In a forbidden desert by the Indo-Pak border a fortress given its ten centuries of history, held secrets. A quarter of Rani’s genes trace back to this fortress and her aristocratic inherence, but she will never know it.
It was midnight, Rani washed her face and then stared at her reflection in the mirror, which said ‘75 years old today eh’. Rani’s true self responded, “I am not old dear. I am cutting edge’, she chuckles. ‘I am alive with experiences and adventures of a lifetime.’ As she hit the bed she reminisced about her day, after all, it was her milestone birthday today and everyone she loved and cared about was there. Binsa, her only daughter, went all out setting up the event on a beach in Goa. She sponsored tickets and hotels for all the guests. Rani had witnessed, her grandchildren playing games in the arcade, and her nieces and nephews sitting under the cabana enjoying their drinks. Her old friends held their partner’s hands supporting each other on the beach walk. Live music playing in the backdrop. She enjoyed everything – the cake, the karaoke, the hugs, the kisses, and the birthday wishes. No cell phones, no long-distance calls, everyone was there, everything – live and present. All except one, she missed Chandni.
As she drifted toward sleep, she could hear her mother Indira’s voice. “You were born in 1947, the year India become independent. Your skin was so fair and your eyes a mix of pale green and brown starting to clear up and look at the world, your hair a funny shade of light brown, reflected light perfectly. Your Dad called you Rani, and he teased me by addressing me as Maharani. To me, you looked like an English memsahib, so I gave you your nickname – Mem.”
Mem remembered coming of age, fully comprehending the impact of her beauty, taking advantage of her perfect figure and complexion. One would have to lean in to catch the words when she spoke in her soft voice. You could see her eyes reflecting intelligence. You might even say she was divine. Suitors from nearby villages and towns approached Ram with offers for Mem. She was too high-minded to consider anyone. Indira, given her own buried past, was afraid of what Mem might do and wanted the child married off as soon as possible. Mem and Indira got into arguments. Mem began to despise her. As far as Mem was concerned, Indira was merely jealous of her beauty and Ram’s attention. There was one more thing that Mem despised. Thick, broad, and coarse there was nothing Mem about her hands and her feet. Her forelimbs looked just like her sibling’s.
Little did Mem know that Indira was the actual princess. She was born into an aristocratic family and was oblivious to the life of common Indians under the British Raj. Indira was secretly in love with a British boy. The boy left her pregnant as he left India. Her rich family could not bear the disgrace and married her off in a rush to Ram, a peasant. Indira and Ram gave birth to Mem. No one knew or if they suspected, no one spoke about it. In the subsequent years, the young couple contributed to the booming population of India, and so Mem had 5 more siblings, just one more than the national average at that time, as you know.
Indira, held in her heart, her secret, and endured the hardships of a commoner. What kept her strong, was Ram’s devotional love for her.
Ram selected Shyam for Mem. He was the son of a landlord and enlisted in the Indian Army. Their wedding was ordinary. Mem was almost 18 years of age. Newlywed, it was natural for Shyam to want to spend all his waking moments talking to Mem. Mem however was confused. ‘Why did she not feel anything for this man?’ She felt smothered and suffocated in the relationship. Her body recoiled from him. He took this as a sign of coldness and her high-minded attitude. As time passed, she tried to love him, but her soul kept crying with sorrow so profound as if it wanted to be reborn in another body. He tried to love her too, but his heart found emptiness and his arrogance found rage. His frustration found her body and her body just lay there, taking in the abuse. Her soul longed for true love while she became pregnant.
The news came about his deployment to the border to fight Pakistan in 1965. Mem sighed in relief. Was not long before they heard more news, of his bravery. Shyam died a young hero. Mem moved back to her parent’s place. Things were different now. Ram no longer treated her like a princess. She was a burden.
Mem started experiencing complications and had to admit to the local hospital. She delivered Binsa, who looked like a replica of Shyam. Drained from the experience Rani could not find the strength to love the newborn. This love would not blossom naturally and would take time to grow roots.
Chandni was subconsciously drawn to them like a magnet “I don’t know what it is about her, something very intriguing.”
You may consider that Chandni was not an ordinary woman. She was ahead of her time. Quiet and observant, she matured rather quickly – mentally strong, emotionally secure, and confident. Nothing extraordinary about her life circumstance, yet she had the soul of a mature sage. Caregiving came naturally to her. Therefore, becoming a nurse seemed the obvious career choice.
At the hospital, Chandni attempted to show Rani how to feed the baby. She had a calm voice and using limited words she gently but firmly gave directions. You might say Chandni never ran into any conflict with anyone. People simply listened to her and followed. She had a level of self-awareness that could hold multiple perspectives at the same time. Having the ability to view the forest from the trees in each life situation. No harm could come to her. It was as if her aurora parted the seas. Here and now, she was helping Rani. As she touched Rani to position her correctly to feed the baby, Chandni held her a bit longer than necessary. Her thumb rubbed Rani’s beautiful and tender skin. Rani looked up and the two locked their gaze. Their souls tickled and laughed with joy and their eyes sent the message across. For the first time in more than a year, Rani smiled. She felt safe.
Chandni felt the urge to understand the wants and needs of this woman. She planned for the two of them to move to New Delhi. Chandni worked night shifts and took care of Binsa during the day. This gave Rani an opportunity to go to college to complete her education and become a librarian. If the neighboring young men approached the two women with ill intentions, Chandni knew exactly what to say to show them their place. No one really bothered them.
Binsa was growing up to be a feisty young child. Chandni showered her with love and compassion and so Binsa just called her ‘Ma’. Binsa could be herself with her and act out her behaviors. Naturally, the other parent took on the role of a disciplinarian. Oftentimes Rani caught herself becoming like her own mother. Tight upper lip, gaze looking down from a high nose; Was it the look of a librarian telling you to be quiet or perhaps it was an aristocratic look.
At night when they were together, Rani too would seek Chandni for refuge. ‘I am not wrong you know. That child needs to learn self-control.’ Chandni would nod and give her space to vent out. Through her daily acts, Chandni showed up for Rani and Binsa in ways that made them feel safe and cared for. As time passed true love, true intimacy, and true bonds began to deepen. It’s common knowledge that most married couples go without this level of safety, there is hesitance, skepticism, or pieces of one’s soul kept hidden. But not this couple. Rani could bare not just her body, but her soul to Chandni. She trusted her with her whole heart, her innermost feelings and thoughts, her day-to-day fears and joys.
Love as you know it’s the language of the soul. The unconditional love of parents for their children, people’s love for their pets. But young lovers love, that is the ultimate high. Full of passion and promise of happily ever after with an intensity of a thousand lumens. True love, however, can be sighted as an old couple walking on the beach holding hands, having felt a thousand lumens a thousand years ago or so it may seem. What they have is precious as gold, a lot more tender love for their mate. Smelted in the fire of a lifetime of experiences. Rani was lucky to have found true love. She missed Chandni now, wish she could be holding her hand on the beach on her birthday, and just like that she fell asleep.
#StoryTellersBloghop #FictionWritersExclusive #ShadesofLove
This story is written for season 3 of #storytellersbloghop, hosted by Ujjwal Mishra and MeenalSonal for the topic ‘Shades of Love’.
Dear readers, thank you for your time, this is my first attempt to write fiction. Your feedback is greatly appreciated. Please scroll down below the sponsored content to share this on social media or add your comments.