The Guardian

Adiana Ray

( Published in eFiction India Vol. 2. Issue 6. )

Khuda eh Kadir ke Junoon hai ye duniya
Uski maaini samajna nahin ,muhabat karna hi apna manzil

(This world is the magnitude of God’s obsession
It is not ours to understand the meaning but just loving it should be our goal)

      The young lady whispered the words softly to herself as she stood there looking out of the window, her brown almond eyes glittering with emotion. A slight smile curved her lips, reaching her eyes to hold her secret there. Her hand ran sensuously down her hip as it leaned against the stone wall, half turned away, as if willing itself to reach out of the room to the beautiful, mist laden scene beyond.  Yearning for a primal need beyond the confines of the room.

The light smell of roses wafted along on the pure morning breeze : the sun awoke weakened by the winter chill, as it tried feebly, to drive away the early morning Delhi mist.  She could see the Qutab Minar standing there like a sentinel guarding them benignly, ever watchful and remindful of those who had gone before her. With her other hand she tapped a tune, the beat of which only she could hear, on the brown stone wall at the side of her. Her pink tipped fingers looking as if they had taken their colour from the awakening dawn.   

Behind her, in the darkness of the room her old sutanne (wet-nurse) stood patiently, wisely choosing not to disturb her musings. Let her have her own private moment, she thought fondly, the world would get its pound later.

She shifted a bit to see what she was looking at through the window and her mouth tightened perceptibly, when she saw the figure riding a horse. There was no mistaking who it was; the sun rays shone down on the sleek corded muscles of the man riding bare back around the maidan.(ground) His long hair flowing behind him, he had his face turned up in ecstasy to the sky. Sheer exhilaration in the moment and the diffused golden glow of the sun, lent piercing detail, to the already striking visage.  Razia looked at him, her heart in her mouth, truly God had made this man, she thought. 

Looking at the feelings play across her face, the old crone’s face hardened. If she had dared to, she would have spat on the ground in disdain.
Yaqut, she hissed to herself.  She should have known that haram salla (bastard) would have been behind all this.

She looked at the young girl standing there, flawless in every way as youth and love came together to create a perfect picture of loveliness. However she saw none of that, although she had looked after Razia since the day she was born. On the contrary she saw a crisis on the brink of eruption.

 It had not bothered her that the Sultan had made Razia his heir even though she was a woman. Albeit the court was abuzz with the situation and the men were all riled up at what they perceived was an insult to them. She considered them all badmaashs (scoundrels) anyway, only looking after their own interests. She believed Razia was better than all of them put together.

      It had not bothered her that Razia had chosen to throw off the garb of women and actually gone out in public without the veil on. Her enemies had used it as another stone to throw at her that it was against their religion and culture. She snorted at their views. The bemani (cheating) they did, did the Turkic religion and culture justify that? Their ayashi, (leachery) was that defendable? Her Razia had more umda (good) in her then anyone she knew. That is why the Sultan had wanted her to rule the people.

      However she drew the line when Razia began consorting with Yaqut.  Jamal-ud Din Yaqut was a habshi (slave) and an African one at that. True, her grandfather had been a slave too, but one from a high born family, exchanged as the spoils of war.
Did she not realize that she had the blood of royal Turks flowing through her veins? Did she not realize that she was a Shehzaadi of the Mamluk line and now the Sultan of Dilli? That man was Abyssinian, he had been bought from a caravan of tajir (traders) and now to give him such a high office, to elevate him beyond someone with Turkic heritage, to let him actually share her bed? This was beyond anything she could bear or explain. The shaitan had got into her Razia.

      Yaqut reined in his horse beneath Razia’s window when he saw her standing there. He jumped off and climbed up walls effortlessly as he made his way up to her balcony, not in the least bit bothered as to who saw him enter the room of the Sultan.

Most likely he wanted to impress upon all the others who were undoubtedly looking, his new position in the court’s hierarchy; the old woman muttered cynically to herself. She groaned in exasperation, why can’t the girl see him for what he is?

