BOOK EXCERPT

You know the Kohinoor. Here’s the (fictitious) story of the Kalinoor

An excerpt from Bangladeshi writer Shazia Omar's 'Dark Diamond', a new historical romance set in the swashbuckling times of Shayista Khan in Bengal.

Jean-Baptiste Tavernier was a notorious hedonist and a spy who romanced princesses from Persia and wrote obscure travel books. He was not only a diamond merchant, he was the pioneer of the diamond trade with Hindustan. If he was in town, there could be only one sparkling reason why.

“Nothing like a bit of tropical air to keep a man young,” he said. “Besides, I do prefer the brightness of a copper faced lady to the pallid hue of the European damsels. Looks like you’ve gotten some sun. What brings you out this far?”

“I have come for herbs,” stammered Madeline, with a sinking feeling in her gut. Tavaji was not going to help her at all. She was chasing a chimera.

“Isn’t destiny splendid?” Tavernier laughed. “I was wondering how I would reach you, and voila, here you are at my door step! Incroyable, n’est pas?”

With a heavily bejewelled hand on her shoulder, he propped himself up and leaned on his walking stick, a polished piece of mahogany with a golden handle the shape of a serpent. He walked over to a stand with a decanter and two glasses. “This tribal region is titillating, is it not? Have you tasted their rice wine?”

Madeline shook her head. His slurs suggested that he most certainly had.

“Would you like some?” he asked, waving his stick. It was about four feet long and delicate, with intricate designs chiselled on the serpent, ornate gold inlays and encrusted jewels.

She shook her head. Her hair was light and bouncy.

“Liquid jollity is my raison d’etre.” He smiled indulgently at his big belly and poured himself another glass. “As a connoisseur, I do say, these simple folks have perfected their brew.”

He walked back to Madeline, tapping his stick with each step. Tap, tap, tap, tap. “There’s a proper matriarchy here. In my 180,000 miles of travel, I’ve never come across anything quite as quaint.”

What was he getting at? What did he want from her?

“While Bengal flourishes, look at us?” Tavernier cleared his throat. “France is being taken over by narrow-minded zealots.” He paused to polish the golden snake hilt of his staff with his handkerchief. Its eyes were made of red rubies. Its teeth were sparkling diamonds.

Code Noir?” He spat out his words. “King Louis is a fascist slave trader!”

Madeline shrank back.

“Do you know he has evicted Protestants from the country?” Tavernier’s eyes were raving with hatred. “He’s a pig! Un conchon! Un CONCHON!”

“Where are your manners, Monsieur?” said Madeline, scared.

“Don’t pretend to be so honourrrrable.” He stumbled towards her. “I know why you are here.” He caressed a strand of her hair. “Trying to weasel your way into my diamond outfit?” He was so close, his speech sprayed on her face.

She pushed him away.

“Mademoiselle, such arrogance when you know nothing? You must really gather more intelligence if you plan to succeed. You see, I know everything about you.”

“No you don’t.”

Tavernier raised a cocky eye brow. “Your father was caught selling fake pearls to Madam Maintainant for her wedding and now you are trying to win back his freedom.”

Madeline froze.

“Don’t look so surprised. It’s not much of a secret anymore. Everyone in Versailles knows you supplied those pearls to your father. He sold you out! He is grovelling at King Louis’ feet. Now it is your own freedom you must earn, not his.”

Madeline glared at Tavernier. There was nobody she detested more. Could it be true? Her own father had betrayed her?

“I could kill you right now,” said Tavernier. “And no one would ever know.”

Madeline disguised her fear. To show fear would be to lose the battle. “I am not here alone. If I go missing...”

Shayista Khan
Shayista Khan

He drew a skinny, straight sword out of his walking stick. It looked more like an accessory than a weapon but its tip could surely poke a hole through her dress.

“I could kill you,” said the intoxicated Frenchman. “But I won’t. Not if you agree to help me.”

“Help you?” asked Madeline. “But how?”

He waved the blade at her face clumsily. “I sold my chateau to finance this odyssey.” He traced her figure with the tip of the blade. A storm clouded his countenance. He grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her. “I want that diamond.”

“Diamond?” Madeline could not conceal her shock. She thought they were talking about maps.

“Sacre bleu, do you take me for a fool? I’ll kill you,” he shouted.

“Talk business rather than threatening me. We may both have something to gain.” She spoke with an even voice though fear knocked her entrails. She glanced out the window and wished she had brought Abdul along with her. There was no one to call to for help. Later, she would pay Costa to stick a dagger in this fool’s derriere.

Tavernier resumed his seat. “You have access to the Subedar?”

Madeline nodded. “He is an extraordinary gentleman.’


“Here is the plan. It’s simple really. Purchase Kalinoor then hand it over to me.’


“Since you want it, I assume it will cost a fortune,” replied Madeline, her heart racing. “I don’t have that kind of money.’


“I will take care of that. Your only task is to convince the Viceroy to part with his bijoux.’


“Why don’t you buy it yourself?” she said.


“The Viceroy and I have our... differences.’


Madeline raised an eye brow.


“As a young soldier, Khan fought with Aurangzeb to overthrow the Deccan Empire. Their campaign was successful and Khan came into possession of the treasury of Qutb Adl Shah of Golconda.

“Khan was rich before but after that he became one of the richest men in the Empire. Within his collection were several unique specimens. Diamonds of immense size and power, unusual colours: pink, yellow, blue.”

“Blue?”

“Deep-blue like the ocean,” said Tavernier, nostalgically. “Glows in the dark. Cool to the touch. Never have I seen anything as exquisite.” His eyes sparkled with pure adoration.

“You stole it?” said Madeline.

“Stole is an unflattering word,” said Tavernier. “I appropriated it from Khan just as he appropriated it from the Deccan.”

“It is an ancient gem,” said Madeline, recalling words she had heard earlier. “It belongs to these people.”

“Khan offered 300,000 rupees for the return of the French Bleu. I sold it to King Louis for a whopping 450,000 rupees instead!”

Enough to purchase a castle, thought Madeline, but not class.

“I am an afficionado of art and fine gems, same as you,” said Tavernier. “But let me warn you, you cannot pull off this heist on your own. You need me. Without me, you’re nothing. Bring me the diamond and we can both make it big. You can return to France alive and purchase all the posh friends you dream of.”

Madeline narrowed her gaze. “Why would the Subedar give me the diamond?”

Tavernier glared. “Don’t be daft!” His spit sprayed all over her face. “How does a woman persuade a man of anything?”

Madeline scowled at the impropriety of his words. “If I can obtain Kalinoor,” she said cautiously, “How will I find you?”

Tavernier smiled. “I’m coming with you.”

Excerpted with permission from Dark Diamond, Shazia Omar, Bloomsbury.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.