tales, which are today deemed politically incorrect for a variety of reasons, there was not so much attention paid to the shaping of a child’s mind. On the other hand if we are too, too politically correct it will rid the stories of any sap, any juice. After all, it can be argued, that there is a distinction between children’s stories which are meant to entertain and inform and moral science lessons.
I’ve just googled Amazon in between writing this piece and see that ‘The Bearded Prince’ is now online and available for sale. It’ll soon be linked to my author page at www.amazon.com/author/rajeshtalwar , amazon does take a few days to do this, but meanwhile the link is:
JO NESBO’S ‘HEADHUNTERS’, OR UP SHIT CREEK WITHOUT A PADDLE
There is a classic how-to-write-thrillers book by one of the more popular American writers that I read a while ago which provides a formula. It’s a tried and trusted formula and I was reminded of it when I recently rapid read Head-hunters in English translated from the original Norwegian. In a nutshell the formula is put your hero, your main character in crisis, in crisis after crisis, don’t let up, and you’ll keep your reader hooked.
If a writer really engages you emotionally with his characters then you don’t pause to examine the plausibility or otherwise of the scenarios he is painting. The idea is that you are enjoying it so much that you don’t want to get into analysis and waste time question plausibility. It may be junk food but you don’t want to think about it while you’re eating – although I’m not sure that’s a fair analogy. Anyhow, Jo Nesbo is a huge success in terms of book success, critical acclaim and now I hear this novel has been taken up to be made into a movie by Hollywood.
There are several plot and story inconsistencies in the novel. The one that struck out most for me is one in which one of the principal characters, the villain of the piece, so to speak is pointing a gun at the hero and blabbing away in front of closed circuit cameras (not known to him of course) and later no from the police bothers to get a lip reader to figure out what might have been said. This is only one of a number of inconsistencies, but like I said, it doesn’t really matter because you enjoy the ride so much you don’t really want to think about how plausible the various scenarios could be.
The reason why you don’t pause to think is because the crisis formula works. Our hero, the head-hunter has such a terrible time that he keeps you turning the pages. And the biggest crisis of all is such that you don’t know whether to laugh or cry in some of these situations. You do both.
A major crisis occurs when our hero is quite literally ‘up shit creek without a paddle.’
He has a killer after him and to escape this villain, our hero goes down a toilet seat somewhere out in the open where you have those primitive affairs that you need to clean up periodically. While he is in there, not only is his hair and body then covered with human excrement, to add insult to injury the villain who is carrying a gun to kill the hero decides to come in to take a shit. So you have a highly implausible, crisis-ridden but also hugely humorous situation where you have our hero hanging inside a toilet covered with shit, looking up to the hairy arse and large penis of the villain who is about to – and does – crap all over him.
To add a twist to the tale, the villain has planted a tracking device by means of some hair gel to our hero’s hair. The only reason the tracking device stops working and our hero’s life is saved is because the hair gets covered with human excrement, and the technology hasn’t advance to the point where the signal can go through shit.
Yes, might sound unbelievable that someone actually wrote this, and wrote it all up very well…
In a further twist, just before the villain is going to crap all over him our hero realises that although he’s the one running scared, it’s the villain who doesn’t have balls. Yes, our poor villain has had his balls chopped off by some mercenaries in South America.
And this had great relevance to the plot, as it turns out.
But I think I’ve revealed more than enough. Do read it if you get a chance. (I’m not sure if you’ll find the toilet scene funnier if you read it while sitting on the throne!)
Talk about a master class in toilet humour. The British who claim to have had a PhD in this particular area could certainly pick up some tips from Mr Nesbo
OPENING CHAPTERS OF ‘THE BEARDED PRINCE’ (SOON OUT ON AMAZON)
The swayamvara did historically exist in Ancient India as one of the means by which a young, unmarried woman found a husband for herself. In Sanskrit, ‘swayam’ means to do by yourself, and ‘vara’ stands for ‘bridegroom’ so quite literally it is a ceremony where the woman herself decides from among a number of suitors who it is that she wishes to marry.
Also, in the story one of the princes is shown to be wearing a blue rose. The beautiful blue rose does not actually exist in nature; however for the more practical-minded of my young readers, I should clarify that there exist other blue flowers that resemble miniature roses, and this similarity can be further enhanced. How? By using some folding techniques that don’t trouble the blue flowers a wee bit – and of course, some imagination!
Finally, a note on the vocabulary in this story which may appear to be too advanced for young readers. After a lot of thought, supplemented by solid advice from primary school teachers, I decided against ‘dumbing it down’. For very young readers though the story can be read aloud by a parent, who can explain anything that gets too difficult.
PRINCESS ROOPALI AGREES TO HAVE A SWAYAMVARA
Once upon a time, there was a princess called Roopali, which means ‘the beautiful one’, who lived in a far away land called Fadidad. This might sound as though it is close to Baghdad, but it is actually much further east, somewhere in the north of India.
