Jodhpur Diaries #7

I hid behind the big flower vase and the hanging decorations as Shivam descended the stairs chatting pleasantly with a relative, a middle aged woman, perhaps a queen. The very silhouette of him had my heart pounding and gave me goose bumps. And today he looked very much the prince that he was- charming, compelling and enigmatic. And every royal woman had her back straight, bore a dignified stance and an elegant smile, complimenting her stature well.

I myself was draped in a beautiful peacock blue saree that Nandini and Shaan had urged to get for me on our second visit to the designers’. Relatives and friends from different states had started arriving for Nandini’s wedding. Everyone was busy in the preparations and catering to the guests. Cold drinks and juices were being served. Even the guards in uniform looked good today. If pre-wedding days were so, I wondered how the wedding day would be.

I could see Nandini searching for me, as I had hurriedly left her side without a word on seeing Shivam. This was the second time in the day that I did this. I’d make up to her later. She would let it go.

I nervously shifted my position lest I should be discovered. His footsteps stopped just a few feet away from me. I could hear most of their conversations. They were this close to finding me. I didn’t want to encounter him now. I was not ready. I was not prepared. No, not now. I couldn’t think of any way to escape him. He shouldn’t see me now.

‘Bhai sa, have you seen Rano here?’ It was Nandini. I could feel his attention focusing on what Nandini said, and lines of alertness forming on his brows. He hadn’t forgotten the name. Somehow the thought made me happy. ‘Who?’ he asked suspiciously. ‘Oh, I forget, you haven’t met her yet. Don’t worry I’ll find her,’ Nandini came towards the vase but something caught her attention and she turned left. I moved far into the garden finding no place inside the hall where I wouldn’t be noticed.

I sat on the swing thinking about the dilemma I was in. Fate was playing games with me, I thought sipping the ‘Aam Panna’(a beverage made from unripe sour mango) from the silver tumbler.

Shaan’s words still reverberated in my mind. Prince Shivam was the King’s adopted son. Though he didn’t tell me any more details, it was clear that it was meant to be a secret. He had trusted me with a big secret. When Shivam had known about it at the young age of nineteen, he had left home and the city for good feeling deceived and fooled. The truth created cracks in the bonding that was meant to last for a lifetime. After searching a lot he was found after about six to seven months in Darjeeling, working in a coffee shop. A lot of persuading from Raja Sa, the King and a lot of scolding from Rani Sa, he finally returned to Rajasthan. But the damage was done. Their relationships could not go back to normal even after much efforts and reconciliations. He left the country for higher studies and came back less frequently. He kept becoming more and more detached from the family, on a personal level, and no attempt even from the siblings helped undo that.  The family missed him, and perhaps he in his own darkness missed them too.

It was sad and unexpected. I didn’t know he carried so huge a burden when all his face showed was an easy smile and joy. I thought I knew him completely then, ten years ago. But there was so much more to this person. I really had thought he was passionate about his job. It was actually an elaborate tea shop with an attached mini-library, but I didn’t dare correct Shaan. I under no circumstance wanted to face the questions that would have come after that.

Someone entering your life, your conscious awareness, is a very big thing, as their entire past comes with them. But I didn’t know whose past I cared more about. I dare not admit it. And I didn’t know whether it was care or just curiosity.

‘There you are,’ Nandini’s accusing tone pulled me from my reverie. ‘I have been searching for you for the past fifteen minutes. What are you doing here? I wanted to introduce you to my cousins, and also the elders. Even Shiva Bhai Sa hasn’t met you yet. Perhaps he didn’t even know you are staying here.’ ‘Umm, can I meet them later? I just wanted a bit of fresh air. We still have over a week to get acquainted,’ I tried to reason with her. How would I meet him? Ten years is a long time, still, what would I say? Hello, you were my heart throb a decade back but now I’m almost betrothed to you brother. Ridiculous!

‘Ok. Alright. I didn’t realize that. I was too excited,’ she relented. ‘What were you thinking? Sitting here, ‘far from the madding crowd’?’ Her choice of words made me smile. I had told her once, how much I liked and disliked that Thomas Hardy novel. ‘Nothing, Just, sorting out things.. arranging my thoughts…nothing special,’ I answered. Her expression changed to that of concern. ‘Do you feel out of place with us? Is there anything bothering you?’

