With Whom Shall I Share My Sorrow, My Beloved. Short story....

Posted by Tandarin Nike Sunday, November 15, 2009 12:26 PM
It was summer. The Emperor had married Salima in the spring. And now, getting away from the affairs of the state, he had come to the Royal Palace in Kashmir for a blissful honeymoon with his new bride.The night was bathed in milky whiteness. The snow-capped peaks in the distance created a semblance of spring in the moonlight. And a mountain rivulet meandered down the foothills of the Arambagh palace.In the flickering light of a candelabrum in one of the rooms of Motimahal, sat Salima near an open window watching the splendour of the night, her hair loosely flowing on her turquoise odhni. A necklace of pearls, each the size of grapes, hung over the delicately embroidered turquoise-colored odhni which adorned a tight velvet bodice held with an emerald girdle round her waist. Salima's complexion glowed like pearls and she had an exquisite figure. On her white alabaster-like feet she wore slippers embroidered with golden thread and studded with two sparkling diamonds.A thick, rich Persian carpet was spread on the floor which sunk a foot deep when stepped upon. Ambrosial fragrance emanating from the candles filled the air. There were four full-sized mirrors in the room and gold and silver vases filled with flowers stood on marble stands. The room was filled with the fragrance from the intricately braided garlands of magkesar and champa flowers which decorated the walls and the doors. There were other innumerable valuables of master craftsmen from home and abroad.The Emperor had been out hunting these last two days. It was late at night and he hadn't returned yet. Salima looked intently into the moonlight and waited anxiously for a glimpse of the returning horsemen. Finally, getting restless she moved away from the open window and went and sat on a settee. Unable to bear the heat of youth and anxiety, she cast aside her odhni and irritably muttered, "Nothing pleases me. What should I do?" Picking up the flute lying close by, she tried to play on it but failed to strike a tune. Flustered she said, "Like men, this is also not under my control." Bored, she kept it back and knocked for attendance. A maid entered with her head bowed in salutation.The maid was extremely beautiful and in the prime of youth. There was the mark of deep melanchony in her beauty and deep despair in her eyes. Asking her to sit with her, Salima queried "Saki, which flute do you prefer, the been or the bansuri?"The maid replied with humility, "Whatever pleases my lady."Salima persisted, "But what do you like?" With a tremor in her voice, the maid answered, "My lady, what likes or dislikes can a maid have?"For a moment, Salima looked into her face, which expressed the mixed emotions of sorrow, despair and anxiety.Salima asked, "Do I ever look upon you as a maid?""No, ma'am, you are specially kind to me.""Then why are you so hesitant and reluctant and withdrawn into yourself? Ever since you joined this service, you have been like this. Tell me your sorrow, my dear."Saying this, Salima moved towards her and held her hand.The maid trembled, but remained silent. Salima again said, "For my sake, I request you to share your sorrow with me: Why is it that you are always sad?"The maid asked in a tremulous voice, "My Lady, why do you remain so sad?"Salima replied, "Lately the Emperor takes his own time to visit me and because of this I'm often sad."The maid said, "Your Highness, if the cherished desire remains unfulfilled, it is natural to be sad. Rich or poor, everyone's emotions are the same."Salima laughed, "Now I understand. You are in love. Tell me the name of your lover. I'll arrange the wedding."Saki was taken aback. Abruptly she looked Salima in the eye and said. "I love you."Salima doubled with laughter. In the flow of this spontaneous laughter she did not notice the trembling of the maid who picking up the flute, asked, "What shall I play?""Wait, the room is too warm. Open all the windows and doors. Blow off the lamps. Let me enjoy the resplendent moonlight and place those fragrant flowers near me."The maid got up. Salima said, "Listen, first get me a glass of sherbet, I'm feeling very thirsty."The maid brought the aromatic sherbet in a golden glass. The begum then complained. "My dear, it is very warm, have you not added any rose essence to it?""I have done that.""Then, add some istambal to it."Saki picked up the glass and took it to the other room. She not only added some istambal but something else ass well. Then she brought the wine to her lady.Drinking it in one gulp the mistress said, "Now, you sing. You said you care for me; now sing a song of love."Saying this and rolling away the empty glass on the carpet, Salima herself dropped on the velvet seat and with intoxicated eyes gazed at Saki. Saki began to play a tune on the flute."With whom shall I share my sorrow, my beloved.....?For a long time the sound of the flute and Saki's melancholy song resounded in the room. Gradually Saki began to weep. Salima, intoxicated by youth and wine, began to sway to the music.When the son was over. Saki