Skip to main content

Shuddh Shakahari Desi - "Shadows on Stone"

Posted in

"Shudhh Shakahari Desi" is all about you and me: my exposure and experiences with your culture, your food, your language, your music blended in a humor curry of my own hopeless attempts to become you and my struggle to evolve as the sole epitome of National Integration, as I grew up and cultivated my own self embracing all of my nation in over 15 states in India. Am hoping you will find some of yourself with a bit of me strewn in here...

 

 

Episode - 9 

Shadows on Stone

Sajan Sajan main karu ane sajan hiyen jadit,
Sajan lakhu hamare chundle ane vanchu ghadi ghadi re….
Kesariya baalam aayoni, padhaaroni maare des….

 

I had been here before, yet I could not recollect when or how. The unsettling thought constantly resonated in my mind as I stepped into the dimly-lit narrow staircase. The diffused light of the late afternoon sun on the antique desert landscape had made curious patterns on the black and white marble stone walls and on the floor, leaving one to imagine beyond restrictions, the possibility of a fable woven and laid out in a mysterious crisscross of light and shadows. 

Having ruled from Amber for seven centuries, the Kachchwahas must have had reams of such untold tales veiled under the folds of dust and sand. Whilst many of the early structures of this period in other parts of India were dilapidated, those dating from the 16th century, the handiwork of three of the Kingdom’s rulers, Man Singh and Jai Singh I and II were in a remarkable state of preservation, drawing in visitors from all across the world. However, this part of the medieval fortress was usually not thronged by tourists, for it had none of the pompous shimmering glass and mirror embellishments encrusting the walls or replicas of the lofty Rajput-Mughal architectural fusion that the palace was well known for. Instead, this modest and unassuming quarter of the castle was rather quiet and distant from its swarming pavilions and expansive spread of ramparts. And as an inquisitive loner with an infallible love for calm and solitude, I had chosen to ignore Kanhaiyalal Sharma, the local guide, impeccably dressed in a starched white shirt, a pair of white trousers and black shoes. His fake Rayban coolers shone in the afternoon sun, as he narrated the tale of the palace and the fort in his broken English. 

But this apparently simple looking stone staircase spiraling towards a dark alley held my attention in a rather mysterious way. My first realization of familiarity in a kingdom of unknown history made me weigh the probabilities of any such presumption. To the best of my conscious knowledge, this was my first trip to Rajasthan, and alike any visitor, I had chosen Jaipur to be my first destination. Although I had seen ample images of the much talked about Amber fort and had done enough spadework for research on the internet before actually touching its soil, it was unusual for me to feel this connection. Yet, the feeling came back to me stronger than any other that I have known, like an echo from the past, a flashback from a sequence in which I had once intensely participated. Needless to say, the uncanny association made me uncomfortable and if I may admit, a bit nervous. There was something peculiar about this place… I just didn’t know what.
A strong desert breeze brushed past me, blowing away the travel brochures and pamphlets in my hand. As I stooped down to pick them up, for a split of a second, I saw the obscure shadow of a human figure on the stone walls. Strange, I didn’t see anyone coming this way nor did I hear any footsteps. To confirm, I looked around, ahead, above and beyond and saw no one. Clearly, there was no sign of any human invasion on my privacy. Yet, I could vouch that I saw something. I could only hear the jingle of my own lac bangles as I started descending the steps, more eager to unravel the mysteries of the surroundings than ever before. Devoid of much ventilation, the alley ahead was dark and sinister in a way. And soon I began to get an eerie instinct that the place had a peculiar air smelling of an untold story. Something ominous screeched and flew over my head; a bat or an owl perhaps and I was left so startled by its presence in this dingy corridor, that I stumbled over the last step and my head hit a solid stone wall. All I saw was an endless deep well of blackness in front of me.

My eyes opened to the sound of rustling silk, scurrying footsteps, suppressed whispers and giggles of young women around me. I woke up with a start to see myself near the same staircase but in a completely different light. Interim my fall and wakefulness, the entire ambience had undergone a metamorphosis, a facelift from the dilapidated present to its original historic grandeur. Burgundy and gold draperies and carpet led to a huge wooden door gilded with brass, an art that was primarily a signature of this region. The girls in silk and muslin ghagras and bandhej dupattas over the heads, beautifully dressed in gold and lac accessories, were moving very swiftly in and out of the door. Surprisingly, all of them seemed to be oblivious to my presence. From the ornate little jharokha on the sidewall next to the door, I could see the interiors of a lavish palatial suite, complete with glass lamps and chandeliers shimmering in the evening light. 
The grand chamber seemed unusually familiar. The rich colors used in its décor, the mirror embellishments, the gemstone paintings on the walls, the turquoise blue pottery…everything spoke about a tale I had read before, a déjà vu in its truest sense. It left me bewildered and curious. Then, I saw someone who looked exactly like me, only more beautiful and younger.

Clothed in a bejeweled rich crimson ghagra, head covered in a moss green bandhej dupatta, the other ‘me’ was sitting on a low heavily carved settee, while a group of young women were dressing her up with ornaments and flowers for the night. This image of me was so different from my khadi kurti and denim clad tattooed self that I couldn’t bring myself to accept the identification, even if I were hallucinating. But I wasn’t seeing an illusion. I was standing in front of a window to my own past. An old woman with an awkward gait walked past me, measuring me up with her wrinkled eyes. She was clearly unhappy to see me spying on her mistress but was in too much for a hurry to spare me much thought. She walked up to my alter-ego, the woman on the settee and whispered something closely into the ears. The young woman’s eyes lit up, the radiance of her hand crafted countenance matched with the light of the glowing lamps. She ushered her chambermaids to keep watch and left the room with the old woman. I followed them up the staircase to an open balcony in the moonlight.

