His eyes shone in the dark, his face was masked. She heard a loud noise. She was trembling with fear. The nightmare had been haunting her for years, but this time it happened after a very long time. “I had no choice, I could not bear him ill-treat you” he was shouting at her. She could see the lady in white and the fire in a distance.
The lush green landscape of the monsoon between Mumbai and Pune was enthralling. “Wow, how beautiful this is!” Keith felt excited like a child. He had never thought he would visit India, and least of all at such short notice. But then, he had a compelling reason for it.
How will it be when he meets Saira for the first time? Why do her thoughts haunt me like this? Keith had no answers for it. He looked at her picture on his cell phone. He had downloaded it from the net. “Oh she looks gorgeous”, he said to himself.
“Wonderful presentation”, Keith applauded Saira. “If we are able to achieve the results forecasted by you, we should be touching the billion dollar mark before time! All the very best to you and your team”, Keith was truly impressed with her dynamism and enthusiasm, or was it something else, an inner voice kept asking him.
The dinner with the team was in a fort which was now a five star resort. There were a number of forts of the great ruler Shivaji in and around Pune, he remembered reading on the internet. The setting sun made the place look very romantic. Bollywood music was playing in the background and a local group was performing dances to the beat. Keith looked around in amazement. He was very impressed with the Indian colleagues he had met over the last two days. They were full of life and very dedicated to their work. But there was something more he felt about Saira. He looked around for her. His eyes were searching for her. “Wow you look stunning in a Saree, (is that the right pronunciation?) “Thanks!” She smiled, blushing.
The evening turned into night. All the people at the party seemed to be on the dance floor. Keith had never seen so many people dancing together, except in Bollywood movies which he loved to watch to relax after a tiring day. Keith came close to Saira at one point and he could smell her perfume, and sometimes touch her body. He felt a shiver going down his spine. Keith felt as if he had done this before. Strange, he thought. The organisers had lit a bonfire as the cold was setting in.
Saira and Keith stood at the edge of the fort. Keith felt that Saira was uncomfortable near the bonfire. It was just past midnight. There seemed to be something around like an unknown force or an energy field which made him feel elated. “Saira, what are your plans for marriage?” He asked and then regretted the question. “Mummy papa are looking around, haven’t found the right person yet”, she said laughing loudly. “I know in the west you don’t believe in past lives, but in India we strongly believe that God pairs everyone before we are born and we are bound with our mates over many lifetimes,” again she laughed out loud. “Mine has not yet come along!” His eyes met hers for a fleeting second and it seemed that time had frozen in that moment. He uncomfortably looked away. “If I was in America, by now………..” he stopped his thoughts. The party was over, Keith had never felt so happy in a long long time. He kept awake in bed almost till dawn.
“Saira, I have few days free and would like to do some kind of sight-seeing of India. Can you help me plan it please?” Actually he was tempted to ask her to take him around but could not muster the courage. “Sure, I will tell you by the evening!” she said.
Saira had meticulously planned Keith’s trip to the Northern part of India. “Can you join me?” he finally gathered the courage. She hesitated for a moment and then said; “Keith, I would love to but you know this is not the right time for me to take a vacation, may be the next time!” she smiled and left his heart heavy.
The temple was a peaceful sight. Only the chirping of the birds broke the silence. Keith sat on the marble floor, looking inside at the deity. A priest came and gave him some prasad. Keith looked at the priest. His eyes shone bright. He looked almost god-like. “Do you believe in karma?” Keith was shocked that the priest spoke good English. “Yes, of course.” Keith looked at him puzzled. “And what about past life?” Keith was shocked. He felt as if he was speaking to himself. Your journey of lifetimes brings you back to your place of love. The words of the priest did not make sense to Keith. But before he could ask him anything else, the priest was gone.
Keith continued his trip to the ‘lesser known parts of north India’ as Saira had put it. The fort was awesome. Somehow Keith seemed to have a special liking for forts and as if Saira knew it, she had planned visits to a number of forts in Rajasthan. As he walked around, trying hard to understand the broken English of the guide; he abruptly stopped at a picture. “I am sure, I have been here before,” he muttered to himself. “What is that picture?” he asked the guide. “It is sati….burning of wife when husband dies…” the guide tried his best to explain. “But whose sati is this?” Keith felt as if he had seen this picture before. A fellow tourist butted in, “this is the maharani of this fort, legend has it that her husband was murdered by her lover, and she was forced to commit sati against her wishes. It is said that her spirit haunts this palace on the day of the new moon.”
Keith was tossing and turning in his bed. The hotel room was cosy but the bed was uncomfortable, or he was restless. He went out to the window and saw the full moon. In the background he could see the fort. The story of the maharani made him feel very uncomfortable.
She frantically ran down the stairs. Running fast and breathing heavily. Tears were rolling down her cheeks. She could not stop sobbing. Her eyes were swollen and her cheeks and nose were red with all the crying. The night outside was as dark as the sorrow in her heart. She could see a man running behind her, and she was trying hard to outrun him. Finally when her strength gave up he caught her by her arm and held her against the wall. “There is nothing else I could do to get rid of him. He abused you every day and I let it happen. But today I could not bear it any longer”. He hugged her closely. There was peace all around.
Keith woke up with a headache. He had slept almost at dawn. He made himself a coffee and decided to talk to Saira. He realized that his phone was out of coverage area. He typed an SMS to her, “Missing you, Keith”. Morning in this small town of Rajasthan was hot and dry. Keith asked the hotel to give him an interpreter. “Hello Sir, I am Raju, I can take you around”, Keith took an immediate liking to this young boy. “Come on then lets go.” Keith had planned to speak to some old people in the village to get some more details on the story of the picture at the fort.
The breeze from the small window called jharoka was a soothing experience. Keith’s eyes were fixed on the sage. His eyes shone like diamonds, and Raju was desperately trying to explain to Keith what the sage was saying. But after sometime, it looked as if Keith went into a trance. His eyes were closed as if in meditation. It looked as if Keith could understand the language of the sage.
“Hi Keith, can’t wait to see you. Love Saira” this was the nth time he had glanced at the message. He felt on the ‘top of the world’ and smiled at himself for no reason at all.
Oh my God, are you serious, do you really believe in this story? A maharani falls in love with a local lad but she is married at a young age to the prince who ill-treats her, and her lover kills her husband. Sounds weird, Saira could not help disbelieving Keith.
He knew that it was all true , because he had seen himself standing at the edge of the city, while the love of his life was burnt alive, to follow an unfair tradition, that a wife cannot live if her husband dies.
I don’t know if it is true , but one thing I am sure is that I could understand every word the sage said, without even knowing the language. Isn’t that strange?
But, to come back to the present, you told me you saw some strange dreams. Can I narrate one of them for you? “Oh no, that’s so weird, how do you know all this?” Saira could not stop asking.
To use the priest’s words, “Your journey of lifetimes brings you back to your place of love,” he held her close to his heart, and she knew he was right.