As promised, a review of the process behind each chapter of The Monk’s Curse. This time, the topic is Chapter Three. In the preceding few weeks I have written of the Prologue (and its heavy historical content) and of the two chapters that set the scene: Chapter One and Chapter Two. I am afraid that there isn’t much to this week.
Once more, it sets the scene. But only very basically.
Instead, the protagonist learns very little more of his past – a past which will come to define his search and the plot – but so little that all it does is set the scene for the ever increasing number of questions that populate his thoughts.
This makes for an interesting journey with the character, because not only does it stay away from any action in the story, but it creates that action in the form that the questions take in his mind. His mind is riddled with questions. And this characteristic leads us to understand his character at an intimate level. A level that will stick with the reader as the fight and search slowly changes from mental to physical.
This chapter truly sets the scene for the unusual aspect of this novel. While most novels are based on actions, this one is based on actions and thoughts. In this way, the characters are understood – they becoming compelling reasons for the reader to keep turning pages. This is the substance of the story. This is what Chapter Three introduces.
So, more than anything, it is a short chapter. It is quite dull. But like every other chapter, it is essential!
Mughal-e-Azam is one of the most iconic films of all time. I had the distinct pleasure of watching it for the second time a few days ago.
But for those of you who have never heard of it, here you are.
Mughal-e-Azam is a Hindi language film. As one of the most iconic films in Bollywood (the largest film industry in the world) history, it is known to millions of people today.
It remains an enduring tale much like Romeo and Juliet as it depicts the struggle of the love of Prince Saleem (who would go on to become Emperor Jehangir of Mughal India) and Anarkali (a courtesan – a dancer in the Mughal court). The antagonist in this film is the Prince’s father, Akbar the Great – the finest Emperor that the Mughal dynasty ever produced. Akbar struggles to allow his son the freedom to love as he is bound by duty as Emperor to never allow Saleem to marry a woman of low birth. Such is Mughal custom.
And yet their love endures. The greatest love in Mughal history.
Now, in history, it is not known if Anarkali ever existed, but Mughal-e-Azam firmly imprinted her identity in the minds of millions of Indians.
Pyar Kiya To Darna Kya
It was originally made as a black and white film with a few colour scenes, notably the song of Pyar Kiya To Darna Kya:
The song is a song that strikes the heart of many for its powerful meaning. Translated to English, the song’s title roughly translates to ‘Having loved, why fear.’
In the film, it is a powerful image of the defiance of Anarkali to the customs of Mughal India as she overtly challenges the Mughal Emperor himself. In one part, she even lays a knife at his feet, daring him to kill her – not fearing death for she has loved.
The song is made even more powerful by its set. As one of the few scenes shot in colour, the set of the song was made with no expense spared. Displaying what would have been the full splendour of the court of Akbar the Great, it forms an eye-pleasing set that matches the grandeur of Anarkali and her love for the Mughal Prince. The set was so iconic that at the film’s premier in Mumbai, the set was installed as a feature that certain ticket paying film goers could explore. This privilege is one I would have thoroughly enjoyed. Alas it was over fifty years ago.
But the set aside, the song is made even more powerful by the dance of Anarkali. The valour of a poor servant aside, it depicts one of the finest actresses in Indian history in her prime – Madhubala.
A beauty unrivalled, Madhubala remains an iconic Indian actress shrouded in the tragedy of her life. As beautiful as Marilyn Monroe, she too shared Monroe’s fate when she met her untimely death at the age of 36. This would be strangely akin to her fate in the film – one left woefully unfulfilled.
James Burke, a photographer for Life Magazine called her the biggest star in the international film industry. Beholding her beauty, it is not hard to see why. Her beauty is matched by her prowess as a dancer – a skill masterfully captured by Mughal-e-Azam’s most remembered song.
As a whole, the film of Mughal-e-Azam proves to be a potent concoction. With no expense spared on its set, it tells an enduring tale in poetic verse and beautiful songs and dance, performed by the all-star caste of Prithviraj Kapoor (the progenitor of the famous acting Kapoor family of modern Bollywood), Durga Khote, Dilip Kumar, and Madhubala herself. Even in black and white, the tale is not dimmed. So much so, that even the colour reproduction done in the 1990s dims in comparison to its original production.
But for all its merit, Mughal-e-Azam appears as little more than the masterpiece made solely to show off the brilliant personality, beauty and grace of Madhubala.
It is a beauty and a grace that everyone should see, and if not in the whole film, then at least in the song ‘Pyar Kiya To Darna Kya.’ It is on Netflix (in the original black and white form) for anyone who wishes to watch it.
Book Lovers, once again, this is for you! Over two years ago, I wrote of my travels to New York City and how it inspired me to redefine my persona as an author. Now, I wish to discuss my travels to another one of the literary centres of the world – London – and how it inspired me in a different way to New York City.
