It’s been two months at this new job at the palace as a security guard. I have never been posted at a monument before. My last job was at a bank ATM. It seems like some strange twist of destiny has brought me to this monument which is now in ruins. I am not educated but I hear that this palace was built by a king in the 12th century. Several centuries later it now stands as a carcass in time. Conservation agencies are attempting to revive it. Ever since I joined, restoration work has been going on. The government is trying to put it on the tourism map. We get a few visitors every month. Largely, this is a boring job for me since I am used to working at bustling bazaars where I have good access to friends and food. I feel isolated here and have to deal with shady groups of guys who come to smoke and drink in the bushes nearby. Since there is no restriction to accessing the palace, I cannot forbid them from climbing up to the terrace which has hanging balconies to smoke their cigarettes and do drugs.
I have a family to look after at home in Bihar. I got married two years ago and my wife came from the neighbouring village. She has adjusted well to my rather large family. She lives back at home with my parents, uncles, aunts and siblings. We have been trying to get pregnant when I visit back home but she has had three miscarriages in the last two years. It has been a stressful time for us and I don’t want to get into any trouble by confronting this gang of drugged boys lest they maul me. I have to save money for my family and we have to have a baby by next year.
I miss my wife too much. It is a curse to be away from her. I dream about intimacy with her many times. On most afternoons when it is too hot and there are no visitors, I snooze outside the palace under the huge peepal tree. This is the only perk of working in the ruins. At the ATM I had to be forever alert. I could not even blink my eyes during the day. But in this palace I can straighten my back when nobody is watching. I dream strange dreams during my siesta and often wake up startled. At 4 pm a chaiwala wanders into the park and I buy a cup of tea from him. The tea refreshes me. Two weeks ago I had the strangest dream during my afternoon siesta. While I forget these weird dreams a few minutes after I wake up, this one has stayed with me for quite long and it comes back to haunt me most afternoons when I try to nap. I think it is time to share my dream with you.
That afternoon two weeks ago
That afternoon was unusually hot and there were no visitors at the palace. The heat was unbearable and the deserted look that the palace wore was too much for me to bear. It was an eerie feeling to be all alone at the desolate palace. I decide to forage for lunch and walked to the nearest commercial street. I didn’t eat at my usual joint which sold cheap rotis and subzi, I wanted to eat something different that day. Although it was a hot day, I craved for some heavy oily food and decided to eat chole bhature for lunch. I didn’t feel like going back to work and wished that I had some friends to hang around with at the bazaar. Since I had none I dragged my feet back to the palace. I parked myself under the peepal tree and my eyes felt heavy as I drooped down for my siesta. I heard the footsteps of a girl inside the palace; her anklets went “chan chan chan”.
The girl’s name was Anjuman. She was ten years old. Anjuman’s parents were servants at the palace and Anjuman had been born in the in the servant’s quarters behind the palace. She was a doe-eyed girl who was fascinated by the lives of the royalty. She left no chance of sneaking a glance at them whenever they made a public appearance. Her father was the procurer of provisions for the royal kitchen and her mother attended to the queen during her bath and prayer rituals.
Anjuman grew up idolising the royalty. She revered the king and the queen and their twelve year old son – Prince Heyat. Her parents often discussed what a good looking, handsome boy he was. Anjuman had created a picture of him in her mind and was curious to see him. She accompanied her mother to the palace sometimes, but never managed to see the young prince.
Years passed by and Anjuman was now a 15 year old girl. She was tall and elegant. She and her friends from the palace servants’ quarters often wandered to a jungle nearby for a stroll in the evenings. One evening when she was out in the jungle sitting by a stream with her friends, she saw a man in princely clothes on a white horse coming towards them. Suddenly, the girls stopped laughing. Anjuman looked up and her eyes met those of the man on the horse. He gazed at her intently and their eyes were locked for some time. The man shook himself out of the trance and galloped away on his horse. The girls started to chatter.
“Hey wasn’t that Prince Heyat who just came back after finishing his training at the camp?” Uzma commented.
“Wallah such Godly looks, enough to kill anyone,” added Reshma.
Anjuman seemed to be in a trance. It seemed like lightening had struck her. Her yearning to see the prince had been fulfilled but it had left her with a sense of emptiness. It seemed to her that in a flash of moment she had lost everything she had. She sat there lifeless like someone possessed.
“What happened to you?” Reshma shook her.
“Nothing,” she replied instantly collecting herself.
Anjuman was an altered person. She was lost and listless. Nothing grabbed her attention. It seemed like she was possessed by the memory of that one moment when her eyes were locked with those of Heyat. She had lost her appetite and her friends found her aloof and reclusive. She declined their offers for evening walks in the woods and would wander by herself. Her parents were surprised that the food she was cooking no longer was as sumptuous as before and her mother ticked her off for the lack of salt in a dish one day.