‘No, not at all. I really like it here. And you all have treated me like one of your own. Why should I feel so?,’ I reassured her. She had this bad habit of jumping to conclusions. With time I came to know there were two sides to her personality- one, the sweet, simple, bubbly child woman adoring everything she saw and another the caring, protective woman bestowing sisterly love. And I loved both. She then grumbled about having to go and welcome an overbearing aunt from California. I laughed and excused myself to go to my room.

I held the lower pleats of the saree and went up to my room, keeping an eye around me. I shuddered at the thought of having to encounter him eventually. But I would try to escape him as long as I could. The door to my room was left open. I remembered having closed it. Perhaps Nandini had forgotten to close it while searching for me. Shaan wouldn’t enter if I wasn’t there. I opened it, searched for the light switch and pressed it on.

Suddenly my heart stopped and by breathe was caught in the throat. There, in the middle of the room he stood, staring intently at me, with surprise, relief, anger and longing, his eyes penetrating into mine. My hands shivered. I wanted to vanish into thin air, or get swallowed into the earth before my heart exploded, before I faced his wrath. And within a matter of seconds, in a spur of a moment, when maybe his anger overpowered him, he closed the distance of a room between us with fast heavy steps, pulled me with one hand, closed the door and latched it fast with the other, pushed my back to the closed door, and stood in front of me his eyes filled with anger caging me with his hands on the door. His face was just inches away, and his eyes bore holes into mine. And only a two syllable word escaped my mouth, ’Rehaan’.

Jodhpur Diaries #6

Nandini
Nandini

It can’t be. And that too after so many years. How can he be a Prince? Perhaps the Prince just looked so from far. But that voice? I couldn’t concentrate on the fabric and look of Nandini’s beautiful bridal wear. So many things were going on in my mind. Internet was of no use- he must be social media shy. Childhood photographs were of no use. I should have stayed a bit longer to see his face properly instead of sneaking back into the room. That would have saved me these unnecessary headaches.

‘Princess, you look gorgeous,’ the designer beamed looking at her in his masterpiece. Nandini was very happy. She posed in front of the mirror admiring the intricate work. The saree was heavy but the red, green and golden cloth complimented her fair skin well. She indeed looked elegant.

Shaan stood there with a bemused expression smiling at her. He must be feeling emotional imagining his sister going to her in-laws leaving them all behind. Nandini saw her Bhaiya’s face in the mirror and turned to face him, ’How do I look?’ Shaan crossed the room and hugged Nandini. ‘You look lovely,’ he said and kissed her forehead. I could see a glint of tear in her eyes. That brotherly moment was forever etched in my memory.
* * *
‘Is that you? Oh my, you look so cute,’ I said noticing the chubby cheeks of a baby in the photograph. Shaan looked adorable as a baby. His looks just grew better with years. He laughed. Then we looked through another book of photographs of another generation of kings.

We were at the office of the royal family historian. He was in charge of the royal records and accounts. Rani Sa had asked Shaan to take me there. I found a lot of information on generations of rule- the whole dynasty. I gladly took notes and clicked pictures of the pages. It really would fuel the research work. This would make a good report.

We visited the archival and Shaan patiently explained me the details in short as we skimmed through pages of yellowed journals and chronicles. He seemed as interested as I was. That made me happy. I didn’t for a moment feel like I was imposing on him. And before we knew it, two hours had flown by.

When we reached the palace, Nandini was chatting excitedly with Rani Sa. The jeweler had delivered the jewelry for the bride, and they seemed very satisfied by it. ‘Rano! Shaan! There you are. Nandini was so eager to show you the ornaments. She has been asking me to call you or not to call you for over an hour. Aren’t they lovely?’ Rani Sa laughed and we all joined in. It seemed comfortable, like family. I felt I could belong there.

The jewelry box was full of beautiful earrings, custom designed necklaces, nose rings, anklets, rings, dazzling bangles and hair adornments. It was for every occasion before, during and after the marriage. The ‘maang tika’ for the forehead was very pretty.

‘I hope Bhai Sa comes home early today, I want to show him these, ‘Nandini was sad. She really missed her older brother. Rani Sa became quite and didn’t reply. ‘Yes, I hope he would,’ Shaan filled in the silence. I too was eager to have a glimpse of this person.
* * *
For two more days that wish was not fulfilled. Prince Shivam usually came too late after dinner, rested and left early for business works before I even came downstairs. I was so curious to solve this, and find out things, yet he always eluded me. Or I missed the chance. Not that I was brave enough to go and look at him directly. He didn’t meet Rani Sa at all. I got the impression that perhaps both avoided each other, lest they should confront on the palace premises. The atmosphere during dinners was the same- comfortable yet a bit heavy.

