From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

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Fiction

The Petticoat Government

I was twenty years old when Hamida Bano, the Padshah Begum, supreme wife of the Emperor, entrusted her infant prince to my arms before fleeing across the Thar desert. Her opium-addled husband, steeped in the luxury of his harem, had no defense against Sher Shah Suri’s advancing armies, which squeezed Agra like a coal between tongs. The Sur Empire then settled its traitorous haunches on North India, and Hamida Bano, trailing her husband’s camel, trekked across the blistering desert, while I, still a young concubine, nursed the boy who would inherit the throne.

• • • •

Akbar grew up playing alongside my own son, Adham Khan, born of a brief dalliance with a court nobleman. I suckled one on each breast, and my love and loyalty was divided between them. The first horse Akbar rode was my knee, as I jounced him along to imaginary wars and schooled him in the ways of the Ottomans and the Europeans.

They spent their days weaving in and out of the courtyards, teasing the kitchen staff, dodging the harem girls who tried to paint their fingernails in henna. As Akbar’s primary caregiver, my status in the harem was rising, and Adham was almost treated as one of the royals. At night—one child nestled on either side, their hands tucked in the v-neck of my peshwaz frock—I traced my fingers along the contours of the filigreed ceiling above us and told them the stories I had unearthed in my hours at the library, a place of refuge when I had first arrived at the harem as a fourteen-year-old woman.

“Our emperor is like the sun,” I said, “he is the axis on which the empire spins.”

Through my words, Akbar learned of the father he had never known. I told him of his father’s Bisat-e-Nashist, the carpet of exultation still hidden in his abandoned chambers, embroidered with elliptical orbits around the sun—the divine position of the emperor. I told him of the dragons, their ribboned bodies unfurling along the edges of the carpet in threads of thrashed metal.

“They’re not real?” Akbar whispered.

“The dragons? Of course they are, and they bow to the will of those who find them. They say Babar, your great-grandfather, used to ride a serpent in the sky. A solar emperor must have a chariot of fire.”

“When I become king, how will I find my dragon?”

“I want a dragon too!” Adham interrupted.

Akbar’s reply was swift and sharp, “It’s not meant for you. Only kings may have it.”

I could see Adham glowering at Akbar’s words, but the princeling went on, unaware, “How do I find my dragon?” he asked.

I pointed to the moon at the edge of the curlicued landscape, round and full.

“By using the vajra, the diamonds. When lightning strikes rock it makes diamonds, jewels that spring to life under the moon, like the laughter of the harem women freed in the night. There is a special potion, laced with diamond flakes, that summons dragons. Do you know about the Koh-i-noor?”

The little prince shook his unturbaned head in mute wonder. Adham gave a rankled sniff and pushed away from us. He leaned against a pillar and continued to glower at us beneath eyebrows inherited from his forgotten nobleman father.

“It is called the diamond of hope,” I continued, “It was stolen from the eye of the statue of the Hindu goddess, Sita. All who rush to acquire it hope it will bring them good fortune, but it brings only death.”

“You women are obsessed with jewels,” Adham muttered belligerently from his shadowed corner.

“And what is so wrong with that?” The bangles on my wrist clattered as I flung my palm forth, my nath swinging wildly on its infinitesimal tether, “Diamonds are the insurance of those to whom nothing else may belong. If a woman is cast out, they are the tools by which she may buy her way to freedom. And if a woman is angered, splintered diamond can be a lethal revenge.”

Akbar laughed at that, his sparkling eyes followed every movement of my bangles.

“You may laugh now, little prince,” I placed the tip of my nail on his slender nose, “but remember, the sun is so enthralled by its own glory that it forgets the moon, rising to prominence in its shadow.”

• • • •

As the boys grew into young men, I continued my duties at the Zenana, the segregation wing. Here, obliterated behind stone walls, their personalities eroded like river-smooth stones, lay the women, ailing from age or childbirth, no longer desired. I walked in the narrow aisles between their colorless beds, switching out bedpans, placing my hands on their clammy foreheads and murmuring words of comfort.

“Maham bai, how is my son?”

“Maham bai, have you seen my little one?”

Everyday they asked after their children, the children they hoped would inherit the fearlessness they had once dreamt of, but I had no answers to offer.

“I . . . I don’t know. I don’t know.”

