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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Weekly Serial Poetry: Saqil pa Q’equ’mal: Light in Darkness

About this Book

xibalba-cover

The Mayan myths of the Popol Vuh are at once sensual and ruthless, none more so than the trials of Xibalba. In the oral and written traditions of this indigenous people, the road to the ancient underworld is well-marked, its fearsome tests legend. In a series of thirteen poems, a modern woman takes this time-honored journey through good and evil and what lies between, finding strength and refuge, union and reunion, and new purpose in primeval pleasures.

© 2016 Mari Anne Christie


XIII. Paqalik: The Ascent

Akul leads her back
to the silent gate
then runs ahead.

No life, no death
swallows the piercing light.
There are no seekers
ringing the walls. She can see

all the way to the cliffs,
listens for roq’ob’ala’, watches
the bats settle in for daylight
slumber in the trees.

To read the rest of Section XIII, the last section of the poem, as well as Author’s Notes about its creation, go to the blog page.


Weekly Serial Poetry: Saqil pa Q’equ’mal: Light in Darkness

About this Book

xibalba-cover

The Mayan myths of the Popol Vuh are at once sensual and ruthless, none more so than the trials of Xibalba. In the oral and written traditions of this indigenous people, the road to the ancient underworld is well-marked, its fearsome tests legend. In a series of thirteen poems, a modern woman takes this time-honored journey through good and evil and what lies between, finding strength and refuge, union and reunion, and new purpose in primeval pleasures.

© 2016 Mari Anne Christie


XII. Chaim Ja: Blade House

The shards of the door
cut her finger: a kiss
of anticipation.

I am almost afraid.

You? You are afraid of Chaim Ja?

She feels his laughter
in her gut, then nothing.

To read the rest of Section XII, go to the blog page.


Save

Save

Weekly Serial Poetry: Saqil pa Q’equ’mal: Light in Darkness

About this Book

xibalba-cover

The Mayan myths of the Popol Vuh are at once sensual and ruthless, none more so than the trials of Xibalba. In the oral and written traditions of this indigenous people, the road to the ancient underworld is well-marked, its fearsome tests legend. In a series of thirteen poems, a modern woman takes this time-honored journey through good and evil and what lies between, finding strength and refuge, union and reunion, and new purpose in primeval pleasures.

© 2016 Mari Anne Christie


XI. Sotz’i Ja: Bat House

The house is crumbling;
unseeing eyes in
cracks mark her
progress to the door.

She stops and waits
for armored defense.
These winged mysteries

of sound and speed, of light,
make centipede knees of her skin
falling and shaken

To read the rest of Section XI, go to the blog page.


Save

Save

Weekly Serial Poetry: Saqil pa Q’equ’mal: Light in Darkness

About this Book

xibalba-cover

The Mayan myths of the Popol Vuh are at once sensual and ruthless, none more so than the trials of Xibalba. In the oral and written traditions of this indigenous people, the road to the ancient underworld is well-marked, its fearsome tests legend. In a series of thirteen poems, a modern woman takes this time-honored journey through good and evil and what lies between, finding strength and refuge, union and reunion, and new purpose in primeval pleasures.

© 2016 Mari Anne Christie


X. B’alami Ja: Jaguar House

There are cats at the gate,
xpe kotz’ b’alam,
xpe tukum b’alam.

stalking their territory.

Keq’ichowik,
fangs twice as wide
as her jugular.

To read the rest of Section X, go to the blog page.


Save

Weekly Serial Poetry: Saqil pa Q’equ’mal: Light in Darkness

About this Book

xibalba-cover

The Mayan myths of the Popol Vuh are at once sensual and ruthless, none more so than the trials of Xibalba. In the oral and written traditions of this indigenous people, the road to the ancient underworld is well-marked, its fearsome tests legend. In a series of thirteen poems, a modern woman takes this time-honored journey through good and evil and what lies between, finding strength and refuge, union and reunion, and new purpose in primeval pleasures.

