A young woman’s discovery of a precious relic hidden inside her grandmother’s statue of Mirabai, the legendary Rajasthani princess-saint, fastens the reader into a gripping narrative in Shobha Nihalini’s. A novel, set in Hong Kong and later moves onto India, examines the terrains of history, mystery, and adventure.
Shobha Nihalini’s simple yet careful creation of Neelam Bhatia, an art curator in Hong Kong, lays out the dots which appear to be linear but unfolds into a gripping tale of discovering the mystery behind the most sought after blue jade pendant which was long thought lost. The story finds Neelam amidst the violence and conspiracy meshed across the South East Asian network of art mafias and dealers. Before you know it, the scene shifts to Mumbai where Neelam dons the role of an undercover agent.
At the request of Indian officials and private investigators, Neelam leaves Mumbai and takes up the journey ahead which becomes a mixed bag experiences collected at Ahmedabad, Ajmer, Pushkar, Mewat, Merta, Mathura, Dwarka, and Chittor. The parallel journey of Mirabai from her birth town to her last tryst with Dwarka runs along with Neelam’s story. Adamant to complete her family’s unfinished mission of returning the jade safely to the Indian monument where it belongs, Neelam battles the external forces of murky art black marketers while questioning her individuality in the light of her grandmother’s and her parents’ past. It cannot be simply relegated to an expedition or a mission; it becomes an inner journey whereby she mediates along the lines of Mirabai and her life.
The narrative pitches ahead with fast-paced action sequences enabling growth for the character and the storyline. Neelam evolves not only through plots and twists of the adventure that she has welcomed for herself but also via the humane bonds. There is a sense of warmth which her character exhibits that is derived from the stories, especially with Laj, an old woman who welcomes Neelam as her guest in Mumbai. Laj’s stories of partition and how the macrocosmic event results in impacting the microcosmic world of the individual serve as a focal point for Neelam’s augmentation. She starts seeing beyond her cocooned life in Hong Kong which she was not ready to give up. The relationship between the two pieces into the human connections that people forge based on the simple acts of storytelling.
Along with the need to outrun a deadly ring of smugglers, international dealers, and corrupt government officials who are after the prized blue jade, the reader is gripped by the mystical link of Mirabai with each step that Neelam undertakes. With the coming together of geographical as well as historical locations of Mirabai’s life and times, the novel’s landscape metamorphoses into a battle between the good and the evil or “as her (Neelam’s) grandma often said, good and bad was all a matter of perspective”. Nihalani’s exquisite plot is skilled in its temper and it carves out the details associated with each location. The meticulous craftsmanship of a writer’s pursuits is imbibed in Neelam’s handling of murderers and agents sent to acquire the blue jade. Whether it is psychopathic art aficionados or simple private investigators, with their dramatic tough talk and clear cut vision, the characters get under your skin.
Everything directs towards the blue jade where the only thread that connects the past and the present is Mirabai. Shobha Nihalini’s in-depth assessment of the saint’s life is no less than a feminist exemplum. As the most definitive aspect of the novel, Mirabai becomes a medium for Neelam to discover and soar into the fearsome splendour of action and adventure. As Neelam, herself puts it out while addressing Golden Women’s Business Group, “Imagine if that kind of passion existed now. If there were thousands of Mirabai’s today, imagine what kind of world we would have”. India too becomes a site of rediscovery, unlike the white lens that often puts the Orient as opposed to the Occident. Neelam reluctantly travels to the cosmopolitan Mumbai only to find herself at the behest of Mirabai’s enchanting and eccentric relationship with her roots and the blue jade.
Devina Chandola is a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader. She runs her own venture for writing-related services called Weaver Finch. She has pursued her BA (Hons.) in English from Jesus & Mary College and MA in English from Hindu College, University of Delhi. Weaver Finch provides specialized writing-related services to digital platforms and has worked for sectors like Publishing, Education, IT, Travel, Décor and Lifestyle, Fashion, and E-commerce.