Just a ‘sound check’. This site is very much up and so am I. It’s just I have tried my hands at a lot of other things, so writing took a backseat. And of course, with all the means & avenues of other social media, it’s easy to communicate there. Less formally, that too. I still feel a blog post needs more thought and attention, compared to a Facebook one! Anyways, just keeping this one kicking and running.
It’s been so long I came here. And in my normal course of things this space went back into deep recesses of memory. I knew it was there just like you know you have that old pair of jeans lying in the back of your cupboard. But never brought it out. Time, procrastination and really having it outgrown are some lame excuses I can offer. But fact is it was neglected and forgotten.
Till the time I got a rude shock of receiving a notification mail. I reckon most were getting deposited in the spam inbox till this one somehow went past it and reached my main inbox.
I am aghast shocked and totally saddened to see the amount of spams that have hit the comment boxes of various posts. I am trying to remove them all but the bulk is huge. And there are human comments too with the most sick and disgusting mentality being shamefully displayed.
I will try to close all comments soon though I will have to figure it out how.
Till then, let me please tell everyone that the comments on this site are not my creations or responsibility and I do not endorse them at all.
An Epic Love Story
By Deepak Jeswal
The forest was knotted into a merged mass of trees, fallen leaves and fruits, intertwined with vines growing at reckless, unheeded pace and insects crawling in their fate-less existence. A narrow track had been beaten through it by the incessant footsteps of humanity, shaded by the spreading trees on both sides, their branches intermingling with the other, providing a natural roof to the corridor.
With a heavy, coarse shawl wrapped around his shoulders and heads; his non-existence neck buried deep inside, and the ugly, small head bent, the man limped through the path with as much speed as his crippled leg could take him. His hands, inside the folds of the shawl, clutched a heavy pouch of coins. Somewhere, in the near distance he could hear a few howls and cries of the wild animals, but he was not scared…Raktaprasad had often taken this path, as did many others. And, moreover, today, his mind was stimulated by the lovely bulge of the bag that he held in his hand. It was his moment of glory- the British, true to their words, had given him the five hundred gold coins; let the two kingdoms fight, he would leave the country today itself to the far off plains on the south and settle there.
The night was nearly wearing off; from the small patches of openings on the green roof above, he could see the full moon above…so beautiful! Well, everything was beautiful today; just as his luck had been.
His mind replayed the events of the last few days – Arjun had come back from a meeting somewhere, angry and shouting, and had blurted out about Meera and Rudra. Seeing his opportunity, Raktaprasad had conveyed the same message to Shorya – a person Raktaprasad knew would be interested in this piece of information. Then, Shorya had asked him to impart a false alarm about Rudra planning to fight a battle to Arjun. The trick worked…Arjun, in his stupid fury and idiotic gallantry, had persuaded the King to give a befitting reply. And then of course, seeing the opportunity, Raktaprasad had gone to these lovely British men, with their riches and their hunger for land! Tomorrow, the motion of the events that he had so willfully created would culminate in the battlefield, with the death of many…but who cares?
Tomorrow, he would leave as soon as the sun rose.
He heard a few more rustles in the depth of the dark around him, and clutching the pouch tighter, he increased his pace.
Suddenly, from a small patch behind him, he heard an unfamiliar sound; scared, he turned around; two men, in black and heads covered, had pounced upon the track from a small clearing on the sides. Raktaprasad’s blood froze; lost in his thoughts, he had noticed them, and a sharp fear gripped his heart.
Turning on his heels, he started to run, as much as he could with his limp; but the men were large and much stocky than his diminutive self. They were just behind him, and one of them raised his leg and pushed him with full force on the lower back, which sent him staggering forward, his hands rising to balance; in doing so, the pouch fell with a loud jingle as the coins dropped on the sandy track.
His voice stuck in his throat; but there was no point in his screaming …when he fell, the men had jumped on him; one of them immediately pushed on his mouth with a heavy palm, the other held his struggling feet; the first man, with his free hand, took out a dagger from his waist. Raktaprasad fought with all the might that his body could gather and his eyes stared wildly as the man raised his dagger to stab him.
The body convoluted and wriggled for some five minutes before it stilled. Raktaprasad died with his tiny head mashed against the gold coins, and his body ripped at the heart, to enable his confirmed death.
The men got up, and looked at each other with satisfaction.
“Let’s go and inform Sir George!”
Queen Meenakshi had never seen her husband in such a frail state; his eyes were sunken, his face pale and he murmured incoherently. He lay on the expansive bed, his head resting on the golden bed rest with unease, as she sat beside him holding his hand, and trying to soothe his pain with her comforting, warm strokes.
“My lord…everything will turn out to be fine…please, in the name of Lord Krishna, do not worry so!”
In her heart, she knew that no amount of platitudes will work; but there was nothing else that she could do. History had placed them at a crucial crossroad.
“I do not worry about the battle, Meenakshi!” murmured the King, his eyes closed, and his head shaking as if controlling the flow of tears that were waiting to burst out. “I have seen many battles in my lifetime and fought them with all my strength and won them too. But this one hurts me.It is not right! My poor Rudra has been caught in this.”
“Rudra has agreed to figh and he will fight; he cannot back away from the word that he has given me. And he is a strong man; I have full faith in him!”
“No…no…I do not fear that, Meenakshi! I fear that I have been wrong to him – his marriage to Roopmati was wrong! I should not have allowed this; looking back I have committed the same sin as my father did in forcing me to marry Laxmi”
“Why do you remember all these past events? And, even if the marriage was wrong, Rudra should have understood his duty as a husband, and not gone after Meera and this affair”
The king nodded, but did not reply. In his heart, the painful words of Rudra echoed and pierced him from within. “Father, my plight is something that even the Gods will cry at…caught in a marriage with a woman who never understood me…caught in an affair that would never fructify…”
Rattan’s blood curdled as he saw the woman standing at his doorstep, her frame silhouetted against the shining moon light.
“Meera…what brings you here at this time…and why?”
Meera took off the shawl from her face, and entered the room, and rushed to hug him. He stood frozen and did not move, nor did he make any efforts to hug her.
“Oh Rattan…I am so scared…what is this happening…I did what you told me to! But, I was not expecting this to happen…not a war!”
She clung to him with a child-like feverishness. He pushed her back; it was quite irritating for him to humor her, at least not now, just when he had been thinking about his Tara. He looked into her face- it was not the face that he had described to Tara- that was his ploy to get Tara jealous and perhaps show off her own charms the way she did to her customers. Meera was not as charming, but she was not ugly…she did have very expressive large eyes, but the nose was way too flat, and the lips not as sensuous. But she was the king’s daughter…and quite stupid to have fallen for his rustic charms. So, Rattan did not mind…it helped, and what the heck, she was a woman at the end of the day!
“You should not have come at this hour…what if someone sees you? You must not forget you are the king’s daughter…they will kill both of us if they find out!”
“I don’t care…I don’t bother…I love you, you love me; and this war will only worsen matters…let us run away from here!”
Rattan looked at her with disgust; has this woman gone crazy? Run off? With her? For, what? He looked at her squarely- she was getting to be a bit too much of a nuisance for him, with her serious love business. He had to correct her.
“Meera…I have no plans of running away anywhere with you!”
She was aghast as she heard the words; her eyes brimming with instantaneous tears; her heart throbbing within the confined walls of her ribs.
“Where will we go from here? In any case, your father will find us out immediately. And what will we do in some other kingdom…we need money and some work! Don’t worry too much…look, let the war get over, and then we shall present our case to your father…what difference does it make to you if this war happens or not…don’t let your guilt get the better of you…go home, please!”
She stood rooted, without any movement. He moved forward and lightly placed his arms around her, trying to be comforting. But she was not convinced. There was something wrong.
“No…no, Rattan! It was has to be now- the battle might end up any way! We cannot delay it further.”
Rattan winced; should he say it now, or wait- she might revolt and tell her father the entire truth, and then he would lose his life, for sure. But could she risk telling about him- after all the brouhaha that was happening because of her alleged affair with Rudra? No, she would not risk it; better to finish this off permanently.
“Meera, please! I cannot do this now!”
“Do you love me?”
He was taken aback with this abrupt question. He hesitated in his reply…she jerked his arm off her shoulders, and looked at him squarely, into his eyes, searing through them and getting into his heart.
“So, you don’t love me? Then, what was all this that was happening between us the past many months? Why did you make me do this sin?”
Irritatingly Rattan moved his hand through the flop of his hair, and narrowed his eyes, grimacing, and trying to think a suitable reply for her.
How could he tell her that he was paid a handsome amount of money by Roopmati to get Meera to ensnare Rudra?
“Well…the motive was exactly as I had told you, in the larger interests of the country, and your father.”
“No…I don’t believe you!”
“Then, you can think whatever you want to, and please leave…I am not telling anything” he replied, raising his voice.
Meera cringed, but stared back at him, in a half hurt, half realization glare.
“Do you really love me?” she repeated again.
He hesitated; now was the time to tell her the truth, and get it over with, forever. She had asked a direct question, that too twice, and he would answer directly; but seeing the fire in her eyes, he hesitated…could he?
“Well…Meera, of course…but what you are saying is neither practical nor possible. There is a vast chasm between our social structure…I mean, you are the King’s daughter!”
“You did not think of our vast difference when you gave me all those promises of love and life earlier? You did not think I was the king’s daughter when you made me do that sinful act of playing Rudra’s lover? You did not think of anything practical when the situation led itself to a war that shall see the deaths of thousands. No Rattan…I am sure you do not love me” She gave a wistful smile to herself, and the tears rolled down her cheeks. “I don’t know what blinded me to foolishly agree to your demands!”
Turning back swiftly, she adjusted the shawl back on her head and walked out of the room in quick strides to the horse waiting for her.
Rattan stood rooted, a deep relief permeating through his mind- at last, this stupid chapter was over! He sat on his makeshift bed, and stared ahead in the darkness, trying to recall how and when this drama had begun.
A year back, while he was still the paramour and fancied man of Roopmati to satisfy her physical urges (he smiled, she was good), he told her about Meera- the King’s own daughter- fanciful, naughty and footloose, but like all rich and secluded girls, stupid and emotionally depraved. With her too, he had played his innocent friendship and poverty card; the lonely and uncared for Meera immediately jumped to his bait.
The next day Roopmati had come up with a wild plan that even he thought was not possible to carry out…she wanted Rudra to somehow fall in love with Meera, so that she could humiliate her husband, and take her revenge. For this, he would be handsomely compensated (and to be fair, he was paid off quite well, and on time). Initially, he was suspect of the entire plan, but when Meera succumbed to it with the ease of putty in a worker’s hand, he realized his immense control on her, and now, on the hindsight, Roopmati’s idea had not been all that bizarre.
When he had told her of the success of the mission, and that Rudra was suitably in Meera’s love-clutches, he remembered the absolutely frozen look on Roopmati’s face.
“At last, I have my revenge! Tomorrow, I shall tell this to Arjun, Meera’s official fiancée…”
That night, she had been an animal in the bed.
He sat with his head rested against the wooden wall, one leg dangling, and the other raised on the bed, with his arm placed, stretched, on the knee; as he thought of that night, he felt a pleasurable pain building up again between his thighs, and was a little shocked at it; but he allowed his mind to wander; he imagined the night with Roopmati, but the face was not hers…there was Tara! The damn whore! He will get her someday!
Outside, the night’s lengthy arms outstretched to touch the tender fingers of the dawn. The river continued its flow…
Tara’s bare feet ached as she ran through the jungle, ignoring the thorns that were piercing her soft flesh, and the warm blood oozing out of them; her anklets were the only sound that brushed past the fallen leaves of the path; her hair (still curly from the pleats that she had tied earlier on) was disheveled, dusty, open and hung loosely on her shoulders. She picked up her ghagra over her toes, in order to avoid tripping over it, as she ran the distance to Rudra’s private palace, hoping that she would find him there. She had secured a shawl tightly around her shoulders. She barely registered the passing trees and shrubbery.
The dawn was cracking out of its dark cocoon- a thin red streak coloring the grey skies. She tore the vines and branches that had in their unruly growth danced upon the path, and she felt the hurt of the nicks and cuts on her soft bare hands.
She did not recognize the force that had made her run out of the house in the middle of the night, leaving the drunk and sleeping Shorya on her bed, but as she traversed the distance, she realized that she had to be there before it was too late.
She had deliberately avoided the route through the town, fearing that she might meet someone who would know her, though she was in a doubt as to the explanation that she would have to give to Chanda Bai for this unexpected sojourn.
She ran on, her breath short and fast, and audible, but she gulped down and felt a thorny pain in her dried throat. She came out of the jungle to the open fields; on her right lay the end of the town, and to her left, a path would take her to the palace. With a momentary pause, to take in the fresh air of the early morning, she again resumed her run, the music of her anklets following her. Away from the jungle, she realized that the dawn had split the skies much more than she wished.
The private palace of the Crown Prince, built of red sandstone, in a quaint hark back to the Mughal architecture, was looming large in front of her; it was not very big in size, and was surrounded by its own small knot of trees and gardens. She turned to the path, and looked furtively at the guards standing there…she was late! There was a marked activity at the courtyard of the palace; there were innumerable horses and the army was getting ready for the battle. Her heart sank…she could turn back; no one had noticed her as yet.
But, her mind did not agree with her; no, she would not turn back. And with a fresh gulp of air, she ran towards the large iron gates, and at the two, blank looking but tough guards standing with their formidable spears!
“You girl…what do you want?” One of the guards, dark and with a stern face asked her, as she neared him.
“I have to meet Prince Rudra…” she started.
“Get off here, the Prince does not meet anyone here; you will have to go to the Royal Court for that…go off!” He stared at her.
A strong sense of despair rose in her; she pleaded and told them that the Prince’s life was in danger, and she had to meet them, but they were relentless.
When Rudra came out, he was attired in his full armory; though he had hardly slept the night, he seemed fresh; his heart held fear, and stepping out of the door, he looked up heavenwards at the rising sun.
Before him, his personal and private army was ready, on polished horses, with their gears and weapons; despite a sea of people standing there, the quietness disturbed him; it was very depressing and heavy; yet, he knew that his army could not be standing there and passing silly jokes when death was throwing its net over them. With a sigh he walked down the short steps, and saw a small commotion at the gate, some five hundred meters away from him.
A girl, in a stained ghagra, held up by her hands, with her curled up hair flailing, and a tight dark maroon shawl around her, with mud marks on it, was running towards him, and his two guards were trying to catch up with her.
“Tara!” he called out.
Seeing their master call out her name, the guards stopped in their tracks. He dismissed them off with a small wave of his hand, and took Tara inside the palace. On the left was a small room- a sort of strategy room, where earlier in the night he had sat with his key army personnel to discuss the war. The room, square, and carpeted, had a large table at its centre, with some chairs strewn around it carelessly; a pile of parchments was lying on the table hap hazardously; from the barred window, the nascent sun was streaming in. She sat on one of the chairs, on the edge, feeling very unsure; she had reached till him; Rudra was standing in front of her, but how was she to start her narration.
“What brings you here at this hour? What if you had been killed?”
She gulped and with warm but fearful eyes looked up to him. “My life is not all that important; yours is. Your life is in danger!”
He laughed. “So? It is a war; everyone who is fighting it would be in danger” Though he joked it off, he felt a thud within his heart. Was death that near?