I had tended to these women ever since I had arrived here, six years ago. I remembered standing at the curtained doorway, watching my father’s wagon, loaded with gifts from the emperor, disappear down the roads of Agra. Six years, and yet, I could not accustom myself to this ultimate fate. I tugged my dress from their grasping fingers and ran.

• • • •

When Akbar’s father returned to Agra, it was to face an untimely death. The emperor was tottering from his library with an armful of books when the muezzin’s call rang loud. He fell to his knees at the first AllahuAkbar, prostrating himself as was his tradition, and in doing so tripped on his silken robe, toppling down the stairs to an undignified end. I outgrew the betel-stained, crimson lips and missi-blackened gums of the pearly-toothed concubines and became the matronly head of the harem. Akbar traveled to Kalanuar, Punjab, to be crowned, and ascended to the throne.

He was fourteen at the time. A slip of a lad in an embroidered paijama and sweeping yalek robes, a turban, block printed with golden suns, interplaited on his smooth brow. By morning, framed by a halo of sunlight, he held his head high in his darbar, a court of Rajput noblemen and Muslim astrologers. By evening, he put his head in my lap and relieved burdens too great for a child’s shoulders to bear.

It was this way that I became his advisor. The whisperer at his ear—some said, I was the nagin, the snake, coiled around the elephant’s neck. You must understand: my knowledge of the court far exceeded that of a fourteen-year-old child, my influence seeped farther than the four walls of the harem. Recall, I had waited patiently, a lotus flower blooming in mud, as conquerors came and went, and Akbar illuminated my path to freedom.

• • • •

When my influence began to grow, it was Bairam Khan, the interloper, who sought to relegate me to the harem, restrict the depth of my conversations with the young emperor, and exclude me from the political machinations of a court where women did not belong. An ancient statesman, too wise for his own good, he was trusted by Akbar beyond all others. Clutching the title the old emperor had given him, Khan-i-Khanan, King of Kings, Bairam thought himself a regent without whom Akbar would have no sway. He led Akbar to fight the descendants of the Suri who had shamed his father and, being a general of extraordinary ability, he flung triumph after triumph at the adolescent emperor’s feet. This is how he ensconced himself in Akbar’s good graces. But while they traipsed to war, I made affiliations—there were many detractors of Bairam Khan.

• • • •

One morning, as Akbar reclined on his throne, arms draped over the tavus-e-sidrat-ul-muntaha, the peacocks of heaven, I summoned his favored astrologers. A few jewels ripped from a peshwaz I wore in my younger, slimmer days, and some whispered promises, and the astrologers were ready to share fabricated concerns about the alignment of the Anuradha constellation of scorpions and friendships, and what it meant for the future loyalty of Bairam Khan. I urged Akbar to execute him, with the astrologers mimicking my insistence. But Akbar was yet innocent. He would not succumb to an unnecessary need for bloodshed to keep his seat as the Solar Emperor. He banished Bairam Khan on an indefinite pilgrimage to Mecca, where the Afghan loyals of Sher Shah Suri caught and killed the man whom Humayun had held in such high esteem. And thus, providentially, my decree came to pass.

• • • •

I took my place in the shadows behind the throne, and there were those who expressed their concerns that I had designs to puppeteer the king. We worked in such graceful tandem—I was the hand behind the curtain allowing Akbar to be the mouth on the throne.

I created the mansabdar—a salaried meritocracy of nobility that determined the worth of noblemen and women by the strength of their army and cavalry. It was time for the women to own the properties they had rightfully inherited, instead of merging without trace into their husband’s polygamous collection of estates.

And then I built the Khair-ul-manazil, the madrassa where the women would study. When I wasn’t aiding Akbar in court, I would squat before the mazdoorwood workers, contractors, and craftsmen—and give them directions. Before my eyes, the madrassa rose from the arid ground, domes and arches engraved with intricate calligrams, burgeoning as if by the strokes of a pen. In the harem, we had Humayun’s library at our disposal, and yet none of us took advantage of it!

“Why do you waste your time, when you will never have recourse to use this knowledge?” The harem women would often pluck the books from my fingers. But knowledge is the gateway to power. It is a sword that, even sheathed, makes one a formidable opponent.

