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caught the musky flavor of lamb, lightened and transmuted by a bouquet
of spice. He next pulled away the side of a fish and wolfed it, before
realizing the red and green flecks on its surface were some incendiary
garnish. He surveyed the room in agony, praying for a mug of ale, till
an alert eunuch signaled a servant to pass a dish of yogurt. To his
amazement, the tangy, ice cold liquid seemed to instantly dissolve the
fire on his tongue.

He plunged back into the dishes. He had never eaten like this before,
even in England. He suddenly recalled with a smile an episode six
months into the voyage. After Zanzibar, when he had become so weary of
stale salt pork and biscuit he thought he could not bear to see it
again, he had locked the door of the Great Cabin and composed a full
English banquet in his mind - roast capon, next a pigeon pie larded in
bacon fat, then a dripping red side of roast mutton, followed by
oysters on the shell spiced with grilled eel, and finally a thick goose
pudding on honeyed ham. And to wash it down, a bottle of sack to begin
and a sweet muscadel, mulled even sweeter with sugar, to end. But this!
No luscious pork fat, and not nearly cloying enough for a true
Englishman. Yet it worked poetry. Symmes was right. This was heaven.

With both hands he ripped the leg off a huge bird that had been basted
to a glistening red and, to the visible horror of the server, dipped it
directly into one of the silver bowls of saffron sauce meant for pigeon
eggs. Hawksworth looked up in time to catch the server's look.

Does he think I don't like the food?

To demonstrate appreciation, he hoisted a goblet of wine to toast the
server, while he stretched for a piece of lamb with his other hand. But
instead of acknowledging the compliment, the server went pale.

"It's customary, Ambassador, to use only one's right hand when eating."
Mukarrab Khan forced a polite smile. "The left is normally reserved for
. . . attending to other functions."

Hawksworth then noticed how Mukarrab Khan was dining. He, too, ate with
his fingers, just as you would in England, but somehow he managed to
lift his food gracefully with balls of rice, the sauce never soiling
his fingertips.

A breeze lightly touched Hawksworth's cheek, and he turned to see a
servant standing behind him, banishing the occasional fly with a large
whisk fashioned from stiff horsehair attached to a long stick. Another
servant stood opposite, politely but unnecessarily cooling him with a
large fan made of red leather stretched over a frame.

"As I said, Ambassador, your requests present a number of
difficulties." Mukarrab Khan looked up and took a goblet of fruit
nectar from a waiting servant. "You ask certain things from me, things
not entirely in my power to grant, while there are others who make
entirely different requests."

"You mean the Portugals."

"Yes, the Portuguese Viceroy, who maintains you have acted illegally,
in violation of his law and ours, and should be brought to account."

"And I accuse them of acting illegally. As I told you, there's been a
Spanish ambassador in London ever since the war ended, and when we
return I assure you the East India Company will . . ."

"This is India, Captain Hawksworth, not London. Please understand I
must consider Portuguese demands. But we are pragmatic. I urge you to
tell me a bit more about your king's intentions. Your king's letter.
Surely you must know what it contains."

Mukarrab Khan paused to dip a fried mango into a shimmering orange
sauce, asking himself what he should do. He had, of course, posted
pigeons to Agra at sunrise, but he suspected already what the reply
would be. He had received a full account of the battle, and the attack
on the river, before the early, pre-sun Ramadan meal. And it was only
shortly afterward that Father Manoel Pinheiro had appeared, frantic and
bathed in sweat. Was it a sign of Portuguese contempt, he often
wondered, that they would assign such an incompetent to India?
Throughout their entire Society of Jesus, could there possibly be any
priest more ill-bred? The Jesuit had repeated facts already known
throughout the palace, and Mukarrab Khan had listened politely, masking
his amusement. How often did a smug Portuguese find himself explaining
a naval disaster? Four Portuguese warships, galleons with two gundecks,
humiliated by two small English frigates. How, Mukarrab Khan had
wondered aloud, could this have happened?

"There were reasons, Excellency. We have learned the English captain
fired langrel into our infantry, shredded metal, a most flagrant
violation of the unwritten ethics of warfare."

"Are there really supposed to be ethics in warfare? Then I suppose you
should have sent only two of your warships against him. Instead you
sent four, and still he prevailed. Today he has no need for excuses.
And tell me again what happened when your infantry assaulted the
English traders on the river?" Mukarrab Khan had monitored the Jesuit's
eyes in secret glee, watching him mentally writhe in humiliation. "Am I
to understand you could not even capture a pinnace?"