London – The First Book Lover’s Paradise!
In New York I visited the Strand Book Store and the New York Public Library. I spoke of being humbled by the awesome and gargantuan 18 miles of books in the Strand Book Store.
However, my experience in London was much more different and far more inspiring. Instead of just visiting two havens of books, I planned for months before my trip of my visits to many sites. In the end, I saw far too few of the literary havens that YouTube bloggers promised. However, I did not just see a book store and a library. In fact, I did not even enter a library. Rather, I dedicated an entire day to exploring the gems of London.
These are the gems I found…
Of course, being in London, I did not just visit book stores on the day I had planned to – 30 December 2018. I visited numerous book stores on the days preceding and on the days after. Amongst them, I visited a few branches of Foyle’s and Waterstones, as well as Hatchard’s (est. 1797).
I came back with a ton of books, which along with hundreds of my other books, still has no shelf space.
But books aside, these were the most interesting parts of it all.
Seeing so many books inspired me even more to get my novel done. One that had been sitting half-finished for two years. I was also inspired when I saw my name in a book at Foyle’s. A book that I had helped fund to publish a few years ago – Cleverlands by Lucy Crehan. Somehow, even seeing my name in print, not as the author but as one of the many people acknowledged, I was still motivated by that to complete my novel.
Other inspirations found in London were places like the British Museum and a tiny little shop opposite it, Tea and Tattle, selling African and Oriental rare books. Somehow, all of these things – places infused with history and literature – inspired me. Just like in New York City, these places inspired me to become a part of it all, by using that history in my book, and by adding my name to the masses of literary accomplished. Sure, it sounds irrational, but these were life exchanging experiences in that they moved me more than anything.
Apart from the odd sense of inspiration gained from places in New York City and London, I had the distinct pleasure and privilege of walking along the Southbank of the river Thames.
A haven of culture, it was great to see the Christmas market, the stalls selling food and warmed whiskey, and most of all, beneath Waterloo Bridge, the sellers of rare and second-hand books and antique maps and prints. While I bought none of these prize rarities, exploring it all I found a map of India from the 1500s. This was an interesting find as it reaffirmed my knowledge that Europeans at the time were woefully uneducated about the Eastern world. Emphasising Eurocentrism, it reminded me of the fall of Constantinople.
For those unaware, the fall of Constantinople from the Byzantine Empire to the Ottoman Empire represented a shift of the region’s religion to Islam, and posed a perceived threat to European trade with the East. As a result, the search for new routes to the East was intensified. In this search, and their extreme ignorance regarding the East, people like Christopher Columbus found the Americas (note, not discovered) and called it India. This would lead to a cascade of historical inaccuracies that would shape the present nomenclature of the native peoples of North America and the nation of the West Indies.
This frantic search also led Europeans around the Southern tip of Africa. All these explorations culminated in colonisation, slavery, and the privilege that people of European descent still enjoy today.
Thus, this chance find of a centuries old Indian map, very inaccurate, elicited profound thoughts of the 15th and 16th century worlds. This would come to reflect itself deeply in my novel.
And thus the trip to London proved once more to be more than just a holiday.
I was inspired to write yet another story. A fantasy story that challenges the Eurocentric tropes of the traditional fantasy genre. Tropes such as the good West vs the evil East, the fair skinned civilised peoples vs the dark skinned barbaric peoples, and strong parallels with Christianity.
This would result in the idea to create a fantasy world with a queer person of colour as the protagonist, navigating a world parallel to our own in that its nations have history of colonialism and slavery – histories which would come to intimately determine the protagonist’s struggles.
This is an idea that I will share in a future post.
But, telling a bit about it here represents more how incredible my journey was.
In London, I also had the pleasure of seeing two plays.
The first was a production of Matilda showing at the Cambridge Theatre in the West End. This was a fun show that took me back to the original movie and my initial exploration of the writings of one of my favourite authors and inspirers – Roald Dahl.
Here is a picture of the beautiful set.
The other play was a brilliant performance of Antony and Cleopatra at the National Theatre. Starring as Antony was none other than Ralph Fiennes. And starring as Cleopatra was the extremely talented Sophie Okonedo who delivered a performance that stole the show with her strength and wilful portrayal of the infamous Cleopatra.
Here is a picture of that set, alas a simple one as I could not capture one as the play progressed.
Both plays had been my first time to a theatre – barring one production of Othello which I had seen while in school – and exceeded all my expectations. They left me feeling that my trip of London had been complete with nothing in want.
My trip to London far exceeded the one to America. As small as the UK is, it contains far more rarities and enjoyable experiences. Some, no doubt the result of the British Empire’s cruel rule on people around the world, but still enjoyable in that it provides a very authentic appreciation for history and privilege.