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Snuffing Out The Moon: An excerpt from Osama Siddiqui’s book

Osama Siddique’s debut novel Snuffing Out The Moon talks about the legitimacy of religion, authority, and the ascent of dissent. Read an excerpt here.

books Updated: Jul 23, 2017 16:27 IST
Osama Siddique
Osama Siddique
Hindustan Times
Osama Siddiqui,Snuffing Out The Moon,Penguin Random House
Author Osama Siddiqui.

It was a morning to contemplate the rain. Emperor Jahangir stood at the jharokha of the palace, a goblet of wine in one hand, the other resting on the carved stone jali. The heavy night-long shower briefly assumed a renewed ferocity before waning. Lahore was particularly beautiful in the rainy season. From his high vantage point, the emperor took note of the lack of symmetry in the newly planted cypresses along the water channel leading to the fountain in the vast courtyard below. The gardeners were to be alerted to this; they had missed the requisite alignment from the location where they worked. Like so much else, it came down to a king to provide that larger and more expansive perspective, which made an empire great, he thought.

Book cover, Snuffing Out The Moon.

His mind wandered to other days and other rains. How variable and multifarious a thing the rain is! How it evoked very different sensations in the heart; both the nature and quality of the rain and where it fell. The glorious rain coming down to nourish the dry tans, khakis and dusty greens of the broken and gently undulating countryside around Orchha. The fading recollection of a long-gone afternoon when he had stood gazing from the windows of Jahangir Mahal, built to commemorate his famous victory. It was also at Orchha that he had been painted, the globe in his hand, as befitted an emperor known to the world as Jahangir, the World Seizer.

At some distance below and beyond, the grey–blue Betwa river curved sensuously around the palace complex. The sun had broken through on the far horizon, while rain still poured closer to where he stood. In the strange half-rain half-light, the chhatris of the distant temples on the riverside glowed orange, as if inlaid by thousands of precious garnets and carnelians. Closer, small islands and foliage-covered rock formations in the choppy river had seemed like so many distant and fabled lands—just visible through the silvery strings of water from the heavens. Of course, he had achieved the peace of mind to notice such things much later. When he, a mere lad of sixteen then, had first arrived at that place with his troops, he had the onerous task of subduing the Bundela Rajputs and recapturing the city of Orchha, the centre of that revolt. He had won that brutal fight.

And various others. They had lost so many men. But it was not a morning to dwell on past battles and distant victories, he decided. It was a morning to contemplate the rain. In distant Mandu further south, its battlements and protective walls climbing, skirting and hugging the hilly countryside of the great Malwa plateau like an endlessly stretching serpent, lay a very large complex of pleasure palaces built by long-perished monarchs. He and his father had ecstatically favoured Mandu as their place of sojourn on their Deccan campaigns. Emperor Jahangir felt his skin tingle with pleasure when he recalled one among the many enthralling days spent at the vast Jahaz Mahal—named so because it appeared like a gigantic ship sailing across the waterbodies that surrounded it. The view from atop the palace was worthy of a king who commanded not just the land but also the water. He had walked for hours that day and it had rained all through.

He had stood with these yogis and watched the rains from atop the great Tilla Jogian. From the hill he had gone to the citadel that was half a day’s ride, the mighty Rohtas Fort, which his grandfather’s great adversary Sher Shah Suri had built to block Humayun’s return from exile in Persia.

The ever-shifting clouds were so low that they grazed the upper portions of the multi-storeyed palace and flitted through the rooftop pavilions. Their spray flew across the windows of the hallways, the open courtyards, the terraces and the outer pathways. All around was a watery landscape of endless blues and greens. It was as if the ship was coursing through a violent sea storm. He had often heard it said that there was no place like Mandu in the monsoons. How very true! While the bones of those who had built it have long turned to dust, Mandu would remain standing in the monsoons for years to come. Till one day it too became a heap of crumbled old stones; or the monsoon itself died. He had spoken to some who contemplated the death of stones and seasons, the nature of being and unbeing and other such mysteries.

He had stood with these yogis and watched the rains from atop the great Tilla Jogian. From the hill he had gone to the citadel that was half a day’s ride, the mighty Rohtas Fort, which his grandfather’s great adversary Sher Shah Suri had built to block Humayun’s return from exile in Persia. Jahangir had stood at the tall parapets with his men of war, but they only saw how the rain made the walls slippery and the ground treacherous. At the ancient temple town of Maheshwar, he had quizzed the emaciated men who had spent lifetimes burning corpses in scented and unscented wood pyres on the great ghat on the river Narmada. He had listened at length to discourses by such men on the meaning of life, the mystery of death, the sensation of immortality and the feeling of oblivion. Would they know his name when he too was no more? Jahangir—Seizer of the World? He who ruled with mighty power over all these places? And over thousands more? ‘It cannot be, even if I wanted it to be so, that I live the rest of my life merely as the Emperor of Rains,’ he thought, smiling wistfully.

Excerpted with permission from Penguin Random House India

First Published: Jul 23, 2017 16:25 IST