She gasped,her hands flying to her mouth to muffle the sound. For she had been betrayed. Tears clouded her vision as she ran,her orange dupatta flying in the wind. What hurt more,she wondered, the betrayal of a friend or that of someone she could have loved forever? And she didn’t stop running until she reached the parapet where it all began…
Chapter 1: Sight.
Zohra wiped the sweat off her brow with her pale pink dupatta. She’d been working under the harsh sun since morning, rolling out papads and putting them to dry. It was noon now,but she didn’t dare ask Mahima Begum if she could have a break. Last time a servant girl spoke to Mahima Begum,head housekeeper of the Palace without being addressed first, Begum boxed her ears so hard,she still had a ringing sensation the next day.
The Sun climbed higher into the sky,and the work showed no sign of stopping. Sahib was coming back to the haveli today. For days together now,there had been a flurry of activity to make sure everything was perfect. The garden blooming,the entrance decorated with traditional torans of marigold flowers,the brass and silver polished until you could see your reflection in them.
‘Worked as a better mirror than the filthy bit of glass called a mirror in my pathetic excuse of a room’ thought Zohra bitterly to herself,even though she knew it was not for her to complain,without this job as a maid-servant in the Royal Household,she’d be left for dead,or worse, in the streets. The gundas on the street cared nothing for a woman’s honour. It had been drilled into her head by her daimaa since she was 10 years of age.
‘Yeh duniya zaalim hai,betiya, saar pe pallu odehe rahk na, unchi aawaz mein baat mat kar na,aur hamesha gundo aur firango se door rehna,unhe sirf ek cheez chahiye’,she always said. The world is cruel,keep your head covered with your pallu,don’t raise your voice,and always stay away from thugs and foreigners,they only want one thing. That was the extent of her education. Four simple statements.
The unfamiliar rumble of a car engine brought her out of her reverie. She watched,fascinated by the contraption,all sense of propriety forgotten just for a moment. The car pulled up to the large,elaborately carved doors of the Haveli. Even as the welcoming party stepped out to greet the Sahib with garlands and a puja thali,everyone simply stopped to gape at his company. The Sahib was not alone,there was a foreigner, a firang with him.
Zohra gasped,which turned into a cry of pain,as her friend and only companion,Rukmini,pulled her harshly by the arm and behind the lattice.
She pulled her pallu back over her head and glared at her.
“What were you doing?” , she hissed in Hindi.”Standing out there in the open for all to see,without a care for your self,head high,no pallu. Are you trying to get on Mahima Begum’s bad side?”
Zohra hurriedly realised her mistake,once again her curiosity had gotten the better of her. “But there’s a firang here! In the haveli! he seems to be Sahib’s friend.”
“And he very well might be,but it is still not for us to say anything.” Rukmini replied, for their Sahib was what many people considered a betrayer,because he fraternized with the foreigners and followed a seemingly radical school of thought. Of course this is not saying much,anything even slightly out of custom and orthodox religion was considered radical these days.
“Come along,now,Begum has called you.”
And they walked down the gleaming marble floor,our heroine lost in the thoughts of the foreigner with the green eyes. Eyes that she’d met for a split second before Rukmini pulled her away.
A story of a simple girl living in the world far more cruel than she ever thought it could be. Set in a 1930’s Indian Royal Household,it’s a story of a girl who dared to do more than what her place in life dictated. Do let me know if you want any more details or translations.