"No one knows, Excellency. The men sent apparently disappeared without
a trace. Perhaps the English had set a trap." Father Pinheiro had
swabbed his greasy brow with the sleeve of his cassock. His dark eyes
showed none of the haughty disdain he usually brought to their
meetings. "I would ask you not to speak of it outside the palace. It
was, after all, a special mission."

"You would prefer the court in Agra not know?"

"There is no reason to trouble the Moghul, Excellency." The Jesuit
paused carefully. "Or Her Majesty, the queen. This really concerns the
Viceroy alone." The Jesuit's Persian was grammatically flawless, if
heavily accented, and he awkwardly tried to leaven it with the polite
complexities he had been taught in Goa. "Still less is there any need
for Prince Jadar to know."

"As you wish." Mukarrab Khan had nodded gravely, knowing the news had
already reached half of India, and most certainly Prince Jadar. "How,
then, may I assist?"

"The English pirate and his merchants must be delayed here at least
four weeks. Until the fleet of galleons now unlading in Goa, those of
the spring voyage just arrived from Lisbon, can be outfitted to meet
him."

"But surely he and his merchants will sail when they choose. And sooner
if we deny them trade. Do you suggest that I approve this trade?"

"You must act as you see fit, Excellency. You know the Viceroy has
always been of service to Queen Janahara." Pinheiro had paused slyly.
"Just as you have been."

The cynicism of Pinheiro's flaunting his knowledge had galled Mukarrab
Khan most of all. If this Jesuit knew, who else must know? That the
governor of Surat was bound inescapably to the queen. That on any
matter involving Portuguese trade he must always send a formal message
to the Moghul and a secret one to the queen, and then wait while she
dictated the ruling Arangbar would give. Did this Jesuit know also why
Mukarrab Khan had been exiled from Agra? To the wilderness of
provincial Surat? That it was on orders of the queen, to marry and take
with him a woman becoming dangerous, the _zenana _favorite of the
Moghul, before the woman's influence outweighed that even of Janahara.
And now this female viper was in his palace forever, could not be
removed or divorced, because she was still a favorite of the Moghul's.

"So you tell me I must make them rich before you can destroy them. That
seems to be Christian wisdom at its most incisive." Mukarrab Khan had
summoned a tray of rolled betel leaves, signifying that the interview
was ended. "It is always a pleasure to see you, Father. You will have
my reply when Allah wills."

The Jesuit had departed as awkwardly as he had come, and it was then
that Mukarrab Khan decided to meet the Englishman for himself. While
there was still time. How long, he wondered, before the Shahbandar
realized the obvious? And the prince?"

In the banquet room the air was now dense with the aroma of spice.
Hawksworth realized he had so gorged he could scarcely breathe. And he
was having increasing difficulty deflecting Mukarrab Khan's probing
questions. The governor was skillfully angling for information he
properly did not need, and he did not seem a man given to aimless
curiosity.

"What do you mean when you ask about the 'intentions' of England?"

"If the Moghul should approve a trade agreement with your East India
Company, what volume of goods would you bring through our port here in
Surat?" Mukarrab Khan smiled disarmingly. "Is the Company's fleet
extensive?"

"That's a matter better addressed to the merchants of the Company."
Hawksworth monitored Mukarrab Khan's expression, searching for a clue
to his thoughts. "Right now the Company merely wishes to trade the
goods in our two merchantmen. English wool for Indian cotton."

"Yes, I am aware that was the first of your two requests." Mukarrab
Khan motioned away the silver trays. "Incidentally, I hope you are fond
of lamb."

The bronzed doors opened again and a single large tray was borne in by
the dark-skinned, unsmiling servants. It supported a huge cooking
vessel, still steaming from the oven. The lid was decorated with
lifelike silver castings of various birds and animals. After two
eunuchs examined it, the servants delivered it to the center of the
linen serving cloth.

"Tonight to signify the end of Ramadan I instructed my cooks to prepare
my special biryani. I hope you will not be disappointed. My kitchen
here is scandalous by Agra standards, but I've succeeded in teaching
them a few things."