      Razia, had no idea of the vein of thoughts flowing through the older woman’s head behind her. So engrossed was she is contemplating Yaqut, that she hadn’t even realized that there was anyone standing there. As she turned around to go out and greet her lover, she started as she saw the figure there.
“Sutanne’ Bibi, what are you doing here?” she questioned with a light laugh.
The old lady lowered her eyes differentially “Subah Bakhair! Sultan Begum” (Good Morning_
Subah Bakhair!” she tossed over her shoulder as she made to walk towards the door.
“Razia”. There was a burning urgency in Sutanne’s voice. “Please” she implored “do not go out there.”
Razia, stopped in her tracks. Her old nurse usually never called her by her childhood name unless there matter was of great importance.
“Why not?”
“You cannot go out and meet a man on your balcony Sultan Begum”. Her voice was differential once again. “Especially not Yaqut. He is half naked and he is a habshi.”
“Really” steel crept into her tone. “You know I do not follow those notions.”
“That is not what your court thinks, besides you are a woman, that conduct is unbecoming.” Sutte-Anne was desperate now, she was well aware what would be the consequences of Razia’s rash action.
Razia drew herself up regally. “I am also the Sultan” she intoned “not one of those women from the Haram Saray (harem) and let nobody ever forget that.”
With these words she strode out on the balcony to meet Yaqut.


      She stood to one side as Razia and Yaqut walked into the room hand in hand laughing softly. Razia applauded his show of defiance. She would show all those old fools in the court. She knew what it was to be on the receiving end of their derision.

Yaqut’s hand caressed her cheek gently as he whispered to her softly:
“Yeh aankhaiyn mujhe beh sabr kar diya ek jhalak ke liye
Subah ki khubsurti halki ho gayi razia ki muquabla may” before turning around to make his way to his own rooms.
(These eyes have longed for just one look of you, the beauty of this morning pales in comparison to you).

Her eyes followed him as he left, brimming with passion as they swept over his lean muscular back. Sutanne Bibi saw all this and prudently chose to remain silent for the moment. However as Razia turned to walk away she knew she could not afford to wait any longer.
“Sultan Begum” she ventured tentatively “I have a message for you from Malik Altunia”
Razia was beside herself with rage “you are in touch with Altunia? You know he is a traitor.”
“Please, listen to what I have to say.”
“If you talk to me about Altunia, then you are a traitor too.”

Sutanne Bibi was shocked beyond belief. Anger welled up inside her and she threw caution to the winds “have you forgotten who you are talking too? I am the lady who was brought in by your parents to nurse you from the day you were born. I am the one who gave up my own daughter so I could have enough milk for the shahzaadi. I am the one who has always been there for you no matter what happened and today you are calling me a ghadaar (traitor) due to that man? Oh God! What kala jadoo (black magic) has be worked on you?” she lamented loudly.

      Razia was not to be appeased either. “Have you forgotten that Altunia has revolted against the throne? Do you not remember that we march in two days to Bhatinda to put down his uprising?”

“No, I haven’t Sultan Begum and that is why it is most important that you hear me out. Altunia is ready to back down and show you full support. He would like your hand in marriage.”

The Sultan exploded in disbelief “he has started a rebellion and is asking for my hand in marriage. How can he even imagine that I would consider that?”she asked. 

“He is Turkic” Bibi Sutanne maintained stoutly “he is your old childhood friend, he knows you, and he is a good man from a good family.”

“He is my enemy, he has betrayed me.” Razia was beside herself with rage.

“If he is your enemy he cannot betray you, you get betrayed by your own” was her calm rejoinder. “Look inside the palace for the ghaddars. He has heard of Yaqut, he has heard of the hostility being generated against you because of this. He is opposing you because he knows it is the only way to get your attention.”

