The household was filled with servants rushing to clean and prepare a guest room. No one expected the Sahib to bring a guest.
Zohra walked into the servant quarters and immediately had a heap of sheets thrust into her hands. ‘Hurry up,go make the bed and take that useless friend of yours,Rukmini with you.’ Begum snapped as soon as they entered. ‘Rukmini will sweep and mop,You will dust. Get out of here now.’
They hurried to do her bidding,conversing in hushed whispers. The servants knew everything,and the Sahib’s friend was no exception. He was to stay for a while,for business purposes,though what these might be was unclear. There was also some talk of a marriage of alliance with the Sahib’s beautiful daughter,Jodhaa. She was better off than most other eighteen year olds of her time for she could read,write and speak English. Her father insisted she learn,even under the disapproving glare of the tutor who taught her Sanskit and other subjects seemingly suited to her stature. But this was a far shot at best,the Englishman belonged to the obscure school of thought of marrying for Love.
Zohra,smirked sarcastically to herself at that. Marrying for love. Oh the luxuries the Rich could afford.
They entered the room and quickly began their assigned chores. A methodic rhythm to their work,done hundreds of times before. Soon,her mind began to wander. She composed stories in her head,like she always did. Stories of love,of happiness. Happy. She couldn’t remember the last time she was truly happy. It must have been before she entered the Haveli gates, a wide-eyed naive girl five years ago,at the tender age of thirteen. Forced into working because her daimaa was dead and no one really cared what happened to the girl whose world revolved around her. It was a stroke of good fortune that the Sahib had found her before any harm could befall. He was a kind man,the Sahib. He undertook the responsibility of an orphan, a girl no less, he ensured she had food,clothing and shelter. A shard of guilt pierced her heart as she wished he’d given her happiness instead. She chastised herself mentally, the Sahib had done so much for her,she mustn’t complain.
As she put the finishing touches on the bed,she heard the door open. She looked around the room but Rukmini was long gone. She knew that Zohra barely paid heed to anything when lost in her thoughts. She must have left.
The opening of a door,however, signified that someone superior might be present. It drew her attention immediately. Briefly she wondered what it must be like not to have such an ingrained sense of one’s place in the social hierarchy. But the entrance of Jodhaa and the firaang brought all thought to a halt.
“Zohar!” Jodhaa,exclaimed in flawless Hindi,”Inse milo. Yeh Greg Sahib hain. Tumhe inka khas khyal rakh na hoga.” Meet Greg. You must take special care of him.
Zohar simply smiled and mumbled a hasty agreement. She excused herself hastily,for fear of what she might say. or do. This Greg sahib must know some Indian customs by now and she had already embarrassed herself earlier on the parapet. Heaven knew what he thought of her unruly behaviour.
As she approached the door, Greg moved aside to let her pass.
“Nice to acually meet you, but I must say, you looked better with your hair open.”,he smirked,just as she passed him. She eyed him with confusion,sparing a fearful glance at Jodhaa,who now looked both intrigued and a little lost. Then she fled.
She didn’t stop until she’d reached the end of the corridor. He’d said something to her. She wished she understood what. If the look of Jodhaa’s face was anything to go by though, it was probably something he shouldn’t have.
Her feet carried her automatically back to the servant quarters,where she was soon busy with dinner preparations.
She sighed as she continued chopping vegetables for the evening meal.
Happy. She wondered what it felt like.