Quinine, Mangoes and Peacocks (Virsā Artwork inspired by this story: MOR - The Peacock)

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Colonial Punjab, circa 1920s in a hilly Cantonment.

She had never seen a peacock before until just now when she witnessed this magnificent bird in all its glory trying to woo its mate, minutes before the clouds burst and the monsoon soaked up the parched summer earth. This was India, the crown jewel of the Great British Empire. And, she and her husband were here defending the Empire and well, civilising the barbaric, pagan natives. She wrote letters to her mother back in London and told her of the finest cottons, silks, *chai and spices she was surrounded with… and, yes, the mosquitos too. Her physician had reminded her to ensure they never missed their dose of quinine.

She looked outside the window and told herself she must ask Mira, her orderly to gather peacock feathers for her. They would make excellent bookmarks and a small gift for her mom – small enough to slip into an envelope. As a young girl, she had read about dancing peacocks, singing *koels, mangoes and pineapples… !

She also remembered a set of napkins in her Aunt’s tea-parlour - each had a peacock embroidered on it in hues of candy pink, royal blue and deep fuchsia (or ‘ferozi’ as the Indians called it). Not to forget the matching table-cloth with a border full of golden wheat stalks embroidered in the darning stitch and more resplendent peacocks. Maybe that’s when her fascination with the tropics started until her handsome soldier made it a reality and they were married and set sail for their Indian adventure!

 

*chai: tea; *koel: a singing bird


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