The lid was lifted from the pot and a bouquet of saffron burst over the
room. Inside, covering a flawless white crust, was a second menagerie
of birds and animals, wrought from silver the thinness of paper. The
server spooned impossible portions from the pot onto silver plates, one
for Hawksworth and one for Mukarrab Khan. The silver-foil menagerie was
distributed around the sides of each plate.

"Actually I once bribed a cook in the Moghul's own kitchen to give me
this recipe. You will taste nothing like it here in Surat."

Hawksworth watched as he assembled a ball of the rice-and-meat melange
with his fingers and reverently popped it into his mouth.

"Please try it, Ambassador. I think you'll find it remarkable. It
requires the preparation of two sauces, and seems to occupy half my
incompetent kitchen staff." The governor smiled appreciatively.
Hawksworth watched dumbfounded as he next chewed up and swallowed one
of the silver-foil animals.

Hawksworth tried to construct a ball of the mixture but finally
despaired and simply scooped up a handful. It was rich but light, and
seemed to hint of every spice in the Indies.

"There are times," Mukarrab Khan continued, "when I positively yearn
for the so-called deprivation of Ramadan. When the appetite is whetted
day long, the nightly indulgence is all the more gratifying."

Hawksworth took another mouthful of the savory mixture. After the many
long months of salt meat and biscuit, he found his taste confused and
overwhelmed by its complexity. Its spices were all assertive, yet he
could not specifically identify a single one. They had been blended, it
seemed, to enhance one another, to create a pattern from many parts,
much as the marble inlays of the floor, in which there were many
colors, yet the overall effect was that of a single design, not its
components.

"I've never tasted anything quite like this, even in the Levant. Could
you prepare instructions for our ship's cook?"

"It would be my pleasure, Ambassador, but I doubt very much a
_feringhi_ cook could reproduce this dish. It's far too complex. First
my kitchen prepares a masala, a blend of nuts and spices such as
almonds, turmeric, and ginger. The bits of lamb are cooked in this and
in ghee, which we make by boiling and clarifying butter. Next a second
sauce is prepared, this a lighter mixture - curds seasoned with mint,
clove, and many other spices I'm sure you know nothing of. This is
blended with the lamb, and then layered in the pot you see there
together with rice cooked in milk and saffron. Finally it's covered
with a crust of wheat flour and baked in a special clay oven. Is this
really something a ship's cook could do?"

Hawksworth smiled resignedly and took another mouthful.

Whoever thought there could be so many uses for spice. We use spice in
England, to be sure - clove, cinnamon, pepper, even ginger and cardamom -
but they're intended mainly to disguise the taste of meat past its
prime. But here spices are essential ingredients.

"Let us return to your requests, Captain Hawksworth. I'm afraid neither
of these is entirely within my power to bestow. In the matter of
trading privileges for your cargo, I'll see what can be done. Yours is
an unusual request, in the sense that no Europeans have ever come here
to war with the Portuguese, then asked to compete with them in trade."

"It seems simple enough. We merely exchange our goods for some of the
cotton cloth I saw arriving at the customs house this morning. The
Shahbandar stated you have the power to authorize this trade."

"Yes, I enjoy some modest influence. And I really don't expect that
Prince Jadar would object."

"He's the Moghul's son?"

"Correct. He has full authority over this province, but he's frequently
on campaign and difficult to reach. His other duties include
responsibility for military conscription here, and maintaining order.
These are somewhat uneasy times, especially in the Deccan, southeast of
here."

"When will we learn your decision, or his decision? There are other
markets for our goods."

"You will learn his decision when it is decided." Mukarrab Khan shoved
aside his plate and a servant whisked it from the carpet. "Concerning
your second request, that I petition Agra to authorize your travel
there, I will see what can be done. But it will require time."

"I would ask the request be sent immediately."

"Naturally." Mukarrab Khan watched absently as more brimming trays were
brought in, these piled with candied

fruits and sweetmeats. A hookah water pipe appeared and was placed
beside Hawksworth.

"Do you enjoy the new _feringhi _custom of smoking tobacco, Captain
Hawksworth? It was introduced recently, and already it's become
fashionable. So much so the Moghul just issued a decree denouncing it."

"King James has denounced it too, claiming it destroys health. But it's
also the fashion in London. Personally, I think it ruins the taste of
brandy, and wine."

"Overall I'm inclined to agree. But tell me now, what's your opinion of
the wine you're drinking? It's Persian."