• • • •

Meanwhile, my son, Adham, had evolved from a belligerent boy to a recalcitrant man who walked through the palace hallways with the unearned swagger of a king. Every night, upon my return from the court and the construction site, I would be stung by the sight of him languishing under the care of massaging fingers. There were a few times that I took him aside, turning my face away from the whiskey on his breath, and tried to talk some sense into him.

“For shame, Adham. When you should be working your way into Akbar’s good graces, you squander your time in such ill-fated pursuits!”

“What need have I to work for my brother’s good graces, for we are brothers, aren’t we?” His grin was stained an unsightly, tobacco-orange.

“And what is this you are drinking?” I snatched the dusty bottle from his drink-slackened grip, “Is this from Akbar’s private cellar?”

“So what if it is? Indra himself drank Soma enough to fill a lake!”

This would not do. Akbar might be young, but he had all the pomp and arrogance of an irate emperor with years on the throne. He would not react kindly if news of this pilfering reached his ears.

In the days that followed, I made arrangements. Under the tutelage of two experienced soldiers, I inundated Adham’s life with militaristic discipline. And when the paunchy effects of alcohol had been purged from his skin, I brought him before Akbar. What man was better suited to be the general of Akbar’s army than his own fiercely loyal foster brother? I oversaw the preparations for Adham to depart to Malwa, in order to continue the conquests Bairam Khan had, so conveniently, begun for us. I lit candles at the altar of Skanda the Leaper, god of war, firstborn of Shiva and his consort Parvati, to pray for the safe return of my son.

• • • •

But, in all my preoccupation, I failed to notice that Akbar had begun to follow in his father’s footsteps. He ordered tapestries connoting his cosmic entitlement, and rotated the color of his garb in accordance with the lunar cycles. He regaled himself with evenings of poetry fueled by betel intoxicants. I had raised him to be a worthy and learned commander, not an indolent shirker of his duties. And without him, the instrument of my success, I would be powerless.

“Your majesty,” I pushed past the giggling girls in their tight-fitting bodices and lenghu pants, shimmering veils dancing across the lower halves of their faces, “When will you next hold court?”

“What?” Akbar stopped one bite short of a drugged laddoo offered to him between dyed nails, “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing is wrong,” I gritted my teeth into a forced smile, “But your people would like to see you, to hear from you.”

“They have you, Anga,” he patted my cheek, “and they have me too, should they need me. How goes Adham’s invasion of Malwa?”

“Baz Bahadur, the opposition’s leader, has fled to Khandesh after the Battle of Sarangpur, but . . . ”

“Well, good, see? Everything is as it should be.”

• • • •

Everything is as it should be. People would not see it that way if they saw what Akbar had become under my regency. My hands curled into fists as I paced the charbagh in front of the harem, a quadrangle of horticultural marvels and shaded pavilions. Fruit-laden trees secreted a ripe musky scent that mingled with the heady perfume of the raat-ki-rani flower buds. I thought of the secret poisons crushed in mortar and pestle and stuffed into the lining of robes—refined instruments of assassination—to be given to those upon whom the emperor bestowed a khilat. Award someone the highest honor and, simultaneously, cloak them in death. Greed made it easier to fool the targets. Akbar would not be greedy, but he would be trusting. And I didn’t want to kill him. Our symbiosis was dependent upon his retaining the monarchy. Would the hakeems hidden in the darkest alleys of Agra have a concoction that could turn a boy into an emperor?

• • • •

I drew my purdah tighter across my face and wished I had left some of my jewels at home. They clinked and jangled as the wagon rolled down the pitted road, its wooden wheels sending billows of sand up my nostrils. I sneezed and clung onto my bangles. It would be preposterous if these jewels caused my death. Gunpowder was becoming freely available—a consequence of my glorification of the Europeans and the Ottomans to Akbar—and some vagrant could use it to threaten a walking goldmine such as me. When he wasn’t soaking in pleasures, carnal and narcotic, Akbar experimented with firearms. Canons had frequently been heard in the palace, blowing the delicate parts of statues to smithereens.

The wagon stopped in front of a darkened street in the slums of Agra. I nodded and the wagon jolted away. I almost called out to the disappearing driver, but fear seemed to have seized my throat in a bruising grip. To think that I, who lorded over an entire country full of politicians, still feared walking down a desolate street alone. Had Adham Khan been here—but no, I could not rely on him. I had witnessed what happened when women relied on men.

