The Princess Writes by Candlelight
I first came across the myth-like story of the infamous “Royal Family of Oudh” in Ellen Barry’s New York Times piece titled the “Jungle Prince of Delhi.” Begum Wilayat Mahal and her two children, Prince Cyrus and Princess Sakina, showed up to the Lucknow railway station in the ’70s and remained there in protest for over a decade until the government offered them a place to live: Malcha Mahal, a dilapidated palace in the overgrown forests of New Delhi’s embassy district. The family remained there until their deaths, all within a few years of each other. Reading about this family and their surreal, anachronistic life in a decaying Mughal-era hunting lodge, I was haunted by the image of Princess Sakina making immaculate records of her family’s life in Malcha Mahal, filling journal after journal with what she believed an existence worth languaging.
The following poems are speculative attempts at reimagining the lost journals of Princess Sakina and asking what happens to a girlhood lived in this mode of exilic fantasy and historical aftermath, a girlhood spent in the isolation of an older Delhi surrounded by an ever-renewing one.
night falls on the lodge slowly
then all at once
in a gradual shock the crows
punctuating vital mesh of green,
at nightfall melt
into the sky’s blackened chest.
i watch them dissolve
into dark’s dense cavity.
this is the trade,
i think, being suddenly
dissolved into the ink
of our own pages.
“An acquaintance who had once glimpsed the princess through a telephoto lens said her hair had not been cut or washed for so many years that it fell to the ground in matted branches.”
I sift blade by blade the invisible
pile. Pull both knife and suture, call out
by name all my hungers, say: overcome!
overcome! over and over. By the
door, I dig garden beds in which I plant several
futures, hold to watch them grow. I
thresh urgency, for fear of entering,
I do not enter. The urgent sea swells
around my ankles. I describe and I distract.
Say I until certain of its
contours. Wayside my animal gut still
rumbles, wayside my unshed skin papering,
wayside time’s turning, my hair taking root in
matted branches. Sanctuary, sanctuary.
If I feel the night
move to disclosure or crescendo,
it’s only because I’m famished for
meaning; the night
— Li-Young Lee, “The City in Which I Love You”
Night by obliterate night we wade
further into our darkened territory.
In erasure’s relief congregates
our quiet constituency. No young
maid comes running with perfumed bathwater, no, no
whisper of the young but the bat’s
litter yowling. The dog’s unseeing eye
flutters. Still, from our multiple
abandonments, to family a warm cave. Must
and dust of my suspended dreaming,
by leaf & wing we were stitched to one beast &
flung into our shadowed lien. Watched over
by no-father, son, or holy debt, wrap our
animal breath around each other.
nanya jhingran (she/they) is a poet, scholar, and teacher from Lucknow, India, currently living by the coastal margin of the Salish Sea, on the unceded lands of the Coast Salish People (upon which the city of Seattle was built). She is a PhD candidate in Literature and Culture, an MFA candidate in poetry, and a Teaching Assistant in American Ethnic Studies at the University of Washington, Seattle.
Natalie Baldeon is a visual artist and educator living in Saint Louis, Missouri. She received her BFA from the University of Central Florida in 2008, and her MFA from Washington University in 2012. She has exhibited her work locally and regionally at venues such as the St. Louis Artists’ Guild, Arcade Contemporary Art Projects, and the Millitzer Studio & Gallery. Her work has also been shown nationally at North Seattle Community College; Kinsley Institute’s Grunewald Gallery of Art, Bloomington; Zhou B Gallery, Chicago; San Francisco Public Library; and 1310 Gallery, Ft. Lauderdale. In 2017 she was the Visiting Instructor for ‘Drafts in Gesture’ at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation, and the Visiting Artist for the LEAP Program at the Contemporary Arts Museum. She currently works as an adjunct professor at Webster University and St. Louis Community College.
About the Artwork:
Veiled Passage | Oil on Canvas | 2017 | 24 x 30
The Strand | Watercolor on Paper | 2021 | 9 x 12
Fallen | Watercolor on Paper | 2021 | 18 x 24
My practice is rooted in the investigation of psychological states that happen as a response to moments and transitions throughout life. Through my drawings and paintings, I seek to shed light on that which can often go unseen, unacknowledged, and concealed within the restrictions, taboos, or expectations of societal roles. My recent work addresses various responses to the stresses of both early motherhood and the coronavirus pandemic. It illustrates the body in its connection to these situations, as both abject and divine. Hair is a recurring image throughout the works. It represents a manifestation of stress and an attempt to heal, nurture, and console. Hair is something that can be desired, luscious, or repulsive if it exists or performs outside of societal expectations. The act of mothering can hold the same pressures: valued, glorified, and mystified, while simultaneously mundane, grotesque, and taken for granted. In these works, hair transforms into roots, branches, nests, and the vasculature of the body. These repetitive forms suggest the connection between our bodies, minds, nature, life, and death: an endless cycle that is both awe-inspiring and awful.