"Better than the French. Though frankly it could be sweeter."

Mukarrab Khan laughed. "A common complaint from _topiwallahs_. Some
actually add sugar to our wine. Abominable." He paused. "So I gather
then you only use spirits?"

"What do you mean?"

"There are many subtle pleasures in the world, Ambassador. Liquors
admittedly enhance one's dining, but they do little for one's
appreciation of art."

As Hawksworth watched him, puzzling, he turned and spoke quietly to one
of the eunuchs hovering behind him. Moments later a small golden
cabinet, encrusted with jewels, was placed between them. Mukarrab Khan
opened a tiny drawer on the side of the box and extraced a small brown
ball.

"May I suggest a ball of _ghola_? He offered it to Hawksworth. It
carried a strange, alien fragrance.

"What's _ghola_?"

"A preparation of opium and spice, Ambassador. I think it might help
you better experience this evening's entertainment." He nodded lightly
in the direction of the rear wall.

The snap of a drum exploded behind Hawksworth, and he whirled to see
the two musicians begin tuning to perform. The drummer sat before two
foot-high drums, each nestled in a circular roll of fabric. Next to him
was a wizened old man in a black Muslim skullcap tuning a large six-
stringed instrument made of two hollowed-out gourds, both lacquered and
polished, connected by a long teakwood fingerboard. About a dozen
curved brass frets were tied to the fingerboard with silk cords, and as
Hawksworth watched, the player began shifting the location of two
frets, sliding them an inch or so along the neck to create a new
musical scale. Then he began adjusting the tension on a row of fine
wires that lay directly against the teakwood fingerboard, sympathetic
strings that passed beneath those to be plucked. These he seemed to be
tuning to match the notes in the new scale he had created by moving the
frets.

When the sitarist had completed his tuning, he settled back and the
room fell totally silent. He paused a moment, as though in meditation,
then struck the first note of a somber melody Hawksworth at first found
almost totally rootless. Using a wire plectrum attached to his right
forefinger, he seemed to be waving sounds from the air above the
fingerboard. A note would shimmer into existence from some undefined
starting point, then glide through the scale via a subtle arabesque as
he stretched the playing string diagonally against a fret, manipulating
its tension. Finally the sound would dissolve meltingly into its own
silence. Each note of the alien melody, if melody it could be called,
was first lovingly explored for its own character, approached from both
above and below as though a glistening prize on display. Only after the
note was suitably embroidered was it allowed to enter the melody - as
though the song were a necklace that had to be strung one pearl at a
time, and only after each pearl had been carefully polished. The
tension of some vague melodic quest began to grow, with no hint of a
resolution. In the emotional intensity of his haunting search, the
passage of time had suddenly ceased to exist.

Finally, as though satisifed with his chosen scale, he returned to the
very first note he had started from and actually began a song, deftly
tying together the musical strands he had so painstakingly evolved. The
sought-for resolution had never come, only the sense that the first
note was the one he had been looking for the entire time.

This must be the mystical music Symmes spoke of, Hawksworth thought,
and he was right. It's unlike anything I've ever heard. Where's the
harmony, the chords of thirds and fifths? Whatever's going on, I don't
think opium is going to help me understand it.

Hawksworth turned, still puzzling, back to Mukarrab Khan and waved away
the brown ball - which the governor immediately washed down himself with
fruit nectar.

"Is our music a bit difficult for you to grasp, Ambassador?" Mukarrab
Khan leaned back on his bolster with an easy smile. "Pity, for there's
truly little else in this backwater port worth the bother. The cuisine
is abominable, the classical dancers despicable. In desperation I've
even had to train my own musicians, although I did manage to steal one
Ustad, a grand master, away from Agra." He impulsively reached for the
water pipe and absorbed a deep draw, his eyes misting.

"I confess I do find it hard to follow." Hawksworth took a draft of
wine from the fresh cup that had been placed beside him on the carpet.

"It demands a connoisseur's taste, Ambassador, not unlike an
appreciation of fine wine."

The room grew ominously still for a moment, and then the drums suddenly
exploded in a torrent of rhythm, wild and exciting yet unmistakably
disciplined by some rigorous underlying structure. The rhythm soared in
a cycle, returning again and again, after each elaborate interlocking
of time and its divisions, back to a forceful crescendo.

