Letter from Rohana Shaheen in Visnagar, India, to Mayuri Falodiya in London

08 August 1800

Mayuri Falodiya, Proprietress
Masala Rajah Gentleman’s Retreat
London, England

Miss Rohana Shaheen Visnagar, India

My dearest friend, Mayuri,

It has been so many years since I have seen your face, heard the soft lilt of your voice, the grace of your fingers on the sarangi. I can hardly remember the dances of our youth, the music we once made together, the joy and laughter of our nights with Ramraja, days filled with young women’s silly dreams of love and devotion. It is my fondest hope for you, who once I called my sister, that you found such affection with a lover after your departure from India.

After my disgrace before the Chhatrapati and the tawaifs, I do not forget you were the one woman who came to my defense. You paid dearly for your insistence that the actions of my lover were not my own, that as Ramraja himself offered me up to the Vikanta as a gift, I deserved the protection of the emperor, not his contempt. For your defense of me, you were scarred beyond reckoning and banished with only your jewels to keep you, and I have grieved for the loss of your beauty and your livelihood since that fateful day.

I write at long last with news of my life since your departure for England and to ask the greatest service any woman can ask another. I will not dissemble, my friend, as you must know my years have not been easy, nor the life of comfort we were promised as the most favored tawaifs of the Maratha princes. Indeed, raising two children with no husband or protector has been a daily challenge for more than a decade. Were it not for the Vikanta’s generosity upon his leave-taking, we might have starved, for such is the charity shown by the royal family.

But such children! Both lovely girls: Kali, a graceful, thoughtful young lady who turns thirteen today, showing signs she will grow into an incomparable woman; and Kamala, who is yet a silly miss of almost eleven, and prefers stories of romance to her lessons. Both have a distinct flair for languages—English, French, Hindi, Sanskrit, and Farsi—and both show talent for the arts, Kamala with a special aptitude for the yaal harp, Kali an extraordinary dancer. Both are well-mannered and well-trained to the caste; I have seen to that myself.

This, however, is why I must ask a more important indulgence than I have ever asked anyone, as you will soon be the only hope for my daughters.

My health is failing, death slowly stalking me, as it often does, but I do not have so much time left as young girls dream. Without me, they will be alone in the world with no one to speak for them, to keep them safe, to be the mother they will yet need, both still so young. I believed, ten years ago, the Vikanta’s orders of protection by his soldiers were a boon, but now I see they only aligned my fate with those who would become my country’s enemies, ignoble men disinclined to provide shelter on the orders of a man an ocean away.

I have begged Emperor Shahu to place my girls under the imperial court’s protection, but you know his temperament better than any. I was fortunate to be granted an audience, but only so he could speak of how poorly I have aged and give vent to his long-standing hatred of my former lover. Of my children, he suggested only that they sell themselves to British soldiers, as that is what he considers I have done.

Our shared friend, Nitara, called me aside as I left the palace to say you have opened a kotha in London to train girls to our way of life. It is my dearest hope you will accept Kali and Kamala to study with you—the most talented tawaif of our generation—and help them find their start in life.

I do not ask out of remembrance of our childhood friendship, but rather offer the last of the fortune I was gifted by the Vikanta, not an inconsiderable sum, holding out only what the girls will require to make their way when they are fully grown. There is no other woman in the world to whom I can entrust my greatest treasures and the monies saved to keep them from harm.

As you are in London, you may yet discover the whereabouts of the Vikanta, Sutcliff Knightley, formerly Viscount Asheton and Lieutenant-General of the 29th Regiment of Bengal Sepoys, who will surely by now be the Earl of Birchbright. I cannot provide his direction, but if he can be located and is still the decent man I remember, he will honor his promise to protect our daughters. I beg of you, my friend, help me save my girls from certain ruin.

Namaste, my sister,

Rohana Shaheen


Find out what happens to Kali and Kamala in

La Déesse Noire: The Black Goddess.

ldn-cover-500x750

Sired by a British peer, born of a paramour to Indian royalty, Kali Matai has been destined from birth to enthrall England’s most powerful noblemen—though she hadn’t counted on becoming their pawn. Finding herself under the control of ruthless men, who will not be moved by her legendary allure, she has no choice but to use her beauty toward their malicious and clandestine ends. When those she holds most dear are placed in peril by backroom political dealings, she enlists some of the most formidable lords in England to thwart her enemies. But even with the help of the prominent gentlemen she has captivated, securing Kali’s freedom, her family, and the man she loves, will require her protectors stop at nothing to fulfill her desires.

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