noticed that Salima was lying insensible to surroundings. Her cheeks were flushed with the effect of the liquor and her stained lips twitched time and again. Her fragrant breath permeated the room. Salima's bosom heaved gently like a tender being swayed by the gentle breeze. On her forehead, drops of sweat glittered like pearls in the glowing light of the lamp.Keeping the flute aside, Saki stood for a moment watching the Begum. Her body quivered, her eyes burned and her throat turned dry. Kneeling beside her she wiped the sweat from Salima's face and gently kissed her.Just as she lifted her eyes, the Almighty Emperor Shahjehan, was standing there observing the act in anger and amazement.Saki caught red-handed, stood aghast looking at the Emperor's face. The Emperor questioned "Who are you? And what were you doing?"Saki kept quiet. The Emperor thundered, "Answer me."Saki spoke in a low voice "Your Highness! If your humble servant does not answer?"The Emperor was astounded! Such impertinence on the part of maid!"No answer to my question! You'll be stripped and flogged!"In a trembling voice she replied, "I am a man!"Outraged, the Emperor looked at Salima. She was lying disheveled in an unconscious state. Calling out to God, his hand reached for the hilt of his sword. Swinging round he said "You damned dog! How dare you!"Then in a harsh tone, he called out: "Madoom."In a moment, a fierce-looking Tartar woman came and stood respectfully before the Emperor. The Emperor ordered, "Throw this man in the cellar, so that he may perish for want of food and water."Madoom catching hold of the youth's hand led him away. Shortly afterwards they stood in front of a heavy iron gate. Unlocking the gate, the woman pushed him inside. No sooner had he stepped inside, that the floor of the cellar began to sink under his weight.In the morning, Salima, regaining consciousness, got up with a start, combed her hair, adjusted her odhni and stood in front of the mirror to button her bodice. The windows were all closed. Salima called out, "Saki, beloved Saki! It is very hot, do open the windows. I have overslept! The wine went to my head."No one responded. She called out a little more loudly, "Saki!"No getting any response she was surprised and moved to open the windows herself and discovered that the windows were barred from outside. Astonished she wondered to herself, "What's the matter? What has happened to all the maids?"She walked to the door and discovered a fierce-looking maid stood guarding it with a naked sword in her hand. On seeing the Begum, she bowed her head.Angered, Salima enquired, "Why are you here?""By the orders of the Emperor.""Has he arrived?""Yes, madam.""Why was I not informed?""We had no orders.""Where is the Emperor?""In the women's quarters of Zeenat Mahal."Salima's self-respect was hurt. She said, "Right! Those who trade in the markets of beauty, what do they know of love? So now fortune smiles on Zeenat Mahal."The woman stood silent.Salima again asked, "Where is my Saki?""In prison.""Why?""The Emperor ordered so.""What was her offence?""I cannot reply.""Give me the keys of the prison, I'll set her free.""You are not allowed to move out of your room.""Then, am I also a prisoner?""Yes, madam."Tears welled up in Salima's eyes. Walking back into the room, she collapsed on the settee and broke down completely. A little later she wrote a letter.Your Majesty! Please forgive my offence. After the long day's wait I fell asleep and failed to present myself on Your Majesty's arrival. And please spare the life of my dear maid although she has erred greatly in not giving me timely information of Your Majesty's arrival; but she is new, young, poor and miserable.Your Servant,Salima.The letter was dispatched to the Emperor. The Emperor was in a very bad mood. The woman of a man who ruled the whole country had proved to be unfaithful! With his own eyes he had seen a stranger kissing her. He was livid with rage. And in order to drown his sorrow, he was drinking beyond limit. Zeenat Mahal was making the best use of this opportunity of defaming her rival queen. On seeing the Tartar maid, the Emperor thundered in rage, "What have you brought?"The maid bowing humbly said, "My Lord, it is a request from Queen Salima."Biting his lips in anger, the Emperor said, "Tall her to die." Then kicking the letter aside, he turned his face. The maid returned. On learning of the Emperor's reply, Salima sat down on the floor and ordering the maid away, broke into tears. Hours passed by, the day was about to set. Salima said to herself. It is a misfortune to be an emperor's queen. The eyes get tired waiting, the tongue gets worn out pleading, the body breaks performing curtsies, and then on this arrival, he is punishing me so heavily, and humiliating me to such an extent! Then in what way am I a queen? What will Zeenat and the maids think when they hear of this? How can I show my face after all this humiliation? Now death is the only answer. Alas! Why was I not a poor man's wife!"Gradually the spirit of womanhood was roused in her. Self-esteem and strong determination reflected in her eyes. She got up like a wounded