Shaan gave me a tour of the whole palace one day- it was a very long one. The palace was bigger than I expected. There were men working everywhere, responsible for keeping the grand architecture clean and spotless. We even visited the kitchen and the kitchen garden. I liked this part the most. Different corners smelt different- the wafting flavors of spices being crushed in iron buckets, and that of dried herbs, nuts and fruits. We talked to Madhav too. He was middle aged, and easily smiled thanking me for the compliments.

‘You like it, don’t you,’ Shaan couldn’t contain his curiosity as I tasted the mango juice in the silver tumbler. ‘Um, let me think,’ I couldn’t help teasing. ‘Oh, just say it. Everyone likes mango juice. It’s my favorite.’ It had the best texture I had ever tasted, I agree. ‘It’s fruity… yumm.’ We tasted the recently made pickles and sauces too. This whole thing was so interesting. It seemed like we were winning scavenger hunts.

‘And that’s Bhaiya’s room,’ he pointed to the opposite end from Rani Sa’s room. I was instantly curious. I wanted to barge in and search for any clue, and picture, any photograph that would clarify things for me. ‘Is he there? Should we visit him?’ I started knowing fully-well that he wasn’t there.

‘He is busy these days. Mostly after he came back. He is usually not at home.’ I had heard, from the servants gossips perhaps that he was always globetrotting, making business tours for years and had just recently come back home permanently.

‘I haven’t seen any pictures of you both. Or any of his recent pictures. Not even in the archival.’
‘Well, that’s a long complicated story.’ I could feel he missed him too.

‘And then, well, I have all the time in the world to hear it.’ I smiled hoping he would tell me.

‘Ok,’ he said decidedly as we moved towards the balcony. We sat on the big swing and looked at the crimson sky after the sun set.
He put one hand into his pajama pocket and took out a picture. A Polaroid click. Very recent.

‘That’s Shiva Bhaiya. A friend clicked it last month.,’ he showed it to me. Sleek tailored suit. The same deep penetrating eyes. Only thing replaced was that easy grin with that stoic look.

More Panic. More Surprise. Utter disbelief.

Jodhpur Diaries #5

The dishes were so delicious, that I almost licked my fingers. Rani Sa must have noticed it. I noticed a hint of laughter in her voice when she asked,’ Like the Rajasthani cuisine? Madhav adds heavenly taste to the common names in the menu.’ I liked the way she openly praised the chief cook’s efforts. I made a mental note of the name, and smiled at her. ‘Yes, and this is my first time ever.’
Dal Batti Churma – an item made from different pulses just melted in my mouth, bursting inside with new textures and flavors. The simple roti too was different. I admired the beautiful table cloth and cutlery self consciously.

I again noticed Shaan making expectant glances towards the door. He was seriously waiting for someone. ‘Shaan, it’d be better if you’d give more attention to your plate than to the door,’ Rani Sa said in a clipped tone. For a jovial person like her, the voice sounded strained. Shaan looked guiltily towards her and then composed himself with a smile. Something was seriously off.

‘Bhaiya’s late, once again. He’s almost always late now-a-days,’ Nandini said when we were about to rise. So it was the older brother that he was waiting for. Shivam P. Chauhan, the eldest Prince must be a brooding personality, and yet dear to them. But Rani Sa seemed a bit angry and a bit sad. Sad mostly. ‘Shiva will grace us with his presence whenever he wishes to,’ again her tone was clipped. I wondered why this relationship in the almost perfect family was strained.
****
‘Would you like a stroll in the garden? The night air here is good,’ Shaan suggested as we were about to take the stairs to our respective rooms.
‘Yes, sure. The garden looked beautiful from the window earlier.’ Nandini said she was tired and escaped upstairs giving Shaan a meaningful smile that I couldn’t help but notice.

We strolled along the fragrant jasmines, and other flowers I couldn’t figure. ‘So, how were your first few hours here?’ Shaan smiled. Too soon to decide, I thought, but I just smiled in response. ‘Food was great,’ I said to mask any awkwardness that was brewing up. And he laughed, the same charming whole hearted laughter that made my heart go happy dancing. He smiled at me, and I felt as if I have known him from a very long time. I downcast my eyes for a while but his eyes didn’t leave my face.