I rapped the knocker on the Hakeem’s door rather too desperately. The noise echoed in the stillness of the alley. Water dripped down grimy walls behind me. The Hakeem’s assistant opened the door, and I scrambled to get inside.

“Fear not, gentle lady, fear not,” the Hakeem was a paralyzed old man with a beard hovering below his moving jaw, like tendrils of smoke, “How can I help you? A tincture to bring you love, a salve to heal all wounds?”

“I need a potion that will reinspire a man, allow me to help him focus,” I glanced around the dilapidated hut. A meek fire burned in the hearth, coughing embers towards the Hakeem’s wicker chair. It illuminated him with a glow, not unlike the sun-halo that surrounded Akbar at his court, but altogether more malicious.

“Ah, but there are different kinds of men, and they require ingredients with varying potency. Would you say this man is a mouse, or a dragon?”

I paused and then unclasped a heavy gold bracelet from my wrist. It hit the table with a weighty thud. “A dragon.”

• • • •

That evening, my hand only stopped trembling once Akbar had left the room. He had suspected nothing, of this I was sure. He had taken the goblet from my hands and downed the potion in a thirsty gulp, the redness trickling to the edges of his moustache. I had smiled at him and he had smiled back, lopsided, like the boy I had known. Was it my imagination, or did the potion travel across his face in scarlet tributaries, reaching for his eyes like grasping fingers. His irises dilated. Beware, no concoction is without its side-effects; in reawakening his ambition, you could unlock other things, less desirable. The Hakeem’s words swam in my head, but I had done what needed to be done, and I would bear the repercussions time would bring.

• • • •

I sat on a divan below the throne, veiled from head to toe, and conducted the affairs of the kingdom. The peacock throne still sat empty; the noblemen had come to trust me implicitly. In the afternoon, during the darshan, when the priests of the temples and Imams of the mosques gathered for an audience with the king, I was the only one surveying them from the verandah. I sensed the clamor of their complaints before they opened their mouths, and I raised my hand to placate them, but before any of us could make our voice heard, a messenger, bedecked in military outfit, parted the crowds on his horse. Adham. My heart lurched to my throat. I ran back indoors and down the staircase. When I emerged onto the street, the priests and the Imams were jigging with delight and colored ribbons festooned the air in celebration. And yet, the messenger looked me in the eye, above the swaying crowds, his gaze austere.

• • • •

“He did it? Adham has conquered Malwa.” I clutched my bodice. “But where is he?”

“Begum, he has lost his mind,” the messenger bowed his head, “We warned him of the dangers of hoarding the treasures of Malwa for himself, how that would appear to the Emperor. But he would not listen. And . . . ”

“What, what is it?”

“Order a carriage, begum, and I will show you.”

“Take me there now,” I insisted. I could see reluctance in the soldier’s eyes but, propriety be damned, this matter could spell the difference between freedom and death. The veil slipped off my head, diamond kan phools gleaming at my ears, as I pulled myself onto the horse. I heard shocked gasps from the Imams, at the sight of a woman sitting astride a horse, but there would also be many who would appreciate my policies more for the robust masculinity of my behavior. I cracked the whip and we raced to Malwa.

• • • •

Adham, what have you done? The streets of Malwa reeked with the stench of burning flesh and grass. Fields of incinerated rabi crops, that should have been ripe for the plucking, unravelled like ashen carpets on either side of us. My mind conjured images of the scholars herding their families to a safety that was nowhere to be found, fire licking at their running feet. If Akbar should visit Malwa, what action would he take at the sight of Adham reclining, amidst a sea of destruction, with a harem and treasures that do not belong to him? Would he call the conquest of a scorched city a victory? By the time I reached Malwa, dark circles were etched beneath my exhausted eyes.

“You imbecile,” I gripped the sash woven across Adham’s waist, “How could you let a victory turn into your greatest failure? How are we to keep this from the emperor?”

“I did nothing wrong. I decimated his enemies,” Adham shook my hand off.

“You killed the very scholars Akbar reveres! Unlike you, he is a vessel of knowledge!”

“Unlike me . . . you preening, proud woman,” Adham spat at my feet. “From the day his incapable parents left him at your door, you have been a slave for him. Why is it wrong for me to covet the things he possesses in droves? If I am his brother, where is my harem, my treasures, my kingdom?”