“No… I do not mean that way! May God give you strength to succeed! But, Shorya Babu was there with…” she paused, how could she say this to the man she was desperately falling in love with? But, his deep eyes carried no malice, or shame or any derision. She found her strength in them. “He told me all…in his intoxication. You have become target of a very vile conspiracy. He told me that the Princess Roopmati had deliberately placed Meera to fall in love with you, so that this battle could be started and you be killed. Arjun will most likely fight with you; but if he does not succeed, tonight, Shorya and his men will murder you off in the resting tents, and take over the throne! This way, he would not be guilty, plus because of all this, you have already been disgraced.”
There was no reaction from him; but, he was staring at her. She felt scared at his ceaseless unblinking stare.
“Meera does not love you, Sire!” she went on, resolutely, “She was only utilizing you for a purpose which I do not comprehend.”
Her voice played upon the silence of the small, thick-walled room.
After a moment, which to her was killing, Rudra spoke, “I know this!”
She looked up abruptly. “You know this?” she asked incredulously.
“Yes…I know this! I knew it yesterday itself… when you met me.”
He raised his hand to silence her. “I don’t know why I am telling you this, because I need not do so. But, the truth came to me yesterday itself. We met…yes, before I met you, I had already got the truth from her…I know you must be wondering that I had spoken so eloquently about her, but that’s because, even though she had not loved me truly, I had definitely done so. For me, she will still remain the pure and pristine Meera.”
Tara’s eyes welled up; was this man for real, she thought?
“But I am surprised that you should risk your life to come here and warn me so. Why?”
She looked up with love and sadness. “Is this question necessary?”
He smiled at her…no, it was not! It was so clear in her eyes, on her quiet angelic face. He went up to her, and gently pulled up her chin towards him, and said, “Tara, you are a good girl; leave the hell where you are. I will give you money; get out of this wretched land…beyond the mountains, there is a route that the slim eyed people use to trade silk and spices; on that there is a town of Kashtmandap, in a valley, beautiful, and surrounded by nature’s bounties. There is an old woman, who had nursed me in my infancy and childhood, on the outskirts of the main town. Go to her, and stay with her”
He removed his hand from her chin, and took off his customary knight-of-arms ring and forwarded to her.
“Give her this; she will recognize this; it is my personal ring, and she would know that only I could have given this to someone. She will welcome you heartedly.”
She accepted the weighty ring meekly, her mind blank.
He sighed. “If I live, I shall come to meet you there”
She sat with her head bowed, the tears flowing down her dirty stained cheeks, and with a blurred vision looked at the ring in her hands; her mind was still blank. She could not think coherently. She had come to save his life, and the messiah was rescuing her?
He called out to a servant. A small man, in his late years, came in. Rudra instructed for a hefty sum of money to be given to the lady who was sitting there, and dismissed off the servant.
Turning towards her, he said, “I have to go now. Will you do as I say?”
Without saying a word, she got up, and nodded. “I was just a piece of useless metal; you have touched me and turned me into pure gold. I can never go back and sleep with any other man.” She proceeded to touch his feet.
He left the room.
When she came out of the room onto the courtyard, the horses and their gallant riders had already filed into a neat formation. They were waiting for their leader, Prince Rudra to give the signal to start. She walked a short distance amongst them, to have a last look at Rudra; the men, looking at her curiously, chose to ignore her, knowing fully well that she must have been important for the master to meet her at this odd time. Her heart skipped a beat as she saw the fine form of the Prince, with his straight back, and elegant armor, seated on his shining black horse, decorated with full royal strapping.
For an instantaneous second he turned to have a look at her and smiled at her, shyly, his dark eyes twinkling against the morning sun. All the doubts that she had felt in the small room evaporated in the wispy mist of the morning; she smiled back.
He had given the signal; the large gates creaked open; with a short trot, he marched his horse out. The next file started to follow, in the same majestic rhythm.
As they passed her, a small wind got created by their stern movements, and her hair flickered, and a few strands loosened to caress her face, but she did not remove them, and stood still, her arms by her side, her fist clutching the ring, and she did not move, as one by one, the entire army moved out of the large courtyard in a fantastically coordinated rhythm of the hooves prancing on the concrete below, passing around her, to the gate, through it, and onto the long tree-lined path, out to the battle field.
She did not move even when the last of the horses had filed out and the dour guards started to close the gates, but looked up heavenward at the sun that had come out splendidly on this bright day, having widened its arm to edge out the evil darkness of the night- a fresh, beautiful and moist day, full of hope and vigor.
Yes, my lord!” she whispered to herself. “You shall come back…to me! My fable will also be complete!”
Her words, said so softly, were echoed by the chirruping birds and carried over the horizon with their energetically flapping wings.
The vast open space overlooked the gorge, beyond which were the mountains, in green layers, ending up to the horizon with the tall white, snow covered jagged peaks that looked up the sky with mock and delight for being taller than the clouds, which hovered below. The space was open, unshielded and ochre in color, with a few intermittent wisps of green from the strands of grass that had defiantly grown around the rocks. In this dry landscape, Meera stood, at the corner of the precipice, in a dark brown cotton sari, the pallu of which covered her head loosely, from which streaks of her black hair were flying out. A wind was whipping up, and the sari bulged like a sail but she held the corners of the pallu near her waist securing it from flying off her head. The sun was set, and in doing so, had added a distinctive bronze hue to the atmosphere; the clouds, darkened and thick, proliferated out in the limitless sky in myriad sizes.
Her face, blank and bland, and heavily lined with worries, was colorless, and her eyes, stared ahead, glassy and emotionless. But, in her heart a torrent of feelings lashed their fury. She should have stopped meeting Rattan immediately when things were getting serious. But, at that time, her unruly heart did not heed to her caution. Every day, she longed to visit him, talk to him, hold his hands and felt secure and safe in his arms. Regretfully, she acknowledged that being a King’s daughter had taken a toll on her…her mother was dead; and her father was busy with his stately duties. Life was a routine, of getting dressed up and attending boring functions and processions; of course, the first flush of youth was teasing her, and Rattan, with his handsome face, and lovely eyes, came into her life, and it seemed as if life had bloomed under his supervision, the way the colorful fragrant flowers did under his care. Then, he had passed on this weird suggestion; but she did not think about it at that time. Why? It was because she was so enamored by his sweet talks and promises and swears and softness, that she never realized that he could be using her. And moreover, though he had never said so in as many words, she knew he felt their difference of stature, especially, her being the King’s daughter; she feared she might lose him; so, by agreeing to his illogical demand, she wanted to prove her love to him; it was almost a childish urge for her to get his acknowledgement that she was his forever.
Meera would never know that the motion of events that she had set out so casually at the behest of her lover had been insensitively further fuelled by others like Raktaprasad.
But, when she came to know that a war was being fought over her, the enormity of the situation crashed on her. Her father had summoned her and scolded her and taken a vow not to speak to her for bringing shame to his family and the entire kingdom. That night, pained, she wanted to meet Rattan, but before she could do, Rudra was there, waiting for her. And, she told him the facts. She would never forget the disintegrating and crumbling look in his eyes as she sobbingly told him about Rattan and the play acting that she had shamelessly indulged in with the gullible prince. The last words of Rudra, uttered with ch pain, were, “I would always love you, forever”. At that instant, wretchedness overtook her; she should have been happy in ending this farce; but alas, she was pained; she was somehow, at a completely different level and sphere, feeling a concoction of sadness and care for him. But Rudra, left, and she stood there clutching the shaky straws of her love.
Now, as she stood at the edge of the sharp drop, a deep regret gnawed into the innards of her shaken heart. She wanted to turn back time on its heels and return to the comfort of the routine that would never be hers again; she wanted to see her father’s busy smile, as he would just acknowledge her presence, and then get back to his work. She had lost her right to this momentary pleasure as well- all for an illusion of love; all for, her need to build a meaningful relationship.
Her course of action was decided: she was not going back to the Palace; but she was not going to jump off the cliff either. Death would be too easy a punishment for her; it would be deliverance; no, she had to conduct her penance. She was going to the forests of the north and would live a hermit’s life amongst the sages that inhabited the place, and try to find and fill meaning to her vacuous life.
She would live in loving the man she should have, but could not.
In true sense, she would be a Meera now!
The howls of the wind pierced the deadened night.
“Go, my friend.” Arjun said, giving the reins of his horse to Rudra. “I have realized that the fault was not yours; Roopmati is dead- she was evil, I have killed her…now, you go before Shorya comes in; go far from this madding place, and find peace.”
Gratefully, Rudra took the reins of the horse, and climbed the handsome steed.
The hooves of the horse pounded on the earth, and finally merged into the night.
An Epic Love Story
By Deepak Jeswal
The gentle lapping of the river was now joined with a mild strain of a classical song that was emanating from the Chanda Bai’s brothel; it was still faint due to the distance, and added a mystical touch to the entire environment. The moon shone in its vibrant glory, as the boat waded through the waters, with its two very divergent passengers.
Tara looked up in astonishment as she heard the name, her eyes questioning and her emotions churning within her; of course, she knew he was Prince Rudra, she had seen him a couple of times at the Dushhera processions; but he seemed so different then, with all the regal outfit and a crown; today, he was simple and just a lover!
“Your Highness, I am so sorry…” she started to say, but Rudra just raised his hand to stop her.
“No please, don’t start off this. I am only a human being! And, perhaps, you were right, in our roles given by society; we somehow forget that beneath all that weight, what actually is the living force is same in each one of us”
Tara was still unsure; he was the King’s son, crowned to take his place sometime in future- belonging to the highest echelons of the social hierarchy; she was just a prostitute- a fallen woman, who perhaps did not even count in the list of subjects. But, though somewhat relieved by his statement, she did feel a bit uncomfortable. Then, a thought crossed her mind.
“If his highness his not displeasured, can I ask you a question, please?”
“Yes, sure, why not?”
“Whom have you loved?”
“The one who is so pure that even the fire cannot temper her further; the one who is so divine that even the angels shy from her; the one who is so pretty that even the moon hides his face seeing her; the one who is so tender that even the flowers hurt her! My love…my Meera!”
They had neared the bank, just off the rising cold white concrete structure of sin; the sound of the song from it was distinct and clear; whoever was singing had deep pain in her voice, though she sang words of union…the alaap stretched over the river that extended into the night on the long river which merged into the haze of the night.
With a light jerk the boat hit the bank; and the boatman rushed out to tether it to the embankment. She got up, with a slight imbalance as the now stationery boat wobbled. As she raised her foot to move towards the land, she turned towards him.
“Sir…the night is dark and ominous…”
“…but you are so beautiful that you make the dark night also sparkle” He held her with force, her arms pinned behind her in his strong grip, and the other holding her chin, pulling it towards his own face. Arjun planted a small kiss on her neck.
Roopmati tried to free herself, but not with the force that she could have.
When she had met Arjun on the hilltop the first time, she had seen the lust in his eyes. In her own body, she had felt a deep thrill running. Today, when the messenger brought a message for her from Arjun, she had joyously realized that her opportune moment had arrived.
Her marriage to Rudra was a grandiose political arrangement; she was not part of the decision making, and certainly, would have preferred a better husband, or rather a better kingdom to rule, than the crumbling, small state of Sahastragarh. On top of it, Rudra turned out to be too soft, too gentle for her immense physical and ambitious needs. She goaded Rudra to fight other kingdoms and annex them to their state, but the fool was a peace loving idiot, who preferred a song to the sword. She was dissatisfied, and gradually, their marriage crumbled to a state that they were a couple only to attend the multitude processions and parades, with a plastic smile pasted on her lips.
To satiate her needs, she found many means…willing men- army men, gardeners and stable keepers- all, who were much below her standards, but what the hell! They gave her pleasure; and succumbed to her threats to remain silent.
But that did not mean she was to forgive Rudra, or forget him. She would ruin his life, as she felt he had hers. And, as if God was listening to her, she learnt of Meera.
Her thoughts were interrupted as Arjun yanked her towards him. She smiled naughtily.
“Why loot and have half a fun, when the treasure can be yours to enjoy fully?” she questioned, and turned her face backwards towards him. Her sharp profile was shimmering. An immediate gleam of joy lit up Arjun’s eyes, and he released her from his grip.
The bare room, in which they stood, was part of Arjun’s private stables. Made of wood, it was tiny, with one small window looking out towards his palace. A small lamp flickered on the wall, reflecting the dull brownness of the room, which had a small stack of hay on the corner, and a sort of show case to hold the tools required for the stable beyond. The concrete floor was dusty, and uneven. But, this was the only place where Arjun could have called Roopmati undetected at this unholy time of the night. His initial intention to call her had been only to provide a suitable answer to her retort the other day…the men of Sujanbhoomi still had enough valor left in them to protect their honor. But, when she came into the room, having ridden her own horse, he could not resist his temptation. The wild red lips were too inviting for him to control his basic animalistic need, and he had caught hold of her.
“The battle begins tomorrow; let this night be of love and fulfillment” She raised her arms to invite him.
He rushed to her, his long hair flailing behind him and took her in a strong embrace.
Knowing that she had been late in returning, Tara climbed the stairs of the brothel hastily; her anklets ringing below her, her ghagra trailing behind her, her dupatta clung loosely about her bosom more by the friction of the wind than by intent and the full moon reflecting off her fair skin. Her heart beat faster than normal; all the short way from the boat to here, she had thought of how beautifully Rudra had described Meera…pure, divine, pretty and tender. How contrasting was it to her demeanor- sullied, dirty, artificial and hardened!
She pushed the wide doors open, and entered the vast white hall of the house; and stopped short in her tracks.
“Shorya babu, you?”
The mujra in the next room had just got over, and an intoxicated chorus of voices was praising the singer and dancer, with demands for an encore. The heavy voice of Chanda Bai was extolling the virtues of the girl, a ploy to hard sell her to one of them for the night.
In the heavily lighted hall, Shorya was standing at the window, looking past the River Mukti. She was not happy to see him; in any case, he was not expected that day! A small doubt crept into Tara’s mind; had he seen her with Rudra? But, then she relaxed; though the river was visible from this room, the embankment from where she had got off was not discernible; Rudra’s boat had in any case gone the opposite direction towards the royal moorings.
On hearing her voice, the man turned towards her. But before he could say anything, the heavy voice entered the room.
“Arre beta Tara, you have arrived; see, Shorya babu has been waiting for so long for you. I told him he could choose another; but he insisted on waiting for you…I reckon you have done a grand magic on him for him to fall in love with you thus!”
The plump, short woman, the owner of the best whore-house of the kingdom wobbled across the sprawling space towards her. She wore a gawdy purple sequined sharara, with a matching blouse and a thick netted dupatta, that barely concealed her hennaed thinning hair. In her effortful walk, which was made difficult by her increasing girth, her hands were raised, half to caress Tara, when she reached, but more to balance her from stumbling over. She smiled, revealing her betel-stained teeth; a small trickle of the stain had accumulated at the corners of her lips, where age had irrepressibly placed some grotesque wrinkles. Seeing her now, it was impossible to tell that she herself had once been quite beautiful, and fancy of many a rich man!
Tara winced at the use of the word ‘love’ in such a derogatory and loose fashion. But that is how Chanda Bai was! Perhaps, over the years, she had genuinely started believing that the repeat customers were actually in love with her girls.
“But…” Tara’s eyes moved helplessly from Shorya to the lady walking towards her, but Chand Bai’s stern stare stopped her midway.
Ever the wonderful actress, Chanda Bai continued to admonish her with the stare, and at the same time said in her sweetest voice and with a loving smile, “Beta, you are lucky to have caught the fancy of Shorya Babu!” She reached Tara, and with the podgy fingers, lovingly held her chin. “Go to the room and take care of Shorya; I have already had the wine sent there” Tara felt the pressure on her chin from the woman’s fingers, as if warning her not to do anything wrong.