Anjuman had lost her senses. She could not understand what was wrong with her. All she wanted was to see the prince once more. She wandered like a corpse in the woods and saw the prince in every blade of grass and tree that she passed. One day as she wandered in the woods by herself, she heard the footsteps of a horse behind her. Panicked she turned around and saw Heyat on the horseback. Her first urge was to run away and as she started to flee, she heard his voice.
“Stop,” said Heyat.
She paused as he got off the horse and came closer to her. His intense gaze was fixed at her face.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“A….A….Anjuman,” she stammered.
“Why were you running away?” he asked.
He had come very close to her by now and she could feel his breath on her face. She began to crumble.
“I… I… was afraid,” she stumbled.
“Afraid of what?” he smiled. His hand was around her waist by now and his face over hers.
“I saw you by the stream that day and I have not been able to think of anything else since then,” he whispered in her ear.
A thousand emotions rushed through Anjuman’s body and she struggled to unclasp herself from his tight grip.
“Let … let me go,” she pleaded.
“No I can’t,” he said.
“Please I beg you. Please let me go,” she said quivering all over.
“Ok, I will if you promise to meet me here tomorrow at the same time,” he said authoritatively.
“Say yes now, I don’t want to hear a no.” He demanded.
“Ok, I will.” She said meekly.
He loosened his grip and Anjuman ran off like a scared doe who had just escaped a hunter.
It was a sleepless night for Anjuman. The crickets outside were crying loudly. It was the first time that she found them too loud. Tears of joy rolled out of Anjuman’s eyes as she re-lived the moments when she could feel the breath of the prince on her face and the playful touch of his hand around her waist. She felt ecstatic. It was a feeling she had never known before and her body and mind craved for more ecstasy. She would go to see the prince the next day and the next – as long as he wanted. She was all his- mind, body and soul.
They met the next evening and the next. Lying below the stars on wet grass they rejoiced in each other’s company and touch. A year slipped by and their secret meetings in the woods continued. Anjuman’s body had bloomed. Her parents and friends noticed her swelled breasts, full frame and happy demeanour but suspected little. One evening during their usual meeting Anjuman informed Heyat that she was carrying their baby in her womb. The prince was flabbergasted; he had scarcely expected this result of their romantic encounters. Anjuman looked at him lovingly.
“Now the evidence of our love has germinated, it is time to tell the world how much we love each other,” she said.
“Yes, yes, let me talk to the king and the queen about it,” replied Heyat.
Heyat went to his parents chambers that night. The king and the queen were livid to learn that Heyat had an affair with a servant’s daughter. They had no plans of accepting her into the royalty as a family member. They wanted him to marry Kayanat, the daughter of the king’s distant cousin. Kayanat’s empire was towards the South of theirs and her father had offered the king the revenues of hundred and fifty villages in their kingdom along with his daughter. Heyat’s father saw this as a gainful alliance. It would allow them to expand their empire significantly.
“She has to leave the kingdom and never return or get executed,” thundered the king.
Heyat tried to argue, “But she is carrying my child”
“That child is a black spot on the royalty, we cannot accept that child,” he retorted angrily.
“You will marry Kayanat. Tell that girl to leave the kingdom immediately lest I get her executed,” he ordered.
“Ok,” said a lost Heyat.
Kayanat was a favourite child of her parents. She had two brothers. She had been clever from her early years. Her father wanted to give her a good education and from her early childhood she had teachers to train her to read, write, paint, embroider and cook. As a child she did not exhibit the class consciousness of belonging to the royalty. She played with the daughters of the helpers and attendants in her palace. She became acutely aware of her privileges when she realised that her parents enabled her to get an education and skills that the children of the servants were not getting.
Her father was very confident of her administrative acumen and often told his wife that had she been a male child, she would be his first choice as the heir of their kingdom. But since she was a girl, she had to be sent off since the populace wouldn’t accept her as their ruler. Kayanat’s mother informed her about the impending wedding. Kayanat felt that it was too soon for her to get married but her mother convinced her that it was the right time and alliance and she would be very happy in the neighbouring kingdom.
It was on the nuptial bed that Kayanat saw Heyat for the first time. She was struck by his good looks. They exchanged a few awkward sentences before they went off to sleep. As days passed by, Heyat got increasingly attracted towards Kayanat. He realised that she was extraordinarily talented and witty. He loved to spend time with her as she displayed a high level of awareness on public issues.
Six months had passed by and the two had become intimate as a couple. They spent more and more time together and were totally lost in each other’s love. Heyat had snapped out of his depression caused by the Anjuman’s departure. Kayanat had brought a new bliss into his life. One day she gave him the good news that she was expecting their baby.
