Friday, May 25, 2007

Mohenjo-daro: a poem

The salt earth is bleached
and brittle as old bone, in winter
on the plain of ghosts.
Shrill and thin down the grey
millennia, the spirit voices
cry on the parched wind.
Language of a dead land--
the wind's riddles:
insistent and insinuating
whisper of pale grasses,
tongueless as corpses the slow
suck and hiss
of the river's mouths
and age-deep in the dust
of empty water-courses
the cryptic dialect
of broken stones.

But on the terraces below the citadel
a flute plays
and ghosts rise in their shining bones
bedecked with jade and lapis lazuli.
Above the luminous pools white birds drift
long-stemmed as water lilies
and terrible in their stripes
behind the broken walls the tigers walk
among the glamorous trees.

(Epigraph to Winter on the Plain of Ghosts: a Novel of Mohenjo-daro)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Mohenjo-daro: a puzzle from prehistory

Though writers of historical fiction have a long-standing romance with ancient Egypt and Sumer, surprisingly little has been written about the third great cradle of civilization in the Indus Valley.

The fall of the Indus valley civilization around 1800 BC is one of the great archaeological puzzles. What caused the prehistoric cities of Mohenjo-daro and Harappa to go into decline? Were they destroyed by climate change? A shift in the course of the Indus River? Invasion? Over-grazing?

Mohenjo-daro (“The Mound of the Dead”) was discovered in 1922 by an officer of the Archaeological Survey of India. Excavations carried out during the 1930’s by Sir John Marshall and in 1945 by Mortimer Wheeler yielded a vast amount of information about the city and its inhabitants -- information still studied by present-day archaeologists. However, no one had successfully deciphered the inscriptions on the mysterious Indus valley seals.

Many years ago in an antique store I stumbled across a small self-published monograph by John Newberry of Victoria BC. It turned out to be the first in an ongoing series: Newberry's exhaustive though little-known efforts to decode these inscriptions. I bought the pamphlet. Here was a world lost in antiquity, and an unsolved mystery. I had the subject for a fantasy novel.

Winter on the Plain of Ghosts: a novel of Mohenjo-daro was published in 2004 by Flying Monkey Press, and is available from . You can read more about it in an interview at the Challenging Destiny site.

Note: Since 1947 Mohenjo-daro has been under the protection of the Government of Pakistan, and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Excavations have been banned since the mid-sixties in order to protect the exposed ruins from damage by the elements.