Tara inwardly sighed; back to business, she thought sadly; she turned on her artificial smile and said, “As you wish, aapa!”
Rudra stood on the terrace of his private room, observing the night pass by. As usual, his wife was not there, and he thanked the heavens for it. For whatever lowly sojourn she had gone, let her be there forever! He looked up at the cloudless sky. And the millions of stars there…somewhere between them, they held his future in their arcane twinkles, so the sages told him.
“Rudra?” a voice called out.
He turned sharply.
“Mother! When did you return?”
The Queen Mother Meenakshi Devi, in the royal attire of a heavy brocade sari, stood at the doorway; though pleasant plump and always a smile on her soft aura-exuding face, she still managed to give an understated but unrestrained look of authority and power; she was a King’s daughter and a King’s wife- it was as if both her genes and her environment had honed her stateliness into the realm of impeccable polish, wherein she did not have to pretend being a queen, it came to her naturally.
“I returned today evening,” she replied.
He moved forward and touched her feet. She placed a light hand on his head and blessed him with a long life.
As he got up, he noticed grief in her motherly tender eyes. “What is the matter, mother?”
She walked, from the doorstep, into the open terrace, and stood near the low wall, looking out at the vast expanse that marked the beginning of the jungles. Below, the guards were on their duty, and above the Gods were at their work.
“Your father gives me a bad news!” she said. “Is it true that you have refused to fight the battle with Sujanboomi?”
He lowered his perfectly square face, closed his dark deep eyes and placed his hand on the thick parapet.
“Your silence speaks volumes! Do you realize why this war is happening?”
He knew it; he had heard it all, when he had been with his father today, earlier in the evening.
“Mother, it is not my fault!”
“So you think! But, for me, it is an insult! And I shall not bear any insults to my honor. I accepted your father’s second marriage with dignity, considering it as my duty. In the same manner, I order you to fight this war- good or bad; right or wrong! This is the prime duty of a Kshatriya; and this is what you will do. I hope you will not let me down” She spoke with authority and strength, leaving no room for argument.
“As you wish, mother!” He bent down, again, to touch her feet.
It was a night of the moon, yet it was a dark, foreboding night. It was the night of strength, yet in its muscles, weakness traversed with fluidity. It was the night of love, yet lust was spreading its evil designs in a fine mesh, throttling the goodness in its suffocating strangle.
It was the night of the calm, yet within its womb it held a demonic force…sleep, the tender angel of the night, which resuscitates the frayed nerves, and soothes the tired bodies and tends to the broken souls, was unceremoniously kept out, as the two neighboring nations prepared for the war. Life, with its weakened reserves and mournful blank looks, awaited with bated breath the charge of the death on its beautiful offspring…just the way the scared ladies of the army personnel clutched to their crying babies, shivering, as they saw the steely glimmer of the weapons reflected in their husband’s metallic glazed eyes, as they sharpened it on the wet whet-stone. The charioteers hammered on the wheels, and fed their horses; the animals, ever the sensitive and perceptive to the foreboding disaster, neighed and resisted the sudden interest of their masters in them. The strategists sat with their council of men, drawing and withdrawing plans and movements. The mothers prayed at the temples, and the children forgot to be naughty; the fathers, caught between their manly instinct to fight and their fear for the loss of their loved ones, sat on the cots, hoping that the time would pass without their living through it.
Yes, it was a sleepless night, a tense night, a distraught night…
Rudra paced the terrace, long after his mother had left, his eyes lowered, his arms crossed at the back. His mother had given her orders, his education implored him to take up the arms, yet his heart wanted to run away from all this, because he acknowledged history would blame his reckless heart for the bloodshed that was to be tomorrow.
The darkness placed a heavy hand on him, smothering his breath, and restlessly, he increased the speed of his pace, finding no respite and no one to speak his heart out in this heavy hour.
Some where beyond, two bodies lay side by side, naked, in a tight clinch and spent, having ridden the wave of passion. Arjun gently stroked the lower back of Roopmati as she recounted her story; he was amazed at the depth of the emotions of the woman he had just made love to- wild, uninhibited and exotic.
In yet another part of the land, another couple lay after the heat cooled off; but they were not together; indeed, there was a vast gap between them- mental and physical. While Shorya slept, a satisfied smile on his lips, and snoring lowly, with his back turned, Tara lay awake, naked, with just her removed sari lying over her, and her arm on the forehead…her thoughts pierced by the rasping voice of Shorya telling her a secret that she felt she was not supposed to know, yet Shorya had mumbled it out in his drunken and power-hungry state.
She heard the grand old musician of the house playing the sarangi, practicing his pure art at this tense hour; a single strain of music so sad that she shuddered hearing it; the notes were not playing on the strings of the instrument, but on her heart and it pained…was this same pain that strings of the instrument also felt as the musician cruelly moved his bow over them; was the sacred music always a consequence of the deepest pain?
Shorya stirred in his sleep and murmured incoherently, but went back to his deep state immediately. She got up, her hair open and flying around her nude shoulders, and held the loose sari around her bosom.
She had to meet him…now!
The River Mukti continued its flow incessantly, uncaring for the unfolding drama on both her banks; her waters- deep and dark- did not lose their direction, as mankind around her had!
On the opposite bank, there was a row of low-class wooden hutment; a sort of shanty, for the laborers and the workers and the cobblers and the gentry. Built with the wood of the Mukti Jungle, they were in no particular order or any style- just a bunch of pitiful collection of walls and roof for the poor to hide their heads in the night. In one of them, Rattan, stood at the window- or rather the open hole in the wall, and stared out at the grassy bank, and the river.
His nostrils were flared, and his breath was fast…he sat on a combination of a wooden trunk covered with hand-me-down quilts and rugs, placed strategically near the low hole that was the only inlet for the sun and the air. Else, the dreary room was nearly empty, except for the cluster of pots, urns and the earthen fire stove that was his kitchen. His meager collection of Kurtas and dhotis were in another trunk, placed next to his designated kitchen.
Narrowing his eyes, he peered outside, towards the river, but more specifically at the white building; the lights had darkened. He placed his left arm on the sill, and his chin on it. His mind was gushing with the same speed as the Mukti…he had been lucky in his life…very lucky, and certainly much more than his stupid brothers who toiled the earth but got no reward. He was blessed with good looks, and a poetic mind, which nearly always attracted the women to him; plus, his innate talent as the gardener always did the trick. Several of them had fell for his immaculate charms, while he explained the delicate nature of each flower…yet the one he lusted for, was beyond his reach. And, thinking of her, his heart raced. In his imagination, he was over her on that dark green bed, and kissing her neck-so soft- and the breasts- so large and round, and perfectly malleable, and she was holding him tight, behind his back, and perhaps digging her nails in them…he could feel the pain of the nails in his back, and he felt a shiver of pleasure…he found his free right hand moving towards the growing mass of pleasurable nerves, beneath his dhoti. Yes, Tara, when I set eyes on you I wanted you there and then…but, you bitch, you wanted to play this game of friendship, so I just went ahead…and there he pounced on her lips and bit them…but now I am tired of your games, you can throw my friendship into the Mukti, and give me pleasure the way you give that ass, Shorya…he was now pinning her arms above her, and parting her legs…and his hand jerked in a rigorous movement. You whore…of all things you talk of friendship…he slapped her, and felt a wonderful pleasure dancing within him, so…here you are, one more, she was screaming in pain, and he was enjoying it. As the emotions became more turgid and pulled him, he raised his head and his neck was turned upward, and his eyes were closed…Tara was squiggling beneath him, yes…go on, bitch…I will hurt you more…again, he held those flailing arms and pinned them in the tightest grip that he could and felt the heat of the blood oozing out from where his nails dug into the flesh….yes…there you are, fully in my control, fixed on top with my hands, and below by my…his hand rocked faster…come on, shout and scream, and cry, I love your tears…friendship…I will show you friendship, and fun! With his eyes closed, the world seemed to swirl around him in utmost pleasurable sensations…fast…faster…rocking away, the entire universe was circling around him, he was the epicenter, the master, the controller….fastest….his body taut and arched like a fully stretched bow, his teeth clenched, his unruly mop of hair wet with his sweat…and then… the dam burst with a forceful gush, and he felt his breath stop for a second, as he fell from the highest peak in a cottony float…falling in mid air, with softness….falling…falling….
His breath came in short gasps, heavy and filling the quiet room. He took a deep breath, and opened his eyes…all was calm…and silent…and normal…the river flowed, uncaring and unrestrained.
In the darkness, he got up to clean himself…his breath, still shallow, was not the only sound that his now calmed ears were listening…there was the river, the mosquitoes, the insects, the preparations in the neighboring house… and anklets…
Immediately, he turned. The unbolted door burst open…a woman stood there, her head wrapped in a heavy shawl, covering most of her face, except for the ferocious eyes…
To Be Continued.
An Epic Love Story
By Deepak Jeswal
The mansion, built of stone, with two forlorn spires looming over the premises like bored guards, was in the middle of a mammoth park, surrounded by tall and dark trees, making it almost invisible from the road outside. Two tall, spiked black iron gates stood mute witness to the travelers on it. A gravel driveway snaked its way on the side of the garden, curving towards the entrance, and ending under a low porch. The house bore a sign of distinct dullness, and the drapes on the French windows were always drawn, as if the inmates had shut themselves off the outside world.
However, inside the house was a buzz of activity. Belonging to the resident officer of the East India Company, the house saw many important decisions being taken that sealed the fate of many a kingdom.
Raktaprasad looked a little worried and scared as he saw Sir George pace the Persian carpeted study in a pensive mood. The lust for bigger money from these ‘firangi’ people had brought Raktaprasad here, to sell his secret of the ensuing drama between Sujanbhoomi and Sahastragarh.
Furtively he eyed the lanky British sahib move from one end of the heavily filled room to the other. The translator, Hari Prasad, stood meekly, his head bowed, trying to curve the fold of his sweater at the waist to hide the hole that he had just noticed; a short dark man in mid-thirties, he did not like the British making their inroads into the land, but could not join the revolutionaries that were fighting the trespassers, as he had a family to support, and it made sense for him to earn money than merit.
The room, on the eastern wing of the mansion, was lined with shelves of books on one end, with the other overlooking the park through the tall French windows that were rarely opened, and were heavily curtained with folds upon folds of thick white drapes. On the farther end, a majestic teakwood table stood- large and bulky, with a matching high-rise chair behind it, the back of which was lined with a velvet of soft color. There was fullness to the room, very close and contracted. Due to this, there was a heavy silence inside, as if the quietness itself had a lot of weight that exerted its oppressiveness on the people present.
“So you mean to say that if these two stupid kings agree to a battle, we have a chance of getting in?” asked Sir George, still in his thoughtful mode, and pacing the room.
The translator translated; Raktaprasad nodded, unsure, to whom to address the nod- the translator or this thin as reed man who seemed to grow from the earth like a bamboo shoot, without any shape or break. His light blue eyes were unwavering over the elongated sharp nose, and his oblong face was freckled and ghostly, with just a small thin line to denote the lips. A grey suit hung over the skeleton loosely.
“And they will fight?” Sir George inquired. “Can you make them fight?”
The translator repeated the same in the local language, in a flat tone, soft and subdued- as if he spoke louder some horrifying sanctity of the room would be broken.
Again, Raktaprasad nodded.
“Do it…” said Sir George, turning and staring at him. “And do it fast!” Speaking to Hari the Englishman said, “Tell him that I want to see a battle on, within this month itself…”
His eyes shone with pleasure; perhaps the coveted Governor General post would be mine now, he thought.
He started to walk to the door. Immediately, Raktaprasad blurted out in panic, “He has not spoken about money?”
Hari called Sir George, who turned with a sharp look. He was not used to these local people calling him…he was to order them. When he heard Raktaprasad’s request a crooked smile formed on his thin lips.
“Greedy bastard! Tell him he will get 500 gold coins!”
Saying this, he moved out of the room, leaving Hari and Raktaprasad in the room.
Raktaprasad was smiling; his scar also stretched into a ghastly long line; with a limp, he walked to the door to go out, but stopped as Hari called out his name. Moving towards him, Hari looked at him squarely, and with his short hand gave a resounding slap that reverberated in the silent room. Before Raktaprasad could react, Hari was out of the room.
“I used to tell you that you are rearing a serpent in your midst!” she exclaimed, her nose twitching with nervousness and excitement.
Queen Laxmi stood towering over the seated King Devvrat who had his head bowed down. He could not believe his ears, as both the mother and son team told him the tale of the romance brewing between his beloved Rudra and the neighboring king’s daughter Meera.
He wanted to tell Laxmi to stop spewing her venom; but she was relentless. “I wonder where Meenakshi Didi is hiding now.”
“Meenakshi is on a pilgrimage, you know this very well!”
“Bah! As if her sins can be washed off! She is definitely a part of this whole charade!” Laxmi’s voice was sharp and high-pitched. “As if she would not know what her son is up to? I do not believe it! And Rudra…he did not for once realize that he is the Prince, the future owner of this land; what sort of a man is he? He has brought the entire generations of ours to shame! People will laugh at us! History shall curse us! Will the subjects ever look up to us in faith and fear? Never! They will spit on our faces. At least he could have thought about his poor wife!” She was hyperventilating.
They were in the open royal courtyard of the palace; a few pigeons played near the fountain at the entrance, that opened to the path leading to the palatial gardens; the gate, made of red sandstone, and a complex artwork by the artisans of Jaipur, was just a few meters away from where a high velvet draped chair was placed for the King to enjoy his moments of respite in the open air, and feeding of the pigeons. The entire courtyard was lined with a corridor, through which shapely doors, with the same artwork netted design, opened into the various parts of the rambling palace, a veritable maze of rooms and halls and galleries and secret chambers and dungeons.
Shorya, who stood near the gate, recklessly throwing away pigeon-feed to the birds, more in irritation than in an endeavor to serve them, looked up at his mother shoving the fire down his father’s throat; his father sat, his head bowed down, his hand covering his eyes. For a second his mother and Shorya’s eyes met; looking at him, she gave a knowledgeable cunning glance pointing towards her husband, and smiling wickedly; he nodded and gave a small jerk to his neck, indicating her to continue the onslaught! He turned to see the sun; it was still some time for it to set.
“Do you think that such an immoral king shall be ever accepted by the public of Sahastragarh?” The shrew continued her game, her posture straight, her sari neatly tucked at her waist (after draping the pallu around her head) so that she could effectively use her slender fingers to optimum use in emphasizing her point. She had deliberately chosen a stark red sari, with bold designs of zari, so that even sartorially it did not leave in any doubt as to who was in charge. Her thin, pock-marked face that tapered at the chin was wrinkled now, the wrinkles covering the pock-marks in their aged folds. Yet, her movements belied any effect of age; she was energetic, and sharp and always on the move.
The king looked up at her and for the millionth time wondered why he had married her? If only his father had given him some more time, Meenakshi would have been his sole wife and Rudra his only son. What a world of difference there was between the two pairs of mother-son! Yet, that was not to be. He was forced into his second marriage…he still recalled the night he had told Meenakshi this fact! She had not said anything, not complained, she did not even cry, or stop him – she just beckoned him to do the duties that were required for this land that his forefathers had so laboriously built over the years. “And whatever happens, I shall be by your side” she had said. Alone, in her room, she had gone to shed a few silent tears.
“And I am warning you that the no-good Harshvardhan is using his daughter to usurp our kingdom!” she continued.
“Harshvardhan will do no such thing!”