‘If I haven’t told you this yet, just to let you know, you are very beautiful,’ he spoke the words slowly, his eyes still on my face. Had it not been for the night, he’d have noticed my blush. I smiled suddenly shy to be around him. I wasn’t like this before. Just to seem less nervous I added,’ You too are extremely good looking.’ ‘Really,’ his eyes popped with mirth, and I instantly regretted having said that. I should have left out the ‘extremely’ part. The blushed stayed and grew and I looked away. He laughed, again. ‘Ok, I’ll spare you the rest of the tease,’ he said looking away, finally.

We sat on a bench under the Gulmohar tree at the other end of the garden. ‘May I?’ he looked towards me with an extended hand, palm up, a cue to take my hand in his. I was reluctant and hesitant and he noticed it. ‘It’s ok, may be later,’ he helped patiently. He must be judging me for considering a marriage proposal but not even holding his hand. ‘I know it’s all new to you, and you need time to decide and trust me. And I’m ok with it,’ he said putting all my doubts to rest.

I was glad for that. Even I myself was too confused about my feelings for him. I tried to start a conversation. ‘How’s your brother? I mean, you are close to each other, I think. I noticed you were waiting for him earlier.’

‘Yes, we were very close, very close. But now, it’s complicated. A situation had happened in his teenage years,’ he was sad. ‘And after the demise of father, things changed. He doesn’t like to be around Ma Sa actually.’ He didn’t say anything more about the situation. I wondered what had happened in his younger years. He continued after a minute of silence,’ Nandini loves him the most. She misses him a lot.’ I could see how much he missed his brother, too. Life plays strange games sometimes.

‘Ok, let’s get some sleep now. Today has perhaps been a long day for you,’ he arose from the seat.

The night sky was clear. I could see the stars and the moon. I wondered where life was taking me, and mused about fate and destiny.
We bade good night to each other and retired to our rooms. I had trouble getting sleep in a new place. So I just completed some reports and mailed it. Wi-fi was great. Just when I was about to switch the lights off, I heard a knock.

It was Nandini. ‘Hope I haven’t disturbed you. I saw the lights, so..’ she fidgeted undecidedly.
‘No, it’s perfectly fine, come on in.’

‘No, I’ll go now. I just wanted to ask if you can accompany me tomorrow to get my bridal wear from the designer.’
‘Wow, sure dear. It’s already ready? There’s still a month right?’
‘Ya, we have to bring it before relatives arrive. They shall be coming after a few days. Thank you. I didn’t want to go alone with Shaan Bhaiya,’ she was beaming. I was apprehensive of the royal relatives.
*** *
I kept waking up at regular intervals I suppose. Sleep eluded me in these new surroundings. Would it be strange if I went downstairs now? Probably. I would look like a ghost wandering in the dark. I walked to the balcony and sat on the swing. The midnight air was cold, it brought nostalgic thoughts. I missed home, and the damp weather.

I heard someone downstairs. Who was it at this hour? Was someone sleep deprived like me? I could see a shadow, and hear the loud footsteps. I strained my ears to listen to the servant uttering a welcome greeting and asking if dinner was to be served. Now? It was the older Prince, perhaps. And that voice that said a ‘yes’, seemed oddly familiar.

I tip toed downstairs curiosity piqued. I tried to hide in shadows. The tall person sat on the table waiting. I had the back view. Who was it? My heart was beating fast. I didn’t want to be discovered.

The face turned to a side- black eyes, stoic look, almost disheveled hair and a hint of a beard. Recognition. Disbelief. Panic.

Jodhpur Diaries #4

A New Beginning
I skimmed through the report once again. I had not been paying attention. Mehek had been nagging me since morning. And she didn’t give it a rest.

‘I really don’t understand what you have to think so much about. Why can’t just take your baggage and land in the palace whose doors are already open for you? What is it that’s stopping you? ‘ she said moving that tiny head of hers to and fro.

‘They are strangers, in simple uncomplicated words. I don’t know them. Moreover, I don’t know him. How can I take it for granted that his behavior is real?’ I argued.
‘How are they strangers? They are the Royal family.. it is really childish and immature of you to say that actors living in posh areas are trustable, but royals are not trustworthy. Your ideas are… uff,’ she almost thundered, arranging her long black hair to a bun.
‘No, I didn’t mean that. They are true to their word, I know. But Shaan.. uh.. I mean, Mr.Chauhan…’

‘Ah, stop baby,’ she interrupted, ’whom are you kidding? I know you like calling him Shaan. You have already promoted yourself there, why hesitate anymore?’ She’s teasing me.

