Befriending Bhangarh - Contd..
by Natalia Suri
(New Delhi, India)
Back to Page 1 of the story
“Yes, I know,” the Thakurain said. “Later, I saw blood on the horse’s white stomach and discovered that there was a small iron trap under his saddle. We couldn’t do anything much about it. The police came and kept asking the horse owner. They had beaten up the poor fellow, but he kept saying, ‘I don’t know.’”
Bhuwar Singh, stood up to leave the room. “Bhabi, please put the dinner early today.”
He turned back to see that the Thakurain was still sitting on the bed, massaging Umaid Singh’s hand. Bhuwar Singh smiled as he thought, “How much my Bhabi loves my brother. She cares for him so much.”
At the dinner table, as both Bhuwar Singh and the Thakurain sat, Bhuwar Singh looked at the rice and dal. “Bhabi, it is very difficult for me to swallow the food. I don’t know if they would have given Kunwar any food?”
“Bhaiyaji, please eat, don’t punish your stomach.”
“Bhabi, I have never seen my mother. She died after giving birth to me, but I am sure she would have been like you.” He poured himself a glass of water and said, “Seven years ago, Bhaiya married you, because your father Thakur Bharav Singh, could not pay back the loan to us and died of a heart attack.”
“Bhaiyaji, this is not the time to talk all this. Let it be,” said the Thakurian.
“No, Bhabi, I always thought, Bhaiya Umaid Singh, had done a mistake, marrying a girl twenty years younger to him. You proved me wrong. You are just perfect for this haveli.”
“Bhaiyaji, this is my family. I want you to eat well tomorrow is a very important day for us.”
The next evening, Bhuwar Singh lifted the bag full of money, placed it on the back seat of his open jeep, and came inside the hall. He saw the Thakurain had taken a revolver and was hiding it in the folds of her saree.
“Bhabi, what are you doing? You give that revolver to me, these things are meant for men.”
“No. Bhaiyaji, I must take it. They will never think I have one. And my father had taught me how to use the revolver, you don’t worry.”
Bhuwar Singh nodded his head in agreement, and said, “Bhabi, it is very late, we must leave.”
The Thakurain sat in the front seat in the jeep. She saw Bhuwar Singh had kept three torches.
The drive from Dausa to Bhangarh took them half an hour. It was pitch dark on the way. The Thakurain felt as though Bhuwar Singh was driving inside a hollow, dark cavity.
When they entered the gate of the Fort, the sweet smell of jasmine suddenly assailed them, making the Thakurain remark, “How can this fragrance come in this deserted Fort, where nothing grows?”
Bhuwar Singh stopped the jeep and they stepped out. He picked up the bag full of money. They began to walk inside the Fort, towards the cluster of the ruined buildings. One amongst those disintegrated buildings was the Gopinath temple. It was blindingly dark. They held the torches in their hands. The beam of light from Bhuvar Singh’s torch unexpectedly revealed the beheaded body of a man. The Thakurain gripped Bhuwar Singh’s shoulder.
“Don’t worry, Bhabhi,” he said, “it is just a statue.”
The torchlight revealed a clear path. Boulders were haphazardly stacked one on top of the other all along the sides. They were placed this way after the earthquake that ruined the Bhangarh village in the seventeenth century, killing all the ten thousand inhabitants inside the Fort city.
Just then there was a chiming of bells. The Thakurain, stopped, “Did you hear that, Bhaiya?”
The skin on Bhuwar Singh’s face crinkled, “Yes, I did.”
Bhuwar Singh, standing next to her, heard her panting and said, “Calm down, Bhabi, we just have to take Kunwar, and we will be out of the Fort.”
They walked a few more steps. The Thakurain kept turning back to look.
“Bhabi, why are you turning back again and again? What are you looking at?”
“I feel someone is following us.”
Bhuwar Singh turned the torch and saw nothing but an empty path. But then, he suddenly shuddered. “Did you see her? Di…did you see her? She just passed in front of us, wearing a white saree. She has gone to the other side.”
“No…no, Bhai…ya,” the Thakurain stammered.
