Anjali traced the floral edging on inlay on the wall of the corridor, sandstone cool to her touch, the delicate whorls and leaf drop design caked with grime. The buzz from the other tourists from her bus threw a cloak of sound around her.
Ten more minutes and they’d be out. How she hated guided tours, ten minutes and done, a breathless summary of the history of a fort or palace cut to size for easy consumption, tired and overwhelmed tourists herded into a bus, pushed to the next heritage spot where the
same process would repeat in staccato assembly-line fashion.
Jaipur had just too many palaces. And too many tourists doing the rounds of these palaces.
Weathered sandstone was cool and reassuring under her fingers.
Like it had always been, even as a child. How you’d linger for hours, spread-eagled, clasping the-wall….
She trembled, straightened her stole and ran her fingers through her hair.
On the wall, a gemstone inlay shimmered, a pretty flower pattern rich in green-red, resplendent in rubies and jade.
She rubbed her eyes. Perhaps she was losing it…perhaps Varun was right…insane, the heat’s scrambled your head… he’d said.
Her hands trembled. She retraced the design, now just a raised dusty pattern on stone, part of the trellis-and-trailing-leaf design. The heat drummed a tribal beat on her forehead. Perhaps this bleary disorientation was because of sleepless nights… in a matter of days she’d moved from NYC’s crazy chill to dry and hot Rajasthan. The weather change and jetlag, the sleep she’d lost and never quite caught up. Yes, that must be it.
She focused her camera lens on the faded leaf pattern. If only she could capture this elusive grace on linen, manage to capture the way that leaf turned, perfect for tableware…
Gemstones gleamed dully past her lens.
Not again! Her heart thudded. She gulped some water from her bottle. Dementia, or a cerebral infarct perhaps? Aunt Katy had senile dementia in her fifties, perhaps she’d gotten it early?
Enough! She must get a handle on herself. She was Anjali Mehra, fashion designer with a passion for big stones and organic fabrics.
Nineteen plus eighteen is thirty-seven. Nine nines are eighty-one. She could still count properly….
Why the hell was she acting melodramatic?
Yet, there seemed to be something familiar about this place, it called her, nudged her, sent out vibes that seemed…almost affectionate. Ok, perhaps she was being too fanciful.
But this was neat, right out of a coffee table book. The way light created a textured pattern on stone, a criss-cross of light and shade. Perhaps the innate beauty of that cool translucent stone. She must have seen photos someplace, in some travel magazine or catalogue, and
the heat must have fried her brain.
Or dreamt about it.
What nonsense. What a weird thought. Of course not. She dusted off her denim jeans.
She must return to the real, sensible environs of her hotel room. To the reassurance of air conditioned comfort. Yes, that must be it.
This afternoon was bizarre, the heat like a scorching slap. Or that fight with Varun before this India trip must be weighing on her mind. Yes, that explained it. The first time in five years that they were vacationing separately, but she couldn’t stand the butchering that went for sport in one more game reserve.
“Take your India culture trip, go see your damned palaces and temples, but keep me out of it!” he’d shouted, and watched sullen faced as she’d packed her bags for this trip.
Varun’s words buzzed around her.
A series of high arches led to a large hall, where the walls were inlaid with mirror work. She framed the shot through her lens, zooming in for detail. Heavy brocade curtains, walls embedded with opal, lapis lazuli and diamonds, intricate carpets…. A light tuberose fragrance
wafted in the air, and the distant strains of a sitar rang out.
“Malhar..” she whispered, recognizing the notes.
Blood pounded in her ears. The bare walls that she’d been staring at reappeared, yellowed with age, dust dancing in filtered sunlight, shuffling feet as people passed.
Must be jet lag.
“Valiant Rajputs ruled over Mewar in the 9th century, but all their heroism wasn’t a match for Mughal firepower …” the guide was droning to an inattentive crowd.
“No match for the cunning and thuggery of the Delhi-rulers, you mean. Devious, lily-livered traitors, those rascals.” Anjali muttered from the crowd’s edge.
A frumpish busybody, the gossip queen of the group, raised an eyebrow and stepped towards her. Anjali shook her head and moved away.
“Now we’ve reached the Durbar Hall, the main court. As is the norm, the King sat on a grand throne, facing his courtiers. Women of the royal family sat behind latticed screens on a higher floor, no commoner ever allowed to see them.”
Until the dashing Uday Singh spotted the Princess in a temple. He sent her pleading missives with a trusted hand maid. The princess escaped one dark moon night, using the secret underground passage to the next state. Her father disowned her, never spoke to her ever
Did she really say all that? Her face felt hot and flushed, and people were staring. Your damned temples and palaces… Varun’s drawl mocked her from the suddenly quiet crowd.
Anjali turned and raced towards the sunshine. The tinkle of anklets and the swish of long silk skirts weighed her down. Her arms felt heavy, laden with glass and gold bangles as she raced down the stairs. Curtains swished past a twinkling fountain.
The walls glided shut behind her, drawing her in embrace.
©2012 Mira Desai