At this juncture, Shorya broke in loud and resonant from where he was standing. “Don’t mind, Baba…but it seems you have gone old and senile…Are you no longer in touch with the outside world? It has always been the ambition of Sujanbhoomi to take over Sahastragarh…and Arjun there will do it definitely, if we do not stop Rudra Bhaiyya from his mad pursuit. Please do not forget that Meera is to be married to Arjun; and your son is eyeing his fiancée. He has a good enough reason to declare war on us!”
The King stood up in anger; he hated this son of his, for the arrogance, for the deceit, for the disrespectfulness. And now, when he spoke in this rude tone, the King felt a gush of annoyance rushing through him. “Arjun is not the king of that country! He is a mere chief of army. I know Harshwardhan quite well!” growled the king. “We have a treaty with them; they will not declare war on us ever”
“Treaties are mere pieces of parchments; they get burnt under the heat of passion! And here it is the matter of their honor. Our person is violating upon their prestige” Shorya’s raspy voice rose in similar tenor.
“Shorya! Don’t forget that I am your father, and still the King of this country!” Devvrat’s eyes bulged out in extreme anger.
“Shorya!” Laxmi shrilled out, and in her best theatrical performance, she said, “This is not the way to talk to your respected father.” And turning to her husband, she laid her hand on his shoulders and said, “Calm down, my lord! He is just a child, and a little agitated over the fate of his beloved country.” She made him sit down on his chair, and turned to glare at her son.
Shorya realized his mistake; he should not have raised his voice…it would spoil the game.
“Laxmi, tell him to go from here…and I will speak to Rudra on this…now leave me alone!”
There were footsteps behind them. The King leaned forward to look around his wife, who was blocking his view. He saw a lady standing there, with a tall steel glass in her hands, her head covered in her dull blue sari, the eyes lowered.
“Yes, Roopmati?” asked the King.
Before he could say anything, Laxmi started her second act of the drama. With her full sweetness and concern, she said, “Oh, my poor child! How sorry I am at your plight! What a great misfortune has befallen you. I pity your husband for running after shadows and leaving you, an exact reincarnation of Goddess Lakshmi”
With this, she went to her, and hugged her.
Devvrat witnessed the scene with aghast. But again, he had no time to react, because another set of footsteps echoed down the corridor on the side. This time, it was his messenger, from the main gate. He recognized the old man, who had served unwaveringly at the main palatial gate for the past forty years, without any demand or greed.
“Sire, there is a messenger from Sujanbhoomi wanting to meet you urgently”
“Call him in” ordered Devvrat, a small fear gripping his heart. A messenger from Sujanbhoomi? Was all well? Could Shorya and Laxmi be correct for this one time? In the meantime, he accepted the glass of milk from Roopmati, who departed after he handed over the empty glass to her, and prepared himself to meet the man who might bring some bad news!
When the envoy entered, Devvrat could not help but think that he had never laid eyes on any more ugly face- and the scar and limp added to the overall horrific image.
“My salute to His Highness!” The man bowed. “Our king sends this letter to you!” He handed over a folded parchment to Laxmi, who in turn gave it to her husband. “Your Highness, I would like your permission to depart!”
Devvrat dismissed him off with a cursory wave of his hand, and with a slight tremble unrolled the single sheet. His pupils ran furtively over the written words, and as he read, the color of his face blanched, and he felt a sharp pain piercing his body. With a loud gasp, he dropped the message, and staggered back. Laxmi rushed to hold him; Shorya also left his place and ran to support the falling King.
“What happened?” Laxmi cried out hysterically. “Is everything fine?”
The King was breathing heavily, and he held on to Laxmi as a child would to his mother, his eyes staring ahead in shock.
“Say something, please! What was there in the message?”
“Sujanbhoomi…has…declared…war!” the king hissed out in between short gaps of his breath.
The messenger, Raktaprasad, had reached the end of the corridor. He turned to check the affect of the lethal communication that he had just delivered. He saw the King lying back in the chair, his eyes closed and Laxmi fanning him with the end of her sari. Shorya was bent, picking up the dropped piece of paper; when, Shorya was getting up, their eyes met. Both nodded and smiled.
It had all gone as planned!
Tara had only read about it in scriptures and folklores. She never believed it could have ever happened to her; she had always believed that she had resigned to her fate claustrophobically sealed in the dungeon of Chanda Bai’s brothel – yet it happened. She fell in love! Love at first sight!
In the magnificent twilight that had spread its golden wings over the expansive gardens that bordered on the edge of Sujanbhoomi, bordering the River Mukti on the opposite side of her domain, she experienced turmoil of volcanic proportions erupting within her.
She replayed the meeting in her mind. He had bumped into her as she was turning a corner on the neatly trimmed hedge. They both fell, and he had scraped his arm against the thorny rose bush. When she had gathered the wits about her, she managed to see his handsome face, shining in the setting sun, and reflected by the rising full moon.
Now he sat opposite her, as he volunteered to drop her off the opposite end of the river, in his boat, as she was late, and had missed the boatman that was to take her.
He was in his late twenties, a perfect square cut face, deep set eyes, that immediately made friendship; a small, shy smile; a frame that was strong, but not grossly muscular; and he wore the brightest kurta that she had ever seen, golden and silver work, obviously belonging to a rich family.
As he talked to her, she felt the voice soothing her pained nerves.
Above her the blackening skies presented a spectacle of million twinkling stars; below the quiet river reflected them, breaking their splendor in resplendent and joyous sparkles; it was very quiet except for the boatman’s ore gently prodding the waters, a few insects singing their chorus and some sounds from the civilization of both the kingdoms, which to her were very off, very subdued and heavily curtained. They were nearing the middle of the river, the lights of both the banks shining like fireflies.
“Who are you, lady?” he asked.
She smiled; could she tell him the truth…yes, she had to! She could never hide it for long; and she was unsure whether they would meet again! In her heart, she was aware that her love story was destined to last for the few minutes spent on this boat and the bandage that she had tied on his arm.
“I belong to Sahastragarh…in that white mansion there” Elegantly, she raised her hand to show the vulgar structure that was now enlarging as they neared the bank.
Immediately he clammed up, and looked away in disgust. “You belong to Chanda Bai’s house? Perhaps you should have told me earlier!”
“Would that have taken away your concern about mine traveling unescorted in the night? Does that wipe off the fact that I am a woman?”
“Yes, but what do you fear from the night?” he counter questioned, his eyes looking at her squarely; there was no derision, just a complaint! “Isn’t the night your best time; the hour when you awake and sell your false love to the world?”
She let out a low laugh, dejected, despondent. Tara, welcome to reality! “Yes, true. I sell off my body to earn a living but not out of choice but compulsion…and I sell my body not my dignity. I do not want to be robbed off it. So, your concern was well placed and should not vanish away by knowing my truth. And, I am sure, you would realize that we are also human beings, and have feelings, and do fall in love.”
He chuckled. “Love? What do you know of love when all you do is a stage show of it? I hate this form of woman- she is supposed to be a wife, lover, mother…not a fancy shopkeeper who displays her body for all to see and choose and use, wrapped in artificial emotions and false styles”
“You are so correct, babu! We should not do all this…but alas, there is a market for it. Not all men think like you…your own gender brotherhood forces us to become prostitutes! But you tell me…have you ever fallen in love? What is it like?”
He took a deep breath and a warm smile playfully danced on his soft lips. “Love..aah! From where do I start…love is God’s own emotion, one which he created to beautify the world! It is innocent like a prayer, deep as this creation and high as the divinity. It has nothing to do with the flesh, or the mind or the heart. It is a feeling from the soul…alas, mankind has corrupted love. It is so sad that man has not understood it ever, and shed blood for it, because love never demands…it always gives!”
She sat on the wooden floor of the boat, her arms around her legs, and her chin rested on her knees, and looked at him intently and wished she had born a different birth.
“Yes, I am in love!” he concluded.
She sighed and tears welled up her eyes. “Babu, who are you?”
“I am Rudra, the Crown Prince of Sahastragarh!”
To Be Continued.
An Epic Love Story
By Deepak Jeswal
The large double bed occupied the centre of the magnificently luminescent room; from atop the silver and steel bed – specially designed size of seven foot by seven- covered with a bright green silky bedcover of floral design looked like an exotic island in the sea of white marble. Chanda Bai had decorated the bed with a net of flowers, like a bride, fragrant and fresh. The walls, in a soft natural hue of crème and white, were lit by exquisite glass and brass lamps, lighting the entire room in an ethereal glow. A soft canvas painting hung on the opposite wall, right at the centre, below one of the innumerable lamps, the paint shining off the surface like a million minute stars. Against the bed was a small rose wood table, with a goblet of wine, and two tall silver glasses. The other end of the room was occupied by a stately chest of drawers, made of the same rosewood and on that stood the idols of Lord Krishna and Radha, made of thick silver, and again, shining by the reflected light of the lamp on the wall above it. The windows, of thick stained glass, were closed at this hour.
On the smooth cover of the bed, Shorya placed the delicate Tara, who immediately slipped up, with a mischievous smile dangling on her red fulsome lips. Shorya looked at the languid body of Tara, and immediately felt a flush of passion running with lightening speed in his entire being; her dupatta casually lay by her side, and her bosoms were pumping up and down in a slow but sensuous sexuality.
He placed the glass of wine that he was carrying on the table, and immediately, Tara got up to refill it from the goblet.
“Huzoor, drink from my eyes today and taste the heaven!” She forwarded the glass; Shorya smiled, and gulped down the wine in haste, with a small trickle trailing on the rough skin of his chin. With the back of his hand, he wiped it cleaned, and kept the glass on the table and jumped on the bed.
“Today, the fun of conquering is going to be double! At last, victory is mine!”
Tara looked up at him inquisitively. What was he saying? She did not comprehend. But, she did not bother; as explained by her tutor, the grand dame of prostitution, Chanda Bai, Tara just pulled the man towards her, and naughtily started to finger his lips, beneath the hairy mustaches, while wrapping her legs around his.
She did not know what she was doing? She did not actually care any longer. Having given up any hopes for rescue from this hell, she had resigned to her fate. Now, as she started her act of love, she felt awkward, and wanted to run away from all this; she hated the stale smell of his breath, heavily laced with that of liquor; she did not like his sweat, mixed with the perfume of his clothes- a perfume that obviously would have come from the deserts far away. She did not like the stubble pricking her face as he kissed her and pushed his tongue into her mouth. She wanted to push of the large rough hands that were pulling off her choli.
Yet, at the same time, she felt a weird stirring also, somewhere deep within her body. Paradoxically, somehow, she was sort of enjoying it also : a paradoxical affirmation from her skin, but a negation from her mind. What sort of dubious situation was this? She struggled for her breath, as the heavily intoxicated and bulky Shorya pushed against her wildly, and smothered her with wet kisses on her face and neck and pulled out her nipples, and squeezed them with his thick forefingers, and then chewed them, while his hand roughly messaged the innards of her thighs.
She knew it was hard to resist; she knew it was impossible, so she closed her eyes, and succumbed to the feeling that her body was so shamelessly admonishing her to enjoy; and in the vapory state of pleasure, she tried to remember and do exactly as Chanda Bai had taught her.
Shorya was a brutal lover. But today, he was not only making love to Tara. In his mind, he was also waging a war against his brother, Rudra! As he grinded the now naked woman below him, he was also simultaneously in his thoughts finishing off his sibling; and the more he thought, the more rigorous he became, and his thick masculine skin burned with the friction of the smooth body of Tara producing an unprecedented heat of passion and power!
His steps echoed in the empty hall of the palace that led to the King’s bedroom and his robe rustled as he took long business like steps on the hard floor. The long bland corridor of brick and mortar was lined with lamps that flickered carelessly on the wall. Arjun was one of the privileged few who were allowed into the sanctum sanctuary of the King. Today, he was to use this passport to speak out his mind to the grand old man. If he refused, he shall declare mutiny.
On entering the room, he was a bit taken aback. He had expected the King to be on the bed, at this hour. But the man stood, with his hands folded, in front of a pure white marble idol of Radha-Krishna, praying, his eyes closed respectfully. The King was in his early sixties, with a rubbery red skin, a consequence of all the alcohol consumed in his own colorful days, pale sunken eyes, large whiskers that were white now, the same color as his hair, and a body circumference that had grown considerably in the past one decade.
Finishing his prayer, he opened his eyes, and was taken aback by the presence of his would be son-in-law standing there, who had entered noiselessly into the room; even the guards outside had not considered it fit to stop the important man.
“Arjun, my child! What brings you here, at this hour? Is all well?” the King asked in his gruff voice.
When Arjun spoke, his deep voice resonated through the room, even though it was not empty; his prominent Adam’s apple bobbed with the intonations. “Sire, I hope you prayed well!”
The King watched him with curiosity. Obviously, there was something deep that was brewing within this man; his statement held many folds of meaning; the King furrowed his brow, and nodded, “Yes, my child, my Radha Krishna take good care of me!”
“Yes, indeed! But they could not take care of their own selves though”
The King cocked his head, and wanted to break this meaningless dialogue and come straight to the point; his knee hurt, so he took support of the pillar of the large bed, and sat himself down on the edge.
“Can you be a little more elaborate?” he questioned; finally deciding to allow the flow of the conversation.
“Krishna could never marry Radha! Theirs was an illicit and ill-fated relationship…”
“Yes, but Krishna was for all his lovers; even for Meera”
Arjun smiled; and within him, he felt another thrust of strong emotions running, as the name came up. “Meera was a stupid and casual woman who left her husband for an elusive love that she could not obtain”. He spoke with force; his eyes staring unblinking at the old man. The King winced at the glare, and realized within that this was not about the legendary Meera.
“What do you want to say?”
Arjun cleared his throat and spoke. As the King heard his tale, the world around him spun in a haze: his sweet child, his own Meera, the tiny little girl who once used to play on his laps, and tickle his whiskers, was now involved in such dangerous passion. In thoughtfulness, his eyes rose to the splendid opulence of the room, done in silk and crème, and filled with myriad expensive artifacts bought from various places of the earth, and he sighed and a small drop of tear formed in his eyes.
“So, madam, how was the night? The redness in your iris says you have not slept a wink!” She sighed, putting one hand on her waist and the other on her chest, in a slow graceful movement. “Haaye, I wish I could also get such a real man to make love to ever!”
Tara turned, and shook her head in mild irritation. “Panna, stop it, please!” It had almost become a custom in the brothel to visit the next morning and exchange notes on the lover of the night; of course, if it was a girl’s first night, it became all the more mandatory. Tara was quite prepared for it; and was not surprised to see Panna, her best friend, so early in the morning; patience was certainly not Panna’s virtue! Realizing that there was no point in getting angry, Tara smiled and sarcastically asked. “Why, you also get Nawab of Awadh so often, don’t you!” She winked and smiled, knowing fully well the outburst that was to follow.
“Chheee…that old man! I just sit massaging him and expecting something to happen, and before you realize it, he is flushed out! Oh, yes, his son is pretty decent though”
Tara laughed, and shirked her wet hair to dry; she had half a mind to tell her of the pain that she felt within her legs, but instead kept quiet.
“I will ask Chanda aapa to send Shorya to you tomorrow; I don’t think it makes any difference to him, any which way” said Tara, placing the wet towel on the chest of drawers.
“Arre, where do I have such luck? Come on, you are so beautiful, he would now always ask for you!”
Panna felt slight twinge envy as she took in the svelte form of her friend. Tara wore a simple white laced sari; sans make up except for the kohl lining her deep eyes, she really looked very beautiful.
“Now give me a minute,” she told Panna, and turned to shuffle in front of the silver idols of Lord Krishna and Radha. Lighting an incense stick, she aired the fragrant smell towards them, and placed it on a small brass stand.
