Regarding Gray, Carmine, Pyrope
by Mandira Pattnaik
Gray is a morass of doubt and indifference and coot is a water bird with black feathers and a white bill. Black and white. Not Gray. Not in the sunlight. So she’s come by the moonlight when the cover of coots are done paddling on the lake. The boat’s engine thrums along the sentient waters and she glides to the palace on the lake’s edge. Ripples lick the stone jetty; molten-silver waters glisten; the boatman extends a wizened hand; she takes it. Bronze anklets are shoo-shooed into silence when two pale feet step on the salmon-pink granite. She lets her bandhej-silk ghagra skim the path. Must the palace’s ivory-white minarets loom over her every time?
Imagine the map of a secret place, carmine and concealed, in the contours of a painting. Conjure her in its midst, with Gallic features, gold margins and borders, and a minefield of young excitement. She, who’s just arrived, moves up and down the myriad palace steps; framed by delicate moonbeam, entering empty halls and rooms, disliking the sights and odors, receding, only to enter and emerge from several other identical ones. She hears a banshee, expanding from wall to wall, conquering her senses, drawing her to that portrait of her on the wall. Her father, the Maharajah of the palace, rocks on an armchair before it. She shudders at the sight of the poison saucer broken to pieces on the stone floor; the walls cry, Krishna Kooweri must die! Suitors from five kingdoms — Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Tonk and Gwalior — are engaged in a battle to marry her. The words tie up the tune. Crimson spills from the corner of her mouth, and there, beside the open window, she’s sprawled, writhing in pain. Her father swings between the realms of myths and legends, never real, never released to life after her death. Beyond the window is the amorphous space of revisit and abandon, the lake of embrace and freedom wherein the coots still paddle.
Pyrope is a gemstone, Greek for fire and eye. Between truths subsumed by the timelessness of fire and truths evidenced by eye, are symbols and images that have voices that sing and document the peculiar blends of myth and memory. Herein the princess traverses down the stairs of the palace and returns one more time to the cold jetty. Herein the still waters, which are ringed in by the Aravallis and a piquant dawn behind them, ripple once more. She turns to bow to the mural of Shiva at the palace’s now illuminated entrance and lingers on a gigantic Peepul that colonizes its ruins. The air feels a frisson as it stumbles at her form, stands frozen. She takes the waiting boat and descends into the depths of a swirling lore.