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A BritishRaj Musical/ Adventure


 

Created by
Ji
jo
writte
n 2015
 

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priceless!

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TAGLINE
Fearing that Queen Meera Bai  is another
Rani of Jhansi in the making,
The John Company (East India Company)

deputes Prince Samir - a scoundrel, to seduce her. 
 

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the period
Sepoy Mutiny times
(mid 19th century British-India)

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Illustration  Abhilash. N

Title   yellowtooth

the plot
A Prince and his Bard meet a Queen and her Maid.
The two Rascals are out to seduce the Queen.


the characters
Rascals - Prince Samir & Poet Durgdas.
Queen - Navagh's disposed Princess Meera Bai.
Chhoti - Maid, duty bound to protect her mistress.

 

Delhi Durbar by Roderick Mackenzie

1870. On the steps of a great temple in Varanasi leading to the Ganges, a despondent poet is reciting the heart-rending epic poem that he has composed -  Anmol (The Priceless). It is the story of a woman he had loved and lost. He begins narrating a story from a decade ago...

 

Queen Meera Bai of Navagh - in solitude and isolated from the world, is imprisoned within a women’s-only fortress, far from her homeland Navagh. Orphaned when her father is killed in battle by the British, she is the sole heir to the kingdom of Navagh. Since her father’s death, she has been placed in Sabalgarh fort, completely run by women — and surrounded by a garrison of the East India Company. The John Company (East India Company) is eager to gain more knowledge of the mind of the young Queen. They suspects she is plotting to overthrow English reign and regain her father’s kingdom.

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An adventurer - Prince Samir, and his companion - poet Durgdas, come at the behest of the British to inveigle Samir into the Queen’s affections.

Prince Samir has a sinister purpose in mind — to get into the good graces of the Company, and to claim the throne of Navagh for himself.

But the Queen is clever and diplomatic. Hidden behind layers of muslin curtains and veils, she is inscrutable.

Not only is the Queen skilled — but her bodyguard, Chhoti, is well-versed in martial arts. While the Queen and Durgdas engage in literary sparring, Samir and Chhoti also duel.

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Henry-A-Payne---Charge-of-the-Queens-Bays-against-the-Mutineers-at-Lucknow-6th-March-1858-

Charge der Queens Bays gegen die Meuterer bei Lucknow  6. März 1858 by Henry A. Payne

EXTRACTS  FROM  THE  PUBLISHED  NOVEL
 

Calcutta.
Located on the north side of Dalhousie square (built in 1777 by Thomas Lyon), is the
Government House of the East India Company.

The man may have been of low birth. But exuding a creative air he walks with an ambition-
driven determination into Belvedere Hue Tavern behind the Government House Calcutta. Born
 Haridas, he is a poet. Apprenticed under Pandit Neeraj Bhavani of Benarus, he now assumes a nom de plume Durgdas. That much done well, he is now seeking the patronage of a wealthy lord or an affluent royal who would financially support his creative talents. This starving yet ambitious bard is unhesitant to introduce himself as
                   
  “Great poet Durgdas, major disciple to the late Pandit Neeraj Bhavani ”.
And to any prospective benefactor he would also add

                     “I would become another Kalidasa, someday ”.


[Kālidāsa was a Classical Sanskrit author who is often considered ancient India's greatest playwright and dramatist.

He wrote the epic poem MEGHA-SANDESA in the 4th century at Takshasila.

It is the story of a Yaksha banished from his homeland sending a love letter to his sweetheart using a cloud as his messenger].


                      “Kali — who?” ...

Now, that was a question in inebriated state when Poet Durgdas was first introduced to Prince Samir. Samir was celebrating a duel in which he had vanquished an opponent. Durgdas didn't walk out at this demeaning question. By the science of cosmology, his
meeting this person Samir surely held potential merits for poet Durgdas. Moreover, the poet
found that there is a boyish charm about this person who calls himself ‘Prince’.

NAUTCH    Edwin Lord Weeks

Since not a Kalidasa, yet, poet Durgdas was given an opportunity to sing a few Quawali (!)
couplets by Prince Samir. At least it was a hit with the nautch (dancing) girls. At this, Samir
realized that with Durgdas's talent around him, it would add esteem to his personal charisma
which otherwise lacked any semblance of art or culture.
                      “Stick with me Durg, with you I can get more of food, wine and women at  Palaces, Ballrooms and Durbars” declared Samir.

                      “Majesty Samir, Huzoor! .... What about a royal sponsorship for
me to author an epic poem?” was Durgdas's concern.
                      “Yes that too ... Sure! As soon as I command a royal court” was the promise                              “You shall adore my court as the royal poet and then the commission to compose a national anthem shall also be yours” retorted Samir.

Touched, a couplet emanates from the poet's heart

"न दुनिया हमारा  दोस्ती से पहले 
न हुस्न मेरी शायरी से पहले" 

 

That’s how the two principal characters in our story met.