Folding her eyes, and ignoring Panna’s stares behind her, she prayed. “Oh God, in this very room yesterday you were witness to the sin that was committed. I do not know the sins for which I am paying this penalty, but do give me strength to bear it, and perhaps absolve myself from this dirty skin of mine!” A few tears welled up her eyes, but she quickly opened them, and did not allow the salty concoction to fall.
Moving away from the idols, she went to the bed to change the sheets; she had removed the rotted vulgar net of flowers in the morning itself, just after Shorya left and had opened the windows to allow the fresh air to cleanse the stuffy air.
From the corner of her eyes noticed that Panna was observing her with intent, still standing with one hand on her hip, near the door, angular, taking support of the wall.
“Really, Tara…what do you get from praying to these stone god. They will never do anything for you!” Again, her free hand moved in a lissome gesture; she never really stopped being the charmer, even when she was not at her job- the ada was always intact, having almost become her innate nature.
With a heavy tug, Tara yanked off the heavy green rumpled bed cover.
“Panna, please! We have discussed this often; let’s leave it today, no?”
“Ok sweetie…as you insist! But, tell me,no…what all you did last night…how was he to look at without clothes?” She closed her eyes, and made an obscene sound through her lips, imagining the sinewy physique of Shorya.
Tara had taken off the green bedcover and was folding it randomly for it to be given to the washer man, who would be in any moment. As she placed the final fold, she stopped short…a deep maroon stain had placed itself on the sheet, quite prominently visible even from the dark background design. She looked at it with pain: blood stain! A thoughtful smile came on her face…blood! The life force that runs through the veins…it had been sucked out of her yesterday night on this very sheet when Shorya had forced his way into her. In essence, she thought, it was her death.
Realizing that Panna was now again looking at her with same intent, she dropped the bed cover near the bed, in a crumpled heap.
“What do you want to know? You know all!”
Panna nodded; she had seen many in her lifetime; nearing 30, she knew that her career as a whore was about to end; even now, all she got were the old and drunk men, who neither cared nor bothered about her rather plain looks and almost jumped to the bed as soon as the door was bolted behind them; not that she expected anyone of them to fall in love with her- no way, she was far too practical and hardened for any such feeling- but, at least they could do a counterfeit playacting of being in love with her. Now, for her clients, she was just a machine…nothing more, nothing less.
Before she could reply, a voice called out from outside.
“Lo…here comes another of your admirers!” remarked Panna, and moved away from the door.
“Panna, don’t be rude” said Tara, recognizing the voice; Ratanlal. “He is sweet and just a friend, and does not want anything more from me!”
“As if Chanda Bai will allow him to have anything more from you!” laughed Panna, removing the hand from her waist, and waving the air with a dismissive sweep. “Anyways, I guess I got to go now, have to do my singing practice also”
She opened the door, and paid a small greeting acknowledgement to the man standing there, and moved out down the large hall in her languorous walk; her hips swaying seductively, the sari perched just below the shapely curve.
The man, standing with a bunch of flowers in his hand, awaited Tara’s permission to enter. He wore a grayish white dhoti, with a dark grey kurta. Tara called him in, and as usual, he gave her the flowers, and awaited her to praise them; a routine that had been observed for many months now.
“Come, Rattan, sit…” she beckoned him. He squatted on the floor, next to the bedcover that Tara had just thrown. Tara sat opposite him on the bed, and looked at the abashedly lowered eyes of his. Rattan was undoubtedly handsome, but in a very soft and serene manner, exact opposite to the cruel looks of Shorya. His straight hair fell in a casual mop on his forehead, enhancing the square jaw line to the maximum.
Tara could not even recall how and when they became deep friends; so much so that he was a confidante with whom she shared her secrets, her fears and her dreams; in these meetings, he would not speak much, and just keep listening intently…he was her perfect sounding board; quiet, unobtrusive and very sympathetic to her plight.
Rattan knew of Shorya’s visit last night; he looked painfully at the bed sheet next to him, and the grotesque red stain on it.
“It was like I was being killed and something was taken out of me…” she said, concluding her narration of her meeting with Shorya; of course, she left out the details. He would be too embarrassed. “Someday, my Krishna shall also come and rescue me from this…”
“Krishna has no time for you…why do you dream on like this…what is the point…I wish I could do something for you…” Rattan looked up at her sad face.
Rattan knew that most of the women in this building had lives that were darker than the darkest of nights. But, strangely, he felt that they deserved what they got. None of them really cared any longer. Only, Tara was different- there was a deep pain in her eyes, so deep that it had crystallized into a pearl of beauteous formation on her fair face.
Brought up in abject poverty, with a parental love that was shared between his ten other siblings, Rattan was a loner and an introvert; the sixth son of a farmer of Sujanbhoomi (the neighboring country) he lived on the other bank of the river, from where he often saw the lights and revelry of Chanda Bai’s brothel. He forsake his parent’s occupation early in life, because the tiny piece of land could not accommodate any more helping hands – there were already four of his brothers trying to make the best of out it. Since he loved the nature and flowers, he became the official gardener of Sujanbhoomi, and was admittedly doing quite well for himself. Many people from neighboring countries came to visit the royal gardens, and marvel at his natural gardening skills and his nurture of the flowers. He had met Tara on her excursion to the gardens; she was so enamored by it that it became her daily routine to go to the gardens of Sujanbhoomi for a visit every evening. During these sojourns they started talking, and thus from those short formal dialogues, a long lasting friendship began. Of late, with Tara maturing into a saleable woman, she had to forsake her visits, because she had to prepare for her mujra for the night. Consequently, he had started bringing flowers to her room every morning, a slight effort of his to bring spring to her desolate life.
Turning his head, he looked at the painting hanging on the wall. With the lamps burned off, the painting had lost its sparkling veneer of the night. The painting was of Saint Meera, who had forsaken her husband for the love of Lord Krishna, and had consumed poison happily at the behest of the non-comprehending lesser mortals.
He shook his head sadly. “You will remain just Meera while the Lord plays his flute for his Radha”
“I am happy being a Meera; at least my love is eternal and not bound by time or space”
Rattan again shook his head and smiled; was this woman real? And what was she doing in this rut?
“Ok, let us talk something else…tell me, King Harshwardhan’s daughter is also named Meera. Is she good looking?”
Rattan warmed up to the topic, and came closer to her and placed his arms around his legs. “Madam, she is divine; extremely beautiful; and very innocent. She is as naughty as the Shyamamati that flows beyond the hills; and at the same time as serene and calm as the placid moon that lights up the dark nights. When she speaks it seems as if thousand nightingales have sung! And, when she walks, even the deer can die of shame. Her neck is as curved and as well formed as a perfect piece of goblet from the potter’s wheel; her eyes are molten almonds in viscous wine”
He paused; and looked at her; her eyes were somewhere far off; he did not have a heart to tell her that Meera’s beauty was unsullied, innocent and as yet devoid of any pathos or grime of the world, hence it was much more attractive than hers; Meera’s smile was chaste, her movements were unblemished; her dance – though without form or pattern- was that of a child’s unlike Tara’s performance, though full of strict grammar, was so artificial and flavorless.
As she listened to his narration, her mind wandering someplace else, unconsciously she started to play with her hair, moving a few strands to her face and inhaling the fragrance in them. Immediately she bolted out of her reverie. Was she imagining this, or was her hair still smelling of wine and Shorya? Repulsed, she got up to stand; in doing so, her hand inadvertently touched the face of Rattan, brushing over his cheeks and eyes.
For the tiniest sliver of a minute, their eyes met; and a thousand thoughts communicated between them.
“Are you going?”
“No, come,” she said, “Let’s sit in the courtyard outside, I want to cleanse my hair…”
She placed her uncombed hair fully on the right shoulder and started to walk towards the door to the courtyard beyond the hall outside. Rattan followed besides her meekly.
“Have you met her ever?”
“Oh yes, so many times…she comes quite regularly to the gardens. She knows me, and has spoken to me. Madam, I can tell you this much that she is of such quality that kings can fight wars for her!”
Tara nearly stopped in her track, and shot a sharp sideways glance at him.
The courtyard, or rather the verandah (as it was on the first floor itself), was at the end of the building, overlooking the Mukti; with three sides closed, it was open and unshielded from the northern end, from where one could have a wonderful view of the river, the kingdom of Sujanbhoomi and the mountains beyond.
In the center of the courtyard was a fountain, again of white marble- cold and uncaring. A statue of a cherubic child churned out the water standing in the middle. The entire pool surrounding the child’s sculpture was covered with rose petals- in fact, the water was hardly visible below the sheet of the bright red flowers.
Placing her head on the stone parapet, Tara allowed her hair to soak into the aromatic waters and lay down against the structure. She found the coldness of the water touching her scalp soothing, and closed her eyes in contentment. Rattan sat on her side, this time cross legged.
Without preamble, and without opening her eyes, she said. “Rattan, you are such a good friend of mine; I would like you to remain one forever. In this market, love and lust are sold interchangeably in each other’s garbs with lot of impunity and carelessness; unfortunately, friendship becomes a rare commodity here…with you I can share my deepest thoughts and fears. And today, I need your support even more!”
He did not speak but let out a small sound in acknowledgement.
“I will tell you a secret; don’t tell this to anyone; I learnt it from Shorya yesterday…”
He leaned forward to listen to her, intently, dutifully.
Below, the sound of the tabla wafted up concomitantly with the seasoned voice of Panna starting her practice and a mild rustle of the anklets; the bells of the temple nearby rang alongside, a natural merger of the divine and debauched sounds.
Tara’s words flew out of the verandah, where the day stretched languidly over the white building of the brothel on the banks of the river of Mukti, which rushed past it in quick pace as if avoiding its ill-influence; on the opposite bank the washer-men had started their daily routine of whipping the dirt off the clothes, and Sujanbhoomi stretched up to the horizon, ensconced within its comforting embrace of the lush jungles, extending towards the mighty mountains further up.
The sky was clear and open and expanded upwards with clarity and largesse onto the space and infinity above.
To Be Continued.
An Epic Love Story
By Deepak Jeswal
The hooves pounded on the earth with dull thuds as the horse flew its way over the expansive rough terrain of Sujanbhoomi’s outskirts, raising a cloud of sand and a rhythm of excitement. The wide horizon spread its rich wares of a sad sun setting in its own bloodied redness covered unsuccessfully by the gauze of vapory clouds; a bashful moon, in its weak whiteness tried its feeble attempt to whimper its existence.
With the darkening jungles behind him, the horse and its regal rider rode on the open green space of the hills with a ferocious vigor and without any respite. Arjun clutched the reins with a sharp grip, his knuckles whitening, his hands cold by the biting wind that cut through the unrestrained countryside and hit his pale visage. His scarf, wrapped around his neck to protect against the cold, flapped remorselessly behind him; the sleeves of his thick woolen dress flailed around him.
As he neared the sharp drop at the end of the open field, he reined in the horse, his eyes narrowing to discern any human form in the lengthening shadows. There, in the corner, on the edge of the precipice stood a woman; with, a chariot of royal bearings standing at a close distance.
Turning his horse, he rode towards her. The woman, startled by the sudden noise, looked up. She wore a hard expression- her eyes, large, dry and unemotional; her lips pursed in a tight grip, slightly curved down, adding to the hardness. She wore an expensive sari of purple, the color merging with the borders of the open skies, and the silver zardozi work reflected off by the dying light.
Arjun brought his horse close by, pulling it to a quick stop with a sharp jerk of the reins and a quick push of the stirrups; the horse shuffled to an uneasy halt. Jumping down, Arjun adjusted the silk scarf and took wide strides to the woman; his ruffled long hair settled nervously and recklessly over his broad forehead.
“A warm greeting to my lady!” said Arjun, bowing down; his voice was deep and dynamic.
The lady did not reply; she merely nodded her head imperceptibly, in an obviously reluctant acknowledgement of the greeting. An eerie howl of the wind filled the space between them. Behind her was the grand drop of the green gorge, with a stream gurgling its way in rough rapids and over sharp rocks, beyond which were the mighty mountains- unexplored and unconquered.
“May I know the reason for calling me here at such hour?” asked Arjun, a little reverentially, a little hesitant at the stern but stately aura that the woman exuded.
The two stood on the gigantic open space, unpunctuated except for their respective riders. The horse had begun its task of grazing at the grass; the chariot and its horse, stood motionless, like their owner.
“Have the men of Sujanbhoomi lost all notions of honor and valor?” she asked her voice soft but controlled and very strong, piercing through the wind with the finesse of a taut thread.
Arjun looked up sharply; their eyes met- hers, dancing with a feral agitation; his, steely and cold.
“May I ask the meaning of this taunt?” he enquired, his words nearly hissed out between his teeth. He looked at the woman’s glowing white skin. She was beautiful…but in a very wild sense; he felt a strange churning within his groins as he took in her upturned face and the redness of the mouth – as red as the diminishing sun behind her…as red as the blood that he felt boiling within him. Her chin was turned up in a mocking way, and he felt a surge within him to grab her and kiss her. There was an unconquerable attitude around her that stirred the man in him to possess her and ravage her.
“I am talking about your fiancée. Meera’s eyes are wandering much more than they should at this age!”
Anger erupted within him, and he raised his voice. “What are you saying, woman!”
“There is an unhealthy concoction brewing between Meera and Rudra”
Arjun was aghast. He was taken aback, and it showed on his face. The lady’s lips curved slightly into a small smile; her stare was relentless on him.
“Rudra is my husband; I will take care of him. I know how to! Men always fall for the doe-eyed ladies who smile coquettishly at them. Restrain that smile on Meera’s face…for if it continues, I promise you, Sujanbhoomi shall not see the next Dushera ever. Convey this to your king that he must tie chains instead of anklets to the straying feet of his daughter!”
The air was chilling, and the wind whistled a shrill tune over the rugged territory; Arjun shivered- the lady’s voice was unfeeling but simmering with unforeseen consequences. His anger intermingled with his desire as he again observed the wanton demeanor of the lady standing before him: Roopmati, the wife of the Crown Prince of Sahastragarh, the neighboring kingdom, on the other side of the River Mukti.
She took a few steps towards him, her purple sari rustling in the wind, but barely containing the curvaceous figure beneath it. She raised a hand and placed it on his shoulders.
“I hope you will understand!”
He felt the deepest lust at the touch of her warm hand; the heat singed through his woolens. Turning sharply she turned towards the waiting chariot. She sat on her velvet seat, her back straight and ordered the chariot driver to drive off. The vehicle rushed passed him, the wheels and hooves whipping up a froth of cloud and wind, and the sound of the rolling heaviness reverberating into the night’s abyss.
Long after she left, he stood near the edge, his eyes unwaveringly gazing at the piles of mountains strewn by nature in a supposedly random order; the sun now engulfed by the crevices of the hardened terra firma of the hills. His mind was galloping with the same rhythm that the horses had created.
“Meera…you shall pay for this betrayal!” he cursed within his breath. “And so shall you, Rajasaheb! History will not forget this easily”
“Tell me, what you have to say…fast!” He barked in his throaty rasping voice; he spoke with such force that the thick mustaches on his lips quivered with impatience.
“Why do you get angry, sahib?” smiled Raktaprasad slyly, shifting his weight from his lame left foot to the other- he was getting to his strong point.
