The Mound of the dead


A parable about the Indus Valley Civilisation

As scholars hotly dispute the Archaeological Survey of India’s claim that it is now 150 years old, Musharraf Ali Farooqi reimagines a vital part of our history

The muse The Dancing Girl, a bronze artefact found in Mohenjo-daro  Photo: Garima Jain
The muse The Dancing Girl, a bronze artefact found in Mohenjo-daro
Photo: Garima Jain

AS SHE waited for him under the peepal tree on the mound one afternoon, a passing sculptor regarded her naked silhouette against the afternoon sky and later captured it in bronze. Once translated into metal, the sculptor’s memory of her body’s changing stance in happy impatience were mistaken for the gesture of a dancing girl by an archaeologist who excavated it from the Mound of the Dead four-and-a-half millennia later. The archaeologist was perhaps never loved by a woman and could be forgiven for the remark, “There’s nothing like her, I think, in the world.” There was: the restive jealousy of another woman whose side a man had left one afternoon for a tryst under a tree. No woman could have called her own a man with his fervid appetite for pleasure, raucous strength and knotted rage; qualities for which his trading house was represented by the unicorn seal. The secret pledge she had made to Pashupati, the lord of the beasts, to subdue her man’s feral lust had not found favour with the deity. Or perhaps, the youthful love of the girl under the peepal tree had forestalled divine machinations.

The assassins dispatched by the scorned lover had their eyes fixed on two silhouettes on the skyline under a tree when they crossed paths with a sculptor absorbed in the beauty of an image he was to begin casting later that day. He took no notice of the shadows flying past him on fleet feet. He never learned of their handiwork that cursed to doom a people whose traces were recalled millennia later in excavated steatite unicorn seals and a girl’s bronze body wearing only bangles and charms.

Farooqi is the author of The Story of a Widow and The Amazing Moustaches of Moochhander the Iron Man and Other Stories. His new novel Between Clay and Dust is forthcoming


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