A wave of joy ran through the palace as the word spread that the prince was going to be a father. The maids attended to every little need of hers. She was served meals in her room. The queen was extra doting on her. But one day as Kayanat stepped out of her bath, she felt an acute pain in her abdomen as blood oozed out of her vagina. She had lost her baby.
Kayanat was an altered person. She was no longer the witty cheerful girl who had married Heyat. She was lost in mourning. Even Heyat could not cheer her up. She became angry and aloof and spent most of her time crying in her chamber. A pall of gloom shrouded the palace. It seemed like all happiness evaded them. The royal physician advised Heyat to take Kayanat to some distant place to revive her spirits.
They left for the hills and spent two months recuperating from the unfortunate occurring. Kayanat began to heal in the good environment. She was no longer confined to her room. She and Heyat would go on long trails gazing at nature, trees and birds. Kayanat’s health had improved and she conceived again. An excited Heyat took her back to the palace where she was welcomed with fervour. A month passed by and the physician was happy with Kayanat’s progress.
One day when she woke up her stomach turned as she felt blood flowing between her legs. She had lost her baby again. She went into a spiral of depression. She felt that the pain would kill her. She confined herself to her room and kept thinking why this happened to her twice. She began to believe that she was cursed. She was scared. Scared to recover and conceive again. Heyat watched her anxiety and fears helplessly. Once again the royal physician suggested that she be sent to her parents’ home for recovery.
Kayanat’s parents noticed the dire changes in her personality and were dismayed to see them. She received all the care that helped to lift her spirits. Yet there were times she looked lost in thought and disconnected from everything. It seemed that she was constantly thinking about her losses. Three months passed by and Heyat came to take Kayanat home.
Back in the palace, Kayanat felt irritable and disconnected. She longed to go back to her parents place. She felt that everything was fake and unreal in her husband’s home. She did not enjoy the freedom of befriending her attendants like she did in her parents’ home. Her helpers did not open up to her despite her friendly gestures and would not share their personal lives with her. There was no way of overcoming her grief in the absence of her female friends. The king and the queen appeared cold and Heyat too seemed distracted and disconnected.
Kayanat felt repulsed when Heyat pulled her to make love that night. She was physically tired and mentally drained. She felt too weak to resist his advances and lay passively like a corpse and he kissed her body.
That month she conceived again. Nobody rejoiced at the news this time. Once again the dreaded moment came when she lost the foetus. Kayanat was irate this time. She could not go through this hell one more time. A storm of questions arose in her mind and she wanted an answer to them.
One day while lying on her bed beside Heyat she asked:
“Heyat have you ever hidden something from me that I deserve to know?”
Heyat was surprised at her question and thought for a few moments. He decided to tell her about Anjuman.
“Kayanat, I want to tell you something about my past,” he said.
“Yes, go ahead,” she demanded.
“I… I … had an affair with a girl in the servants’ quarters.”
“Ohh – where is she?” asked Kayanat astounded.
“She…. she is not in this kingdom anymore”
“She was pregnant with my child and the king ordered her to leave,” he replied sheepishly.
“And you are telling all this to me now?” burst Kayanat as angry tears flowed from her eyes.
“What was her name?” she demanded.
“A…A … Anjuman”
“Anjuman, I want to meet her,” she said.
“That’s not possible since I don’t know where she is right now,” said Heyat.
“How can you not know where she is? She is the mother of your child,” she said angrily.
“Trust me; I don’t know where she is. You are my world now.”
“Ah! That’s not true; it is not true at all. I can’t be your world. I am unable to carry your baby. She cursed you and she cursed me too. You will be heirless. Mark my words – you will never have a child,” added Kayanat.
Heyat looked at her mortified.
“Don’t say that – we can try to have a baby,” he said.
“Try to have a baby? Didn’t we try thrice? How many more times do you want to try? What do you think my body is?” said Kayanat completely breaking down.
“I am leaving you Heyat. I am going back to my home. I can’t live with you any longer. I can’t live a cursed life! The curse of An will destroy all of you. Mark my words. Her sorrow and grief will never let you be happy. Don’t take a woman’s love for granted. Don’t take her dreams for granted. You coward, I can’t believe that you didn’t marry her after making her pregnant.”
Saying so, Kayanat picked a brassware bowl and hurled it at Heyat. The bowl hit Heyat’s forehead and it started to bleed.
I woke up startled and in pain. It seemed like the bowl had hit my head. I touched it to see whether blood was flowing from it. There were beads of perspiration on my forehead and my heartbeat had quickened. What kind of a dream was this? I remembered each scene of it so vividly. What was my relationship with Heyat, Anjuman and Kayanat? What were they trying to tell me? My head felt dizzy with these questions.
The three miscarriages of Kayanat haunted me. My wife had three of them too. I hoped that there was no last birth connection of mine with this palace and this story. I have always respected women. I really hope that like Heyat, I am not under the curse of any An!