Fiction

​Jharokha – A buried episode of the Lodhi Empire

It was the time when Badshah Salamat was returning after signing a treaty with Hussain shah, the ruler of Bengal. A lot of chaos and blood was averted as both the kings had sealed a political friendship. The ruler of Bengal presented the Sultan of Delhi, Sikander lodhi, a tohfa (gift) as a departing felicitation.

I was the 15 year old tohfa and the youngest addition to the King’s Harem, a priest’s daughter. I had forgotten my voice after they abducted me from the ghats of Jamna, where I witnessed my father’s martyrdom.

Upon arrival, I was examined to make sure I didn’t have any physical defects or any diseases. I was taken to the Hamam (bath house) and taught how to clean according to the traditions.

My education began with religious training about Islam, etiquette at the royal court and skill training in embroidery. Most time was spent caged in the four walls of this glamorous inferno where they taught us the palace attitude, how to greet people, and walk backwards to leave the Sultan’s room. The other concubines told me, Sultan liked his women obedient, silent and who had firm flesh.  Apart from the fear, terror and suffocation there was a relief of security and a foolish hope of becoming the Sultan’s confidant.

Most girls were awestruck with him. Sikander was endowed with an extraordinary physical charm, had a rare quality of eloquence and was fond of literature and poetry. After knowing his inclination towards poetry, I felt my first connection with Sultan, a week before I was scheduled to serve him. 

The harem was comfy prison which housed beautiful foreign girls. The prison wardens were eunuchs who kept a close watch on us. Sometimes they brought news and gossip. One of them told me, Badshah salamat was born as the third son of his father Bahlol from the abduction and rape of Ziba, the daughter of a Hindu goldsmith of Sirhind.

Sikander was a devout Muslim and was intolerant towards non believers. From the Jharokha, I watched him practice his Morning Prayer and recitation of the Quran before he began his administrative duties. May be he noticed me too, but that was only my imagination. 

The night of my first encounter with Sultan arrived. I took timid steps towards his bed where he lay. My gaze never moved from the floor, carpeted with white feathers. Sultan approached, gently lifted my face and asked, ‘What’s your name, delicate one?’

‘R… Ruk… Rukhsar,’ I answered faintly, ending a year long silence and beginning a barren relationship. A night after another and in a few weeks, I became his preferred. 

Sultan was kind to me. Sometimes he would spend the entire night talking gallantly about his conquests and even reading his poetry. He composed poems more often than before, called me his missing inspiration. At times, I could find myself in his compositions, which described the way he saw me;

Her sapphire eyes and chestnut hair,

Masha-allah is there a maiden so fair?

Tender like a bird, yet fierce like a sword,

Her touch is gold, her absence despair.

On a moon lit night he called me his Gulrukh (Rose face) and soberly told that he had to leave the city for his next conquest. He gave me his Persian katar (dagger) as a safety measure. With a promise to write letters, the next morning he left for his expedition against Gwalior.

At the court, the other concubines had already grown hostile due to his fondness towards me. They saw me as a thorn in their way. With the Sultan gone and after a week of alienation, I was thrown in the dungeons. 

I cried for days, begged for weeks to let me out and speak to Sultan, but no one returned a word.  I never received a letter from him. I was hurt beyond repair and felt deceived. After two months, the misery came to an end when a guard on official orders grouted me with a bow string. 

It was a fleeting vision, oblique like the rays of sun. My cheek rested on a dusty floor, followed by a fainting sight of footsteps leaving the cellar. A familiar white feather swirled with my last gasp.

A constant screeching on the stone walls broke my spiritual sleep. A hand with a pointy stone drew something on my face. Baffled, I aviated out of the wall surface and saw some designs. The jharoka has been my home for some 500 years. 

These walls have several clustered letters drawn on them.  Apart from hearts, arrows, petals and leaves I never understood what they meant.

A young boy and a girl were talking some sweet nothings and it seemed acceptable. Strangers visit this place, ignorant of the dead. Insufficiently dressed people pose openly in the gardens just to be seen by another man through small black bricks. 

I moved away to the corridors of the mosque which once shimmered in all its beauty. The tiles had lost their blues, but I hadn’t. Sikander’s faux promise still aches like a violent cut refusing to turn into a scar. I spent countless days and nights revolving around his tomb with the katar. Maybe someday he will rise and I will confront him.

Sometimes I hesitantly stare at his grave, and he appears to be smirking at me for my ignorance. And I laugh, at how foreign people use his burial site for reading, exercising and feeding birds, completely disregarding his once royal being. These inferences are only a failed attempt to feel better. So, I looked at the sky and hatefully cursed him.

A sudden thunderstorm struck and a flock of pigeons near his grave, dispersed in fright.

One of them shed a feather. It glided down gently and perched on Sikander’s grave. As it did, the grave started sinking in the ground. The tomb pillars and walls started falling apart. The earth swallowed everything that surrounded it. In that bewildered minute, the spot turned into a vast green field with only an old banyan tree under which I stood. I saw a vague shadow of a horse coming in my direction. As the vision got better, I couldn’t trust my eyes.

It was Sultan! He stooped on the horse’s back, bloody and wounded, like escaped from a battle. My eyes pooled.

He fell from the horse and I rushed to help him. His hand hung around my shoulder as he struggled to sit, and uttered with pain, ‘Rukhsar, my love. Forgive me. I failed to keep my promise. I am a gunehgaar.’