I ignore her and switch on my phone. 9 messages and so many missed calls. Have you decided yet? What have you decided? Are you coming? When are you coming? Tell me. I’ll pick you up. The last message was an hour ago. I read it again. And the realization hit me yet again, that all this was real, not a stupid silly dream. I recalled my conversation with Rani sa the other day, taking time to accept that the unusual proposal was real, and not a figment of my imagination.

There was a knock on the door. Mehek opened the door with one hand on her bun. I could see her eyes grow wide and mouth go agape. Before I could enquire, I heard the same velvety yet husky voice. ‘Sorry, perhaps I knocked at the wrong door.’ I hurried towards the door, in anticipation perhaps, and unconsciously hoping I was guessing right. And there stood Shaan, with a bouquet of white and yellow roses, perplexed yet his elegant charming self, whose lips widened with a smile on seeing me, making my heart go awry in many ways. ‘Ah, there you are,’ he said,’ I didn’t know you had company,’ looking at Mehek whose mouth was still open, surprised. He took out a white rose from the bunch and offered it to Mehek,’ For you Miss..’ ‘Mehek ,’ the girl had finally found her voice back, and would be blushing any moment now. ‘Nice to meet you Mehek.’ Manners. Chivalrous. ‘And this is for you,’ he brought the bouquet towards me, his eyes piercing through mine. Did I hear a ‘my dear’ trailing behind? Was I being serenaded? It felt like it. ‘Thank you,’ a minimal response.
** ** **

Shaan had come to pick me up, tensed as I didn’t care to answer the calls or the messages, and visibly excited. ‘Nandini is very excited to have you there during the wedding preparations. She’s eagerly waiting to meet you.’

‘But I have not yet decided. And I haven’t packed my belongings as of yet.’
‘Why,….. I mean, there’s no harm in sparing a bit of your time for me,’ he was a bit disappointed.
I couldn’t reply.
‘No I didn’t mean to say that,’ he continued, perhaps embarrassed of what he had asked of me. His eyes were intense throughout.
‘It’s fine. I want to go, but today’s not possible. There’s actually too much of pending works, reports to submit,’ I said what I thought was a befitting reply.
‘You can work from the palace too. Don’t they have the internet? You can mail it,’ Mehek joined in the conversation.
‘Ya. That would do, right. And about packing your belongings, you can do that now. I can wait for you. Don’t worry about me. I am comfortable. Take as much time as you want,’ Shaan helped.
I smiled and went to pack my things. Mehek had been signaling me for several minutes to hurry and get ready.
** ** **

Three hours later, after a quiet and a little awkward drive with minimum chats, we were in a very well decorated, spacious room with an awesome bed, and a beautiful view of the garden from the ornate window. This was my room for the following month. I adored the paintings hung on the wall while Shaan explained,’ Here’s the cupboard for your things. The bathroom is attached. You can just ring here, if you need anything. Nandini’s room is just across the hall, and mine is at the end of the corridor, Ma sa’s is at the other side of the balcony area. So, I’d leave you now to settle down and dinner’s at nine. So, be ready..,’ He just went on and on, while I was busy admiring everything that surrounded me.

He lingered at the door. Perhaps deciding what to say next. Was he nervous? Can a Prince be nervous? Then suddenly deciding against any more talks, he left,’See you at dinner, then.’ Just minutes after he had left, a young pretty girl in a kurti and balloon pants barged in. ‘Hi,’ she chimed happily waving her hand. She was younger to me but not very, perhaps two or three years. Pleasant, and perhaps a bit child like. ‘I just wanted to meet you now, I couldn’t wait. Hope you don’t mind,’ that was so sweet. I wonder why these royals have such unique and mesmerizing voice. ‘Not at all,’ I laughed, ’I’m always happy to have company.’ ‘Me too,’ she replied more merrily. Her enthusiasm was contagious. I liked her instantly.

‘Bhaiya talked about you so much that I really wanted to meet you. And you are prettier than he had described.’
‘O, did he? Thank you. And I think you are no less. You are lovely too, dear,’ I happily indulged in the conversation. The brother and sister had been discussing me in their secret talks perhaps, and it thrilled me.
I imagined sweet Nandini as a bride, in red and golden wear. She would be strikingly beautiful. We chatted a bit about my family, my job, and her relationship with her brothers. I wondered how the older brother would be. I hadn’t met him yet but descriptions told me that he was not as easy going as the rest of his family. Nandini blushed when I mentioned her marriage. She was so adorable.
**** *** ***
Later the dinner was very elaborate and delicious. It was like performing a ritual; perfectly one step after the other. And talks were very few, just curtsies and pleasantries. It was a very new experience for me. Shaan kept stealing looks at me, and then at the door, at regular intervals. It was weird. Why was he behaving so nervously? No, this was different. He was tensed. Visibly tensed. As if he was expecting someone.
Who was he waiting for?