“You know I have not much time…”
Raktaprasad looked around wickedly and smiled. Of course, Prince Rudra’s brother Shourya did not have much time, especially in the place where he stood. The large white marbled hall of the courtesan Chanda Bai was spotlessly polished; Raktaprasad could almost see his reflection in the same. Four gigantic pillars supported a ceiling so high that the short-height endowed Raktaprasad felt a pain in his neck when he watched the intricate hundred candle chandelier made of pure crystal special imported from abroad. Beyond the hall, he could hear the sounds of the nimble footsteps dancing to the strains of saarangi and harmonium, set to a mild rhythm of the ghoongroos and the percussion of the tabla. The mellow lapping of the waves of the River Mukti outside added their own charm. A melodious voice sung a song of love and beauty.
“Saheb, please do not get angry” said the servant, obsequiously. “This time the news is such that I shall ask for 100 gold coins.” His eyes shone with greed as he said the words.
With an awkward limp he moved forward, near to the gargantuan muscular frame of Shourya.
“Saheb, Raja Harshvardhan’s daughter and your brother are playing the game of love; the passion is very strong in both of them!”
Shorya’s eyes widened “If this is not true…”
“Saheb, you can chop the head of this servant of yours and feed the lions of Mukti Jungle” interrupted the vile man.
Raktaprasad shifted his weight again; not only did he have a short height; there was a marked slouch in his frail body also, with a small head fixed on the torso sans the neck. God had been sufficiently unkind in depriving the minutest sense of beauty in either his body or mind. On that, a deep scar inflicted on his cheek by an unfortunate adversary had taken away any scope of attraction. The adversary was killed; the scar on the cheek remained. He was the trusted aide of Arjun, the chief of army of Sujanbhoomi, but in his selfishness he realized that he needed to be friendly with the important members of the neighboring country as well.
With his eyes shining in delight, Shorya gave him a pouch full of gold coins and dismissed him off with a small wave of hand.
Shorya pondered over the information provided by Raktaprasad. So, his virtuous married brother, his rival, had fallen in love. Yes, this was the chink in the armor that he had been so desperately looking for. Ever since he had taken birth, he had realized that he had missed the destiny’s caravan with a very small margin of time and womb. He never forgave his destiny for this chicanery; nor, his father, King Devvrat.
Although Devvrat loved his first wife (Meenakshi) very much, he had married Laxmi because he needed to sire an heir for the kingdom, because Meenakshi could not give him one even after ten agonizing years. As luck would have it Meenakshi found she was pregnant just a month after Laxmi announced her own pregnancy. Though Laxmi knew that in all righteousness Meenakshi’s son would ascend the throne should he be born first, but Devvrat, in his kindness, promised that he would crown the first born, from whoever it was born.
Laxmi was satisfied; though the gap between the announcements had been small, somehow she sensed that she had the lead. In the next few crucial months it seemed that she was preparing her unborn for the throne.
However, to her shock and dismay, Rudra was born to Meenakshi, prematurely, a weak, nearly dead, blanched and wrinkled boy that cried for the first ten days of coming into the world, but who had in his survival marked on his forehead the future of the kingdom of Sahastragarh.
Shorya entered the world fifteen days later, a loser and full of the venom of jealousy that his mother had imbued him with. Over the years, he realized that his father’s entire love found its way to his weak sibling; and because he displayed a natural resentment and devised novel means to hurt his elder brother, his father’s wrath was always directed towards him.
In his endeavor to spite his father, Shorya took to wine and women early in life; and the notorious brothel of Chanda Bai was one of his favorite haunts. Built on the banks of River Mukti, the sprawling white marble architecture was a hub of activity during the nights when the nobility came to enjoy the pleasures of sin and skin. At the farthest end of the market that catered to the base needs of all, from the poor weary traveler to the uncouth business men, Chanda Bai’s haven was by far the best in its trade – almost a symbol of class and gentility. The grandeur of the building spoke volumes of Chanda Bai’s income. She took care to source the best, the youngest and the loveliest girls, and groomed them personally in music and dance, and the ways to please a man in bed.
Shorya stood near the tall Persian glass windows, deep in thought, looking at the serene waters of River Mukti flowing by. The windows were draped in crème satin curtains, laced ornamentally with small nuggets of colored glass in beautiful designs.
As he thought of ways to take revenge from his brother, Shorya’s breath came fast, and his bulky six-foot frame shook in exhilaration. A small tinkle of the anklet broke his reverie, and he turned sharply. A girl in her early twenties stood, bowing respectfully and with a silver glass of wine in her hennaed hands.
“Huzoor, do you plan to spend the night watching Mukti?” she asked, in a husky voice.
Shorya took the beauty of the demure girl in his lusty dark and deep eyes. Yes, once again, Chanda Bai had offered him the best of her entire lot. The girl had a skin that was clearer than the Mukti with almond colored intoxicating eyes that swam with mischief and invitation. She wore a bright pink ghagra choli, and her dupatta hung loosely over her heaving bosom and rounded behind her slim back to cover her silky hair; a few wanton wisps ventured out and playfully hung over her forehead.
Shorya smiled, and walked up to her. Taking the glass from her hand, he felt as if he had touched silk. “So you are Tara! Chanda bai was right when she described you! You are an angel”
The girl smiled shyly, and looked up to his robust eyes. “Huzoor, I am nothing but your servant…”
With a quick vulture like grip he pulled her towards him, and pressed her soft and warm body to his; in the tug, her dupatta slipped from her head and fell by the side, caught between their bodies, but enough to reveal the shimmering whiteness of the skin around and below her neck that revealed the ripeness of her youth through the deep cut choli.
He caught her in a tight grip, with the steel glass still in his hand, the coldness of which she felt at her lower back. He loved the suppleness of her breasts against his chest, and bent forward to kiss her lips. She smelled the odor of the wine from his breath but as taught to her did not resist or struggle, but allowed him to bite onto her tender lips. He pressed his body hard against her, and moved his thick leg around her slim ones.
After a while, she pulled away, and pushed him with a playful jerk and said, “Sarkar, not here…”
Understanding her meaning, he lifted her up in a swift movement and started walking to the wide marble stairs at the end of the hall. Tara wrapped her arms around his neck and placed her head on his neck, and looked back at the receding white floor beneath her. The dupatta, now hanging precariously from her neck, swayed with their movement.
In her mind, million thoughts raced. She knew what was to follow; she was prepared for it; she had been educated for this night all these years; in fact, she was surprised that she had so snugly fit into the ribald environment of the brothel. She was perfect in her dance, and she sang very well; many a nobility had come here only to see her move gracefully to the rhythms of the tabla, and listen to the songs that she composed and sang. She now enjoyed the ribald talks and raunchy jokes of fellow-nautch girls and prostitutes.
But she still remembered that once she was also a normal girl with some normal dreams of home, hearth and husband. The only daughter of the village priest, her birth unfortunately coincided with her mother’s death. She was keen to learn the scriptures and devote her life to the God. The destiny had something else in store for her. When she was ten, a severe epidemic had engulfed the village, wiping out nearly all, including her father. After that, she was alone and uncared for; she wandered the jungles of Mukti, trying to find food and shelter. Alas, the only man that she met during those stressful three days was Shorya, who in his arrogance and wayward ways knew only one shelter to provide for her: Chanda Bai’s brothel! She recalled how Chanda Bai had smiled at her, popping a large betel leaf in her mouth, and proclaimed, “Miyan Shorya, you have brought an uncut diamond here today; someday I shall present this to you, polished and cleaned!”
Today, she was finally presented to Shorya!
With a sigh, Tara looked at the henna on her hands; the henna, considered auspicious was a bride’s best friend; yet, the dark brown color burned on her hands; she was to have her wedding night today, without any procession, priest or purity!
The clatter of the sword echoed through the room.
Arjun looked at it in disgust, and sat down, panting, the sweat glistening off his shining dusky bare chest. For the past one hour he had been practicing sword fighting, killing off an invisible enemy in the stuffy air of his private room. How could his fiancée fall in love with some one else? Although merely the head of the army, the King of Sujanbhoomi had taken an unique liking to this handsome young man; since, there was no other offspring to the King, except for Meera, he had decided to marry her to Arjun, and give the reins of the kingdom to him after his retirement.
For Arjun, it was crucial that he remained in the good books of the King; though given to all the vices of the nobility, he had managed to keep that side of his hidden from the gullible old man.
“Arre, arre…what is this, master!” The wily voice of Raktaprasad broke the silence.
Arjun looked up at his man Friday. He hated Raktaprasad, and the opportunistic attitude, but tolerated him for the invaluable and insidious information that he always seemed to possess.
“Huzoor, will you only fight imaginary battles in this room, or go out in the field to fight also!”
Arjun turned to him and came forward in anger, and grabbed the man’s collar “What do you mean?”
Feigning fear, Raktaprasad recoiled, but spoke on. “Huzoor, your enemy Rudra is preparing war on Sujanbhoomi…and plans to kill you in this!”
With a loud war-like cry, Arjun pushed him back; the crippled servant staggered back, trying to recover with the best of his ability, despite the limp.
With mock affront, Raktaprasad said, “It is a fact! And my guarantee seal is on this news! I thought I should warn you…”
Arjun’s eyes blazed in a fire of hatred and rage. If this is true, then the purpose of the war is only to get Meera from him! He would not allow this to happen. He had to speak to the king immediately; the things were getting a bit too out of hand, and too fast.
He pulled out a bag of coins from the chest of drawers in the corner, threw it across to Raktaprasad, and rushed out. Raktaprasad caught the bag with an efficient move, and smiled to himself. It was good that these rich and high people were blinded with jealousy and fury, a fire that he kept fuelled with his tiny informations; in turn, they always rewarded him with money; and money, was his only motive…since God had given him no beauty or stature, and a limp over that, he felt it was his right to extract his pound of flesh in whatever situation that he deemed fit.
To Be Continued.
Mini Review Mega Digest : Shuddh Desi Romance; Satyagraha; Madras Cafe; Once Upon A Time In Mumbai Again; Chennai Express; Ghanchakkar; AatmaSeptember 8th, 2013
Note: I had written these reviews immediately after viewing the films and put them up for my Facebook friends. Thought of adding them here for posterity’s sake. These FB reviews are usually hurriedly written first impressions typed late in the night; I have pasted them here with minimal editing; please forgive any stark grammatical or spelling errors.
Shuddh Desi Romance – First up, SDR is neither shuddh (the characters are confused, convulted though cute in their own way!) nor desi (heck, since when has live-in relationships become so, and this film unequivocally champions that cause right till its climax!) – and certainly, the romance is not the one to last from one qayamat to another qayamat tak – unless running away from marriages counts for a ‘qayamat‘! And in this film, there is a plenty of that!
Yet, having said that, the film is absolutely shuddh in its intent, it doesn’t deviate from it’s purpose however shocking it may ostensibly be; very desi in its demeanour (right down to the sugary syrup in the gulab jamun that the hero offers to his lady) & yes, it is romantic if you scratch the knotty & confounding surface! And true, its a ‘rom-com’, so let’s not get too preachy or critical about it.
The thin plot revolves around Raghu Ram (Sushant Singh Rajput) who dumps his to-be-wife Tara (Vaani Kapoor) at the mandap, and starts to live in with Gayatri (Pariniti Chopra) – who in turn dumps him at their own wedding. How the three reconcile facing each other in awkward moments (after all this running-away-from-mandap madcap) is the second half’s crux.
The film is propelled not so much by plot as it is by its characters, and that’s where writer Jaideep Sahni and director Maneesh Sharma invest their resources, which is markedly refreshing. So, the entire chain begins because Raghu is unsure, and then later the next big event is sparked off by Gayatri’s uncertainty. And both have fairly acceptable excuses for their thoughts.
It’s a wittily written film. Sequences are repeated, but with a purpose, and with humour (e.g. how Rajput and Chopra surreptitiously check each other’s background from Rishi Kapoor is a hilarious one. Then there is that entire ‘running away via the toilet’ plot point – and how a ‘bathroom break’ gets a whole new meaning.)
The dialogues are conversational with smart lines weaved in carelessly but very carefully ( "What is all this about ‘settle’ down for a man" cheekily laments the hero in the opening sequence "when the country has not been able to settle its differences between its neighbor for sixty years!"). There are several more. They’d bring in chuckles and smiles in right proportions. The film’s tone is kept fluffy and frothy.
The characters are believable, likeable, having their flaws and pasts, but without the director or writer getting judgemental. So, Gayatri smokes. And has had numerous affairs, even a hinted abortion. Big deal. It’s not a grand issue for the film to beat its chest over. Further, Raghu & Gayatri decide to stay together. It simply happens, no magnificent ‘voila’ moment a la Salaam Namaste (a previous YRF film on ‘live in relationship). Another shrug, no big issue. The bigger issue is to weld that trust between the two before it wedges a deeper hole between them. And that is where Sharma & Sahni simply excel. Raghu discreetly checks out on Gayatri’s past, even though he is not exactly a ‘doodh-ka-dhula-hua’, which ups Gayatri’s own mistrust antenna against him. Even the jilted woman, Tara, doesn’t dissolve into copious tears. Almost rubbing her hands off the dubious incident, she non-chillingly calls for a cold-drink. And when she gets the chance, she’d teach a lesson or two to the ‘runaway groom’. Cool. Composed. Collected.
Of course, Sharma gets some good artistes to do the job. On top is Rishi Kapoor as the ‘caterer and ghodi-supplier’ and a kind of father-figure to Raghu – he is mind-blowingly outstanding. When Gayatri runs off his expression is sensationally priceless, and brings the entire theatre down in uncontrollable laughter!
Sushant Singh Rajput is confident and assured, and superb, though at times I could sense Ranveer Singh’s shadow in his dialogue delivery ( Sharma at work? After all, Band Baaja Baarat was his baby!) Pariniti Chopra retains her fiery self, but has to add a lot more – she nuances Gayatri’s insecurities & quibbles very well. Debutante Vaani Kapoor is easy on the eyes, quite adequate, but falls a step behind the other three.
Considering the film had to deal with quite a controversial subject, rooting it in Jaipur helps. So you do have those pesky neighbours reacting not so kindly to Gayatri’s independence, which makes the core not a norm but a healthy deviation. It cushions the shock-value. And yes, there are plenty – other than mooting that ‘live in relationship is fine’ (that, by the way, in ‘normal Indian standards’ is quite shocking!) the film is sprinkled with generous dose of kisses that should give poor Emran Hashmi some serious nightmares!
In the good old archaic parlance – a typical nice ‘time-pass’ film! And yes, we have to harken back those times, because right from the posters to the ‘interval’ announcement vide a shrill bell as it used to ring in single screens, the film brings in that ambience.
One last point – don’t confuse the film’s theme with its making. I agree ‘live in relationships’ (and the easy, almost casual way shown in the film) may be a bit hard to swallow, but that doesn’t take away from the film’s inherent wit, humour and entertainment quotient.
Overall – Viewable!
Satyagraha - I am sure many from my generation have grown up idolizing Amitabh Bachchan, generously aping his styles and dialogues, and simply being overawed by his larger-than-life screen presence. So before I get into the movie, a small tribute from a fan-boy!
In Satyagraha I couldn’t peel my eyes off Bachchan Saab’s superior performance. In one scene Amitabh Bachchan’s character (an upright retired school principal Dwarka Anand) confesses to his son’s friend Manav (Ajay Devgn) that he couldn’t really understand Manav and it was Dwarka’s fault for not having done so. It’s a quiet and emotional moment in the film. Amitabh Bachchan hungrily usurps the scene to make his own – every vein on his visage, his sunken grey eyes and his drooping body language acts out his pain, his guilt, his sorrow, his hopelessness, and his urge to accept Manav. Poor Ajay Devgn, an otherwise consummate actor, is left with his jaw dropped as Bachchan gives his monologue!
