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.