This is not about you! My head spun and I reached for a pillar to steady myself. Adham would never understand. He roamed the world with the entitlement that was the legacy of his sex. I needed to be the sensible one; provoking Adham would mean the downfall of everything I had built. “You are right. And you will get the things you deserve, my boy,” I turned towards him, “but not if you anger the emperor. Step by step . . . ”

“Step by step what, Begum Anga?”

I whirled around to see Akbar standing at the doorway. Had he followed me here? How much of our exchange had he heard? Words deserted me; I was a dry and forgotten well.

“You see,” Akbar moved further into the room, and I saw the messenger writhing in his grip, “You may think my pursuits blind me from what is happening under my nose, but I am not so stupid. You have hoarded the wealth of Malwa for your own gain, you have committed heinous war crimes, and you have been plotting against me.”

“No, your majesty, no,” I stepped forward, but the disdainful leer that twisted his handsome face halted me in my tracks. In that swift moment we were no longer mother and son, but emperor and deceitful concubine. He was alien to me. The messenger’s neck snapped. Akbar loosened his grip, letting the corpse slide to the floor.

Adham, cowardly as ever, threw himself at Akbar’s feet, swore to return every stolen penny and person, and begged Akbar to forgive him for the atrocities he claimed to have wreaked unintentionally upon the people of Malwa. With his nose pressed to the cold ground Adham did not see the way Akbar’s breath fanned out of his nostrils in plumes of smoke, nor the way his pupils contracted into scarlet slits. But only the messenger died that day. Akbar followed his advisor Ataga Khan’s recommendation and removed Adham from his post as general.

• • • •

Akbar’s path began to fork away from mine, and Ataga Khan would not be as easily displaced as Bairam Khan. The noblemen at court, at least, were still loyal to me. Wresting power from me would not grant Akbar authority.

“Akbar will be reigning over his own court from today.” Ataga Khan found me strolling in the harem gardens, and grasped my arm in a painful grip. “And he will have no need for your petticoat government.”

I grew still as the grass against my sandals.

“I think Advisor, you will find that there are few who remember the sound of Akbar’s voice, and fewer still who trust him.”

“The world draws closer to the apocalypse when women and eunuchs govern us,” Ataga Khan hurled the saying as an insult before he stalked out.

Akbar returned to the court, but he could do little without my guiding hand. Problems that have been years in the making need years of understanding to resolve. One cannot wake up from opium-induced sleep and saunter into court, to miraculously change lives. So Akbar sat on the peacock throne, and I whispered behind him, and in the court below us Adham and Ataga Khan exchanged looks of venom, vowing to be each other’s downfall.

• • • •

“I can’t stand him,” Adham Khan’s nightly outbursts wearied me. “He is gloating for having removed me as a general. I should be the advisor! Haven’t I been alongside Akbar through thick and thin?”

“Adham, if you think your life is so precious, why won’t you be wise?” I pleaded. “Akbar has been ill-tempered of late and it would not benefit us to anger him. You have lived a life of luxury, and it has stolen your ambition and replaced it with entitlement!”

“I do not call being the son of a worthless concubine a luxury.”

• • • •

Within the space of a few months, the new general appointed by Ataga Khan cornered Baz Bahadur, the fleeing ruler of Malwa, and Akbar ordered him and his closest allies to be trampled beneath the hoofs of elephants. I was there as the rearing animals were led into where the prisoners were tied to stakes in the ground. Was this the same boy who had shied from executing Bairam Khan? I looked at Akbar’s aquiline profile while the rest of the crowd roared at their vicious entertainment. The skin above his beard was ragged and flushed as if an unsteady hand had flayed it with a razor.

“Akbar, are you well?” I whispered.

The eyes that turned towards me had slit pupils, and they were wide with helpless fear.

“Akbar . . . ” His face hit my bangles as I caught the falling emperor in my arms. Men rushed towards us to carry him to the hospital wing. I followed, watching my sandals slap the stone floor, my mind elsewhere. I was thinking of the hakeem and the undesirable things his tincture might have unlocked.

• • • •

Akbar had barely recovered when Adham murdered Ataga Khan. The latter stood in court spouting a speech so pompous my toes curled in my jhutis. As people milled about, praising the wisdom of Ataga Khan, Adham swerved into the room where Ataga had the effrontery to mock him for his ignoble blood.

