Category: Framed in Fiction

Plunging into history

Adapting fictional narratives from historical events can be an interesting task. Here is my take on a snippet from Mughal history.

Synopsis:

In 1626, the Emperor Jahangir was captured by rebels while on his way to Kashmir. The rebel leader Mahabat Khan had hoped to stage a coup against Jahangir. Nur Jahan intervened to get her husband released. Nur Jahan ordered the ministers to organise an attack on the enemy in order to rescue the Emperor; she herself would lead one of the units by administering commands from on top of a war elephant.During the battle Nur Jahan’s mount was hit and the soldiers of the imperial army fell at her feet. Realizing her plan had failed Nur Jahan surrendered to Mahabat Khan and was placed in captivity with her husband. Unfortunately Mahabat Khan failed to recognise the creativity and intellect of Nur Jahan since before he knew it she was able to organise an escape and raise an army right under his very nose.

Dramatization:

Nur Jehan could feel defeat rising in her throat as she realised that her devoted soldiers were kneeling down. The clanging of swords and robust shouts were dying down and suddenly, her elephant’s legs gave way. Raja buckled under her weight, unable to bear the arrow’s fatal wound any longer. She held on to the reins, yet knew that her chances of escaping from this anarchy would be slim. From amongst the tangle of dead bodies and armed soldiers, a distant brown horse came galloping through, it’s silhouette bright against the evening sky. Mahabat Khan and Nur Jehan now faced each other. Her husband’s captor looked down on her with a sneer. She could see through his cold, pale brown eyes, what exactly he was thinking. She returned his stare unflinchingly, and nodded to her deputy commander, Shahzad, who was still on his feet.  “Leave,” she murmured, her head raised high. She dismounted the fallen Raja and this was sufficient as a signal for Mahabat Khan. He commanded the soldiers by his side, “Take her to her husband,” with which Nur Jehan followed the two enemy warriors out of the field. Behind her, she could hear the hasty retreat of the imperial army and the delirious, mocking laughter of Mahabat Khan’s legion.

Once inside the tent beside her husband’s, the Empress closed her eyes and urged her mind to think faster. She paced the tent, her eyes fixed on the partition between her husband’s and her tent. “Jahangir, how I wish I could have saved you…” she whispered, “but Mahabat’s happiness is short-lived, for the time has come to rescue you.” It was only after a few minutes that the flap of the tent lifted and a servant entered with a tray. Nur Jehan’s eyes were focused on his face. He surely seemed the naive kind, freshly hired and on the look-out for generosity. Nur Jehan slid off her valuable gold earrings encrusted with tiny emeralds and laid them on the floor. His eyes sparkled with glee as did the jewels and he nodded vigorously. She whispered in his ear, “Find Shahzad, my deputy commander. Tell him that the night awaits him.” With a courteous bow, the servant exited the tent and Nur Jehan reclined on the floor, waiting for the sun to set deep below the horizon.

Night had set in and a rustle signalled that the flap of the tent was opening. Shahzad came in with a tray, dressed in a servant’s garment, the brown turban casting a dark shadow across his face. He quickly kept the tray down and lifting off the turban, bowed to the Empress. “How may I serve you, Your Highness?” he inquired in low tones. Nur Jehan quickly replied, “The Badshah must be restored to his throne latest by tomorrow noon. You know now what you have to do. Make use of this moonless night and do your job well. Clear the area around these two tents first and then leave the rest to me.” Shahzad was deep in thought for a moment and then after another bow, prepared to leave. “Was the boy I sent reliable?” Nur Jehan questioned to which Shahzad informed, “Surely. He gave me his clothes so I could disguise myself. I was wondering…” Nur Jehan knew and answered him readily, “Yes, use him to your advantage. He can distract the guards around these tents, being one of them.” Shahzad nodded and left as quietly as he had come, shrouded in the night that was soon to witness a fiery combat.

Lost.

