A story from the recent Duckbill Workshop in Delhi, featuring a large stone and a timeless curse.
The Queen was livid. How could this be true? No, there was no way this was possible. After all the Kohinoor has belonged to the Royal family for over a hundred and fifty years when it was first brought to London from Bombay on that special ship.
“Good morning, Krishna; where is Father?”
“Sahib has already left for the treasury with someone, baba.” Krishna replied as he laid breakfast at the table.
Edward’s father had left early again. Edward had hardly seen him since his return from London; he could barely wait to hear the stories of the voyage. Oh! How he loved them. His favourite was the one in which father had defeated three pirate ships in one night. No wonder he was the Queen’s favourite.
Edward, on the other hand, never had much news for Father. He went to an uninteresting school with uninteresting boys in the uninteresting town of Bombay. He terribly missed his old school and if given a chance he would run back to London today. But the last four days had been different; he had at last made a friend. And he so badly wanted to tell Father about him.
“Father! I have been waiting to see you.” Edward hugged his father tightly as he saw him coming out of his study that afternoon.
“Hello Edward!” His father said smiling at him. “Meet Governor Paul Nash.”
“How do you do, sir?” Edward bowed to the gentleman with a smile. He had not noticed him until now.
“How do you do, Edward? I see you are a fine boy. John will be glad to meet you.”
“John?” Edward was surprised to hear his new friend’s name.
“John is my son; he joined school just four days ago.”
Edward could not believe it! Father’s visitor Governor Paul Nash was his new friend John’s father.
“John, I met your father yesterday? He had come home!”
“Yes, Father told me too. I could hardly believe you are the fortunate one with the Kohinoor.”
“Kohinoor. You don’t know? That diamond that your father is taking to the Queen and my father is helping him do it.”
“My father is going to the Queen? You mean to say he is going to England again?”
“I don’t know everything, Edward, but I overheard Father telling Mother about some precious diamond called Kohinoor, which has been presented to Her Majesty by an Indian prince. Your father is in charge of taking it to London. And do you know it is supposed to be cursed?”
“Kohinoor? Haunted? I don’t understand anything. And Father has just returned from London, how can he go back so soon? He has not even told me the stories from the ship yet.”
For the rest of the morning, Edward could barely pay attention to his lessons. His father had been rather busy since his return from England and they had not spent any time together. And now John was saying he was to go back. But what Edward was most worried about was the Kohinoor and that thing about it being cursed. He decided to ask Father.
In the evening, as soon as Edward reached home, he ran to the study. He had seen Father’s carriage in the driveway and was sure he was home. The doors to the study, however, were shut. He was wondering whether or not to go inside when he saw Krishna about to enter, carrying tea.
“Good evening, baba. When did you return?” Krishna asked cheerfully.
“Good evening, Krishna. Is Father inside? I want to see him.”
“Not now, baba. He is very busy and does not want to be disturbed. He has asked me to serve you supper and to tell you to go to bed afterwards.”
Edward walked towards his room glumly, his head full of questions and feet heavy with disappointment. “I need to find out what is happening,” he said to himself.
After supper, when Krishna had retired to his quarters and he was supposed to be in bed, Edward crept down the staircase into the hallway. He quietly walked up to the door of the study, trying to listen to the conversation inside. All he could hear through the thick wooden door were muffled voices. He walked to the other end of the hallway where the window was. He could now hear clearly.
“It is a dangerous exercise, sir. I have heard the stone is cursed and ….”
“I am aware of that, Governor Nash, but it is an honour for me to carry out this exercise for Her Highness. Plus there is no evidence of the curse; it’s just folklore.”
“Don’t you know that anyone who has laid his hands on Kohinoor has met with the same fate. Look what happened to the Mughals, and Nadir Shah and Maharaja Ranjit Singh, they all …”
“I am aware of it, Governor Nash, but one must carry out one’s duty. We shall leave in two days by the special ship that reaches here tomorrow from China. The chest will be transferred to my bungalow at night and in the morning we will carry it with us along with our attachés and trunks, lest someone suspect it of containing the Kohinoor.”
“Very well then, sir.”
Edward could hear his heart beat in his chest. His legs trembled and he sat down on the carpet next to the large marble statue of the Queen. “So what John had said is true. Father is indeed carrying something for the Queen which is cursed and may have cause harm to Father like it did to all others.”
Edward could hardly sleep that night. No, there was no way he could let any harm happen to Father; with Mother gone, he was all Edward had.
“John, can you tell me more about the Kohinoor?” Edward asked John at school next morning.
