Oct 1, 2013

The Man Who Would Be King

Background recommended reading: French Connection and Bourbons Of Bhopal


Anon—so beginneth the tale of Balthazar Napoleon de Bourbon, with an angel swooping o’er the earth. The angel flew over the green pastures and sunflower fields that were Europe, above the burnt highland that is Asia Minor, and then out across an emerald ocean, the Indian, to the lush shores of its namesake. The angel’s silver wings were those of a jetliner, and he sat inside the machine of his being, reclining in splendor, perchance sipping some fine wine. In the course of flight, the angel’s shadow fell over spired castles and well-appointed ch√Ęteaus, exquisite alcazars and fortresses made of red clay. In the interior of India, he passed over a resplendent marble mausoleum engraved in jasper known as the Taj Mahal, built during a seventeen-year span by a king named Shah Jahan as a tribute to his third wife, who died in childbirth. (For his troubles, he was dethroned and imprisoned by his son and left in a cell to die, though one that permitted a view of his glorious creation.)

The angel’s destination was a city on the Malwa Plateau called Bhopal. 

Bhopal—built atop volcanic rock, its own ancient palace crumbling upon itself, streets clogged with cows and goats and sari-clouds of color, birds circling at dusk in the pinkish-orange gloaming like the slow movement of a dark scythe. Looming over the lower city was a giant mosque, Taj-ul-Masajid, its pale white domes hovering in the shimmery heat like an extraterrestrial incursion, its minarets reaching to heaven, its tiny rooms full of boys memorizing the Koran, their voices murmuring across the hot stones of the vast inner courtyard. And there was one other notable landmark, a death memorial really, the abandoned chemical plant—that of Union Carbide—on the north edge of town that on a particular December day twenty-two years earlier oozed methyl isocyanate, a toxic plague that ultimately caused 22,000 deaths.

Bhopal : A Prayer for Rain

Bhopal : A Prayer for Rain, a film on the Bhopal gas tragedy of 1984, was declared tax-free in Madhya Pradesh by chief minister Shivraj ...