By Shakti Ghosal
In our lives, we at times get confronted with intense and traumatic events which force us to question who we are, what really matters to us and what we believe in. In some ways these events alter our sense of reality. Each of the four stories in my book, The Chronicler of the Hooghly draws inspiration from such crucible events that I have had to face in my own life. The protagonists in that sense carry a bit of my own ‘experience and thought’ genes. As I see them now within the larger fabric of the stories, I do notice shades of myself and others who have been part of my life. Writing the stories has been a personal journey in that sense. At times the stories seemed to write themselves. The four stories portray five crucible experiences and invite the reader to experience those transformative moments. Chances are that the reader would be able to relate to them in some way.
The Chronicler of the Hooghly is currently under publication. Here is an excerpt from the book.
The battle having been won, it was Omichand’s turn to demand his share from the East India Company. However, he did not realise he had more than met his match in the wily Clive.
Clive welcomed him with all solicitousness.
“Your share Omichand? But according to our agreement, you are not entitled to anything at all! Take a look at the agreement”.
Clive laid out before him the original agreement which had no mention of any wealth share from the royal treasury for him.
The earth moved from under Omichand’s feet, the whole world seemed to be swaying around him. His throat constricted. His head swam. He could not believe his eyes. The signatories were all there but the agreement was different.
Omichand realized he had been duped. “You have cheated me, you have cheated me!” was all he could say.
“Not at all dear friend”, said the wily Clive softly. “In fact, we have collected considerable riches as spoils of war, including an exquisite necklace made of pearls. We would like to offer that to you. Of course, we would continue to have you as one of our preferred trading partners. With the changed circumstances with a new and supportive Nawab, we expect the trade volumes to go up significantly”.
A medium-sized wooden box was placed before Omichand. “Take this home and be happy with it”, said Clive signalling that the meeting was over.
Omichand came back to his quarters and dully opened the box. He found a few trinkets, some gold coins and a pearl necklace. Omichand in his disturbed state failed to recognise the necklace. The deception and humiliation were taking its toll. Or was it the necklace that had started exercising its evil control? The outcome though was that Omichand, the one-time cunning and ruthless trader, started losing his sanity. The rumour went that he was given to alternate bouts of uncontrollable laughter and howls of misery.
One day in a fit of blind rage Omichand decided to go to Murshidabad to demand his rightful share from the new Nawab, the share from which he had been cheated. When the guards of the royal court heard of his audacious claim, they simply wrested all his belongings including the wooden box and threw him into the dungeon where he met his sorry end after a few years. The contents of the box went to the Nawab’s treasury.
Unbeknownst to all, the curse of the necklace had moved back to the Nawab of Bengal. It would ensure the decline in the fortunes and influence of the Murshidabad Royal Court over the years.
Ironically, as Omichand’s fortunes plummeted, they were on the rise for his one-time friend Nabakrishna Deb. The latter was rewarded with untold riches because of his services to the Company in the conspiracy against Siraj Ud Daula. Earning the title of Raja, Nabakrishna Deb rose in stature to become one of the leading luminaries in Calcutta.
Raja Nabakrishna Deb came to know that Clive wanted to do a thanksgiving ceremony to celebrate his victory at Plassey. Unfortunately, there was no suitable place in Calcutta, the one church that had been there was destroyed in Siraj Ud Daula’s attack a year earlier.
Nabakrishna suggested to Clive, “Your Lordship, I would like to invite you to the Durga Utsav that I would be performing at my residence. You may offer your thanks to the Goddess Durga”.
What Clive did not know was that this really was not the time for Durga Pujo which falls during the Bengali month of Chaitra, the end March- beginning April period. However the shrewd Nabakrishna had directed his purohits to come out with a suitable date or tithi in the local calendar. The generous pronami that was offered no doubt motivated the local priest community to come out with the creative solution of Akaal Bodhon.This essentially permitted the Durga Pujo ritual to be performed in autumn.
On the appointed day of the Pujo, Clive drove in his carriage to Nabakrishna Deb’s residence in Shova Bazaar and participated in what was to become the biggest festival in the Bengali calendar. He was accompanied by a number of Englishmen. The pomp and grandeur of the pujo were such that it became a talking point and something to aspire for by the upcoming rich merchant class. The Company Pujo, as it became known as, was not the usual conservative ritual based Hindu puja. Instead, it became known for its dance parties, elaborate menu of meats from the Wilson Hotel and unlimited drinks!
It is also said that Raja Nabakrishna Deb’s guests were regaled with the performances of the best nautch girls of Calcutta, one of them being the sensational new courtesan Rajni Bai who also responded to the name Joba.
Dusk was on its way. The twinkling lights on both banks brought in an ethereal quality all around. Conversations were muted as most guests were immersed in the surroundings. The low voice of the Chronicler seemed to gain in intensity.
“The betrayal was huge and its impact momentous. A betrayal that led to the Nawab of Bengal losing the battle and his independence to a much smaller army. A betrayal that led to the payment of huge bribe money of Rupees eighty million to Nabakrishna Deb and other conspirators. A betrayal which led to the British becoming the dominant power in the subcontinent for over two centuries”.
But what is interesting is that this greatest betrayal in Indian history is so inexorably linked to one of the biggest religious festivals in the country. What is ironic is that the secular nature of the Durga Pujo festival, which receives praise all over the world, finds it origin in a tale of conspiracy and betrayal.” The Chronicler paused, looking at Samir with his hooded eyes.
Samir sat fascinated, only to hear the soft voice resuming from far, far away.
“The Hooghly ghats then were a far cry from the crumbling cesspools that we are seeing today. With magnificent facades and European classical architectures, the ghats were witness to impressive steam ships and tall masted boats sailing out to faraway places in England, Australia and New Zealand as also upstream to ports on the Ganga”.
“Did you know that there were thriving French, Dutch and Armenian settlements on the Hooghly in the early years of colonisation?” the Chronicler asked.
“Well I had read about the French settlement”, Samir responded.
“Fascinating, is it not, that events and rivalries five thousand miles away in Europe would show up in the waxing and waning of the Hooghly ghats? And so, it was that as the British colonialism went into ascendancy after winning the Napoleonic Wars in Europe in the early nineteenth century, the settlements of other nationalities on the Hooghly faded into oblivion.”
“Hmm! Interesting indeed. But what happened to the pearl necklace carrying the curse?’ asked Samir.
“Well for that we need to get into another story. A story which too is inexorably linked to the Hooghly”, replied the Chronicler.
Shakti Ghosal is new to the genre of fiction. He uses a wide-angle narrative style in his writings into which he brings his rich global perspective and life experiences. He loves to explore relationships within emergent situations. An engineer and a MBA (Faculty Gold Medal 1984) from IIM Bangalore, Shakti Ghosal has lived close to four decades of corporate life in India and abroad. A professional certified Coach, Mentor and Trainer, Shakti Ghosal runs Leadership Workshop cum coaching programs for organisations as part of his commitment to develop and upgrade Leadership Incubation globally. He is a visiting professor at IIM Udaipur, IIM Kashipur and IIM Nagpur. www.linkedin.com/in/Shaktighosal, https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCMg92VMo3_Cw8k-cu1rYWwg Ghosal has been blogging for close to a decade ( about 800 followers, 39,000 hits from all over the globe) on Leadership incubation, performance, life experience, philosophy and trends, and more recently, on his forthcoming book.www.esgeemusings.com
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