“This is the room but it’s been changed,” I said softly as the old wooden door swung open with a push of my trembling hand. Beside me, my daughter Nadia firmly grasped my shoulder, lending me her support. I led her into the territory that I envisioned every night before I went to sleep. Nadia scanned the bare walls with her eyes and I could still make out the blue smudges on the pillar where Dana and I used to mark our heights, trying to prove that both of us were equally tall. “This is the room where both of us spent our childhood and teenage years, frolicking and playing, gossiping and laughing, indifferent to the world outside where fate awaited to part us forever,” I blankly addressed Nadia, staring at the ceiling where a slimy green lizard curiously looked down at us.

The old dirty paint on the walls was cracking and peeling off in places. The gray cement floor lay bare at our feet. Walking along the perimeter of the room, I narrated, “Every piece of furniture was removed by the Nazis back in 1945, thirty years ago. Now, only the walls remain as solitary memoirs here.” As I spoke it out loud, the walls echoed back my words. Nadia sat cross-legged on the floor underneath the window which was boarded up. She had insisted that she hear the story right here, in this empty room, which seemed to come to life as memories flashed before my eyes.

I sat down beside her, recalling, “We used to sit down here by the window and share our deepest secrets, our desires, give each other advice about anything and everything that bothered us.” Nadia listened intently, focusing her eyes on me as I sketched out the painful narrative of my past. “Dana was closer to me than a best friend, as close as the soul is to the body.” I choked on my words as a well of emotions rose up inside me but Nadia put an arm around me, shaking me lightly. She was realising that the past seemed more real than ever as I recalled it in this room.

“The only difference between us two was that she was a Jew but I had never even thought about that. It was a very trivial thing to think about, as trivial and unimportant as when you see an ant walking along the grass, and leave it on its own,” I went on. “We never knew that such an immaterial thing would ultimately become the cause of our separation.” Nadia nodded her head slowly, as she began to realise what had happened. Pointing to the windows, I told Nadia, “These were boarded up by Dana’s father. The Nazis had spread throughout Europe and sparked the Holocaust, the notorious genocide which wrested away Dana from me.” I quickly wiped away a tear that had made it through the barrier I had put up inside myself.

“Every night, I slept with Dana, never leaving her for even a minute. I did not want her to be taken away from me. Both of us were sixteen at that time, old enough to understand and imagine the worst possible scenarios, ” I replied to Nadia’s questioning look. “The world’s so cruel, Mum,” Nadia whispered, tears welling up in her eyes, as she leaned her head on my shoulder. “It is indeed cruel, dear, ” I agreed. “The war snatched away our fantasies, our hopes and our dreams. We lived in constant terror but we never spoke about it to each other. Silence was like a potion that  temporarily calmed our fears inside us.”

“Fate proved itself invincible. Our fears did come true, Nadia,” I murmured. My voice was barely a whisper now. “One fateful night, the soldiers found this house as they located all the French Jews. Dana was sleeping peacefully beside me when they barged into this room. I held Dana close to me and both of us kept screaming, ‘No!’, sobbing wildly, but one of those cruel men pushed me away roughly.” Nadia squeezed her arm around me as I continued to narrate in a bitter tone. “The events of that night are crystal clear to me, Nadia. That same man hit me on the head with the butt of his gun and I instantly fainted. They… they left me alone..” I couldn’t stop the flood of tears now. Nadia wiped them away, saying, “I’m so sorry, Mum.”

However, I wanted to go on, I wanted to complete it there and then, the emotions inside me had been battling for years to be let out. “All the Jews were taken to those fatal concentration camps, Nadia. The rare who came out alive contacted their friends and families. Even today, I still wait for Dana, Nadia. I know that if she is out there somewhere, she will come to me.” Nadia started sobbing too and this time, I held her strongly. I whispered to the bare walls of Dana’s room, “I know it is a childish fantasy, but I have to depend upon it, to survive.” I gently pulled up Nadia, and she led me out of the room. As I closed the door behind me, it seemed that Dana was standing in the doorway, waving goodbye.

