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18 January 2017

At first, Elizabeth hated England as much as she missed India. English children mocked her sing-song way of speaking, and she found her mother’s people as cold and grey as the London fog. She felt trapped by the low, intestinal clouds, the bare veins of the trees. The English summer reminded her of monsoon; but where the Indian rains’ frenetic downpour thrummed and throbbed with life and hope, the endless English drizzle and damp oppressed her.

Back home in Budgepore, she was Ayah’s princess; here she was relentlessly, mercilessly ragged in the cruel whispering way by girls sharpening the talons they would wield as women. They mocked: ‘Chee-chee the babu’, or more cruelly, ‘blackie-whitie Butterworth’.

She had but just one friend at school. Bonny Clabber, the equally outcaste daughter of a Manchester haberdasher, would listen breathlessly to Elizabeth’s endlessly mirabilious confabulations of tigers and cobras and handsome Rajputs in shining turbans and diamonds in temples and the strange, exotic aromas of the bazaars and green-shadowed jungles and—and India became mythical, impossibly magical for both of them. Bonny Clabber was quite a few years younger than Elizabeth, but she hoped to see such wonders for herself. Elizabeth promised her she would not be disappointed.

Apart from Bonny, there was one other, the only one she really loved: blue, mischievous Krishna, who’d come to her in the night, cooing to her in Hindustani, His lilting voice fragrant as the breeze through coconut groves as she cried herself to sleep. In a dream, shimmering in sky-coloured light, He told her to come and find Him. How? she’d asked. He laughed and, when she woke, she was still in England, as far away as ever. He faded with her accent. She grew up and got used to the coldness of the winter and the people. When she saw Him again, she wasn’t frightened, but rather, ashamed to think she’d forgotten Him…

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