Umber Ranjana Pandey
“DOB: 31/12/1983. I write in Hindi, Urdu, Gujarati and English. I write poetry, fiction and plays.” – Umber
I had grown obsessed with an old and torn copy of Naqshaw Qibrit-e-ahmar by Qurrtul Ain Qibchaqui, Annales de l’Institut d’Etudes Orientales (Algiers), (1939-1941) after I was diagnosed with an abscessed encephalon. I could not walk for I saw abyss around my feet and remained on my berth in the hospital.
Not Qurratul Ain Qibchaqui’s maps smelt of flambeaux. It looked as if the cartographer sat on his escritoire and murmured ‘fîat lūx’, and it emerged on folio like leprosy emanates on the dermis of a transgressor, unlovely to look at but strange as beauty. The emperor relapsed in opium-eating and did not even look at maps. The viziers and diwans gathered under a lofty cupola and on their collective behest, 16663 copies of his maps were made and sold at all the ports and dockyards of the globe. The original copy was drafted on a piece of turquoise velvet, the supplier claimed it be rabbit’s hide. It was an octagon and had pearled borders. A mare, the emblem of cartographer’s clan, was sketched below the armorial bearing of Jehangir, the emperor. The cartographer recounted mare as the origin of their clan and Our Lady cooked her for the ceremonial washing of her son.
On 8th December, the day of immaculate conception, the cartographer ran away with a pair of Her Majesty Nur’s beryl anklets and a gold medallion inscribed with a verse of holy Quran. Since he took ornaments of trinkets’ worth, nobody cared to catch him and the munshis at revenue department of the mahal wrote it off as petty bad debt.
A treatise annexed to the cartograms, had each tetrastich for every aquatic atman. A whale, called Makara, a seven-faced cobra called Sesa, a wild boar called Mahavarah, a giant terrapin called Kucchup and ten elephants named Dash-Digants, held the orb of universe above sea in his mappa mundi. These were well meaning beings.
Makara had the colour of hydrated phosphate of copper and held a seal of golden disc on his left fin, his huge, malleable phallus ejacualated ambre gris. A lotus vine grew from his solar plexus and basil shrubbery bred on his feet. Mahavarah, the wild boar had a bulky snout, when he breathed under water, the streams got muddled with alabaster of his lungs. A loose-limbed snake-hipped sylph sat on his phallus, he copulated with her in manner of beastality. Though he spanked the sylph on her derrières with his crystal club, the cartographer declared him a tender-hearted aquatic atman. Sesa exhaled rarest venoms and juggled the earth on his seven ophidian mouths and whipped the bottom of sea with his tail.
“The Generous is
Allah’s friend, aye, though he be a Sinner, and the Miser is Allah’s
Foe, aye, though he be a Saint.” Pharaoh, although the quintessence of
impiety, is mentioned by name in the Koran, by reason of his
liberality; whereas Nimrod, another monster of iniquity, is only
alluded to, because he was a stingy tyrant.’
It was a citation in gross digression but his amanuensis, a boy of sixteen but with penchant for Arabic classics, kept it untouched for those were the words of Allah. The cartographer’s calligraphed in flamboyant hand and in green ink. The bibliotists at Mahkama-e-Naqshaw-Navisi (the department of Muġul cartography) found green ink a symptom of lunacy and almost verged on to consign it to the heap of works of non compos mentis pirs . The amanuensis,later, when he started calligraphing, took to vermillion ink, faded by now to rust and to colour of red soil and saved the fate of Qurrat-ul Ain Qibchaqui’s maps.
Qurrat-ul Ain Qibchaqui’s illustrations of the diabolic aquatic fauna were drawn in a surrealistic, multicoloured hand. A shark named Olüm Kus reminded flying fishes of The Temptation of St Anthony by Hieronymus Bosch. Olüm Kus hibernated, till a sail landed on it, for it always beguiled seafarers as a lovely, scarlet atoll. The gossamer lacework of coral and orchards of what the seafarers called ‘rosea pirum’ which were succulent berries and other fruits compelled them to halt there. As soon as the vessel anchored on it, ölüm Kus soared carrying the vessel towards the dreaded kan körfez, a bay situated between Gulf of Cambay and Arabic sea. An ancient seafaring vade mecum tells to be wary of such ‘Aqua-Aquila’ and ‘Piscis Yfel.
The water rusted in kan körfez and remained chambré. It had a fine ichorous flavour. Seabirds of prey shrouded the sun most of the day and a black brume reigned. Here thrived bloodthirsty thalassic fauna, their doppelgängers and doppelgängers of their doppelgängers. They feasted on the seafarers thrown by ölüm Kus. Leprous wild boars, anaemic sea-lions, buffaloes covered with eczematous pelt howled as they starved and awaited preys.