Into A Different World…

You hear of a place, you see it in photographs, on the television, read about it, even pass by it, but have never actually been there. It is then that your imagination starts to work; what if you are completely alone, right IN there? Your mind then takes you inside it, with borrowed glimpses and fancied scenes, you make it up as you want it to be. For us, there must be atleast one such place, one such wonderland. For me, one of them has been the jungle.

The shooting site for Lothlorien, J.R.R. Tolkein's imagination, in the Lord of the Rings

Here is how I imagine it to be:

The fresh smell of dew and wild flowers hypnotizes you as you open your eyelids in your enclosed sleeping bag and tent. One can hear the synchronized and harmonious tune that the delightful songs of a multitude of bird species build up. Coming out into the open, it is a whole new, different world.  The wilderness is magical, as the trees tower above you like magnificent giants befriending the sky. Black-crowned cranes, crimson-breasted robins and pelicans with golden-yellow beaks perch themselves on the welcoming branches of the rising poplars and oaks. Every leaf, every bough and even bird’s eye is sparkling with a golden twinkle as the sun rises. The sky is visible only in the form of tiny dots, it is a deep pink with a magical tint of gold. By noon, straight, bright, sunny rays filter through the dense, reinvigorating green canopy of leafy boughs as if the sun is struggling to catch a glimpse of the spectacle that the towering vegetation hides.

The flowers sprout in countless numbers from hedges, on barks, on trunks, upon logs, a treasure chest indeed for any botany fanatic. From beyond the sphere of view, a hyena calls out, it is an unsettling laugh. Even though the presence of wild animals is a dangerous prospect, one can feel the rush of adrenaline at the thought of viewing them in real life rather than on a television screen. Out of the blue, a naughty orangutan leaps on a tree bough, causing the birds meditating in peace to fly off into unknown, unseen quarters of the jungle, or into the endless sky. A hard-working woodpecker looks up quizzically at the unexpected visitor.

Curious onlookers also reveal themselves as the day progresses. Insects never seen or even heard of make themselves visible on the emerald moss. Inquisitive squirrels come out of their dark burrows, looking down at the unknown visitor, searching with their big, round eyes for any crispy nuts which could be added to their already full pantry.

The wind has made its way into the secretive jungle, shaking the leaves, which rustle soothingly, providing background music to the birdsongs. One gets absorbed into this lovely reverie, and the brightness alters as the sun sets, waking one up from the jungle dream. The visible portions of the sky adopt a bronze shade, only to change into violet and then a deep blue later on. The greenery loses its golden tint, as if the sun was Midas and has surrendered to the miraculous jungle that its Golden Touch can work no more. The black, velvet sky envelopes the jungle into its protective cover. The twinkling stars and the benevolent moon allow guidance to the towering trees to single-handedly rule the content creatures within their magical domain.

The Silver Locket

As I was walking along the beach one morning, I saw something glistening in the distance. I could not hold my curiosity and started walking towards the shimmering object, which I felt could be a stone or a seashell.  The cool air blew into my face, refreshing my nerves.  Coming closer to it, I discerned that it was actually a beautiful locket.  Before it could be washed away into the ocean, I picked it up. It was indeed beautiful, a silver locket in the shape of a heart, quite heavy. I looked around to see if anyone was searching for a lost object. My eyes fell upon a figure not far away. I hurried towards it, with the locket grasped firmly in my hand. I saw that it was a girl. I put my hand on her shoulder and she stopped. Turning abruptly, she faced me with an inquiring look on her face. “Yes?” she asked. “Is this yours?” I inquired, showing her the locket in my palm. A confused look came upon her face and she answered, “Yes, where did you get it?” “It was lying upon the sand. Maybe you dropped it accidentally,” I responded. As she took it from me, I could not help but comment, “It’s really lovely.”

Tears welled into her eyes and she looked away. “Are you alright?” I asked. She sighed sorrowfully and answered, “This locket holds many precious memories which I wanted to let go of, but since you just returned this locket to me, it seems my fate is to bear them, all my life.”

