[My book “Mountain of the Moon” is available at various online stores such as Rupa, Flipkart, Infibeam, Bookadda,Crossword, Linuxbazar (!!), and at Rediff.]
The epic journey undertaken by Shankar and Diego Alvarez had just one goal – find the diamonds hidden in the Mountain of the Moon. This dream, or maybe it’s just greed, has driven men for millenia. The search for riches has not only created huge people migrations in the 18th and 19th centuries, they have also created great works of art and entertainment – Chaplin’s “The Gold Rush”, the Indiana Jones films, the books by Rider Haggard, and of course “Chander Pahar.”
The search for riches often results in failure and death, and not very pleasant deaths either. In “Chander Pahar”, both Jim and Diego are torn apart by the three-toed monster which Shankar never gets to see. In finding the diamonds in the Richtersveldt Mountains, Shankar loses his way in the tunnels and almost dies of thirst.
This relationship between diamonds and death is still not dead (no pun intended!) Many of us will have seen the film “Blood Diamond”, the 2006 political thriller film directed by Edward Zwick and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Connelly and Djimon Hounsou. The title refers to blood diamonds, which are diamonds mined in African war zones and sold to finance conflicts, and thereby profit warlords and diamond companies across the world. Wikipedia has this to say about ‘blood diamonds’, aka ‘conflict diamonds’ – “In relation to diamond trading, conflict diamond (also called a converted diamond, blood diamond, hot diamond, or war diamond) refers to a diamond mined in a war zone and sold to finance an insurgency, invading army’s war efforts, or a warlord’s activity, usually in Africa where around two-thirds of the world’s diamonds are extracted. The phenomenon of conflict minerals has the same nature.”
The countries in Africa that are affected by these stones include Angola, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, The Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe. The UN has a fascinating article on Conflict Diamonds here.
Probably the most famous diamond mines in the world are the Kimberley mines, in Northern Cape in South Africa. The town has considerable historical significance due its diamond mining past and siege during the Second Boer War. Notable personalities such as Cecil Rhodes (the founder of Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe) made their fortune here and the roots of the De Beers corporation can also be traced to the early days of the mining town. There’s a fascinating history of the mines here,here, and here.
The original Kimberley mine closed in 1914, a few years before Shankar’s visit to Africa.