Qurrat-ul Ain Qibchaqui’s hand was most surrealist and the language of his verses was precise like that of a surgeon’s and full of epical beauty of medieval laureates describing the infernal and pollution of life. In the patches of eczema and lumps of leprosy, he drew imaginary maps and methods of fire and brimstone. His idea of the netherworld was Scandinavian and one reminded of Niflheim because of its brume and eternal isolation. He wrote that the damnation had extreme remoteness and a sight or listening to the voice of the torturer turned into a moment of light for the cursed. The eternal silence of infinite spaces frightened him.
Two inches below my left temple, the neurosurgeon made an incision of four and half centimetres and used to drain five millilitres or more of matter everyday. After which he retired me to my berth where high fever, delirium and grotesque phantasmagoria exhausted me. Josef Petter Uroš was a military surgeon in 18th century in Magyarország and the notebook he wrote had few passage about the decomposition of cerebrum, medulla oblongata, pons, and midbrain, and continuing downwards to the spinal cord provided me with ataraxy, for he wrote poetically about the decomposition of life and anatomy and said, ‘decomposition of life is a process by which sense of oneself loosens its string on something which is not its, it is process like returning the lending to its owner. It seemed a process full of malodours and ugliness but its strangeness emanates beauty.’
Josef Petter Uroš, unlike his contemporaries military surgeons, Johann Flückinger, lieutenant colonel Büttner and J.H. von Lindenfels did not attain note for writing about das Vampyrenstand i.e. the vampiric condition though Analects Transylvaniae by Josef Petter Uroš (Vienna) (1839), 2 vols. (For English translation, Transylvanian Analects of Josef Petter Uroš translated by Lewis Duncan Green Carnegie Institution of Washington. Baltimore, 1867) is full of description of pathological sadism among his patients from Transylvanian bhadralok.
On Munții Bihorului of west Transylvania, in Castel de Morșina lived family and staff of Boier Mihály Morșina. Built at high altitude, Castel de Morșina seemed as if built before the massif erupted around and below it. It stood forlorn and lightless. Boier Mihály Morșina’s father died when attacked by an animal of uncanny origin and his mother committed suicide later when Boier Mihály Morșina was merely eight years old. Boier Mihály Morșina grew so petrified of fauna that he ordered every orifice of the castle bricked leaving only a door to enter or exit. During daytime too they used oil-lamps for light. In want of sunlight and wind, Boier Mihály Morșina grew pale and violently sore-headed. His dread for fauna birthed unusually an amour fou for flora of all kind of geographies. Half of his earning went into failed efforts of creating a botanical garden in Castel de Morșina. Soil devoid of light for years turned desolate and not a leaf of grass survived instead of doggedness of the best malis of Central Europe.
A woman arrived at Castel de Morșina when Boier Mihály Morșina’s sister Eśtrebeth gave birth to Boier Mihály Morșina’s daughter. The woman said she forgot her name since all her family including husband and four children perished in the journey they took over from Eastern Saxony and suffered much traumatism. She announced to Boier Mihály Morșina and his staff that her husband was a mali of great expertise and cultivated flora of true carnivory. She was looking for an appointment in seclusion with Boier Mihály Morșina to exhibit her plants. Boier Mihály Morșina summoned her after two o’clock at night and there the woman showed her plants growing in small porcelain pots. There were S. Saxonipollis and extravasated sweat like substance to trap their prey. The woman whom Boier Mihály Morșina now named Falconila, a name he chose for his daughter born out of incest, proposed to him to build a garden of such vegetation of carnivory since this did not need light and wind.
For the want of light and wind, Falconila’s vegetation withered in a week and she now with her empty pots of Archaeamphora, Drosera, Dionaea muscipula, Utricularia planned to run away from Castel de Morșina. Josef Petter Uroš writes Falconila’s scheme had the reason of its failure in itself. She fed mice to her Nepenthes attenboroughii and hamster and squirrels to her other plants which she did not found even after searching for them everywhere in Castel de Morșina. Boier Mihály Morșina caught her skiing down from Castel de Morșina and stabbed her on her left breast. He dragged her inside Castel de Morșina. He emptied all her pots along with the soil on her and left her dying. The vegetation of carnivory bloomed on her vital fluids. This way Boier Mihály Morșina discovered cultivating herbage on human flesh. He chose his sister and wife Esrébeth and their daughter, named Esrébeth again for Boier Mihály Morșina gave the name he chosen for her to Falconila, to harvest best of flowers and berries on their chambré adipose.
Berries, scarlet as cabochon rubies with flame like filaments inside, grew over a frail vine with scant, pointed leaves along with two or three magenta florets. The vine grew from an incision of four and half centimetres long below infant Esrébeth’s left temple. Senior Esrébeth’s breasts had been cut open to grow sourest of berries in different colours and had leaves of most exquisite fragrances. Both slept most of the time as the vines growing on them made them exhausted and they dreamt of baugs of Persia and Kashmir.