“You’re welcome to confide in me your grievances. It could help to reduce your sorrow,” I suggested tentatively, not wanting to leave her alone, in such a depressed state. I led her to a bench. She handed me the locket and told me to open it. As I opened it, I found myself looking at a happier version of the girl with another one. “That’s my friend Lisa and I’m Elena,” she told me, satisfying the query in my mind about the identification of the other girl.

She continued, “We both were really close, just like sisters, until one day. On that fateful day, she had gone shopping with her family. I refused to accompany her, for we had had a fight. As I switched on the television, I saw that there had been a bomb blast in the same market where she had gone shopping. I panicked, my parents inquired and searched and it was found that she and her parents….” I did not need her to finish her sentence and hugged her affectionately.

Fighting back her tears, she said, “Now, I work voluntarily for an anti-terrorist squad, for I know what it is to lose someone so dear to you. Thousands of people die due to these bomb blasts. I want to lend a hand in establishing peace.” She got up and shaking my hand in farewell, she walked away, disappearing into the horizon.

An Unforgivable Mistake

The cool breeze from the sea blew on my face as I stood on the platform of the speeding boat with my best friend, Eliza. It was her birthday that day and we were aboard the boat, ready for an adventurous tour of the beach. Like every father who loves his daughter, Eliza’s father had gifted her the object that she had craved for during her childhood, her own blue-painted speeding boat.

She waved her parents good-bye and we sat down, ready for the expedition. Eliza was going to take her turn first, by controlling the boat herself. Being of a fun-loving nature, she drove it on the cool, blue waters with zest. “Whoppee!” she cried out in excitement and I giggled at her act. From the surface blew up in all directions, spraying us with water. It reminded me of the water gun-fights that we used to have.

After about thirty minutes, she handed the boat in my control and she said as she did, “This is the best birthday I’ve ever had and I think myself the luckiest girl to have a friend like you!” I hugged her and replied, “I share your feelings, Eliza.” As I took control of the boat, little did I realize that it would be the last time I had talked to Eliza.

I drove the efficient boat slowly and it created ripples on the surface of the water. Eliza was in the mood for more fun and said, “C’mon, faster!” I did likewise and was soon enjoying the feeling of freedom that I sensed as I looked up into the blue sky. My thoughts were interrupted by a startled scream from Eliza, but it was too late. Before I could look ahead, another speeding boat crashed into ours. Eliza toppled over and went straight into the water, splashing it all around. I struggled to pull her out.

The next few moments went past by as if in a dream. Rescue came and Eliza was safely brought out, but the accident and such an effect that its impact will remain in my mind for the rest of my life. Shortly after the incident, Eliza was taken to the hospital. She did not regain consciousness for three weeks. It was devastating for me. Her parents no longer allowed our friendship to continue and I still try to live on with the memory in my mind and its injury on my heart. It was indeed an unforgivable mistake.

Broken Trust

The evening, indeed, held a very lovely aura, with a clear blue sky, a soft breeze blowing and the chirping of birds, which would have seemed to any ordinary person as sweet as a rose but for me, even such an evening could not heal the painful memories which had deeply damaged the peace of my soul.

Thinking of a solution to deviate my thoughts from those infectious memories, I went towards my bedroom. As I entered the room, I saw the thing which I hated the most. It was my secret diary. When I had started writing in that book, I would never have guessed how it would have ruined my life like a bomb. The diary was my confidante and I trusted it more than anyone in this world. However, there was a person in this world in whom, too, I confided in. It was my best friend, Elena. She was my sole advisor and sometimes, I used to feel guilty of confiding more in my secret diary than in Elena.

However, as the saying goes, life can change in a second, and so did mine. My best friend and I used to think that our friendship would be as endless as the universe. However busy we would be, we would always keep in contact. One unlucky day, my friend chanced upon finding my diary in my backpack. During times when my emotions were uncontrollable, I used to write in it and contained some negative opinions that I had of my friend. Upon reading the remarks that I had made about her, she was under a state of shock. I tried to make her understand that those remarks were not truly what I thought of her. Not ready to accept my clarifications, she said, “This is maybe the last time that I’m talking to you. Goodbye, for I can’t really trust you anymore.” I was completely devastated and it was difficult to persuade her.