Illustration  Abhilash. N

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Lithograph Ravi Varma collection. Lonavala Press

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In her talks, Meera Bai seemed to be well aware of what was happening in the outside world. In fact, she knew almost as much as The Company official Cockerbrooke himself!

Really, her tutors had done a wonderful job during the past decade in imparting language skills, arts and statecraft to this young woman.

Given the fact that when most legitimate royal heirs were either stupid or decadent, and yet destined to take-up kingship in many princely states of British India, here was Meera Bai - a surprising exception.

Summerhouse Cawnpore.  The banquet of Lady Susan Marchioness Dalhousie.

Blaker - the Governor General's adjutant, said to Samir

                      “Why not try your charm on Meera Bai? She must be of prime age now ... for a nuptial bed. That ought to keep the imprisoned queen out of mutinies and battlefields”.

Samir boldly took the bait

                      “Can Blaker Sahib put in a good word for this prince to the Governor General?”
Blaker gives a snort that bordered on insult as
 he says

                      “Sure Sam, I shall make a good recommendation. Just get us the information. Is the queen really passive as per the Navagh Abdication? ... Just that much. No need for any sword fight or lady killing. Good luck”

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Johann Zoffany
Group Portrait of Sir Elijah and Lady Impey
ca. 1783 - 1784
Oil on canvas. 91.5 x 122 cm
Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

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Indian Pioneers by Alfred Crowdy Lovett

PART 1. chapter 6

Prince Samir with sly smile and expansive gesture

“Listen, I am going to seduce Queen Meera Bai … and you are my Trojan horse”

Observing Durgdas’s puzzled expression Samir says

“Oh, … you haven’t heard of .. (snap, snap) what was that Greek crap ... ah.. Yiliad ?” he added “Trojan horse is an expression for deception … to storm a fort”.

“No Huzoor”, Durgdas shook his head “… not a HORSE … but a SWAN!

Uh …uh? आपने  नल-चरित  नहीं सुना ?

With a romantic air Durgdas says

... I would rather be a swan - the love facilitator, as in the poem of Prince Nala courting Princess Damayanti”

Samir asks

“Well … the question is, do you see a Kalidasa tomorrow in Navagh’s court?”

 

That was an offer the poet couldn’t refuse. Still Durgdas observes ...

“Huzoor ... I think you need a Chanakya instead of a Durgdas.

It took Chanakya to anoint a minor prince and establish the 200 yearlong Maurya dynasty”

शानदार  भोर   (राग ललित)

PART 2. chapter 1

Queen Meera Bai broke the silence

“I heard someone mention ‘Pandit Neeraj Bhavani’. What do you know about him, poet?”

 

At the mention of his guru – more dear to him than both his parents, suddenly Durgdas found emanating from his lips ‘The Magnificent भोर Bhoar (dawn/ daybreak)’. It was considered the greatest (yet, a very very difficult) composition in Raga Lalith by Pandit Bhavani. He sang out the first lines with such passion that it occurred to him that the walls of the hall were vibrating.

He found his confidence rising … and rising!

For, he knew for sure that nobody could render this composition as magnificently as he did … this was a testimony once given to him by guruji himself!

 

Then suddenly a miracle occurred … a voice took up his song and completed the singing for him. His eyes were remaining closed in concentration. Durgdas opened them in wonder to seek the source of the voice which was resonating from all around. Then he suddenly realized it came from behind the Dhaka muslin curtains.

It was the Queen!

 

Durgdas  found the confidence to ask her

“Your majesty, how have you come to learn भोर ?”

 

"Your guruji was mine too, … here on assignment … for one year”

came the voice from beyond the muslin.

This made Durgdas realize that there were more things than just poetry going inside the head of the owner of that voice. Her observations from beyond the muslin were even sharper than anybody unrestricted by a veil.

Suddenly Meera Bai put in a new topic

“Poet, tell me what’s new in Khari Boli & Padmakar Bhatt? Enlighten me!”

 

Here was Durgdas - who for the past many months was pandering his noble talents to tasteless women at banquets and bawdy men at the taverns, now suddenly in front of an appreciative audience! A Queen!!

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मोहि लकि सोवता बियोरिंगो सुवेनी बनी

  तो रिगो हि ऐ की पर घोरिगा सुभैया की ।"

PART 3. chapter 4

At the ferry crossing, a violent confrontation was about to occur.

Suddenly, Chhoti seeing an unearthly vision, cries out, drops her weapons and runs off towards it.

What had attracted her attention was a field of flamingo birds on the dry river bed.

She forgets herself and frolics through the pack of birds in bliss.

It is an irritated Samir and a touched Durgdas who pursue to bring her to her senses.

Observing for the first time a different girl - a joyous Chhoti, makes Samir fascinated and Durgdas emotional.

