It’s a pity that the body clock doesn’t understand the boon of an extra hour. Bound by habit, my eyes opened at the same time as every day, but since we rolled back our clocks last night, it’s an hour too early to start the day. The rest of the family seems well adjusted to the change, all of them are fast asleep, without a single thought about the clock. I ran a mental list of things I could do in the extra hour, and decided against efforts to claim the good mother, good wife and good daughter title. Bring in the to-do list, because if not now, it will never see the light of another day! Chasing Happiness tops the list, something I started on the new year’s with much enthusiasm, but lost steam before the month ended. Also, I am three hundred blogs short to fulfill my commitment of chasing happiness for 3-6-6 days. It’s not like I haven’t chased happiness, I am doing that every moment of my life, but I haven’t documented every happiness that I derived from life.
Next on my list is a certain story that wrote itself for the first twenty thousand words, but the next five thousand took eternity. I closed the file one day to revisit with fresh eyes, but it’s been so long already, the masterpiece doesn’t make any sense today. But, I will not give up. It might take a year, a decade or my lifetime, I will share this story. Here are a thousand words, without a history of what happened before, or a glimpse of what comes next.. Ideally I should upload this to http://www.joshini.com, but it’s been so long, I haven’t just lost interest in this project, I have also lost my password, and the structure of the blogs. That too, when I am blessed with an extra day. Oh wait! This is the year of an extra day. I should claim it before the year ends!
Dressed like a farmer’s wife, covered in oil and slick, I balanced a basket of vegetables on my head and walked towards Pune. That was the final destination. There were no partners in this journey, nor were logical stops. I was supposed to stop when my feet hurt, eat when hungry, wherever and whatever I could manage to find, with not even a single person to take my responsibility. Its wasteful life to live, I wonder, why don’t I have the bravery to take that little knife Pratap gave me to protect myself and end it all at once. There was no one to cry on my grave even if I died. I would just feed a few stray animals of the jungle until the body deteriorates and even they don’t want to touch it. Neither Hindus not Muslims think it is a befitting end to a human life, but everyone will agree that I did not live a life befitting a human being. If I had happily jumped into a fire and killed myself before I was caught, it would have been an honorable life. If I had bent my head and asked the man I had learnt to love to let me rest my soul in peace before I fell into enemy’s hands, it would have been an honorable life. But I have always chosen the cursed path, so be it. Probably sins of a life before need to be repaid.
I walk, I walk, and I walk, with no end in sight.
Every village that I cross, I encounter Shah’s men standing guard at the gates, yet let me pass without taking a second look at me, making fun of my dark skin. They ridicule the dirt on my clothes. They take vegetables from my basket and toss them around and laugh loudly as I pick them up carefully and stack them back in my basket. They think they are abusing me. They mock my Marathi, call me a squeaky mouse. I endure it all, head bent, like someone who didn’t know how to lift one of those swords from them and kill each one of them, or cut their limbs off and see them suffer.
I wonder, if I weren’t so beautiful, if I weren’t born in an affluent and politically influential family, if I had married a man without political clout, would life been merciful? Would life been easier if the only worries of life were to find food and shelter? Naïve I was, I thought the women of the working class led an indignant life, working half clad in the fields, taking care of the manly chores, ruining their skin, not being women enough. As I cross city after city, I am given entry into the cities, I am given food, shelter, without eyes pausing on my semi-clad body, as if by lending my body to physical work, I had become physically undesirable.
The legs ached, every muscle craved for a servant who would bring hot water to soak them, then clean them, massage them in Jasmine oil while I relaxed my eyes under the gentle sun. The nausea wouldn’t let me take two steps at times, and then at times I would feel like I had the energy of a horse. The weather had changed, giving way to the cold winds, and early nights, winter had almost set in. Without fire burning in each corner of the house, and without wrapping myself in the fine wool from Kashmir, I walk in the woods alone, because that is the only hope of survival now.
It was only last year when I met Krishna in the same jungles. My mother thought we went to the temple to pay respects, but that little Nandini and I would run off to the jungle to see Krishna. We would sit and talk for hours, planning our future in the palatial home he would build for me after our wedding, the servants I would need, and the children we would have together. We had even picked names for the first six. It seemed so simple, and so ordinary to grow up in a household littered with servants and to expect to marry in such a household where you will be treated no less than a queen. I would live and die, and the proof of my life would be my children, I thought. I had never imagined that there would be a tomb bearing my name, carved in black stone, hosting my body dug deep in the ground, enduring sun and rain, century after century telling people about the person that lived long ago.
A week ago, I was at Athani, still not sure how to go to Pune, alone. I saw ten thousand cavalry, fifteen hundred musketeers, eighty five elephants, twelve hundred camels, artillery cannon crossing the city after they stayed there that night. The generous merchant who gave me shelter that night on the steps of his store told me that a battle would be fought, between Marathas and Shahs, and shared that stories of bravery, of the commanders of the Shah, of Rustam Zaman, Fazal Khan, Musa Khan, Manoji Jagdale, Sardar Pandhare, Ambar Khan. Intently I listened to every word, adding my own expressions of surprise sometimes, showing my ignorance as a woman of little knowledge. I asked him, he must have plenty of women in his Zenana then.
I knew the answer, but I wanted to hear it, from a stranger who didn’t know the Khan or the Maratha.
Copyright © Meghana Rajesh Joshi