The princess lived a little away from her parents, the king and queen, in a separate part of the palace, because she valued her privacy, like many of royal lineage. The princess used to paint all sorts of things and, as everyone knows, the creative artist needs her own space in order to express herself properly. So although she loved her elderly parents dearly and took care to greet them at least once every morning and once every evening, she lived alone with only her pet dog, Jhabroo, for company.
Most days in the afternoon and especially during the winter months she would step out into the garden that adjoined her royal residence with canvas, paint and brush. She would position her canvas so that she felt the warm rays of the afternoon sun caress her lovely face whilst she painted. And she painted and she painted, and each canvas when it was finished appeared more beautiful than the one before, and soon the walls of the palace were adorned with all her work.
The princess was of an independent spirit, and kept postponing the decision to get married, but eventually after months of quiet persuasion the king and queen wore down her resistance and she consented to have a swayamvara.
In the olden days, whenever a princess came of age, her parents would throw a party to which all the princes from neighbouring lands who were interested in marrying her were invited. During the course of the function, the princess would meet with and talk to all the princes. At the end of the ceremony, if all went well, according to the tradition, she would place a marigold garland around the neck of the prince she wished to be married to. This, then, was the custom of the swayamvara.
Although the princess agreed to have a swayamvara she was very clear in her mind that she would not settle for a compromise candidate.
‘If I chose a prince to marry,’ she whispered to Jhabroo, ‘it will only be because I am sure that he is deserving of me. And I of him.’
Jhabroo wagged his tail, as if in agreement.
Would Princess Roopali find the prince of her dreams?
WHAT THE PRINCESS WANTED
The queen was extremely relieved when Roopali finally consented to a swayamvara, for every time there was a gathering of the royal relatives the question of the princess’s unmarried status was sure to crop up, and this would be followed by an awkward, embarrassed silence on her part. The king was also relieved, because he wanted a grandchild who would ultimately succeed to the throne.
They were both a little apprehensive, however, because Roopali made it quite clear that although she had consented to the swayamvara being held, it was entirely possible that she might not find a suitor whom she would wish to be her husband. ‘In that case, dear Papa and Mama,’ she said, ‘I will continue to live as I do now, with my best friend Jhabroo, and paint my pictures, until I find that special person.’
‘What exactly do you want in a man, my dear?’ asked the queen during Sunday breakfast, for the princess took care to share that meal with her parents. This was while she and the king were busy examining a list of eligible princes, together with other special invitees who would grace the occasion.
‘Well,’ said the princess. ‘He has to be somewhat good looking, for sure…’ She pursed her lips in thought. ‘He must also be willing to take on the responsibilities of a family.’
‘That’s not asking for much,’ said the king laughing. ‘I’m sure you will find many young princes who will fulfil those requirements.’
‘Are there any particular kind of looks he should have?’ asked the queen, because she herself was romantically inclined, and tended to favour tall, dark and handsome suitors.
‘Not really,’ said the princess, ‘just so long as he is reasonably good looking, has a loving heart, cares for the welfare of the common people and is strong and protective towards me.’ She thought for a while. ‘I suppose, though, that I wouldn’t much care for a man with a beard!’
The king and queen nodded their heads in sympathy and understanding. This was because during the past few years there had been a string of armed robberies, kidnappings and killings all over the kingdom and even beyond in other lands, and most of these were carried out by a gang of tough-looking bearded thugs. Thus, anyone who grew a beard was regarded with suspicion, and most decent men shaved off whatever facial foliage they might once have possessed.
The princess was highly sensitive, abhorred all acts of violence and quailed from looking at even paintings depicting violence. She would never consider doing one herself. Her portraits showed happy, smiling faces; the landscapes she painted often showed glorious sunsets and sunrises. Over the months as these terrible incidents continued unabated she came to dislike the very idea of a beard.
‘I seriously doubt there will be any bearded princes present at your swayamvara,’ said the king, ‘although this cannot, of course, be completely ruled out. We have to invite all the princes from neighbouring lands; otherwise it would seem most discourteous. Of course, my dear, you are entirely free in your choice of husband, and can reject anyone who might have a beard.’ He paused for a moment and then continued. ‘Given the barrage of robberies and murders that have taken place all over the world by these bearded villains, I doubt there is a prince anywhere in the civilised world who still sprouts a beard.’
However, as things turned out, the king would be in for a surprise.
WILL YOU COME WEARING MY FAVOURITE BLUE?
And so preparations began in earnest for the swayamvara. The royal cooks got busy preparing all kinds of delicacies and snacks for the distinguished guests who would attend the ceremony. Incidentally, all the food was vegetarian, for although the princess accepted that other people were meat-eaters she did not want to be speaking to a prince who had just finished devouring cooked animal flesh on such a solemn occasion as the swayamvara.