“Yes” she agreed grimly “and now I know him too. I always thought him to be my friend and look where that has led me” she questioned rhetorically “with a mutiny on my hands.” As for you Sutanne Bibi” she continued “ I advise you not to carry anymore messages for him, or I will have you arrested and thrown into prison as a collaborator. Now please leave me” she ordered haughtily pointing to the door.

      The older woman walked to the door mumbling darkly. In her mind Bibi Sutanne couldn’t come to terms with Razia’s attitude, the girl she had thought of as her own daughter and loved as her own had turned her back on her today. She had tried her best to reason with Razia and get her to acknowledge her heritage but what had she got in return? She had actually been called a traitor? She, who had always remained faithful to Dilli, even though she had not been born here. So be it, let the course run as it will, her duty had been done. As for Yaqut, he was a dog, who would die the death of a dog. Even her contempt was too good for him.

      Razia flopped down on the chaise lounge’ as soon as Sutanne Bibi was around the corner, drained from the exchange with an old family retainer, someone she had always thought of as her own. Today even she had deserted her, was this the price a ruler had to pay, she wondered in despair?

None of them had noticed a young African slave girl standing in the corner near the heavy damask draperies. Obscured by the opulence surrounding her and the shadows in the room, she now stepped forward and gave a small, discreet cough. Razia looked up from where her head lay on her folded arms “yes Hamida?” she questioned softly.
“ Sultan Begum, please may I say something?”
She nodded, she had always believed in treating her slaves well.
“There is talk in the palace, the ministers do not like Yaqut.”
“I know that Hamida.” she acquiesced wearily.
“The rumors are of sinister happenings Sultan Begum, you and Yaqut need to be careful.”
Razia looked at her kindly “this is a palace Hamida, there are always stories going around. You are young and have just come here. These people have nothing better to do than gossip.”
Hamida tried to stand tall and look older than her twelve years. “Please, Sultan Begum” she implored earnestly “you have to be careful of Bhatinda, my friends tell me there is evil there. Please do not go there.”
The Sultan’s face darkened “You are right Hamida, there is evil there and its name is Malik Altunia. But I am the Sultan and it is my duty to put an end to it.”

* * *

History Notes:

      On the 3rd of April, 1240 Razia Sultan and her army marched out of Delhi to quell the revolt in Bhatinda. Jamal-ud-din-Yaqut was slain and Razia was arrested by her own noblemen and handed over to Malik Altunia ,the Governor of Bhatinda.
                                   Woman in a Man’s World By U.S                                                                                     Goswami.                                                                                                                                                          




Mxxx Steele

 ( Published in eFiction India Vol 2. Issue 6. )

