Over the years I have seen the turmoil of the royal families ruling Kanchangadhi. The ripples in my silent water have seen kings ruling and dying, I have seen young Rajauri men going to war, their women putting teeka* on their foreheads with teary eyes. I have seen the golden times of Royalties.
I happen to be the baawdi** located inside the magnificent palace of the long lost legacy.
After independence, like most of the other royal families, Rajauris too lost their right to rule. Agonised by this pain the old raja, who still believes in his age old traditions, mourns the loss of his power. He lives in denial and considers his royal blood as the purest of all. Behind the walls of this royal palace that has now turned into a hotel, like most of the others of its kind, right at the window of the wall surrounding me , sometimes sits a girl, who lives all alone in that secluded area with some servants .
Even the teacher who comes to teach her isn't allowed to talk much other than his work because of her father's belief that his royal princess should not be mingling with commons and especially those foreign filthy people who stay at his palace turned hotel. So what if the powers are gone, he still possesses the pure Rajauri blood .Although; it remains a mystery as to why the raja lets the young princess learn English. The solitary princess, when tired of the loneliness both outside and inside, talks to me. She is one fragile girl who knows nothing about the world outside the cage she lives in. She talks about her wishes, her desires to explore the world, of her hopes that someday she would get out of this painful world of misery and solitude.
The day before yesterday, she came and talked about the gift her father had given her on her 17th birthday, a mobile phone. She talked about how it was of no use to her as she knows no one other than her father and her maid. Of course the poor girl knows nothing about the vast world of internet or the delights of Facebook as she is confined only to the tales of her ancestors’ bravery and heroism.
As I have seen over the years, life never remains same for anyone and I know this girl's life is going to change too and for good. Over the years many tourists have come to stay at the palace but none of them had ever made my stairs as their favourite place to sit. I observe as this young french boy sits and observes the mystic aura around me. His eyes say that he is in search of something different, mere palaces and forts can't satisfy his thirst of finding something remarkable. He threw a pebble on the surface of water and that very moment the princess opened the window of her room. He looked at the reflection of a girl in the water and looked up to find the source of image but the window was already shut by the scared princess wondering who intruded her personal territory. A few moments later, driven by curiosity, she opened the window and looked around. She did not find anyone there. That night she had something to think other than the usual thoughts of her monotonous life. The young tourist on the other hand kept wondering who she was, a girl whose one glimpse had made him restless. She had appeared like a scared doe and disappeared in a blink of an eye.
Next day the young princess silently came down to my side and looked around. She didn't notice the tourist coming right behind her until he tapped her shoulder and said "Hi!”.
Startled, the princess froze for a few moments and then ran and hid behind a pillar.
"Hey! I won't hurt you" he said, amazed at her reaction.
The princess peered out and looked at him, his warm and friendly smile was a new gesture to her. Till date she had only seen her father's stern gaze and her maid's submissive gestures. This smile reassured her and she came out, a little hesitatingly though.
"Hi, I am Fredrick Williams. I was just admiring your beautiful palace." He introduced himself.
"I am Vrushali, the princess of this palace." She said in a meek voice.
"Ah, a princess you are, you really look like one." Fredrick said, he was in awe of her charm. She was exactly what he thought a princess could be, beautiful, vulnerable and innocent.
"I have to go, I can't be seen here with you, if father comes to know, he will be very angry" she said and walked away.
“Hey wait Vrushii" Fredrick called her out.
She turned around and said "Its Vrushali..not Vrushii.." and left.
Reaching her room Vrushali rejoiced in this new found happiness of hers, she opened her window and found Fredrick right there looking expectantly at the window. She smiled at him and he smiled back, then he hurriedly scribbled something on his notepad, tore the page apart and threw it to her. It said
"Tonight 11 PM, same place, let us get to know each other a bit more."
She held the note with trembling hands, hanging between a yes and a no. Now was her chance to know the real world from someone else's eyes, she did not have the heart to say No. She looked at Fredrick and nodded. He smiled and left waving her goodbye.
That night they both introduced each other to their respective lives. At first she was hesitant but slowly she opened up to him. He was shocked to know that she had never been the world outside the palace. He wondered how it felt like to be caged for all your life.
She told him the stories of her royal family, about her ancestors’ bravery, the wars they won and her great grandmother who practiced sati. He told her the stories of his tours around the world, about the tall buildings and the long roads, he showed her how to use internet and showed her the pictures of beautiful world. She heard him with a childlike curiosity, amazed about everything. It was so hard to believe yet so exciting. They met the next night and the night after that and it became a routine. He used to tell her all about the places he visited during the day time and this made her desire of getting out of the confinement of palace even stronger. That night as they lied down on the grass Vrushali asked him "Fred would you get me out of this place just once. I want to see the world outside". He held her hand and said "I will try my best princess ". Her smile vanished and she said "Don't call me princess, I have lost my rights of being a human because I am a princess". Her eyes swelled up with tears. Fred couldn't see her like this so he decided to take her out at any cost.
A few days later the raja was out hunting, they found their moment and bribed the maid and the tutor. Vrushali stepped out of the palace for the first time in her life. She was in awe of the world outside, amazed by the girls driving vehicles, and kids playing around. While crossing the road she closed her eyes in fear and clutched his hand tight. They enjoyed the whole day, she ran around like a kid and danced with happiness. He heard her blabber continuously, replied to her silly questions and felt happy to see her so happy. At the end of the day when they came back to palace and sat at their favourite place, Vrushali said "I can't express how happy I am, everything is beautiful, I want to see the whole world , travel in those airplanes, live in those buildings, thank you for introducing me to a dream." She looked at him with a warm expression. He smiled, now was the time to tell her what he wanted to say for a long time.
"Vrushali.." but his voice was cut in between by her phone ringing. "Its pitaji.!" She said and ran away. The next day she did not take his calls, the window remained shut the whole day. He was desperate to have a glimpse of her, just to know that she is fine. He kept waiting , when at night she finally arrived her eyes were puffy and red.
"What happened Vrushalii.?" He asked scared at her condition. She looked at him with tears and said "Fred, My gauna*** is taking place next week", he looked at her in confusion. "What is gauna?" He asked.
"I have been married since childhood to the prince of Rewari and tomorrow he is returning from London and I would be leaving with him next week"
Fred went quiet, something broke inside him, and the words that he longed to say lost their meaning. She looked at him questioningly and said "I should be happy, all my dreams would be fulfilled but there is a void in this happiness, something is missing. Do you know what it is Fred? It is you I have seen the dreams of seeing this world with, holding your hand not anyone else's.”
She looked sad and lost. She asked, “You have taught me many things, tell me one last thing. What is this feeling Fred? Why isn't there any happiness within me? Why does it feel like something has broken inside? Why I am not able to experience the joy of future freedom?"
Fred looked at the naive girl and wondered if he should tell her that it was love, and that he too felt the same, but then it would make things difficult for him and for her too. The truth was they weren't meant to be. He was a French tourist and she was a Rajauri princess. His role in her life was limited, like a gardener could take care of the flower only to let someone else take it away.
He smiled at Vrushali, turned and threw a stone in the water. "You see this Vrushalii, we are like the ripples in silent water, never together, never apart." He said and looked back at her, he went closer kissed her forehead and said "go ahead, your dreams are waiting, be happy" and left.
She stood there staring at me, rather the ripples in my water, wondering.
*Teeka is a mark on the forehead wore as a sign of auspiciousness
**Baawdi is a stepwell
***Gauna is a north Indian custom and the ceremony associated with the consummation of marriage