Boier Mihály Morșina produced a small volume Verba Falconila in Latin of botanical verse which is of great literary value. He fashioned a manner of verse-making which merged botany and Parnassus unimaginable to others. Later in 20th century French poet Francis Ponge stated him a prominent influence over his poetry.
Dr. Ben Duckworth ran a dispensary at Surat near the mahal of Bhana family and wrote his observation in a red-bound cahier around 1750s. His observations had been discussed in details in Transactions of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland (London), in (1835). It was a narrow lane. People of Surat called it Hingloowalo ni gally. Sheth Hingloowalo lived in a pol-house and adjunct to it was his godown and shop. The building was old as a dried lump of pus of Jina Vardhamana Mahavira- Sheth Hingloowalo’s family is known to have- the magical secret of all their wealth and unbroken flow of cash in their business since 13th century. Sheth Hingloowalo traded in vermilion and indigo. He was a fabled merchant who dominated indigo and vermilion trade of Goojerat. His old house was a source of several lores, myth and tales among Surat’s gossipers and street-talkers. Nobody knew why Sheth Hingloowalo still preferred to live in that ramshackle structure, in the gloom and in such a lack of wind.
Dr. Ben Duckworth writes about the strange case of Sheth Hingloowalo’s son, Sheth Hingloowalo called him Dickrow and the Doctor too calls him Dickrow in his journals. Dickrow suffered a strange illness after he ate Peru na Shaak, a kind of curry made with guava. The illness rendered his saliva an incoagulable property like bats. Though he was a dogmatist jain and strict vegetarian since his salad’s day, he scarified his much younger sister’s severe whitlows in all her toenails and quaffed the purulent serum and fresh blood. The girl’s blood did not curdled up and she was brought to Dr. Ben Duckworth in life threatening circumstances.
‘Dickrow was a seventeen years old and seemed to be in proportionate humours. As I have been told he had an early puberty and showed precocious cerebral faculty. Since he ate certain curry made of guava, he developed a propensity towards blood and phlegm. I kept him confined to his bedchamber, tied him to his ivory bed and observed him for a fortnight. Nothing pecular has been noticed by me until he ran with a neonate son of family maid. He was never found again. A mild spread of pestilence has been observed in Raner afterwards. Raner is casbah nearby to Surat.’
Evliya Çelebi was a Turkish velvet merchant of 18th century and exported velvet to his hometown from Cairo. Jorge Azambuja worked as an equerry to Evliya Çelebi in Cairo. He was a dwarf but had a dysmorphic set of testicles and male organ which made him quite a beddable fellow for fairer sex and that rendered monarchial patronage as balladeer quite unobtainable for him. After Evliya Çelebi’s death when a man-eating rodent destroyed his velvet godown and nibbled Evliya Çelebi’s heart when he was sleeping, Jorge Azambuja felt fallen to orphanhood and had nothing to do. He contemplated returning to his native casbah Coimbra in Portugal but decided to make a fortune in exporting merchandise to Hindustan. He chose goiaba (guava) seeds to introduce to Hindustan.
He studied Naqshaw Qibrit-e-ahmar by Qurrtul Ain Qibchaqui for months and took the liking in its cartography. He started in a Portuguese Hindustani nau consisted of following
1 captain (capitão)
1 clerk (escrivão)
1 chaplain (capelão)
2 pilots (piloto, soto-piloto)
1 master (mestre)
1 boatswain (contramestre)
1 boatswain’s mate (guardião)
2 windlass operators (estrinqueiros)
45 seamen (marinheiros)
48 ship-boys (grumetes)
4 pages (pagems)
2 carpenters (carpinteiro and carpinteiro sobressalente)
2 caulkers (calafate and calafate sobressalente)
1 cooper (tanoeiro)
1 steward (despenseiro)
1 bailiff (meirinho)
1 barber-surgeon (barbeiro)
1 constable (condestável)
11 gunners (bombardeiros)
With the weather delaying them for several days and in a typhoon they ended up in kan körfez and the Capitão anchored on a lovely, scarlet atoll. Jorge Azambuja, a dwarf and a man of small fortune tried showing Naqshaw Qibrit-e-ahmar to Capitão but in vain. Ölüm Kus flew but Jorge Azambuja gashed her wings and she fell along with the nau on her back in Bay of Cambay. Jorge Azambuja afraid of his goiaba seeds being perished in such malefic meteorological conditions sowed it on Ölüm Kus and reaped the sweetest cruentum amroot as if were glacé pears and had the pulp of hue damask. He sold it to one of many Nagar-seths of port-town Surat- Sheth Hingloowalo. Sheth Hingloowalo did not buy them to eat but was lured by its vermilion marrow. It reminded him of bitten and lightly bleeding armpits of his twelve years old third bride Chajja bai.
Illustration: Swarna Jana