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Empires in exile

These short pieces are speculative /fictional reconstructions of newspaper and archival stories about the Indian-Chinese community



After being exiled from Lucknow in 1857, the last Nawab Wajid Ali Shah settled in Metaibruz in Calcutta and gradually set about establishing a second Lucknow. Keeping him company was one of his favourite collection of poems Kabutar Nama, penned by Ameer Ahmad Minai, comprising two hundred rhyming couplets.

It relates the fondness of the Nawab for pigeons and is said to describe in lyrical detail the twenty-four kinds of pigeons reared by Wajid Ali Shah

Two thousand kilometres to the west, amidst the red light area of Bombay in Kamathipura is the second Chinatown of India. Signs in chinese adorn the gambling dens and opium houses. Here you will find the tonic queen, the Greek Thais, the Jewish Delilah, the saxon fille-de-joie reclining in transparent robes, spangled with tinsel, quivering with sequines, loudly soliciting attention.

The curious language these different inhabitants and visitors share is pigeon, a term for the gullible visitors who stumble inexperienced into these havens of vice, but one that unites for an evening a wandering mendicant, a lonely sailor and an exiled prince.

Bombay Street Scenes, The Times of India (1861-current); May 3, 1919

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