06 January, 2014

#BlogTour Announcement :: Love Death in the Middle Kingdom by Nalini Rajan

A sixteenth-century Vijayanagara courtier, Devadatta, is drawn into a strange and intoxicating, even forbidden, friendship with a Persian traveler and a Portuguese trader. In a society driven by caste-centred norms and pollution taboos, the stealthy love affair between the courtier and the Persian must lead them inevitably into a horrific doom.
Centuries later, the courtier’s diary, is discovered quite by chance in the Indian west coast town of Honavar by a student of history, Sharat, who translates the tale. Along with his female colleague, Nitya, from Delhi University, he sets out on an exciting journey into history through the pages of the diary. What happens thereafter proves to be not only a voyage of self-discovery but also an exploration of some of the meanings and lessons in history, in life. 

Tour Stops
10th January - A Review by Amrita Kanjilal @ Rivers I Have Known - Books, Reviews & More
17th January - A Review by Sudeshna Thakurta @ Proses, Verses & Conversations
24th January - My Review here @ b00k r3vi3ws

Read an Excerpt

“Hi, you must be Nitya”, said a pleasant voice behind me. “I was expecting you.” I turned and found myself face to face with Sharatchandra Gowda and my nervousness vanished.  The black curls were pressed down with one or two mellowing streaks of grey, and the boyishness of the face was subdued, with stray lines of experience on the forehead and around the eyes, visible behind the rimless glasses.  I guessed his age to be around the early-thirties; he was after all four or five years my senior in the History Department.
“Professor Bagchee told me that you’d be in the city this morning.  Hope you had a good journey all the way here from Delhi.”  His wide smile brought back impressions of the face on the computer screen.
“I’ve been here before a couple of times on work”, I told him.  From out of the corner of my eye, I could see a few curious faces peering up at me from the open cubicles.
“No doubt, you have”, said Sharat.  “Your doctoral work is on the trade links between our West Coast and West Asia in the sixteenth century, isn’t it?”  He made it sound like it was cutting-edge research.  “How’s it going?”
“The work is almost complete.  Now I’m trying to put it all in writing.”
He led me to his office – it was the one I had noticed earlier.  The room was a ten-by-ten foot square cubicle, with a wide window on one side and a large book-shelf on the other.  A spacious writing table with drawers and three chairs occupied much of the room.  The table housed the usual office clutter of desktop computer, a few files and papers, as well as a laptop. 
Sharat sat down on the large chair behind the table, and waved me to one facing him.  “What can I offer you?” he asked.  “I don’t recommend the coffee here, but the masala tea has a lovely blend of cardamom, cinnamon, star anise, cloves, ginger and peppercorn.  Just a hint of the last three, or the taste would be overwhelming, as you well know!”  He dialled a number on the phone and asked for two cups of masala chai.
He pressed back on his chair and smiled his ample smile at me.  “God!  I can’t believe that you have come all the way from Delhi – from a world I had been cut adrift for so long.  Of course, I do keep in touch with Professor Bagchee.  But how is Mrs. Bhatia?”  He leaned forward in enthusiasm, as he added:  “Do please give her my regards when you see her next!”
Of all the people – Mrs. Bhatia!  “I will,” I replied laconically.
“You know, I am quite fascinated by your doctoral topic,” he continued in the same excited tone.  “You must be a polyglot to choose a subject like this.  How many languages do you know?”
I scrutinised his face for traces of sarcasm.  I couldn’t discern any.  “Kannada is my mother tongue; I have some knowledge of Arabic and Portuguese, but hardly any, of Persian or Konkani or Malayalam.”  I almost confessed to some knowledge of Italian gleaned from Verdi’s opera, but I was afraid he might judge me as being pretentious.
The masala chai arrived.  ‘This is the brew’, I thought as I sipped the potion, ‘that must have stirred the early desire for commerce and conquest.’  Had the Dutch traders not raised the price of pepper in 1599 from three shillings per pound to eight shillings, the English East India Company might not have been constituted the following year for the purpose of trading directly with India.
“Can you taste the base tea – it’s Assam, a good strong black tea?” 
I nodded, hesitantly. 
“Have you tried the Kashmiri version of masala chai?” he persisted. 
This time I shook my head.  I had never been much of a talker and Sharat spoke enough for the two of us.
“You should”, he went on.  “The Kashmiris use green tea instead of black, and they add almonds and saffron in place of the cloves and ginger that we use here.”
He took his time savouring his tea, acknowledging each ingredient in the concoction with a reverential nod.  Finally, he looked at me and smiled broadly.  “The reason you are here is neither the masala tea nor a discussion of your research work, right?”
I smiled back at him.  I didn’t want to, for I hardly showed any emotion these days, but that smile was infectious.

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