Behind the Lattice: Part 4.

In the end,she mused,it was her fault. It was the denial,she reasoned,the main factor due to which she hadn’t confided in Rukmini. The reason that she lied through her teeth when Rukmini asked her,if she felt anything,anything at all for the man who’d stolen herself from her. But even as she convinced herself of this, she had a sinking realization that perhaps the reason was a far more baser emotion,Fear. Fear of judgement. Fear of Failure. Fear that he would never love her the way she did.
She lost count of the number of times she lay awake at night,lost in thought,dreaming of an impossible future.
It had been three months since Greg had first made his entrance into the Haveli,and into her dreary life.
Three months of stealing looks from behind the lattice,always finding an excuse to be on the parapet overlooking the entrance.
Three months of standing silently,eyes lowered, at the back and call of the Sahib and his company,courtesy of Jodhaa’s perceptive nature and alleged lack of need for Zohra’s services every time Greg was around after his initial stay there.

And so the days passed,undemanding and allowing for diversions that allowed her to deceive herself.
Until the day the blinds were forced to fall.
Our Heroine’s anguish may best be described in her own words,for these thoughts flew so rapidly through her head,that a third person would never be able to comprehend them.
An Excerpt from the thoughts of Zohra, a lady of a different sort.
I felt hurt and betrayed. She was my friend. my closest companion. someone to whom I could reveal anything. And when she said that she had given herself to him,my heart broke . I understood what writers meant when they said a whirlwind of emotions.. But I kept my face straight. my emotions hidden. I said it was fine. That alone,was her first clue that something was amiss. I despised the word fine. Despised it implied normalcy. Hated it with a fiery passion,not unlike the kind of pain I was feeling. I felt sick in my stomach. And through it all I breathed. I kept a straight face,failing a little ,and for the brief moments when the mask fell,she saw the damage she had wrought. But I covered it up. it was fine.

With a heavy heart,I asked that she begin at the beginning,sparing no detail. It was done anyhow, perhaps the situation could be an excuse. And she began.
It started just like it did with me,waiting on the Sahib and Greg ,the same seemingly innocent yet meaningful brushes,always carefully calculated to seem accidental or unconsciously done. Something that I, in my lost daydreams had noticed occurring with anyone besides me. Of course my head was lost in the clouds,thinking of all the what ifs and could bes. He never looked twice,never gave any indication, that he felt like I did.
Lost. Confused. Intrigued. Attracted.

So why then did I lose my heart?
To someone who wouldn’t have even noticed me had it not been for my wilful,tempestuous nature?
Someone to whom I knew I wasn’t worth a second glance?
Someone,whom, if I’d known the consequence of loving,I never would have dared?
Because he was different. He believed in things I could scarcely fathom,and had a trait of inbred arrogance I found myself helplessly drawn to.
Like the proverbial moth drawn to the flame that burns it.

And I denied it. Profusely. To the extent where I believed it myself.
As Rukmini spoke ,my traitorous heart whispered,maybe if I’d admitted it to myself,confided in my friend like I had since I came here,I wouldn’t be sitting with a broken heart and a seemingly curious and benign smile,as my faith in my fundamental self shattered.

Somewhere in the midst of these thoughts I could still hear her speak. She spoke of how she’d been offered an alternative to our life. The firaang , had offered to take her back with him. Not for a position of the household staff,but as a kept woman. Men had certain needs and someone had to fulfill them. And when offered a choice,he had chosen her.By virtue of chance,she had a choice,one that was actually valid and not a formality, for the gentleman refused to take a woman against her will.
Rukmini said yes. He had bedded her,and made the necessary arrangements to take her along when he left.

After that I couldn’t bear to hear more. My ears wouldn’t stop ringing. All I could think,over and over,was what had occurred between them. And how it stung,because she was my companion,my friend and she had taken the man I loved.
Perhaps what stung the most was the realization that had she been aware of my feelings,she would have said no. She would never intentionally hurt me.

I ran.

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Behind The Lattice: Part 2

Chapter 2:Meeting.