                Is there a best way to break up with someone? Are we talking rot, or just mouthing platitudes to appease ourselves.  After all no matter what you do, there will always be hurt feelings, sadness, second guessing: what if I had done things differently? I had a girlfriend once, who collected magazine articles on the best way to break-up, what to do before the break-up and what to do after and so on and so forth. Not sure why she did that, especially as we were both together at that time. Didn’t say too much about the strength of that relationship. Besides…some of their advice…sheesh! They said strawberries would make you feel better. It’s a bit like rhino horn would make me the stud of the planet. Who dreams up all this crap?
 I know many of my friends who have dumped women over the phone or even by email or text but that is just a guy thing. Most of us will run away from any emotional situation at the drop of a hat, after all who wants to be at the receiving end of a woman’s tears? Now, I am different in this regard: I belong to the school of thought that says it should be done face to face. I feel I owe them that respect and owe myself the closure. Ok! Ok! Platitudes again. Got to admit, I do it that way just for myself. Don’t relish the idea of feeling guilty about it for the next six months of my life…naw...another fake… I just love my dialogues. Truth is it’s bad for my reputation. After all I need to keep dating and it always helps to have an ex-girlfriend say how sensitive you are. 
Which is what has brings me to my current situation…I had to tell Diya that I was no longer into her, we could be friends forever blah! blah! blah! and would always be there for each other etc. Look earnestly into her eyes and say it was totally my fault that I was so shallow in my relationships and so on and so forth. Past experience in this, had led me to understand, that the trick lay in saying it was ‘my fault’. They couldn’t really argue much on that one and even if they said they were ready to accept the flawed me as I was; I had my escape route all planned: ‘that is so kind but I couldn’t possibly impose myself on you. That would make me a total jerk and I wouldn’t be able to live with that’. Of course, what I wouldn’t tell Diya, is, that I had met Payal and after 3 months of skulking around and keeping our association a secret, Payal had decided enough was enough. Tell Diya immediately or she would break up with me. Which is why I was sitting next to Diya; stealing tentative glances at her trying to gauge her mood, as we drove to an office party.
Diya was humming softly as she drove “how come you didn’t dress up; the black and white theme with a dash of red i.e.?” she asked. There was something different about her tonight; a pent up energy seemed to radiate from within.
“Thought it boring, besides you know me I always want to stand out?”
“Hmmm, can’t argue about that?” she grinned.
“Diya, I need to talk to you” I said in a hesitant voice “are you happy with the way things are between us?”
She was amused “well I do hate the way you never put the cap back on the toothpaste and also that you never ever throw away wrappers no matter how much I keep telling you. Do you want me to go on? She asked with an arched eyebrow.
“No! No! I didn’t mean that.” My voice was a bit stronger. “Lately I have been feeling that things haven’t been working between us. It’s me.” I launched into my spiel. “I just feel you need so much more and somehow I can’t give it to you.”
Diya, wasn’t smiling anymore she was laughing. “Whatever you say, darling.”
She parked the car and got out, then leaned back down and looked at me still sitting there. “We have reached, are you coming in or not?”
I was exasperated, “we were having a conversation, Diya.”
“I know sweetheart, we were and then it got over.”
She was dismissing me and that me feel like a five year old. “It wasn’t over Diya; I was trying to tell you how I felt.” I got out of the car and slammed the door in my frustration.
Diya stopped in her tracks and turned around. “Well, let’s see, you said that you felt you were not worthy of me and I agreed with you. End of story. Now are you coming in or not?”
This was not the way it was supposed to go. Her good humour was really pissing me off; however even as I looked at her standing before me in her above the knee boots, white top, short black skirt and black bomber jacket with a red scarf tied around her neck, I felt the heat rise up in me despite the Delhi cold. Diya was god-dammed sexy and for an idle moment I wondered if I was really ready to give that all up. Then I thought of Payal, my gentle, innocent Payal and my love for her enveloped me like a soft sweet blanket.
“So, we are over, just like that?” I persisted.
“Isn’t that what you wanted? Now let’s go in and enjoy the party. Our last one together. What say Sir?” She gave me a saucy salute, turned around and strode in.
The sound of 1,2,3,4..get on the dance floor, rent the still night air as she flung open the door, not even bothering to check if I were following her. I took a few deep breaths to calm myself. I didn’t know what to make of our whole exchange; I had got what I wanted I told myself, so what the fuck was biting me?
Payal will be in there Samar. Payal will be in there Samar, I repeated my litany, so why don’t you just go and tell her it is done and the way is clear for the both of you. With a firm grin plastered on my face I threw the door open. The smell of alcohol, mixed with stale sweat striving to be masked by an overdose of perfume assailed my nostrils and I nearly gagged. Not many looked up at me as the party was already in full swing. I walked up to some people I knew at the bar.