The Fadidad Times came out in an especially long parchment edition the weekend before the grand ceremony that provided brief biographies of all the eligible princes who were expected to attend the ceremony. It gave the history of their royal houses, the past relations between thekingdom ofFadidad and the kingdom the particular prince hailed from, and very many other details that a curious public was anxious to devour.
At last the great day arrived. The princess spent the better part of the morning painting a glorious sunset, and as she put the finishing touches to the landscape she thought to herself, ‘Will I find my true love tonight? Will he show himself clearly, and will I know the moment I set eyes on him that he is my true love, or will he come disguised?’
Later that afternoon she took help from the royal maids in looking through thirty-odd dresses from which she was to select her evening attire. Now you might think from the small number of dresses displayed for her selection that the princess was simple and averse to luxurious living, but you would be wrong in thinking this. It is true that only thirty dresses were laid out for her to look at, but the princess certainly possessed many more dresses than that. The fact of the matter was that all these dresses were blue!
The princess loved all shades of blue, and she always wore a blue dress or sari on special occasions. For instance, she wore blue on all her birthdays, which were celebrated throughout the kingdom, and sometimes she even thought that she would like to be married in blue instead of the traditional red. In any event, all thirty blue dresses were taken out and after much deliberation she finally chose a silk sari for the evening’s ceremony.
As the princess finished tying the sari, she couldn’t help wondering what the prince of her dreams would wear to the swayamvara.
‘Will you be wise?’ she murmured to herself, ‘and will you be daring? I don’t have a clue. And will you come wearing – my favourite blue?’
The princess entered the hall where the swayamvara was being held soon after it started, once all the distinguished invitees, including eligible princes from various regions, were admitted.
A swayamvara usually lasted for only a fairly short time. For some reason lost in antiquity it was not considered auspicious for the ceremony to last more than three hours. It was required to begin exactly three hours before sunset and could not continue once the sun had set. All the royal astronomers had been set to work on finding out the time when the sun was due to set, and they worked backwards to find out the right time for the start of the swayamvara. Other than this there were few rules that needed to be observed. The princess did not have to choose a suitor and could reject all the princes if she did not find one that met with her expectations. It was, however, necessary that she should interact with all the princes who were there to seek her hand, even if the conversation lasted no longer than thirty seconds.
Indeed it was somewhat inevitable that the princess would spend little time with many of the invited princes. This was because there were fifteen princes assembled at the gathering, and it was only natural that she would want to spend the maximum time with those princes whom she was considering might be suitable to be her future partner. Furthermore, the princess believed in sewa or ‘service’ and was truly concerned that the guests should be well looked after. Soon after the swayamvara commenced, she took upon herself the responsibility of guiding the waiters and waitresses about the place while supervising the serving of refreshments to ensure that nobody was neglected. This meant, of course, that she wouldn’t have much time to spend with even the princes whom she was drawn to, and desired to know better.
Today it may seem very strange that the princess could make a decision affecting the rest of her life based on only a few minutes acquaintance, but this was considered normal by people who lived long ago.
The king and queen sat upon their thrones and did not mingle in the gathering, although, of course, they were free to do so. A queue formed in front of them consisting of people who wanted to pay their respects. Many of those waiting to have a brief meeting with their royal highnesses were the parents or those closely related to the princes who had gathered to woo and seek the hand of the princess.
The king and queen looked relaxed and were all smiles, but actually they, and especially the king, were both anxious that everything should go off well and that their daughter would find the prince of her dreams. The king wished to have a grandson as soon as possible, so that the question of who would succeed the princess after she died would also be settled. While he hoped that the princess would end the grand ceremony by throwing a garland around the neck of her chosen prince, he nevertheless knew that his daughter might prefer to defer her choice by a day. If this were the case, on the day following the swayamvara the princes would once more gather in front of the king, the queen and the princess, and the princess would then put the garland around the head of the prince she had chosen.
There were many reasons why in the past princesses often resorted to a postponement of the decision by a single day following a swayamvara. It might be because the princess wanted to talk over the matter with her parents; it was perhaps because the astrologers needed the time to match the charts; or it could be that the princess was unable to choose between two or three equally eligible and attractive princes.
As was the custom, each of the fifteen princes wore a rose in the buttonhole of his tunic so that he could be distinguished from the other men in the gathering.
Once the princess had issued instructions to the kitchen and those serving refreshments, she glided along the marble floor of the huge hall of the royal palace with a bright smile on her lips. She made polite but brief chit chat with some of the more distinguished and elderly guests at the gathering, as well as with the small children of some of her relatives who accompanied their parents to the event. They let the princess pass by without forcing conversation on her for they knew that the sun was rushing to meet the skyline and that she was on the verge of making one of the most major decisions of her life.
Although the princess looked calm from the outside, inside she was excited and even nervous. Although she would be studying and watching the princes carefully, it felt as if she herself was undergoing an examination.