Jodhpur Diaries #3

the palace
the palace

The palace was beautiful, and the surroundings, picturesque. Had I got enough leisure, I would have admired the beautiful gardens, the art and the splendid architecture. I was already fighting the urge to click a few pics.
Mr.Chauhan explained the history of the palace as we entered. It was more than two hundred years old, but the southern part was build quite recently, some decades ago.

Mr.Chauhan had come to receive me at the guest house. I was, um, flattered. He complemented my choice of clothing- an embroidered salwar suit- which I had chosen in the last minute. I heaved a sigh of relief. If son approves, his mother would approve too. Perhaps. I, um, don’t know why I suddenly want their approval.

I’m just going for a professional interview. I repeated to myself as we approached the main hall, amidst marveling at the high ceiling, the ornate staircases, the authentic paintings and the swords adorning the walls, the extra large chandeliers and the gorgeous furniture. I was overwhelmed.

Three turbaned men attended to us as we waited for Rani Sa, sitting on a lush sofa, placed on the lush Kashmiri carpets.

“Are you that nervous?’ Mr.Chauhan asked.

“Sorry?” I managed to speak, coming out of my reverie.

“You keep fidgeting with your hands and fingers, ever since we arrived.” He was mocking at me. His crooked smile, that I hadn’t seen as of yet, just made me more uneasy.

“I don’t go hopping to palaces every day, and nor am I used to chit chats with queens,” I retorted, regretting the very next moment. Did I cross my line? Was I not supposed to speak thus?

He laughed a loud hearty laughter, not a muffled one. Thank god. It was my day to be nervous, and be relieved, in every alternative moment. And what a charming laughter it was! Oh god, now I’m crossing my lines!

“She won’t eat you up. And she’s known to be the most amicable member in our extended family. So, don’t worry too much,” he added with a smile.

Just then one of the turbaned men informed us of Rani Sa’s arrival. I was half expecting he would announce it loud and clear, as they did in the olden days in the royal courts. We stood to greet her. With a grey silk sari, Rajasthani ornaments, and a hint of aging gracefully, she looked noble. ‘Namaskar,’ I bowed a bit with folded hands, and the Prince said, ’Khama Ghani, Ma sa.’ ‘Ghani Khama,’ she replied to both of us, smiling.

** *

“So, what is your subject of research related to?” she asked next, after inquiring about my family, my native place West Bengal, why we moved to Shillong, my schooling, my childhood, my education, etc. But surprisingly I was quite comfortable; it felt I was conversing with a new friend. She was not only asking me, but also adding tit bits about her life pre and post marriage, about the sons and daughters. I also learned Princess Nandini was about to get married the next month.

“We are researching on the historicity of certain mythological facts in Rajasthan’s folk tales and legends. It includes study of royal families’ ancestry, and the family tree. Scholars from different educational backgrounds are working in the team,” I proudly replied, as I loved the work I did. We kept chatting on sipping the same beverage that I had imagined.

She smiled as her expressions turned purposeful. “Now, let’s come to the main topic,” the atmosphere became heavy as she said this. Mr.Chauhan had left us alone, giving an excuse of visiting his sister, for us to have this particular chat freely, I presume.

“As you know, Prince Shaan wants to tie the knot with you. He is very open about this wish of his. And having met you in person today, I support his wish. It would be a pleasure to have you as a member of this family. But your approval is equally important. So, I wanted to keep this proposal before you on the part of my son, if he hasn’t done it already. And after that we can concern your parents about this.”

So this was it. “But, I don’t belong to any royal lineage. I’m just a commoner,” I couldn’t think of anything else to say. I wanted to say, but I don’t know you, and you don’t know me.

“Is that a problem in this 21st century? The best of both worlds can merge beautifully. There are many examples of these kind of marriages in countries, and rather very successful ones. And you are so learned yourself. So, I don’t think that shall be an issue,” her statements showed how liberal she was.

I couldn’t reply this time, busy thinking. She continued, ”Ok, here’s another suggestion that would perhaps be to your liking. Why don’t you come and stay with us, here in the Palace, get accustomed with the life here, and see for yourself if you can handle it.”

“In the palace! Here? Stay with you? But how can I?”