‘Rukhsar has always loved you Jehanpanah,’ I choked and tears escaped.

‘Ya Allah,’ he ached ‘only your love can save me my Gulrukhsar,’ he pleaded. 

‘My father taught me, God is one and can’t be split into Ram and Rahim. Like love, ignorant of names and beliefs,’ I reminisced.

‘What do mean Rukhsar?’ he was puzzled.

‘The priest you burnt alive, was my father. And I am Rukhmani, not Rukhsar.’

I silenced him with a jab of katar in his chest. A few minutes later I started flying on my own, amazed at my new white feathers.

Dating & Relationships, Fiction

The Blind date.

A typical weekday. But not so typical evening. Who knew the girl, Sagar was chatting with for the past week worked in the same building as he did.

So a time and place was agreed upon and they decided to meet that evening. Sagar was there before Antara. He picked a table just opposite the bar counter. An interesting bouquet of dim coppery lights hung like a pendant above the table.

It was 6.30 when Antara entered. Sagar was on a phone call. He waved at her from his chair, as he continued the call. When she reached near the table he apologetically took an excuse, as he indicated 1 minute with his finger. He didn’t get up to receive her.

“So, how are you doing! You know you look prettier in person than your pictures.” He remedied the situation as he put the phone back in his pocket.

Antara smiled her thanks and fixed a hair strand behind her ear.

“Interesting watch!” She returned the compliment.

Sagar started talking about his collection of watches. Then they talked about usual things like work, what they did, hobbies, music and so on.

They had ordered coffee but after 10 minutes they cancelled the order. The music and ambience warranted a drink.

“Tell me a secret!” Antara asked notoriously.

“But if i did, it will no longer be a secret” he evaded.

“How about we trade a secret” she made him a deal.

“Okay,” he leaned in closer, “I never told this to anyone but I once used to be a ballet dancer” he mocked.

They both burst into a fit of laughter. And Sagar subtley tucked her loose hair strand behind her ear.

“Let’s dance” she insisted.

“I really can’t” he excused.

“But this is my favourite song” she got up this time.

Sagar was hesitant. He made a face and said would like to enjoy the drink. This upset Antara a bit.

He could have at least accompanied her. She felt offended and embarrassed.

After finishing their drinks Antara said she must leave. He nodded.

They got up and shook hands. Thanks were exchanged. He looked at her in anticipation for another date. But she didnt return the eye contact.

They made their way towards the door. Antara was a little ahead of Sagar. When she got outside she turned back and discovered that Sagar was still walking.

Well not exactly walking. He was slow and was limping with one hand on his crutches. Sagar’s left leg was…. He only had one leg.

A ghost of guilt and regret clogged her chest. So that’s why he never got up and said he couldn’t dance. And she was being so pushy. Why wouldn’t he tell her about it. How could she be so blind to notice. Antara was sad, angry and embarrassed.

I hope to see you again! Sagar said with uncertainty.

“Indeed!” She replied. Trying not to look at the leg.

It had started raining. “My cab is waiting” she waved hurriedly.

Sagar stood there and watched her walking swiftly, then taking quick and long steps, and then running towards the main road.

Fiction

Winter wine

The room was full of excitement and cheer. Soft ballad music made of piano, violin and cello played in the air. The chandeliers were just perfectly lit to cast a magnificent golden shadow upon the beautiful gowns that ladies wore. While some gowns glared in crimson and sliver, some flowed with the violin sonata.

The New Year was shying away from 60 seconds, and the tempo had risen! The dancing couples took a delicate pause, all eyes fixed on the giant clock, where the second hand stole all the show.

The others stood encircling the love birds, ready with their champagne. With a sonorous clinking everywhere, it was 12 when the three needles came together and so did some lips. The dancing continued with more wine and louder music.

Further away from that joyous halo, sat a maiden in a blue chiffon ensemble, sipping on some red and dancing her fingers on the wine glass. “If this is love, it’s everything I always want to be” she hummed to herself. A perfect moment it was.

Let’s go out! You don’t want to miss the fireworks! Whispered Adrian in her ear.

“But its freezing, not to mention it would pour in sometime”, she remarked without turning back.

“Please!” Adrian extended his hand. So they walked out towards the icy garden. The fireworks were faintly visible as it was disadvantaged by the twigs. So they crossed the pavement to take the downhill road until they had a clearer view.

They both shivered, she because of the cold and Adrian in excitement. In a moment, the sky lit in a thousand colors and they stood still.

It’s magical isn’t it? Smiled she.

It is, he nodded

They both had the reflection of this magic in their eyes. An anticipated silence thrilled the two.

One again they shivered. But this time, both due to a fragile moment they had landed in.

What are you thinking, Adrian broke the ice.

Umm, nothing! She concealed.

When their eyes met, Adrian came closer and wiped off a tear drop from her cheek.

Well, it wasn’t from her eyes. In a moment, it started raining. They rushed and took a temporary shelter under a bus stop kiosk. She looked down at her gown which was drenched in rain water.

No bus or taxi could be seen. The rain only got heavier mixed with unattackable wind currents.

They shivered.

Their eyes met again. She stepped closer and removed a tiny leaf from his hair. He extended his hand, “May I have this dance?”

The fireworks had now stopped in the skies, leaving for some potential under the kiosk.