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.

Behind the Lattice:Part 1.

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.

The three fates: The second secret.

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She moves gracefully. One motion flowing into another. The transition seamless. The eyes follow her, with bated breath they watch. Our heroine,however,does not have the luxury of leisure. Every elegant pirouette ,every assémble,deceivingly effortless. She can see the choreography in her mind’s eye,so far she has executed the plan flawlessly. But the crescendo is ahead and we’ve only just begun.

The Mahal Property,Rajasthan,1930.

She never raised her eyes,it was forbidden. She knew that. The handsome English man was a regular visitor at the haveli. He came to discuss matters of business with the Sahib. He always accepted tea. He never stayed for dinner.
The presence of a firang in their dwelling was,at first, quite a source of uproar. ‘How dare he’ seemed the common disapproving whisper,whether directed at the Sahib for extending an invitation or at the English man for accepting, remains unclear. But she liked him. This foreigner. He was kind. Politeness was not a common courtesy extended to women in their times but he was unfailingly so.   

She often thought of him,especially when doing mindless chores,cleaning the verandha of dry leaves, polishing the light fixtures of the palace until they gleamed and shone. Brought up in a culture where taking the name of your own husband was taboo and speaking when two men were conversing unthinkable, she never said a word. After all,she had no confidante, the other maids were a gossiping lot, and if the daimaa came to know?
Heaven help her! She’d be out on the streets without a paisa to her name,or a place to go!

And so she kept her pallu draped over her head,and did as she was told.

It began slowly at first. The accidental brushing of his fingers over her roughened palms as he accepted a cup of tea. The brushing by her,a little to closely to be coincidence,every time he passed by her as she stood,head down,hands folded behind her back at the entrance to the study,at every beck and call of the Sahib.

She pretended to ignore it. It was not be considered,she whispered to her heart in the dead of the night. But her treacherous heart belied her,she found herself waiting for these innocent touches. Outwardly the very image of decorum and proprietary, only her eyes betrayed any sign of the anguish and torment within.

But she never raised them. And so no one saw.

No one noticed the first change .It was small,miniscule even. But he did. He always did. But the time for thinking about the consequences was past,her mind was made up and nothing could dissuade her. Not even the warning look of her lover,her teacher,promising retribution. No, she had decided. She had been suppressed to long,she was ready. This was it. Her moment. It was time.

~~*~~
The second secret is the three fates who control the thread of life. The trick is to not let them.
Inspired by Beethoven’s 5 secrets: 2.

Everyday Art.

The Kalaghoda Arts Festival is an amalgamation of all that I love.

Of History,Colour and Art.

Everthing I see.

Everything I see.

Of looking at things differently.

Got Change?

Bronze.

Of bicycles and memories.

A beautiful world.

A beautiful world.

Of even more colour.

More Colour.

Beads.

Of kindred spirits.

Through the looking glass.

Through the looking glass.

Of Chaos and the beauty within it.

Chaos

Of the moment in motion.

Rust.

Of Purple and Curves.

Purple curves.

Of Blue.

Blue.Beautiful.

Blue in the Shade.

Of the shades of Rust.

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Bells and Chimes.

Of a simple moment of solitude.

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Roped into thought.

Of Grey Roses and Blue eyes.

Blue.

Ceramics.

Of Coffee at the most unusual times.

Coffee

Coffee.

Of Candy Floss and Kalakhatta.

Gola

Friends and Love.

Kalaghoda is a iconic structure in south Bombay.The Kalaghoda Arts festival is a beautiful experience for everyone who lives and breathes Art. Not just the art you see hung up on the walls of a gallery but everyday art. The art you see in the small bits and pieces of your everyday life. The small things that make you happy. The air itself seems to come alive with euphoria.

Visiting the arts festival every year has been a tradition for me ever since I was a child.

I love the atmosphere,the energy,the sheer amount of happiness and fascination I see on everyone’s faces.

It is truly a part of me.

It is where you can paint with the colours of the wind.