She laughed, seeing me all panicked. “Calm down dear. We are not monsters living in a palace of illusion. If you stay here, you can get help from us in return, for your research work. Of course the authenticity of the data you get from here would be higher. And, you can take an active part in Princess Nandini’s marriage preparations. She shall also be very glad to have a friend. So, think about this one today. You can reply tomorrow.”

She got up from her comfortable seat. It was time for me to leave. She summoned someone to escort me to the Prince, who was to drop me. But Mr.Chauhan was there already, outside the hall. Perhaps he was watching us from afar.

She was good at making negotiations, I noticed. But then, thinking about it, it was a win-win situation. If I don’t like the palace lifestyle, and can’t adapt to the family traditions and customs, I can just bid them farewell after a month; and still get the benefit of first-hand accounts in my project. Opportunity never knocks twice at the same door.

But, all confusions aside, did I like Mr.Chauhan?

Jodhpur Diaries #2

I hated my sister, officially now. I hated mom. How could they do this to me? They had created a profile with my details in Shaadi.com, without my knowledge and shared all my interests with Mr.Chauhan, from among all the prospective grooms who had requested attention. I cringed with embarrassment when I saw chats about our favorite food, color, book and movie genre, season, holiday destination, childhood memories, and even political and religious inclination. And just thank god, there were no cheesy lines included. I replied out of courtesy that I would clarify the day’s problem when we met later. I would have to explain it to him, lest he should misunderstand.

‘You said you wanted a prince, I actually got a prince for you,’ my sister, Laxmi retorted over the phone. We called her Lux, as did her group of cool sophisticated friends. I tried to scold her but in vain. Mom was always at her rescue, taking her side. Getting me married and settled was her lifelong dream. So I gave up and started planning ways to revert whatever they had done. I could not admit that it was my sister and mother whom he was chatting to. That would not be appropriate. I grabbed my handbag, smoothened my skirt in front of the mirror, sprayed my favorite sweet pea sunscreen, and tried deciding the lines I was going to speak to him.

I was at the same café after about an hour. I waited for about five minutes, before he entered the door. I was nervous. My hands wouldn’t stop fidgeting. I couldn’t believe it; I was never nervous in the recent past. Perhaps the prospect of marriage with this handsome young man with a regal blood line has got into my head. He gave me a genuine smile, ‘Hi’. ‘Hello’ ‘Your memory faculties seem to be fine today,’ he added with another mocking look. ‘Yah, I’m sorry for yesterday,’ I added with a laugh. And so went our casual talks and our conversation was sailing well on calm waters.

* **

‘No, don’t,’ I said covering my face with one hand. I am photo shy; I can’t really pose that well if the photographer is not that close to me, and my facial expressions become pitiful. ‘It’s just one live pic I want, just to make my mother believe that I met you. She likes you so much,’ Mr.Chauhan requested. ‘But she doesn’t even know me, nor do you. How can you be so sure about me just from a matrimonial site? Didn’t you ever think that, perhaps, I may not be worth your time?’ I asked intrigued. He looked at me, an expression I couldn’t place, searching and guessing how much of what I said did I really believe. His stare gave me goose bumps, I averted my eyes. But he didn’t. He was still looking into my eyes, still searching. ‘You are worth all my time,’ he said in a husky tone, a bit louder than a whisper. For some reason that made me smile as I tried not to blush and looked away, everywhere except his eyes.

And there went Click!

He had taken his snapshot, without my permission. Bad guy!

* * *

Mr.Chauhan was the second cousin to the Maharaja, and so his family too was considered royalty. A Havard graduate, he came back to India a year back to take care of the businesses that the extended families shared, and to be near to his family that he loved so much. His mother Gayetri Devakumari was an amicable personality, yet strict in upbringing of her children. He had an older brother and a younger sister too- Shivam P Chauhan and Nandini D Chauhan. The siblings were quite famous here, though not that much known in the eastern parts of our country.

I browsed more about the family history, about the childhoods of Mr.Shantanu, his brother and sister. I liked the family photographs; I found nothing fake in their smiles, as I had perhaps expected. I didn’t understand why a prince had to rely on matrimonial sites for a potential bride. More surprising is the fact that I was to be the One. I had nothing extraordinary in me, except that my great great grandfather was somehow related to the lineage of the Bengal royal family. That explained our unusual surnames.

A ping drove my attention to my email inbox. A mail from Mr.Shantanu was staring at me. I could call him Shaan, he had said, as he called me Rano, but I decided against it. Increasing informality and encouraging familiarity would be futile in the end.