Hawksworth watched Mukarrab Khan in fascination as he leaned back and
closed his eyes in wistful anticipation. And at that moment the
instrumentalist began a lightning-fast ascent of the scale, quavering
each note in erotic suggestiveness for the fraction of a second it was
fingered. The governor seemed absorbed in some intuitive communication
with the sound, a reaction to music Hawksworth had never before
witnessed. His entire body would perceptibly tense as the drummer began
a cycle, then it would pulse and relax the instant the cycle thudded to
a resolution. Hawksworth was struck by the sensuality inherent in the
music, the almost sexual sense of tension and release.

Then he noticed two eunuchs leading a young boy into the room. The
youth appeared to be hovering at the age of puberty, with still no
trace of a beard. He wore a small but elaborately tied pastel turban,
pearl earrings, and a large sapphire on a chain around his pale throat.
His elaborate ensemble included a transparent blouse through which his
delicate skin glistened in the lamplight, a long quilted sash at his
waist, and tight-fitting trousers beneath light gauze pajamas that
clung to his thighs as he moved. His lips were lightly red, and his
perfume a mixture of flowers and musk. The boy reached for a ball of
spiced opium and settled back against a quilted gold bolster next to
Mukarrab Khan. The governor studied him momentarily and then returned
to the music. And his thoughts.

He reflected again on Abul Hasan's blundering "accident" on the
_chaugan_ field, and what it must signify. If it were true the _qazi_
had been bought by the Shahbandar, as some whispered, then it meant
Mirza Nuruddin must be alarmed to the point of imprudence. Fearful of
what could happen if the English were detained long enough for the
Portuguese warships to prepare. Which meant that somewhere behind it
all lay the hand of Prince Jadar.

He examined Hawksworth again, wondering how this English captain could
have savaged the Viceroy's fleet with such embarrassing ease. What, he
asked himself again, will the queen order done?

"I'm sorry you don't find our music more congenial. Ambassador. Perhaps
I too would be wiser if I loved it less. The passion for classical
music has cost many a great warrior his kingdom in India over the last
centuries. For example, when the great Moghul patriarch Akman conquered
Baz Bahadur, once the proud ruler of Malwa, it was because that prince
was a better patron of music than of the arts of war." He smiled
reflectively. "Admittedly, the great Akman himself also flooded his
court with musicians, but then he had the wit to study arms as well.
Regrettably, I find myself lacking his strength of character."

He paused to take a sip of nectar, then shrugged. "But enough. Tell me
now what you really think of my Ustad, my master sitarist. There are
those in Agra who will never forgive me for stealing him away."

"I'm not sure what I think. I've never heard a composition quite like
the one he's playing."

"What do you mean by 'composition'?" Mukarrab Khan's tone was puzzled.

"That's how a piece of music is written out."

Mukarrab Khan paused and examined him skeptically for a long moment.
"Written out? You write down your music? But whatever for? Does that
mean your musicians play the same song again and again, precisely the
same way?"

"If they're good they do. A composer writes a piece of music and
musicians try to play it."

"How utterly tiresome." Mukarrab Khan sighed and leaned back on his
bolster. "Music is a living art, Ambassador. It's meant to illuminate
the emotions of the one who gives it life. How can written music have
any feeling? My Ustad would never play a raga the same way twice.
Indeed, I doubt he would be physically capable of such a boorish feat."

"You mean he creates a new composition each time he plays?"

"Not precisely. But his handling of the specific notes of a raga must
speak to his mood, mv mood. These vary, why not his art?"

"But what is a raga then, if not a song?"

"That's always difficult to explain. At some rudimentary level you
might say it's simply a melody form, a fixed series of notes around
which a musician improvises. But although a raga has a rigorously
prescribed ascending and descending note sequence and specific melodic
motifs, it also has its own mood, 'flavor.' What we call its _rasa_.
How could one possibly write down a mood?"

"I guess I see your point. But it's still confusing." Hawksworth took
another sip of wine. "How many ragas are there?"

"There are seventy-two primary scales on which ragas are based. But
some scales have more than one raga. There are ragas for morning, for
evening, for late at night. My Ustad is playing a late evening raga
now. Although he uses only the notes and motifs peculiar to this raga,
what he does with them is entirely governed by his feeling tonight."

"But why is there no harmony?"

"I don't understand what you mean by 'harmony.'"



Online LibraryThomas HooverThe Moghul → online text (page 11 of 52)