serpent and wrote one more epistle.Owner of the world! Being your wife and servant, I die in obedience to your command. It is befitting for an empress to die after suffering so much of humiliation, but a great emperor like you should not consider women such non-entities that a small foolishness be punished so heavily. My fault was only this that I fell asleep oblivious of all else. Anyway, I die with the wish to see my lord and master once again. And I'll pray to the Almighty, All Merciful One to protect my lord.Sprinkling some perfume in it, Salima kept it in a bouquet of fresh flowers in such a way that someone should spot it straight away. She took out a valuable ring from her jewellery box, and kept staring at it for a while. Then proceeded to lick it.In the evening the Emperor was out in the garden enjoying the fresh air. Two or three spies came up in great panic and presenting the letter said, "Your Majesty! A great calamity has befallen. The lady Salima has taken poison and is dying."Quickly the Emperor read the letter and leapt towards the palace. His beloved bride Salima was lying on the floor. Her eyes were lusterless and her complexion had darkened like coal. The Emperor could not restrain himself. In panic, he cried, "Call for the Hakim."Several men hastened to obey.On hearing the Emperor's voice, Salima looked up and in a faint voice said, "My Destiny!"The Emperor asked, "Salima, being the queen of the Emperor, did this become you?"Salima said in pain, "My lord, my fault was trivial."The Emperor said in a stern voice, "You unfortunate one, was it a trivial fault to keep a man in a woman's disguise in the royal women's quarters? I would never have believed my ears, but how can I disbelieve my eyes?"Like a person who is stung by a thousand scorpions, Salima, writhing in pain, cried, "What?"The Emperor shrank back in fear. He said, "Tell me the truth, this moment you are on your way to God, who was that youth?"Puzzled, Salima asked, "Which youth?" The Emperor said angrily, "He whom you had kept with you disguised as the wine-server."Startled Salima asked, "What? Is Saki a man?"The emperor said, "It could not be that you truly did not know this?"Shocked, Salima said, "Oh, my God!"Then tears flowed down her cheeks. Now she understood everything. After a while, she said, "My Master, then I have no complaint. The punishment which you meted out was befitting such a crime. My vanity may please be forgiven. I swear in the name of God, I had no knowledge of this."Moved, the Emperor said in a tearful voice, "Then Salima you are dying for no fault of yours," and he began to sob.Salima taking hold of his hand laid it on her heart and said, "My Master, at the moment of death, I have received the joy which I had not expected. Forgive my sins and grant my one last request."The Emperor said, "Tell me quickly, Salima."Salima said with courage, "Forgive that youth."After this tears flowed from her eyes and soon she lay lifeless and cold.The Emperor knelt beside her, and kissing her forehead wept like a child.Hungry and thirsty, the youth lay in the cold and pitch darkness, when suddenly the gates screeched open and light pierced the darkness. Along with this light, a sound resounded in the cellar, "Unfortunate youth, are you in your senses?"The youth enquired in a sharp voice, "Who's there?"The reply came, "The Emperor."Without showing any deference, the youth said, "This is not a place fit for emperors - why have you come here?""I hadn't heard your explanation, and have come to hear it."After keeping quiet for some time, the youth replied, "Only to save Salima from a bad name, do I give you my side of the story. When Salima was a young girl, I was a servant in their house. I have been in love with her since then. Salima also loved me, but it was a child's love. As she grew up, she started observing purdah and then she became Shahjehan's Begum, but I could not forget her. For five years I wandered about like a mad man. Finally, disguising myself as a woman I took up the job of a maid, with the intention of only seeing her and serving her. That day, the bright moonlight, the fragrant flowers, the intoxication of wine and the privacy made me lose my self-control. After that I wiped the sweat off her face and kissed her. I am guilty only of this. Salima does not know anything about this."The Emperor stood silent for sometime. After that he walked away slowly without closing the gates behind him.Ten days have elapsed since Salima's death. The Emperor stays in Salima's room day and night. Facing it, across the river, Salima's white tomb has been built. The window through which Salima had looked out that evening waiting for the Emperor's return, on that very spot the Emperor sits watching her tomb in that very manner. No one is allowed to disturb him. When it is past midnight, a heart-rending song breaks the stillness of the night. The Emperor can hear it very clearly. Someone sings in a sad, pathetic voice, "With whom shall I share my sorrow, my beloved!"

1 Response to "With Whom Shall I Share My Sorrow, My Beloved. Short story...."

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