In another scene, right after his son is slain, Amitabh hears the young wife Sumitra (Amrita Rao, largely wasted) sobbing. He totters to her room, unsure and uncertain. He hesitatingly enters the room, she is lying with one arm above her eyes, crying. He sits tenderly on the bed’s edge and gives an assuring fatherly pat to her other hand. No words are exchanged. That would have been meaningless – how does one even begin to console such a loss? Amitabh Bachchan is again smashingly wonderful! And in this scene, salute to the director too for adding a small but extremely humane touch. Before Bachchan sits by her side he first adjusts the crumpled bed sheet she has wrapped casually on her. She is his daughter-in-law. He has to have that modesty. Neat gesture. Very tiny. But makes a difference. And shows a seasoned director at work.
In another similar scene, Bachchan desperately gropes the hot tar road where his son was brutally killed, after he learns about the exact spot. Again his expressions, his entire being, conveys the sense of helplessness, hopelessness and how he is internally thoroughly shattered. Too good!
Coming back to the film, though, Prakash Jha falters – and pretty heavily at that!. Sad, the film & the script do not rise to the levels of the performances within it.
Jha cleverly seagues the murdered NHAI engineer Satyadev Dubey’s tale to Anna Hazare type movement. In the film, Akhilesh (Indraneel) is killed because he was too close to find the nexus between corruption & politicians (led by a wily Home Minister, Manoj Bajpai). His father (Amitabh Bachchan) who wishes to utilize the ‘compensation money’ to build a school, is driven up the wall by the corrupt bureaucrats and inordinately complex red-tapism. So he fights back. And takes on to the streets to fight corruption. He is aided by Akhilesh’s best friend Manav (Ajay Devgn) who also brings along with him a reporter (Kareena Kapoor).
The film’s failure is that after the set-up it grounds to a wobbly halt. Nothing really happens, till the badly forced upon climax. If Jha by doing that, wished to show how frustrating it was for a common man to fight peacefully against the very own leaders they have supposedly chosen, well then he has succeeded. It is indeed frustrating. The common man wails the powers-that-be laugh it off and go about their own corrupt money-swindling means.
But then, that doesn’t necessarily translate into riveting cinema. So the second half spirals itself to protests, marches, fasts and what-nots and then more protests, walks, candle-light vigils, fasts and what-nots… and the ‘sarkar‘ goes about its business playing deaf. Event unfold in haphazard half-baked manner; it’s like reading headlines over several days’ newspapers in one go, without delving into the details. Seemed Jha was in a rush to execute the film before the theme cooled off and couldn’t really devote time to the writing.
Over that the characters are largely hazy idealistic sketches. Kareena Kapoor gets the rawest portion. I failed to comprehend how she could be a neutral reporter and a part of the protest, crossing the border as and how the scene required. Plus, she is never shown reporting back to her office? A long working sabbatical to support her pet-cause? Eh? Even the romance between her and Ajay Devgn is half-baked & wishy-washy.
And, ‘Ras ke bhare tore naina’ is a song that needed to be axed immediately. It severely breaks the already losing momentum. Not that there were any need for any songs anyway.
Arjun Rampal’s character is another painful appendage that has no meaning to be there. Poor Arjun even looks suitably lost. Ajay Devgn does a good job as always, and so is Amrita Rao great (but why was she looking anorexic?). Manoj Bajpai is dependable as always, and he has done this mean act so often I am sure he could sleepwalk through it.
Jha has usually given us shaded characters. But in this one the black and white is a bit too stark & mono-chrome, leaving no scope for nuanced human drama. At times, this leads to some incredulous moments – like how Manav donates away his Rs 6000crore business empire! Whoa!
The music (by a bevy of composers) is okayish. I like ‘Ras ke bhare tore naina’ but then it wasn’t required in the film. The background score is functional. The editing is good but could have been tighter.
Jha’s direction is fairly smooth and I adore his simple straightforward story telling narration – sad, this time, he actually had no story to tell. We have read it all in the newspapers and TV Channels.
Overall – Average, but watch it for Amitabh Bachchan’s superlative performance.
Madras Cafe - Madras Cafe is a tight, gripping and engrossing film on the events leading up to Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination.
Of course, the makers play it safe and ‘fictionalize’ the whole event (e.g. LTTE becomes LTF, and the PM is jarringly never named and always referred as ‘PM Sahab’ or ‘ex-PM’, which sounded a bit weird). It also stays politically correct, neither mentioning that LTTE were in the initial days supported by India’s R&AW; nor does it question India’s pressing need to be ‘Oh-This-Problem-Solving-Big-Brother’ of the sub-continent (though there is a brief dialogue that a bureaucrat wryly comments that ‘this could be our Vietnam!’).
But anyway, it wasn’t required. The film never means to be a political statement. It stays on it’s path to depict the machinations behind the events that possibly led to that crucial day.
The film moves swiftly, in short but brutal takes, giving us adequate background history in brief spurts, as we get sucked into the narrative. The story revolves around a R&AW agent Vikram (John Abraham) who is sent to the war-torn Jaffna as part of Indian Peace Keeping Force to negotiate and broker peace between the Sinhalese Government and the Tamil fighters – by hook or by crook. The conspiracy, the leaks, the resistance & the help (in form of a war correspondent – Nargis Fakhri) constitutes the rest of the taut two-hour-ten-minute narration.
No, this is not a thriller with some ‘twist’ left to be unearthed in the climax. The denouement is known to all. Rather, it’s quite like reading a Ludlum page-turner, with all the eighties espionage masala thrown in (remember, those were still ‘low-tech’ times, where intercepts were done over landlines!)
Yes, this is a film where you *have* to carry your brain along! It’s difficult to provide the entire story – suffice to say that Vikram’s journey in Jaffna as he goes about his mission is rife with troubles, including a mole in the Indian set-up.
The film is shot brilliantly – tight close-ups and hand-held camera lending it a deep sense of urgency. It’s also edited sharply. Brutal & cracking. And the background score enhances the exigency. Director Shoojit Sircar shows his adept finesse again – his previous two films Yahaan & Vicky Donor were also brilliant.
The director chooses to do away with excess emotionalism, leaving the film pithy & succinct. For example, Vikram’s personal grief is a brief contemplative scene, retained there just to convey his loss, but not to excessively milk the emotion. Compare this to D-Day (another thriller released recently), and you will know that sometimes it’s best to leave things unshown. Like his character Vikram, the director also goes about his work in a no-nonsense fashion.
The war is captured through a neutral lens, detailed but not to make you cringe (though I felt they could have done away with the obvious cliché about wars fought &won by governments but lost by common people!)
Perhaps for the first time, I truly liked John Abraham. He really gets into Vikram’s character, looks the part and acts very well. (I always had a problem with his annoying habit of pursing his lips after every dialogue; mercifully except for two-three places, it is wholly done away with!).
Nargis Fakhri (after the horrendous display in Rockstar) shines in her brief role. That she is shown from London, and given no Hindi dialogues makes way for her to concentrate on her performance. Rashi Khanna has a small but beautiful role. Siddharth Basu (the erstwhile quizmaster from the time when the movie is set!) makes an impressive debut as R&AW Director. Other supporting actors are superbly cast – and keeping away ‘known faces’ helps. (Loved the performance of the guy who played Bala, in the movie!)
Just last week I was lamenting that Indian viewers hardly had a choice between inanity (Chennai Express) and insipidity (OUATIMA), but along comes Madras Cafe offering a rich, stimulating and awakening brew!
Overall – Go For It!
Once Upon A Time In Mumbai Again – OUATIMA is a dull, insipid & listless movie that provides a long runway but simply fails to take off. It’s a perfect example of making a sequel just for the sake of making one!
In fact, it hardly looks back to its prequel except for one fleeting shot of Ajay Devgn in that film. Else, there is no reference to that film, it’s characters or its drama which supposedly lays the foundation for Shoiab’s (Emran Hashmi in the earlier one, Akshay Kumar now) character. And talking of fleeting shots, Vidya Balan’s appearance is probably the shortest ever for any star appearances!
The film is shoddily written & lazily directed. The characters lack passion & their motivations are hardly explained. So we have this supposed big don Shoiab ( and please note we see nothing of his ‘work’) who is huge on style and spews more dialogues than bullets; it’s impossible to take such a ‘well groomed’ don (with a smart-alec punchline for every occasion) seriously. Then he meets this supposedly innocent girl Yasmin (so innocent she doesn’t know the difference between ‘intercourse’ and ‘intermediate’ even though when she stands guard to her friend making out in a taxi – huh?!?!).
Of course, she doesn’t know he is a don – never mind, she didn’t bother to think once when she was showered the ‘Best New Face’ award at his behest, that too without giving even a single shot. Later she moronically gasps ‘he is a gangster’. Hello, lady? Shouldn’t you have thought of that while coyly accepting the award and making that huge Oscar-winning kind speech. Basically, in the film’s universe, innocence and stupidity are inter-changeable!
Then there is the other main person – Aslam (Imran Khan) – who is Shoiab’s protégé (again no reason provided for what purpose). And he too falls for this bimbo. Ya ya, it’s a small world, and a smaller city! Then there is some nebulous track about a rival gangster (Mahesh Manjrekar) who seeks his own revenge … yawn! again, no reason provided; I am sure by this time you get the picture – and sadly, coming from Milan Luthria, this ain’t either dirty or anything else.
This vapid love triangle gets some adrenalin shots in the last 30-40 minutes, when the drama hesitatingly peaks (that is after the script thankfully puts the bimbo out of action into the hospital bed); but then, as the cliché goes, it’s too late, too little.
Imran Khan is totally miscast. Neither does he come across as a rugged / street-smart gangster nor is he able to spike up the passion in his love and friendship. Over that his irritable pouting only adds to the woes. Dude, you are out of the ‘I Hate Luv Storys’ kind of rom-com sets. Show us some meat, or else quit! Sonakshi Sinha does her bimbo act with aplomb: charming and cute but that’s about it.
Sonali Bendre makes a comeback in a special appearance as Shoaib’s mistress, first love, or what (again, you see, the problem is we are never told who she exactly is!) – but well, she is really good! Mahesh Manjrekar has a vague role and he sleep-walks through it. I was taken aback to see a good actor like Vidya Malwade criminally wasted in a blink-and-you-miss role as his wife. Desperate measures, eh?
As for Akshay Kumar..sigh! Did he have to mouth all those lines in that annoying drawl throughout the film? It was fine for a PVR-advertisement on keeping the mobiles shut. But to bear it for 2.5 hours is painful.
The music is below average. In any case, I am tired of these so-called ‘Sufiana’ type of songs. Enough, please! The background score is functional. Cinematography, editing and art direction are just about ok. Rajat Arora’s dialogues are typically filmi, elaborate and away from reality – they worked in a good set up like Dirty Picture, but here they end up looking forced & contrived.
It’s a sad time for viewers – to choose between the inanity of Chennai Express and insipidity of OUATIMA!
Overall – As the don Shoaib would say – ‘Iss picture ko dekh liya toh Hindi cinema ki izzat bura maan jaayegi‘ ;-))
Chennai Express – Not worth reviewing!
Overall – ‘Pakau’ film!
The film is not worth reviewing or viewing. Yet please allow me to rant against it and take the burden off my chest. First up, let me confess my tolerance level for masala potboilers is very high; this can be gauged from the simple fact I didn’t mind Himmatwala. So it’s not that I have anything against commercial cinema; on the contrary, I thoroughly enjoy them & celebrate them as well. But Chennai Express is way beyond even my lenient tolerance levels; and it brought back the uncomfortable memories of Ra.One from the same actor-producer!
Chennai Express is a torturous, annoying & grating 2.5 hours journey that goes nowhere and is overstuffed with moments that make you throw up and cry out in pain. I fail to believe that Rohit Shetty directed this mashup which has no entertainment quotient whatsoever.
It’s been long since I have been so annoyed, so irritated, and so angry at any movie (and as I said, the last time it happened it was for Ra.One!)
The film’s sole silver lining is Deepika Padukone’s damsel-in-distress act and her cute Tamilian Hindi. And to an extent Vishal-Shekhar’s music (especially Titli), but then I am desperately clutching at any available straws. Else, the film drowns you miserably in its burdensome din, distaste & dullness.
If you still want to see it please do it at your own mental risk. My recommendation is to avoid this trauma by a huge margin.
Lootera – It’s is a hard film not to like. It’s filmed gorgeously. The detailing is apt but subtle. It’s garnished with good dialogues. The performances are brilliant. And it’s music is superb.
Yet, somehow it failed to move me as it should have. Which was rather despairing. Because as I said, it’s hard not to like the film’s individual aspects. But somewhere the emotional connect between the script and the audience is not properly established.
I guess the film is being held up by critics as some sort of rebel placard towards all the 100-crore ‘masala‘ grossers. Personally, I love those too. Actually, I feel I belong somewhere in the middle of these two diametrically opposite current cinematic styles.
I adore movies that have a languid pace. But there is a thin line dividing a languorous pace & a suffocating stillness, which pervades Lootera. No, the silences didn’t really speak poetry to me, as they did, in say Kuheli – the Bengali movie which I just saw on Youtube a few days back. Fanaa is another movie that crossed my mind. It’s second half was trashed to be ‘slow’ and ‘unmoving’ though I found the bulk of dialogues there between the lead pair very interesting. On the other hand, Lootera is no Ghanchakkar (which by any standards was outright boring!)
Perhaps, Lootera suffers from the malady that all films based on short stories do. To flesh out a full fledged film , the padding often reacts negatively with the story’s soul. Which happened earlier with Ek Thi Daayan. And now Lootera.
In O’Henry’s story The Last Leaf, it was about this woman who irrationally thinks that if the last leaf of the vine clinging to her window falls, she will also lose her life. The leaf never falls. It’s learnt that an artiste living below her house, who cares for her, had painted the leaf and had died doing so. The story left out ‘showing’ his act and it’s sheer hard-work is left for the reader’s imagination.
In Lootera, a supposedly subtle film, this act is strangely very elaborately shown. Even then, the act gets depressingly diluted with the hero running away and facing the chasing cops. Before all this, we also witnessed a superbly executed chase sequence embellished with some magnificent background score (Amit Trivedi), but alas, all that added nothing to the story or the film. Akin to an item song rudely interrupting the narrative.
I am hard-pressed to write a review and had almost abandoned it. Even now I am unable to gather my thoughts. Like the film. They’re scattered.
The film is character driven. And they are well presented. For example, I understood Pakhi. Born in ‘zamindari‘, boisterous yet grounded, suffering asthama/TB, having lived a cocooned life, doted by her father, vulnerable yet not a door-mat. But her plight unmoved me as she scribbled her wandering thoughts on distraught pieces of paper and threw them unceremoniously. Varun, the rake who loots her family (hence the title) and returns in her life a year later, is also understandable, but not the way he leaves her without a fight. Seemed tad too easy.
The performances are really worth gloating about. Sonakshi Sinha has nailed Pakhi’s character perfectly. In her first meaty role she hungrily gorges on the material presented to her, & presents a beautiful Pakhi, in her marvellous sarees, tormented by love & disease. It’s quite a revelation from the lady who has till now remained in shadows of big superstars.
Ranveer Singh is also very good, and one feels the pulsating energy so forcefully restrained beneath his calm exterior – a deep storm within the quiet surface ripples.
Divya Dutta is wasted in her brief apperance. Adil Hussain (named KN Singh!!!!), Vikrant Massey & Barun Chanda are all first-rate.
The cinematography is awe-inspiring. The sound design is lousy though, eating away some dialogues (and sometimes drowned in the music).