One day, she stopped coming to school and nervous, I called at her house. Her mother replied that they were leaving the next day for England. It was unbelievable. The thought that she would never forgive me forced me to think of suicide. Even when I arrived at her house, she said sadly, “We can never establish the same friendship that we had. Thanks for coming up to say goodbye, anyways. Take care.” I was speechless and have never been able to recover from the trauma. Even when I e-mail her, no reply ever comes back. Since then, I feel as solitary as a tomb.

The Miraculous Escape

Charlotte quietly forced herself to swallow the gruel. It was the only meal of the day, and none of the inmates could afford to be deprived of it. Charlotte had been brought with her mother the slave labour concentration camp just one day earlier. The cruel labour, poor sanitation, sick people was something which Charlotte had not even imagined. Already, their hands were bruised with the heavy loads they had to carry.

“I have to leave this place. I don’t want my mother to die in such a merciless place.” Charlotte whispered to her friend, Beth, as they shifted the arms and ammunition in wheel carts to the ware houses for repair. “Are you in your senses, Charlotte? You think you could escape so easily. It’s not a piece of cake. It is impossible! Firstly, there is no way out from here. The whole place is surrounded by watch towers and barbed wires. We are in the middle of a dense forest. Secondly, even if you do find a way out, since you’ve been telling me what a genius you were at school, I’m completely sure you’ll be caught red-handed. We are being monitored all the time. Thirdly, when you’ll come clean and relate to your mother the whole plan of escaping, she will be worried sick. You don’t have even a penny to your name. It won’t even benefit you in the long run. What will you and your mother do even if you manage to get out of this sickly camp?” Beth paused as fighter planes zoomed overhead and both the girls covered their ears due to the noise. “Beth, freedom is what I crave for. I believe that God helps those who help themselves. Nobody until now has even tried to do this task that I am thinking of. Even if I do get caught, I know I’ll be tortured to death but at least I won’t have the guilt inside me that I did not try to do something to save my mother and myself. I believe that I’ll die a happy person, who has attempted to acquire freedom. I’m completely sure, that with determination, I’ll be able to accomplish this mission. When I grow up, I’ll certainly work for the establishment of peace.” Finishing her speech, eleven-year-old Charlotte went off to her mother and turned a deaf ear to Beth’s continuous protest.

The next day, the director of the concentration camp was holding an assembly. All the guards from the watch-towers descended to hear. The inmates were supposed to sit under the scorching heat of the sun on the hot sand and listen without a word. The guards squatted under the shade of a ware house.  Charlotte had convinced her mother to agree to her plan. Her mother was still unsure. She had said, “We will be in hot water, my dear. Still, I believe that God will help us so I agree to support you.” Hearing this, Charlotte had hugged her mother and cried.

They sat at the edge of the gathering and as the director sat down to have a glass of water and shout at the sleeping guards to wake up, they took the chance to slip away, unnoticed by the guards. Lying close to the ground, they crawled painfully towards the barbed wires. Reaching the fence, Charlotte and her mother began to scrap away at the hard ground beneath the wires with metal pieces they had managed to steal from the ware house. Soon, a small pit had formed, lowering the ground level beneath the wires. Charlotte was on tender hooks as they were digging out the pit. Her mother clasped her hand and gestured to Charlotte to go first. Charlotte lay flat on the ground and squirmed underneath the wires. The pit gave more space to squirm through. Soon, she had come out on the other side. Her mother followed her and Charlotte kept pulling her to help her out. Both of them knew that there was no time to celebrate. They ran like the wind through the trees. It was of no concern that their hands were getting scratched. They stumbled but kept running. “Stop, my dear, stop. I think the coast is clear now.” Charlotte’s mother said as she hugged her and both of them cried uncontrollably. They sat down, panting. A squirrel looked down quizzically and Charlotte smiled at it. While holding her mother’s hand, she admired the beauty of nature and silently thanked God, praying for the others who were suffering. It felt as if she was in seventh heaven.