The long stone corridor that stretched on their right, had faces on every pillar. Bhuwar Singh repeatedly turned his torch towards the pillars. He felt each human face on the pillar was alive. Some did not have an eye, others did not a nose. He even saw a burnt face. He did not say anything to the Thakurain and continued walking with her, but continued moving the torch light from the path to
the pillars. He wanted to see the faces. Suddenly he saw Umaid Singh, his brother’s face.
Umaid Singh’s face was dangling in the air. He did not have a body. His tongue was hanging out from his open mouth, cut from a corner. Grubs crawled out through his one and only eye; the bone of his skull was bare and naked without skin and hair.
Bhuwar Singh wondered if he was hallucinating. Was it the spirit of the dead princess who haunted this place or his fear? He felt a weight on his feet, as though something was solidifying in them.
He looked at the Thakurain, wondering if she had also seen the same thing, but she was silently walking, looking straight ahead into the darkness. Bhuwar Singh knew if he told the Thakurain what he had seen, she would go into a panic attack.
With uncertainty in his voice, he asked, “Are we on the right track, Bhabi?”
“Yes, Bhaiyaji, I have come here many times, with my friends after school during the day. In daylight you can see few young children of the village playing cricket here.”
They spoke in muted tones, but their voice was like a ball hitting those Fort walls and bouncing back. Suddenly, both of them stopped and the Thakurain whispered, “I can see two eyes on my right. It is as though they have been following us since we entered.” She pushed the torchlight to the right. They saw him sitting, on a stone. His hands rested on his knees. It was a monkey. She sighed, “Monkey.”
At the end of the sinuous path they saw a light. A small light. It was like a lamp burning in some corner. They had reached the Gopinath temple.
Bhuwar Singh said, “Bhabi, there is no one here.”
And then they heard a whining sound. It came from inside the temple. They ran in to see Kunwar tied to a pillar, struggling and crying. Bhuwar Singh rushed to untie him.
Then he heard Bhanja Lal, the accountant’s voice. Bhuwar Singh turned back to see that Bhajan Lal stood next to the Thakurain, pointing a gun towards her head.
“What are you doing here, Bhajan Lal?” Bhuwar Singh asked. Sudden realization dawned on him. “ You bastard, you are pointing the gun towards the Thakurain. You traitor. You kidnapped Kunwar, I won’t leave you.”
“Stop. Don’t move.” Bhajan Lal screamed, “I am not your servant here. I will shoot the Thakurain.”
But Bhuwar Singh didn’t listen; he began walking towards Bhajan Lal.
“Stop,” shouted Bhajan Lal again, “or I will shoot her.”
“No. No.” Bhuwar Singh withdrew his steps and stood still.
And then there were three gunshots. They duplicated each other in the deafening sound. As though life again was born in a spur of a moment in the Bhangarh Fort and died within a fraction of a second.
And then everything was lifeless again. Dead.
Two bodies lay in front of the Thakurain. She smiled; touched their foreheads, where the bullet shots had made holes. Her palms smeared with blood, she came out of the temple. The one who was still alive followed her, picking up the bag of money.
The Thakurain walked towards the left of the temple, leaving it behind. She stopped at a tombstone and rubbed her hands on it. The man standing with her said, “Your work is done. Your father, buried here, would be very proud of you.”
The Thakurain wiped the tears from her eyes and said, “They did not even give him a place to be burnt and rested. I had to put him to sleep here… where no one comes.”
“Give me the mobile,” she said to him. She ripped the blouse of her saree from her shoulders, scratched her face, untied her hair. Then she called the police to the Bhangarh Fort.
The next day at the haveli, everybody was dressed in white. Two bodies lay in the main hall.
The following week, the Thakurain walked into Umaid Singh’s room. Umaid Singh still lay in his bed.
A man standing next to his bed, held a newspaper in his hands. He turned to the Thakurain and asked, “Jaan, did you read this? I want to read it to you, ‘Thakur Bhuwar Singh kidnapped and killed the heir of the Umaid Singh haveli and tried to assault his sister-in-law, Thakurain Umavati, driven by greed for money and power.’”
The Thakurain laughed aloud. She spat on her husband Umaid Singh’s face. “I started thinking of your ruin since the day I stepped into this haveli. I never wanted to marry you, a man of my father’s age.”
She turned and hugged the man who stood next to her husband’s bed. A man she had truly loved since her childhood.
Bhanjan Lal held her close. He said, “I love you. Now everything will be ours.” ***