After chasing the flamingos, Chhoti breaks down in sheer ecstasy.

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Illustration  Abhilash. N

Meera Bai exclaims

                      “…. Poet, you seem to be on the verge of breaking down!! …. is it because of … Chhoti?   What’s happening to you?”

Durgdas  answers in a chocked voice

                      "Your Highness, there we saw her suddenly drop everything and start screaming … the next moment we see her running through that flock of birds … trying to hug the small ones … kiss the larger ones”

Durgdas laughs dementedly and chokes

                      “And there we are …  chasing after her …  both of us trying to prevent her from flying off with those birds!”

Durgdas laughs again at the absurdity of the situation and says

                      “Majesty, those birds, is an everyday sight there. …. But to realize that for a girl born and raised in captivity ….. to behold for the first time, the outside world is so overwhelming!! …..”

Durgdas composes himself and shakes his head in negation.

                      “No, …. it is not Chhoti   … but, you Meera Bai, … you my majesty!”

Durgdas was opening his heart

                      “Whenever I saw Chhoti shriek with joy, my thoughts were on you. …. …. A Queen you are … but, you are also a woman not much different from that girl. Given the opportunity, wouldn’t you like to laugh like her … out there under the vast open skies?”

He paused to search for movements on the veil covering her face.

                      “Wouldn’t you like to chase flamingos and attempt flying with them? …. 

…. Jostle and fight with packs of shrieking children …. while picking flowers in a field of hyacinth? …. …. jump hurdles over woolly lambs? … streak screaming through misty mountainsides?”

He felt her tremble.

                      “Dear majesty, don’t you desire to jump up and down like crazy

on freshly winnowed stacks of hay?”

PART 4. chapter 2

The Kumbh Mela. A trap set for Queen Meera Bai.

The conclusion of the massive festival.

They wait to see whether the queen takes the bait.

Mingling with the thousands of attendees, masqueraded as pilgrims and temple functionaries, there was a contingent from the English Company.

With them Prince Samir, Poet Durgdas and Chhoti were anxiously waiting for something that was about to happen. Samir and the Company Officials were closely watching Chhoti. Sensing her discomfiture Durgdas reached out to hold her hand in a gesture of reassurance.

storyboard illustrations by Baiju N.

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● Suddenly the Sarpanch is seen gesticulating animatedly to draw the Company Official’s attention. He was pointing to a group of fighters coalescing. They were being shepherded by distinguishly dressed akharas (Kumbh Mela convenors) ... and to our trio, the men looked like the mukhiya (Navaghi provincials/ elders) to whom they had distributed Queen Meera Bai’s largesse about a month back.
Suddenly catching everybody’s attention there was a chanting heard

                             “Mahadeo Bolo” ... “Bolo, Bolo”.

From a distance there came a palanquin carried by the chanting bearers. Though there were many such carriages moving around, this one was special since the akhara elders and their followers were seen moving towards the palanquin expectantly.

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● The mob assembling around the solitary palanquin got increasing .. making it difficult to see. And the group was getting obscured in the tide of humanity. Samir looks towards the Company officials ... they too seem to have sensed a conspiracy.
                             “The palanquin! The palanquin! Surround it!!”

Shouts Samir as he leaps forward.
                             “Dont let anyone escape!!”

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It was a mad rush.
Company soldiers appearing from among the pilgrims attempt to surround the 
palanquin and the group around it. But, like a charging elephant rampaging helter-skelter to shake off its hunter, the group move through the mela crowd ... occasionally disappearing from view.


When Samir and the contingent finally had them surrounded and stopped, a fight ensued. It was a furious skirmish - shouting, brawl, sword and fistfights. The defenders furiously denying the attackers from getting to the carriage. The Company soldiers ferociously trying to uncover whatever was in there. Women warriors jump out from the palanquin and ward the Company soldiers off.

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Closely following Samir, Durgdas (still holding hands with Chhoti) find themselves too under attack. Reminiscent of the trio’s past adventures, Samir and Chhoti rush to Durgdas’s defence when the poet’s life is on the line. Chhoti with her bare palms (and soles), Samir with his sword and pistols.
Bloodshed ensues.
Slashing madly and firing furiously to shake off assailants, Samir screams

                             “Chhoti ... the palanquin! Get it open. Get the one inside ... Quick!!”


Chhoti smashes the carriage’s side and enters ... but she goes down under a multitude of defenders. Dust and fury fly all around ... obscuring vision.


● With the Company soldiers warding off the diminishing number of defenders, Samir and Durgdas forcefully cut open the palanquin. There they find Chhoti lying bound and writhing amidst ornate chests and precious items stacked within the palanquin. Tied-up with shreds of what possibly could
have been the Queen’s vestment (gold embroidered dupatta), she was struggling violently to free herself.

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storyboard illustrations by Baiju N.

Illustration   yellowtooth

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