Amit Trivedi’s music is absolutely stunning – both the main score & the background music. All six songs are listen-worthy and worth treasuring.
Overall – it’s nice, but didn’t have me gushing or mentally preparing for a repeat view!
Ghanchakkar – Not worth a review
Overall – Yawn!
Aatma - Ten or so years back Bipasha Basu showed her ‘Jism’ to good effect; a decade later, she bares her Aatma, and sad to say her body had more substance than this vacuous and soulless flick.
The best thing is that it is merely 95 minutes long, and the worst thing is that those 95 minutes seem way too long!
The narrative moves in fits and jerks that would make even a ghost go giddy. The makers surely thought ‘different’. Rather than have disjointed and dismembered bodies on-screen they chose to display a disjointed and dismembered script! The real horror lies in the ruined screenplay that would make even a graveyard look like a palace.
So, in one scene a harried Bipasha is at her home, and in the next at her friend’s place (or is it a neighbor? Near her house? Far from her house?) and the subsequent shot has her back in her own house. Or was it the neighbor/friend’s only? Hard to tell. The director Suparn Verma doesn’t bother. He only shoots individual scenes without much care for what happens before or after; or for the characters or settings ( A 6 year kid being asked the spelling of ‘constitution’ was the heights!) . And the editor mechanically pieces them together.
Characters are introduced randomly. And they remain vague throughout. The entire film is superficial. There are a few spooky scenes, but they are few and far between. Hardly worth wasting your goose-bumps!
All clichés are adequately used – the ‘taaviz’ and the ‘pooja‘ and what nots! But the sum total never adds up.
The story is about a psychotic father (Nawazuddin) who is no good in life, and turns worse off in death. However, he obsessively loves his daughter and as a ghost spooks his ex-wife (Bipasha) to steal the kid. It had potential to be an emotionally distraught story with some strong horror flashes. Alas, that was not meant to be!
The dialogues are hilarious. In one scene, the kid’s teacher grimly states ‘Nia is distracted’ and Bipasha’s very intelligent response is ‘So Nia is not paying attention?’ Really?! Had they cut out such brilliant gems the length may have been a mere 60 minutes!
Everyone seems to be working in night – a primary school teacher is shown sitting alone late in the dark correcting test papers. Bipasha herself works alone in the night in a weird office. And horrors of horrors, the child psychologist meets the kid in the dead of the night. More than the kid, the doc needed a cure for insomnia!
The art director is on her/his own trip! The vast house is perpetually dim-lit with sad candles of various size and shapes strewn all over. (Who finds the time to light them?) The kid’s room has the TV built in an obnoxious looking bear-shaped cabinet. And whenever the kid is put to sleep there are always dolls and cartoon-printed bedsheets. Understandable in Bipasha’s house. But in the neighbour’s too? And *gasp* to stretch it further, even at a police inspector’s place? (Or was it police station?) Does the police now haul dolls?
Bipasha is ok, she has gone through this routine earlier. Nawazuddin (who had a dream run last year starting with Kahaani) grounds to a screeching halt in a criminally ill-defined & nebulous role which he evidently sleep-walks through.
But it’s the character artistes that bring the entire butchery with them. Shernaz Patel got her brief all wrong – lady, it wasn’t maa tujhe salaami! She hams and hams to the extent that I fear PETA would ban the film. Especially in scenes where she is not in the forefront she makes such annoying faces that one actually applauds the ghost for bumping her off.
Darshan Jariwala appears for a brief while as some ‘gyaani’ or pandit or whatever, we are never really told and probably not told to the actor even, for he looks absolutely clueless about his role.
And then there is the staple of such horror flicks – Mohan Kapoor!!! (Ya, that saanp-seedi or whatever televison show one!) (He played a funny priest in one such film, and in Raaz 3 he was the most irritating & artificial doctor ever) He recreates that vexatious doc act yet again – this time a child psychologist! Pray for the kids who are his clients!
Jaideep Ahlawat (also in Gangs of Wasseypur as Shahid) plays the Inspector who turns up after every death, and he brings some semblance of normalcy but he is limited by the overall script.
Hitesh Sonik’s background score is okay. Sangeet & Siddharth Haldipur’s songs are not used (barring one lullaby in the titles).
I have a strong liking for Bollywood horror flicks. But this one left me sorely disappointed. If Suparn Verma’s idea was to create with Bipasha in the lead a film even a worse one than Raaz 3 then he has definitely succeeded. (On hindisight and in comparison, Raaz 3 is Oscar material!) Else, it was a sheer waste of time & money.
Overall – STRICTLY AVOIDABLE!
I loved Ayan Mukherjee’s first film – Wake Up Sid. It’s a magnificent coming-of-age film, embellished with scoops of quieter moments that make the film introspective yet not dull; and some superlative performances. So I approached YJHD with huge expectations.
WUS was essentially a small film; neat & compact in its design; and a linear but taut timeline and was essentially without any ‘stars’ (Ranbir at that point was very new!) Perhaps, Wake Up Sid’s surprise success guaranteed Ayaan Mukherjee a bigger budget and a wider canvas, and to incorporate it in YJHD the film stumbles & wobbles.
There are a few recurring motifs in both films : Seeking one’s goal, and reconciling it with one’s loved ones; the father-son conflict that can be best described as ‘generational gap’ or perhaps, better as simply ‘ideological differences’, without any malice and filled with brimming love; friendships turned sour and eventually sweetened by passing time (as said in the movie ‘Thoda waqt do, sab theek ho jaayega’); and the central theme about two individuals who are neither right nor wrong, but just different to each other. Of course, passion for photography is another returning refrain.
However, where the film falters is its wider timeline, geography and canvas – all those perfect locations, flawless dresses, and also the need to incorporate an ‘item song’ (Madhuri Dixit, no less!). Blowing up a photo meant for a smaller bit size will only heighten its pixelated flaws.
Hence, too much gloss and loss of detailing ( why would a so called studious girl like Naina who is so burdened by her studies and her parents’ expectations flaunt perfectly waxed legs in skimpy shorts? Pity, Ayaan resorts to the age-old Bollywood cliché that a ‘studious girl’ means wearing a pair of ugly specs! Or, how did they all manage to finance such an elaborate trip in all those designer clothes? I fondly harked back to the scene in WUS where Ranbir couldn’t even pay for a pizza dressed in a normal crumpled T-shirt! And then Ranbir’s entire so-called ‘journalistic career’ is swept aside in a few hasty montages where all he does is wave about his camera!)
No doubt the whole gamut of gloss & glamor is very eye-pleasing, but it also smothers the film’s soul, which thankfully is very much throbbing & making its presence felt in its own charming but muted way. Especially in the second half.
The first half is wholly devoted to the Manali trip, where Naina (Deepika) and Bunny (Ranbir) meet, and gradually get attracted to each other. They are accompanied by two of their best friends Aditi (Kalki) & Avi (Aditya Roy Kapoor). Aditi has a soft corner for Avi, who doesn’t seem to realize it. In this section, we befriend all the 4 lead characters … especially how their aspirational goals will clash. Bunny is a nomad at heart, and wants to roam the world (and carries an empty scrap book which he wishes to fulfill with his experience); Naina is the rooted one, caught between a wish to break her chains and her inherent sense of practicality. She falls for Bunny but doesn’t express it.
This section also has a short but superbly etched track featuring his father (Faruque Sheikh in an excellent cameo!) and his stepmom (Tanvi Azmi).
Eight years later they meet at Aditi’s marriage – no, not to Avi, who has spiralled downwards to being some sort of a loser, but to a man who looks silly, and is perhaps silly, but as Aditi says ‘with some people you just want to be with’ !
It’s in this section that Ayan’s writing gets razor sharp, and Hussain Dalal’s dialogues very interesting. Here Ayan leaves the geographical widespread, and is now contained in a wedding home, and hence gets his chance to take us into a wider tour of his characters! Perhaps a small canvas is his forte, and he should stick to that!
In this section there are some shining gems: ‘We grew up very fast’ laments Aditi at one stage, shining the torch on what I believe is a complain we all at some point of time carry. The characters for sure do. Here, Bunny & Naina reunite, rediscover each other. And reconcile with each other ( ‘You are not right, we are just different – says the hero; and a few scenes later she asserts ‘You are not wrong, we are just different’ – a mirror dialogue that I just loved!)
Since I am simultaneously reading Khaled Hosseini’s And The Mountains Echoed, there is somewhat similarity between the two …in the sense of a bottomless vacuum that lies beneath the successful facade.
The film’s technical aspects are all first-rate. Attractive costumes (lots of brand placements), amazing cinematography and fairly competent editing.
Pritam’s background score is very good (especially that piece when they are at the mountain peak is absolutely sensational!). His songs are good too, esp Badtamiz dil, Balam pichkari and Re Kabira.
I firmly believe Ranbir Kapoor cannot do anything wrong, and here Bunny is a character made for him, so he is outstanding. Deepika, though, was a very pleasant surprise. And both Kalki & Aditya hold their own fort strongly.
In a way, I empathized & understood Bunny; the character touched a chord inside me – that gnawing urge to follow one’s dreams; to explore the unchartered territory; to not be bound in one place; to not be tied down; to eat at new places; to stay at fresh cities; to see new sights. But as his father says, not all have the guts to pay the price for it. Because it all comes at a heavy emotional cost. Bunny had those guts.
I walked back from the theatre at 2 in the night thinking about Bunny – in the city that never sleeps – cars swept by in their manic rush; a couple sat having tea from a roadside vendor, a few stood around the cigarette stall; a cricket-match was on in one society under faux-spotlights; beggars slept precariously on the road-divider; autos slowed down and then seeing my disinterest sped away ; I reached home, put my laundry for washing (neglected due to my tour); cleared some loose junk lying here and there; kept the rubbish can outside the door for it to be picked up early morning; popped a beer; and sat to write this review. The night outside is heavily quiet; the humidity is oppressive; a drop slithers down the beer can; I like this space; this time with myself; this is my bargain …. random sights random views, but something within despairingly clawed trying to find a hook, a wall- I guess it was just an attempt to patch an incomprehensible hole with a jagged collage of sights & sounds. Much like Bunny. But very unlike him. For I haven’t paid that price. Yet.
In all – An interesting film, if only it had been much smaller in its canvas.
DO WATCH IT.
First a background confession time: I am not a Chetan Bhagat fan; I read his first two novels but I found his writing style so abominably bland that it put me off forever. I reckon he is quite a hit with the youngsters; and that’s the audience the film wants to latch on to. That’s why his name is prominent on the posters, with the blurbs also proclaiming ‘from makers of Rang De Basanti’ a supposedly ‘cult film’ (though for sure, UTV has produced many more since then).
(I made a lame half-hearted attempt at seeking Three Mistakes of My Life, on which this film is based, at the Amazon Kindle stores a few weeks ago, but since it’s not seemingly not available there, I left it).
I am also not too well-versed with Abhishek Kapoor’s sole directorial venture: Rock On, having missed it in theaters, and watched it in fragments on TV (I saw its biggest chunk just today when it was aired on some channel; and found it a fake film in intent: a true blue Hindi melodrama masquerading as something seemingly ‘different’)
So coming back to Kai Po Che – with no overt interest in any of its makers, and not knowing the plotline or the characters, I had a key advantage of approaching it with an open mind. I was so clueless about the basic plot that I had no inkling as to whose ‘three mistakes’ the title refers to – though the film doesn’t really help to spell it out clearly.
The recent events in Mumbai are shattering. And closure of chemist shops at 6 p.m is another nail in the coffin.
Mumbai is dead. Sadly, no one is caring to revive it. Infra-structurally it was always a poor one, but it more than made up that paucity by a liveliness, an electrifying energy and yes its indomitable spirit – which was not only about displaying resilience in times of trouble. It was a live breathing, energetic, vibrant and pulsating city.
With a tantalizing tagline ‘Office politics gets hotter’, Inkaar is a sensitive film that deals with ‘office sexual harrasment’ in a more complex manner than it did in Aitraaz (though, let me hasten to add, that film was very enjoyable in its own way).
First the caveat – this is not your usual drab office. The setting is an advertisement agency, hence there is a huge quotient of glamour, casualness & freedom. Most of us would rush through Mumbai’s cruel traffic to mark our e-attendance on time, or sulk over sales numbers doing a Manmohan Singh like deafening silence, here the characters have it rather easy where it comes to the core work. Ideas flow naturally – they even change an entire campaign overnight in a hotel room, clients get bagged with just a few witty lines & the National Creative Director doesn’t seem to be to worried about her staff supposedly pan-India delivering on time. In that, sadly, Sudhir Mishra has alienated a large section of his urban audience, which in any case were his audience! I doubt the film will even see through its opening week in single screens or small sections.
Now for the good parts.
Hmm, good day to release the film. It’s a sure-shot doomsday for competition, because Chulbul Pandey is here not only to chew a new villain (Prakash Raj) but also to swallow all rivals (if there were any left, in the first place!). I know I am a wrong person to review Dabangg 2, because I am an unabashed and self-proclaimed big-time Salman Khan fan, and this film is made for us.
Hmm, the chiffons have been packed; the Alps are missing; the heroines are brash; and the biggest change: the Lata Mangeshkar’s velvety vocals are frustratingly absent; but what remains in Yash Chopra’s swan song is his biggest asset : a straight-from-the-heart, somewhat old-school but deeply honest story-telling!
A few pointers & questions to Mr Ashwini Dhir & Mr. Ajay Devgn:
1. I like your sense of humour – the name itself said, "SOS", so cant blame you really – but how come you forgot to inject the same humour in the film?
2. Was it necessary for all dialogues to be spoken as some sermon in one high-pitched drone – this was a film, not Mahabharat right?
3. We, the audience, are not that dumb not to read the film’s name – you needn’t have peppered the word ‘Sardaar’ in every other dialogue!
4. Could you please give us whatever you intoxicated your editor with? At least, we can also sit through those painfully lengthy chase-and-action sequences.
5. Slow motion is an effect to enhance a scene. Beyond a point, it ceases to be!
6. I am not blaming your music directors (two of them!) – songs can be a speed-breaker only in something that has speed in the first place!
7. Please go and watch a few of Tanuja’s brilliant acted movie before wasting her in a half-baked half-loony matriarch’s role.
8. Camera angles have been bane of a certain Mr. Ram Gopal Verma. Did you not read the flak he received? Or did you take the phrase ‘over the top’ a bit too literally. It’s not a joke to see so many top angle shots!
9. Please do buy a dictionary and check the word ‘cohesion’ – it may give you some insights. I love commercial films ( Salman Khan, who makes a rather unnecessary guest appearance in this one, is a master in them) but this one irritates and bores to the core!
10. Your heroines (Sonakshi and Juhi) are like glittering sparkles – but you simply allowed them to sinfully fizzle out.
Your Pained Viewer!
English Vinglish is a story of a woman’s journey to discover her deprived self-esteem, her own lost self, and mend her warped dignity, all of which have got buried beneath her daily chores & mundane household activities; here her lack of understanding English is used as a metaphor; in reality, it could have been anything. It is a good concept wrapped in a competent film, one I believe will appeal to the ladies audience.
Oh My God (OMG) is an interesting and thought-provoking film that raises an accusing finger at god-men, rituals and other religious paraphernalia. Shun them, not God, is what the film says. Don’t allow the ‘business of God’ to flourish: why waste milk over stone idols when it can be used to feed the hungry? Be God-loving, not God-fearing.
I have enjoyed many Vikram Bhatt-horror films : Raaz, 1920, Haunted to name a few. But this one is very average, and certainly looks made hurriedly on a tight budget, and sadly with very few spooks.