“Oh! Father was saying whoever possess it dies. All the Indian kings who owned it were killed in some horrible way.”
“I think it is only a story. Don’t all kings die eventually?” Edward tried to act nonchalant even though a slight chill ran down his spine as his mind spun through the things that could happen to his father: Shipwreck? Pirate attack? A fatal disease?
When he returned home, Father was not there. Krishna told Edward that he had gone to meet the Viceroy and had instructed that under no circumstances should Edward go to the study. He was to have his supper in his room and sleep early.
As soon Krishna got busy in the kitchen, Edward ran straight to the study. He was sure the study hid answers to all his questions.
The doors to the study were ajar.
In the corner of the large room, Governor Nash squatting in front of a small chest,. Every few seconds, he glanced over his shoulder towards the window.
Edward also squatted beside the large desk. He could now see everything. Mr Nash had a red velvet pouch in one hand and a large brass key in the other, with which he was trying to open the lock on the chest.
Was Governor Paul trying to steal something? And was this the chest Father had spoken about last night?
He had to do something! As he stumbled up to his feet, his head hit against the desk.
The noise startled Mr Nash, who ran to the window and vaulted out. In the rush he left the key and the red velvet pouch on the carpet.
Edward picked them up slowly.
The content of the little red velvet bag—a large shiny stone—almost blinded him. Was this the Kohinoor? And the key? Why was Governor Nash trying to steal it? Wasn’t he here to help Father?
A thousand questions cropped up in his mind as he sat on the carpet clenching the pouch in one hand and the key in the other. Then he heard his father’s carriage draw inside the gate, and ran to his room.
He had barely hidden the key and the pouch in his trunk when Father walked inside.
“How are you Edward?”
“I am alright, Father.” Words barely came out of his mouth.
“Would you like to come to London with me, tomorrow? I have some work and you could spend some time at your grandmother’s. I will have Krishna arrange your luggage.”
“Are we taking the Kohinoor with us?” Edward could barely control his words.
“Oh! So you found out.”
“John told me, Father.”
“It is a matter of great pride to serve the Queen, Edward. Soon the diamond will be embellished in Her Highness’ crown and will make England shine all through the world.” Edward saw Father’s eyes lighting up and chest swelling with pride.
“I will come with you, Father.” It was better to go with him and face the same fate as him than let him go alone to the sea with the cursed stone.
“By the way, Governor Nash is not coming with us. He has suddenly taken ill and has left for a hill station with his family.”
So Governor Nash had come to steal Father’s diamond and replace it with the other one before going on a holiday. Soon a plan started to brew in his little mind.
Edward and his father boarded the ship next morning. Along with their trunks came the small chest that had been in the study last night. It was placed securely in Father’s cabin. Edward was carrying the key and the stone in his trunk. His plan was well thought out.
He had a lovely day at the sea. Father told him all his favourite sea stories and some new ones too. Krishna cooked his favourite biryani and curry and they ate at the deck over looking the large ocean and the seagulls ducking and catching the fish around their ship.
Father retired early that night. He had been tired with all the work he had had to do in the last few weeks and needed rest. Krishna kept him company until late and told him Indian war tales including that of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and the Moghuls. Late in the night after tucking Edward in bed, Krishna also went to his cabin to sleep. But Edward could barely sleep a wink.
The rays of a bright full moon steamed inside the cabins through the small portholes. As he slowly walked to Father’s cabin, all Edward could hear was the sound of his own footsteps.
Father seemed fast asleep, gentle snores reverberated in the warm darkness. Edward’s hands trembled as he struggled with the lock in the dark. What would happen if Father or Krishna were to see him? Would they think he was stealing? But this was no time to think. He worked quickly; once inside the slot it took only two turns of the key to unlock the chest.
His heart was beating faster than ever now; his mouth dried and his eyes widened with amazement at what he saw inside. Another red pouch with a similar stone rested in a blue velvet tray. The only difference: this pouch had the royal emblem on it and the stone was shinier. Edward quietly exchanged the contents of the two bags, locked the chest and left the cabin.
Only when he reached the deck and felt the sea breeze on his face did he realise that he was drenched in sweat.
He heart leapt to his throat with fear and excitement as he walked towards the side of the deck. With a swing of his arm, Edward flung the red velvet pouch in the ocean and along with it the Kohinoor. A smile of relief finally came on to his little face. With the cursed stone now gone, nothing could take his father away from him.
The ship with Edward, his father and the Kohinoor reached the shores of London in a few months. The diamond was taken to the palace and encrusted in the British Crown. Of course no one knows that it is a replica of the real one that lies buried in the sea.