Comfortably Numb

Sheila Kumar's Storehouse

Published on: 11/30/17 2:04 PM

Book review: Koh-i-Noor by William Dalrymple and Anita Anand

This is more excerpts from than review of the book.

Romancing this stone! 

Prosperity, long life, increase of wives and progeny and domestic animals, and the bringing home of a teeming harvest all attend on the use of a diamond well-marked in its points, clear in lustre and divested of bainful traits. …serpents, tigers and thieves fly form the presence of a person wearing such a diamond.

The Garuda Purana, remarks Dalrymple dryly,  is possibly the only known text that imagines thieves flying away from diamonds.

The best part of the book  for me? The passage where a young Duleep Singh, yearning for a sight of the forsaken diamond, is given a chance to do just that by his benefactress Queen Victoria.

`She took the jewel from its box and dropped it into his outstretched hand, asking him if he thought it improved, and  if he would have recognised it again.

The maharaja walked towards the window and held the diamond to the sunlight. It was so much smaller than he remembered it. It was the wrong shape. It felt so much lighter in his hand. However, it was still the Koh-i-Noor, and the very touch of it transported him. For all his air of polite interest and curiosity, there was a passion of repressed emotion in his face…evident I think to Her Majesty who watched him with sympathy not unmixed with anxiety.

Time seemed to slow as the awkwardness in the room grew. At last, as if summoning up his resolution after a profound strength he raised his eyes from the jewel. I was prepared for anything, even to seeing him , in a sudden fit of madness fling the precious talisman out of the open window by which he stood. My own and the other spectators` nerves were equally on edge  as he moved deliberately to where Her Majesty was  standing. Bowing before her, Duleep gently put the gem into Queen Victoria’s hand. `It is to me, ma`am, the greatest pleasure thus to have the opportunity , as a loyal subject, of myself tendering to my sovereign, the Koh-i-Noor.`  

Neither Duleep nor any of his family would ever come so close to the diamond again.  

Anita AnanddiamondhistoryKoh-i-NoorMaharaja Duleep Singhnon-fictionQueen VictoriaWilliam Dalrymple

Sheila Kumar • November 30, 2017

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