Her mobile buzzed. It was a message from Vinod Kapadia, the art detective from India. We need to talk.
What’s wrong? Neelam typed back, irritated.
The blue jade Krishna…
What about it? That damn thing haunted her life. She wanted nothing to do with it.
I know where it is. Shit!
Neelam was trembling. She stared at nothing in particular, her thoughts on a distant past. It was two years ago when her life had turned upside down. She recalled the chain of events that had led to this moment. Her body shuddered; she slid down and sat on the floor, knees folded tightly to her chest, arms taut. She squeezed her eyes shut. The incident was fresh in her mind…
It was at a time when life was secure. She had a promising career path in antiquities research and recording archaeological finds. One afternoon, Neelam had returned home from one of her archaeological travels to Cambodia. She had brought back a small Khmer artefact, quite unique in its heritage. She wanted to display it and decided that the glass cabinet in the living room would be ideal.
She shifted her grandmother’s large Mirabai statue to make space for her Khmer piece. Mirabai was old, slightly chipped and yellowed with age. As Neelam gently lifted it aside, a clink from inside the statue caught her attention. What secrets did Mirabai hold within her?
Khmer artefact forgotten, Neelam carried the sculpture out of the glass cabinet. She shook it gently and heard the distinct sound of a solid object inside. Something must have broken inside; it was an old piece that her parents treasured because of her grandma. Neelam shook it yet again and realised the sound was in the wooden piece reverently held in Mirabai’s lap.
She placed the statue on the table and pulled at the wooden stringed instrument. The pressure of Neelam’s touch broke it. She placed the wooden segment aside and peered inside the ball-shaped hollow end of the stringed instrument. There was something there. Carefully, Neelam tried to feel it out. It was a hard, smooth object that she got a grip on and pulled it out. It clattered on the table. Neelam froze wide-eyed, shocked at the flash of azure. “What is that?” she murmured to herself.
She never expected to find anything so uniquely beautiful. The stunning piece was a Krishna pendant. But it was no ordinary pendant; it was a deep cerulean blue. Neelam picked it up and studied it carefully. The relic was made of jade, not the commonly seen green variety. This piece was intricately carved with such attention to detail that Neelam was amazed at the skill of the artisan who had created such delicate etchings.
Even without appraisal, Neelam could tell this was a rare piece; it would be extremely valuable in the art market. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing. With the help of her father’s magnifying glass, she studied the piece carefully. It was perfect; no chipped edges, just the tiny hole through which one could loop in a string to wear around the neck.
This particular jade artefact must have had Chinese origins. Jade was not popular in India; idol pendants were never made in jade, usually silver or gold. Neelam recalled that at a recent auction, a pale greyish-white jade figural pendant had sold for over two hundred thousand US dollars. Blue jade was equally extraordinary, and rare.
Neelam’s heart thudded excitedly. She had to tell her parents about this discovery. With her cell phone, she took a few pictures of the relic. The colour was so striking it reminded her of the iridescent shades of peacock feathers.
Browsing through her father’s bookshelf, Neelam found a hardback that explained the Chinese history of jade. The milky bluish figure was from the Shang dynasty era. The Shang jade was not typically green. Neelam returned her attention to the Krishna pendant. “Where did you come from?” she wondered.
A quick search on the internet gave no record of such a piece. Neelam recalled that according to Indian history, many Chinese monks had visited India in the 4th century BC in search of Buddhist texts. Was it possible that the jade pendant was presented as a gift to Chandragupta I, one of the maharajas of the Gupta Dynasty?
The pendant seemed to emanate a certain power. She had read about jade and its effects. She searched for more information. Throughout history, jade was considered a highly esteemed stone in China, valued for its metaphysical properties. It was called a “dream stone”, revered in ancient cultures to access the spiritual world and gain insight into ritualistic knowledge.
How fascinating that this most unusual, valuable ancient piece was sitting in her own home, hidden for many years. Why was it inside the Mirabai statue? Did her grandma hide it? Neelam had so many questions for her parents.
“Mysterious Mirabai,” Neelam murmured. The figural pendant must have been handed down generations and ultimately met with Mirabai who looked forlorn with the stem snapped off. Without returning the pendant to its hiding place, Neelam fixed the instrument and returned the statue to the cabinet.
Excerpted with permission from The Blue Jade, Shobha Nihalani, TreeShade Books.
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