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Salman Rushdie: An excerpt from The Enchantress of Florence 

Abul Fazl, the Skeleton and the Mughal of Love

Wednesday, May 28 2008

Page 2 of 6

It was her mastery of the male drugs known as the “ones that made men into horses” that undid her. One day she ordered the castration of a male goat and boiled its testes in milk, after which she salted and peppered them, fried them in ghee, and finally chopped them up into a delicious-tasting mince. This preparation was to be eaten, not rubbed upon the body, and she fed it to the prince on a silver spoon, explaining that it was a medicine that would allow him to make love like a horse, five, ten, or even twenty times without losing his force. In the case of particularly virile young men it could facilitate one hundred consecutive ejaculations. “Delicious,” said the prince, and ate heartily. The next morning he emerged from his mistress’s boudoir, leaving her on the point of death. “Ha! Ha!” he shouted at Mohini on his way out. “That was fun.”

It would be forty-seven days and nights before Lady Man Bai could even think about having sex again, and during that time the prince, when he visited her, was fully understanding of the damage he had wrought, behaved in a manner both contrite and solicitous, and fucked the slaves instead, asking, most often, for the favors of the skinny creature who had endowed him with such superhuman sexual powers. Lady Man Bai could not refuse him but inwardly she raged with jealousy. When it became plain after the notorious night of one hundred and one copulations that Mohini the Skeleton’s tolerance for sex was infinite and that the prince was incapable of reaking her as he had almost broken his mistress, the slave girl’s fate was sealed. The jealousy of Lady Man Bai grew implacable and Mohini was expelled from the household, leaving with nothing but her knowledge of the preparations that drove men mad with desire. She fell a long way, from palace to brothel, but her powers of enchantment served her well and made her the most popular of the women of the bawdy house at the Hatyapul. She hoped, however, for revenge. “If fate ever brings that little bitch into my power I will smear her with a paste so powerful that even the jackals will come to fuck her. She will be fucked by crows and snakes and lepers and water buffaloes and in the end there will be nothing left of her but a few soggy strands of her hair, which I will burn, and that will be the end of it. But she is going to marry Prince Salim, so pay no attention to me. For a woman like myself revenge is an unattainable luxury, like partridges, or childhood.”

For some reason she was talking to the yellow-haired newcomer as she had never spoken to any of her tricks, perhaps because of his exotic appearance, his yellow hair, his cleansing alienness. “You must have put a spell on me,” she said, in a disturbed voice, “because I never let any of my visitors even see me by daylight, much less tell them the story of my life.” She had lost her virginity at the age of eleven to her father’s brother, and the baby that was born was a monster which her mother took away and drowned without showing it to her for fear that if she saw it she would begin to hate the future. “She needn’t have worried,” Mohini said, “because as it happens I was blessed with an equable disposition and a fondness for the sex act which not even that thimble-cock ox of a despoiler could change. But I was never a warm person and since the injustice I suffered at the hands of Lady Man Bai the chill in my vicinity has increased. In the summer men like the cooling effect of my proximity but in winter I don’t get so much work.”

click to enlarge ILLUSTRATION BY RONALD KURNIAWAN
  • Illustration by Ronald Kurniawan

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