© 2016 Mari Anne Christie


IX. Xuxulim Ja: Shivering House

With her unproven weapon,
she scrapes frost from the window,
channeling heat from her hands
through the cold,
green copper of the wall.

The foolish blade freezes,
fear dripping from the point.
She warms it
from her center, slides it back
in the sheath at her hip.

To read the rest of Section IX, go to the blog page.


Save

Weekly Serial Poetry: Saqil pa Q’equ’mal: Light in Darkness

About this Book

xibalba-cover

The Mayan myths of the Popol Vuh are at once sensual and ruthless, none more so than the trials of Xibalba. In the oral and written traditions of this indigenous people, the road to the ancient underworld is well-marked, its fearsome tests legend. In a series of thirteen poems, a modern woman takes this time-honored journey through good and evil and what lies between, finding strength and refuge, union and reunion, and new purpose in primeval pleasures.

© 2016 Mari Anne Christie


VIII. Q’equ’ma Ja: Darkness House

Another hike, another road.
Another Q’eqa b’e.

Dark soil muddies
her shoes. The anthame
at her ankle drags,

so she leaves it, an altar,
by the side of the road. Angry
burning coals combust
beneath her leather soles.

To read the rest of Section VIII, go to the blog page.


Save

Weekly Serial Poetry: Saqil pa Q’equ’mal: Light in Darkness

About this Book

xibalba-cover

The Mayan myths of the Popol Vuh are at once sensual and ruthless, none more so than the trials of Xibalba. In the oral and written traditions of this indigenous people, the road to the ancient underworld is well-marked, its fearsome tests legend. In a series of thirteen poems, a modern woman takes this time-honored journey through good and evil and what lies between, finding strength and refuge, union and reunion, and new purpose in primeval pleasures.

© 2016 Mari Anne Christie


VII. Ri Popob’al: The Council Place

Nightbreak the next morning,
she wakes to his hand
through her hair.

He tempers the chill
in the room when he says,
“It is time: kattaqentaj.”

To read the rest of Section VII, go to the blog page.


Weekly Serial Poetry: Saqil pa Q’equ’mal: Light in Darkness

About this Book

xibalba-cover

The Mayan myths of the Popol Vuh are at once sensual and ruthless, none more so than the trials of Xibalba. In the oral and written traditions of this indigenous people, the road to the ancient underworld is well-marked, its fearsome tests legend. In a series of thirteen poems, a modern woman takes this time-honored journey through good and evil and what lies between, finding strength and refuge, union and reunion, and new purpose in primeval pleasures.

© 2016 Mari Anne Christie


VI. Tinimit: The Town

The next-morning sun
slants through the window
as they rush through
the meat pies and fruit
that are breakfast.

Val takes food from
the innkeeper’s daughter
and carries it under his cloak,
handing her a gold coin
and touching her cheek
to see her blush.

To read the rest of Section VI, go to the blog page.


Weekly Serial Poetry: Saqil pa Q’equ’mal: Light in Darkness

About this Book

xibalba-cover

The Mayan myths of the Popol Vuh are at once sensual and ruthless, none more so than the trials of Xibalba. In the oral and written traditions of this indigenous people, the road to the ancient underworld is well-marked, its fearsome tests legend. In a series of thirteen poems, a modern woman takes this time-honored journey through good and evil and what lies between, finding strength and refuge, union and reunion, and new purpose in primeval pleasures.

© 2016 Mari Anne Christie


V. Nim Ja’: The River

The morning is early grey,
sun hidden in this
place of looming.
The mists heat her blood.

Breakfast is brought,
bean stew with squash
and peppers, reheated
from last night’s supper,
still filling and wakeful.

Her bath is made ready
by the innkeeper’s daughter,
whose eyes are dropped and
hands are nearly shaking.

To read the rest of Section V, go to the blog page.