Although I have been busy (winding up the writing of the second Muzaffar Jang novel, finalising the cover and final text of the first set of Muzaffar Jang stories, and beginning work on the second set of Muzaffar Jang – as you can see, Muzaffar Jang more or less rules my life), I have also been doing other writing. An example of this has just been published, in the Hindustan Times Brunch Quarterly, July-September 2011 issue.
Though most people know me as the creator of Muzaffar Jang, the Mughal detective, here I’ve ventured into territory I’ve never traversed before. The editor at the Brunch Quarterly said, “Could you please write another historical detective story for us?”, but since the word limit was 3,000 – a little difficult to fit detection into, at least for me – I decided to make this a somewhat different story. No sleuthing. No Mughal India. But, yes; it’s still not contemporary – it’s set in the Calcutta of the very late 19th century, and it involves, if not a crime, at least something not very nice.
An excerpt from the story, which is named Mangoes and Indigo:
Oscar Leadbetter, after two months on board ship, followed by a cross-country journey from Bombay to Calcutta, was ushered into his cousin’s presence by a turbaned servant. The man, his white muslin jama swishing about pyjama-clad knees, bowed out. Oscar stood before the vast mango-wood desk behind which his cousin sat. Stephen’s drooping moustache and thinning hair were blond, his icy blue eyes the gift of some long-ago Nordic ancestor. He turned that frosty gaze on Oscar.
‘I have had to get rid of my last secretary to accommodate you,’ he said. There had been no invitation for Oscar to sit, no ‘Koi hai?!’ yelled to a servant for whisky.
Oscar murmured something about trying his best, and was treated to a cold stare before Stephen began listing his duties. They were many, and varied. Oscar would receive and segregate correspondence. He would write suitable responses. He would keep the accounts for the house. He would be in charge of making large purchases – not the meat and vegetables, or the dhobi’s lye, but the substantial ones. Furniture, for instance, or mattresses.
‘Do you expect them to wear out every few months?’ Oscar asked.
Note: Although you can read Hindustan Times online, Brunch Quarterly is in the form of a magazine, available at most large newsstands. Pick up a copy and read for yourself!