“What’s up, yaar?” I shook hands all around.
“Cool man, you just got here? Has Diya come with you?”
I scowled sourly, all the guys wanted to know about, was Diya.
“Yeah, she just went in.” As a matter of fact, where was Diya, I couldn’t see her anywhere. Ah! Forget her, let her fan club go find her and check how she was doing. I was through with all that now. I looked around eagerly for Payal, no sign of her as well. I tried calling her to find out if she had arrived but no answer. I picked up my drink and began making my way through the crowd on the dance floor.  A hug here, some good wishes there, a peck on the cheek, a few slaps on the back; it seemed to take me ages to get through the wildly gyrating bodies. I looked ruefully at the drink in my hand; half of it had sloshed out on the floor. Whose fucking idea was it to put seating right at the back of the club? I was really irritable by now. A crowd seated at one of the tables waved at me to come over and join them. I smiled politely, mimed at my half empty glass and tried to sidle away. The last thing I wanted now was some whisky soaked colleagues going all jovial on me. I thought I would walk over to the toilets to try and wash my hands which were all sticky from my drink which had spilled over it. I looked around for someplace to put my drink down and suddenly noticed Payal sitting and talking to someone at a table in the far corner of the room. I waved out to her but it was dim and noisy so maybe she didn’t notice. Weaving unerringly through the tables, I suddenly realized that she was talking to Diya. My face blanched, was that bitch trying to put in her two bits and turn Payal against me? To my relief they were both laughing.
“Hey, what’s so funny girls?”
“You actually” returned Diya coolly. “I was just telling Payal of our conversation this evening.”
“It was really kind of you understand and step aside” said Payal earnestly.
“Whoa! Hold on what are you talking about, have I missed something here” I questioned, surprised at the turn of conversation. It was then that I realized that Diya had her hand on the table between them and Payal was holding it with the palm side up her thumb gently caressing the inside of her wrist. Diya looked decidedly sensual with her mouth slightly open and her eyes heavy with passion.
“Is there something I need to know?” My voice was choked with the bile rising up from my stomach.
Payal looked at him, pity in her eyes. “I am sorry I misled you Samar. I am in love with Diya, have been since the first day we met. She was the one who wasn’t very sure of how she felt; you see she has never had a liaison like this before. Moreover she was in a relationship with you; breaking up with you would have been a final step and she was hesitant to take it. Besides what could she have told you…leaving you for another woman would have been a bit difficult to explain. It was so perceptive of you to tell her that you didn’t consider yourself doing justice to the relationship. You freed her Samar when you took the step for her.”
The room was spinning and Samar felt as there was a giant stone blocking his air passage. Where was the Payal I knew, that gentle, naive young woman who had thought Jism should have been an x-rated movie? The one sitting before me would have put Rakhi Sawant to shame. He looked in shock at Diya. His metropolitan tigress was sitting there passively, looking ready to submit to anything Payal asked of her. Her previous animation had changed to a voluptuous languor.
“It was you, who told me to break up with her Payal, so why are you behaving as if you didn’t know what was going on” he fairly screamed at her.
“I did” she acknowledged “it was the only way I could get her. She turned to Diya and ran the back of her fingers fleetingly down her face, her red lips forming a small apologetic little moue’. “Sorry darling but you were so worth it” she whispered huskily.
“She wasn’t ready to take the final step and I didn’t want to wait, so I pretended to be in love with you so that you would do it. Yes, I did deceive you Samar but can you really point a finger at me? You were in a relationship as well and you were ready to meet me behind her back.”
The statement rung true but I was no mood to appreciate that. I looked around; the lights were spinning around me: I felt nauseous. Serves them right, if I puked all over their table.
“The words you used Samar, they were your own” she continued. “Diya knew about us, she just didn’t believe that you would not catch on that I was a lesbian. It was our little joke, albeit a poor one.  I did deceive you into pulling the plug on the relationship however that would have happened anyway even if I hadn’t. Diya would have had to take a decision sometime. However knowing you, I am amazed that you did it in such a sensitive manner. I didn’t want Diya to be hurt by it all. That is what I am thanking you for. It’s not very nice when one starts something based on a lot of animosity.”
At that moment Diya’s fan club made a boisterous advent at the table. “C’mon Diya lets dance.” They pulled her up and made off with her.
I sat down heavily at the table, hatred seeping through my eyes.
“You bitch” I hissed ‘how could you have been so conniving. Diya might swallow all that bullshit about wanting to save her the pain but I don’t.”
Payal looked at me a chaste smile on her face “why darling, you have your lines and I have mine.”

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