“Look who is here,” Ataga clapped Adham on the back in a patronizing fashion, “The Emperor’s entitled bastard brother.”

I saw the maniacal gleam in Adham’s eyes too late to stop him. He leapt upon the advisor. Wine and blood pooled onto the floor in a foolhardy mess.

• • • •

Akbar was on the fort ramparts when the courtiers rushed to inform him of what had happened. He ordered Adham to be brought to him immediately. I followed, hoping to delay his judgement. I saw the way Adham mocked the Emperor openly, proclaiming to have done his administration a favor. And yet, I never dreamt that Akbar would enact a swift and cruel judgement.

When Akbar lifted Adham by the waist, there was fear in the eyes of both my sons. There was a ringing in my ears as Akbar flung Adham from the rampart. I do not know how long I clung to the crippled mess of Adham that lay plastered on the floor many feet below the gaze of our emperor.

“This is the outcome when a woman gets ideas above her station,” a bystander said. For a moment, doubt assailed me. Had I hunkered down in timid obedience, had I never strived against the injustice of being locked away in a harem, I would not be facing this grief right now. Akbar made his way down the ramparts and came to stand beside me. I quelled my doubts. The decisions I have made will always be more valuable than the decisions made for me, no matter where they lead. So I looked him in his slitted eye and with a level voice I praised him,

“You have done well.”

• • • •

Word began to get around. Something was wrong with the emperor. When Akbar appeared in court, there was no way to hide his marred face except to veil it like a woman’s. And yet, he could not stay away lest someone else seize power as I had. So he ruled behind a screen, and I was accused of being a co-conspirator in the assassination of Ataga Khan. It was not so difficult to convince those who were already uneasy about a woman gathering political power. Akbar ordered that I be dragged to prison.

• • • •

I spent seven days staring at the bars on my window, imagining an impossible escape. I was told they would come for me at the next full moon, and I would be executed. I wished someone could bring me a splintered diamond. It would be better to die amongst the jewels of my youth, and by my own hand. This was not the end I desired, and yet, I was perversely proud to suffer the fate of a political prisoner. I chose it over languishing in the sick beds of the harem, curtained off from the carnal frivolity where infirmity and illness have no place.

A key jangled in the metal grille of the prison door. I looked up quizzically. I did not expect the guards to bring me a meal at this time.

“What have you done to me, Anga?” It was Akbar. He stumbled forward and clutched my shirt with unsteady hands. Up close, I could see the pearlescent marks on his skin where scale overlapped scale. His eyes had acquired a yellow tinge behind their scarlet pupils.

“Save me,” he begged. He veiled his face and I followed him out of the prison and into his chambers. When he dropped the clothes from his body, I could see the transformation was too far gone for me to stop it, even if I were to try to find the hakeem who had caused it. And I would not.

“Akbar, my dear boy,” I placed my hand on his heaving cheeks, feeling the ripple underneath his new reptilian skin, “Do you think you deserve to be saved? Would it not be better if I saved your kingdom for you?”

When the emperor’s turban fell to the floor, I picked it up and placed it upon my head. The instruments on the dresser, and years of painting faces, helped me create a semblance of Akbar’s features which would, nevertheless, be obscured by a veil. The dragon watched me with an indifferent gaze, as if it no longer remembered. I wondered which woman had ridden the dragon that had been Babar.

Soon, I would go tell the others of Maham Anga’s baffling escape from the prison. I examined my new self in the mirror. It would be a cumbersome disguise to apply every day, and an unbecoming one. But I could be myself, bedecked in chiffon drapes and diamonds, on the nights when I soared above roads travelled by ordinary men and forbidden to most women, on the back of a dragon, undulating through the skies like a flying carpet.

Kehkashan Khalid

Kehkashan Khalid

Kehkashan is a writer and illustrator committed to bringing speculative fiction to life in South Asian settings. In 2019, she graduated with distinction from the MA Fine Art Digital program at the University of the Arts London and won an award for her thesis project now on permanent display at the UAL collection. In 2019, she also won the Salam Award for Imaginative Fiction and now has stories published or forthcoming in the Gollancz Book of South Asian Science Fiction Vol. 2, Translunar Travelers Lounge, and Chiral Mad 5, among others. She can currently be found in Jeddah working on her first novel, slush-reading at Clarkesworld Magazine, and spending time with her three young children. Learn more about her at www.kehkashankhalid.com