It was a mail from Rani Sa herself, his mother Gayetri Devi had invited me to pay her a visit. I don’t know how to address her- Her highness, or her Excellency- had cordially invited me to have a chat, or perhaps a long discussion over a cup of tea, or a royal beverage in silver polished intricately designed cup and saucers.

Oh, I am a bundle of nerves already!!!

Jodhpur Diaries #1

the palace
the palace

I finished my research work for the day and went downstairs. The weather outside was good. A cup of coffee should rejuvenate my weary nerves, I decided.

The stairs were made of teak from Burma- exquisite looking and very much royal. The hall was furnitured with big vases, motifs, statues and paintings on the walls from all around the world. And one couldn’t miss the intricate design of the heavy entrance doors and the architecture of the pillars outside. No doubt these people did good business turning the big palace into lodgings and guest houses. They don’t like to call it a hotel.

I walked to the open café just outside the building, ordered a cappuccino and rested my exhausted self on an ebony colored chair. The sun had already set perhaps; it would take time to get dark. My phone had been vibrating all afternoon. I checked Whatsapp messages, emails and made some pending calls home. It had been a week since I last called mom. Calls didn’t last more than just a few minutes, just the usual- are you eating well?, how’s work?, and other things.

My coffee didn’t come yet. The customer numbers must have increased, as it was almost evening. I thought to check on it at the counter when someone took the chair opposite mine and placed two coffee cups on the table.

‘Hi,’ he smiled an earnest disarming smile, ‘Surprise! Here’s your coffee Rano, um, I can call you Rano, right? Ratirano is a big name.’
I was staring at him. Did I know him? I couldn’t place him anywhere. But he knew my complete name. Everybody here addressed me as Ms.Devi.  Was he in the research team, was he an assistant, or a hotel manager? He looked a well groomed man of manners and no less than royalty. His dressing was impeccable. And this was no place for random flirtatious people.

‘Sorry, but do I know you?’ I asked politely.

He looked, I don’t know, a bit astonished. Taking a sip he said sarcastically, ‘Aw, that hurt.’ He looked me straight waiting, and continued when I didn’t reply,’ Do I look so different now, that you don’t even recognise me?’ I tried remembering the faces of my old friends, school mates, college buddies, and colleagues- couldn’t find him anywhere.

‘I don’t seem to remember,’ I offered. He seemed genuinely hurt, ’Ok, I’ll make your acquaintance later then, when you tend to recall. It has just been a month, and you seem to have forgotten everything. Tell me, do you have a case of amnesia? Ah, never mind,’ he said getting up with his cup.

I felt foolish and stupid. Having made someone feel embarrassed did no good either. Not that I have encountered many flirtatious perverts in my teenage days to be able to identify with their looks, but this person didn’t seem like one. I racked my brains to recall what happened one month back. I left home in Shillong for a research assignment in Jodhpur, a month back. Mom had been suggesting that I married and got settled, but I still had a few other ambitions.

And I haven’t even asked him his name, I realised. Well, how could I ask- it would have made him just more miserable, perhaps, that is if he was sincere.

I finished my coffee and went to my room, deliberately removing all unwanted stuff from my brain. I had come to love my room in a month. At first I found the place alien and uncomfortable, but then slowly the place accomodated me and made me its own.
Getting a good night’s sleep has been easier these days, than it was earlier. But today I couldn’t sleep peacefully. I decided to check my mail and my blog, that I had neglected for almost a year. The rankings must have come down, along with the page views, I thought. My personal gmail account hadn’t been opened for more than a month. I wondered if there were any mails from friends, or mails worth my curiosity, instead of the usual spams.

An invitation for the college alumni party was there- beautifuly designed. New friend requests from facebook, linkedin, glassdoor, twitter, etc. were among the other lots. But something peculiar caught my interest. Some Mr.Shantanu P Chauhan had left me 6 messages in Shadi.com, and it was dated today, just an hour ago. I clicked on the link. Oh my, it was the same person- sleek tailored suit, gorgeous smile and a clean shaved version of what I saw today. Even the picture gave a regal aura. I almost panicked at the never ending chats and conversations between us on the page, which I don’t remember having at all.

The recent message said- hope you remember me soon. I intend to change my display pic if you don’t. I have come to like you very much. Don’t push me out now.

My heart skipped a beat. I don’t remember anyone having enough courage to even say that to me. I think they thought me unapproachable, well, to my own advantage.

I believed my intuitions and sixth sense a hundred percent, and something told me my life was going to change- but I still doubted, for the better or for the worse.