The desert moon was shining in its full glory, spreading over the marble top terrace, pouring its silver light over the intricately designed walls of the palace, the pierced screen windows and the hanging balcony, as my past and present selves waited in anticipation for the next sequence. I was not sure if I heard the hooves of a horse, but I saw my alternate-self running to the edge of the balcony to greet someone. Keeping myself carefully guarded, I peeked from above and saw a man. He was clothed in a black robe, his long locks flying off in the desert wind like a highwayman in a fairy tale. The moonlight fell on him and I saw a strong and well-built man with chiseled features and a very distinct nose, rise upright in his stirrups; his eyes sparkled in moonshine as his hands reached his lady’s stretched arms and he jumped over the balcony rails. The next frame was a moment of complete bliss as I saw them embrace. Even in my illusive trance, I could see they were lovers. The anxiousness of her waiting, the intensity of that look as he gazed up to see her on the balcony waiting for him, the light in her eyes as he made his way through the trials of the night to reach her…..everything gave away the story that they were passionate lovers, madly in love with each other. 

Just then I heard heavy footsteps rushing up from the staircase below and saw a swarm of armed soldiers breaking in through the terrace door, dashing in to where the lovers were. Swords glistened in the moonlight, metals clanked, blades dripping blood spread havoc on the marble tiled balcony; shrill cries broke the silence of the night and from behind the pillars, as I stood horrified by the sight of killing and blood, I saw the brave lover fall… 

“Memsahib, memsahib,” a hoarse voice woke me up from my daze. A huge torchlight fell on my face as I looked up. I found myself at the edge of the staircase, with a swollen head and a bad sprain in the ankle surrounded by a few men, Kanhaiyalal Sharma and my driver, Bhagwat Singh. “We were so worried. We searched everywhere in the fortress, how did you come here?” Too shocked to recollect the events of the night, I looked around for my alternate self and her secret lover. There was no trace of the grandeur of the suite that I had seen; no chambermaids in silks and muslins, no sign of any of the royal splendor that I had witnessed. The dark alley looked darker than before and I was left to wonder if it was entirely a figment of my own imagination. My discomfort to come to terms with reality must have been obvious for Bhagwat Singh gave me a meaningful look and asked, “Did you see them?” 
“Yes,” I replied eagerly. “Do you know who they were?” I wanted to know the entire story now.
“You must have seen the young princess. She was very beautiful. The Maharaja was said to have an eye for her and wanted to take her as his youngest queen. He defeated her father in battle and brought her to the palace. They were to get married on the night after the full moon. But she had a lover, a gallant knight from a neighbouring state, who was said to have come back from war to rescue his lady love from the clutches of the Maharaja. Everything worked out as they had planned with the help of the old maid the princess had, but someone betrayed them and the Maharaja sent his men to kill the Knight. He fought a valiant battle single handedly and fell to death on the terrace of this palace. Grieve stricken, the princess committed suicide in the confines of her lavish suite by taking poison on the same night.” He paused. “They say the lovers come back every full moon night.”

The story sounded familiar, almost like a Bollywood flick, yet my own identification in it and the soul connection to a vision such as this was overwhelming. 
Oh, I must have read this somewhere and was probably dreaming as I passed out, or was it a déjà vu? I wondered.
My car was waiting outside and as I turned one last time to look at the quiet dark outlines of the palace, dimly lit by halogen lamps now, the place where history unfolded itself in a rare and obscure tint, where my present came face to face with a truth about a past I hadn’t known.
I halted as I met the folk musician I had chanced upon this afternoon on my way up to the fort. He was sitting by an evening fire, preparing himself for the chill of the night, playing a familiar mand on his bow string instrument or Ravanhatha……

In the stillness of the evening, the tune reverberated in my ears….


Sajan Sajan main karu ane sajan hiyen jadit,
Sajan lakhu hamare chundle ane vanchu ghadi ghadi re….
Kesariya baalam aayoni, padhaaroni maare des….

 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

About the Author : Ananya Mukherjee, former editor of HRM Asia, is an acclaimed writer and journalist with more than 1000 publications to her credit. Her journalistic acumen in print and television covers a whole gamut of subjects including politics, lifestyle and business. She is a passionate short story writer, columnist, avid reader, keen traveller, blogger, theatre artiste and a trained dancer. Ananya currently lives in Singapore and spearheads Internal Communications in a Multi-national Company.

 

Image Source : http://blog.iflightsearch.co.uk/

0
Your rating: None

Just one word - SUPERB!

Just one word - SUPERB!

Thanks saloni

Many thanks and much love saloni.

My god, you have a gifted

My god, you have a gifted power to weave a story, Ananya. Amazing.

Surabhi

Thanks for your kind comments.

Thank surabhi. You are always so kind.

Amazing

Your description of the spiral stone staircase brought back memories. I guess you and I visited the Amer Palace around the same time, or maybe a few days apart. Brilliantly depicted in your writing, I could almost hear the chatter and the footsteps myself while reading.

As usual you have done an excellent job. Look forward to reading more.

Thank you
Rupsi

Thanks a ton rupsidi

Thanks a ton! Pity we missed each other!
Ananya

wow

I had goose bumps as i was reading this story of yours. I felt myself in your shoes just for a moment, as i myself entered the palace you found yourself in.
Absolutely love the way the story flows, so inspiring and flawless.
Thank you for sharing.
Vahida.

Thanks vahida

Many thanks for your kind words. Humbled.
Warm regards
Ananya

Loved the story!!

This is such a poignant, moving love story with rich visual details and enhanced with the beauty of your imagination. The narration is richly layered and beautifully laden with images that come alive with your storytelling. Simply fascinating!

All my very best to you.
Love,
Lopa.

thanks lopa

Many thanks for your kind comments, Lopa.