by Antonia Michaelis
Translated by Anthea Bell
When Safia becomes the eighth wife of the Rajah Ahmed Mudhi, she knows that she will die. Safia's name means "virtue," but Safia is not a virgin, and when the Rajah finds out that he has been deceived, he will kill her. Luckily, the Rajah is ill right after their wedding, and Safia has a few more days to live. Like Scheherazade, Safia tells stories while she waits to die. But Safia's listener is not her husband, but a young eunuch called Lalit.
A young thief named Farhad Kamal finds a silver amulet in a lotus flower, which marks him as the hero chosen to rescue the god Krishna's daughter from the demon king Ravana, who plans to marry her at the next full moon. Farhad knows that he is no hero, but Krishna makes it clear that if Farhad doesn't succeed, he'll be reborn in his next life as a worm, and the cycle of his lives will be prolonged to infinity before achieving Nirvana. Not wanting to risk such a fate, Farhad sets off to find the magical mount promised to him by Krishna, to take him to the city at the heart of the desert of Rajasthan where Krishna's daughter is being held.
Sometimes he visited one of the great temples to pray to the gods, and as chance would have it, he usually came out again with a handful of coins from the plate left out for offerings. He had tried going into the new British church, too, but the donation boxes there were kept well locked, so he decided against converting to Christianity. The Muslims were clever and had driven him straight out of their mosque. So Farhad remained a Hindu out of what might be called his economic convictions, and on the whole he looked after himself successfully.