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.