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Chapter 28-

19 January 2024

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‘Krishna Kanhaiyya, Krishna Kanhaiyya,’ she had called him. He had decided that night that he would never, not even on pain of death, enter her bed. And yet here he was, going through the blue charade again.


But something was wrong. Soon after he applied the indigo solution, his body started to swell. He was consumed by a strange pathological itching. He had never had long nails but he drew deep furroughs through his flesh. Scratch as hard as he might, he could not assuage the itching. He kept jabbing his fingers, plunging them all the way in and gouging out ribbons of his skin and digging deeper still, the ruts criss-crossing each other like wagon tracks during the monsoons on the slushy streets of Chittor. The deep lesions on his flesh were suppurating now, a yellow-green ooze, the colour of ripening guavas dripping from all over his body.


The indigo, he realized, did not agree with him. Every night he had pretended to be the Blue God, he had played the flute just like him, danced the dandiya and even turned into a woman just like him. Surely, he had told himself a thousand times, his wife knew it was all make believe. One of these days he was going to take off his mask, no more indigo, no more silk pitambar, just his naked flesh and they would cohabit as husband and wife. And yet on the night of his second wedding when she had suddenly called him by the god’s name, he felt as if she had mutilated and dismembered him. He might as well have joined the ranks of the eunuchs in the palace and rubbed mustard or groundnut oil on the breasts of the queens and slid his finger back and forth inside the vaginas of the odalisques but apart from a memory of ancient times, he would have felt no tug between his legs.


She didn’t love him, he didn’t figure in her night life. The person she held in her arms, talked to, played with and found new ways to love was not him but her lover and god. She was not aware of him, so he wasn’t even a lie. She had never seen through his game, it was he who had decided to deceive himself, that was all. There was a tight red anger stuck like a spear deep inside his cortex. It blinded him but that didn’t matter. He could still destroy everything in and out of sight. He would kill his faithless wife come what may. What did that witch Bhootani Mata know of rage and vengeance? Shiva was his god and his family deity. He would learn the Tandava from him, an exhilarating joyous dance of death and destruction. Yes, he would dance and with each step he would crush a continent and overturn an ocean. He would wipe out the earth and the birds and the fish and the trees and all of mankind. And then move to the gods, not all of them, just the Blue One.


The battle with Babur was child’s play compared to the war he would wage against the Peacock-feathered One. There was only one thing to be done and he would have to do it himself, not leave it to Bhootani Mata. He would do it, come what may, that was a promise to himself and the god. Just let the fracas with the Padshah get over.


His skin had erupted and begun to fester. There were violent open sores across his body, red welts that grew and tried to reach out to each other and become one. The sour, intoxicating smell of putrescence and corruption fermented like an evil brew. Sometimes he would stop scratching himself out of exhaustion but then another subterranean wave of itching would start at the edge of his right toe or roll forward from his belly button, and the leftover stub of his genitals would rankle with rot.


He was inflamed and raw and in terrible pain. When he came to, she had his head in her lap and was nursing him. She wiped his brow and forced open his lips and let her saliva dribble into his mouth. Leave me be, get away from me; go to your Flautist, he was shouting at the top of his lungs yet there was no sound from his tongue. I don’t want to see your face again, you two-timing god’s bride. No more, I’m through with you. Once and forever. How he loathed her, he would fling her down from the Victory Tower or the parapet wall of the fortress.


She opened her mouth and sucked and drew out the putrefaction from his wounds gently and the cold flame of her tongue soothed and sank over the length of his body bringing a momentary forgetfulness.


The fever abated and there was a respite in the gruesome itching. Run, Maharaj Kumar, run; run before the woman bewitches you and you are trapped again. He tried to move away from her but he had neither the energy nor the will.


‘Give me your fever,’ she said, ‘I’ll quench this raging fire and share all your pain and suffering and go out of my mind with joy, my Blue One.’


He knew then that he was finished with his wife.


He sat up painfully. He turned his back upon her and walked out of the room.


* * *


The day before the Maharaj Kumar left for the war, he found the door to the Little Saint’s room half open. The first time he had intruded upon her, she was lost in the ecstasies of love. He had almost not gone to the Idar war then. Keep off. Put blinkers on your eyes and move on. Before you know it, she’ll have worked her black magic on you and you’ll refuse to keep your appointment, the most important one of your life, with Babur. He pushed the door a little. The hinges creaked but she didn’t hear the rusty sound. She was sitting in front of the Flautist and he could see her profile. She was wearing a raging mustard Sangamneri choli and ghagra topped with a bottle-green Venkatgiri chunni over her head. She picked up a marigold garland and put it around her neck. Then another and another. She dipped her thumb in turmeric powder and put it on her forehead and then added a vermillion sindoor. She smashed a coconut on the floor. It broke into two perfect halves. She placed them in front of herself.


She closed her eyes.


‘Worship me’ she told the Flautist. ‘There’s as much of the divine in me as in you.’


There. She had done it. Said the unsayable. The Maharaj Kumar was appalled by the gall and audacity of it. And yet he had to admit that it was the most logical and natural thing for her to say. Hadn’t he recited and believed in the mantra ‘So’ hum’ all his grown-up years? ‘I am that’; that which pervades, inspires and encompasses the universe. And yet they had been nothing but empty shells of words. The Little Saint’s faith had made the final leap. She could change roles with the Flautist. She was the substance and the power and the force that was God.

What a splendid sight it was to see the full panoply, the pomp and glory of the Mewar armies as they marched past and Father took the salute. (Today is cliché day. At heart I am a worse romantic than any Mewari.) What proud, tall, handsome men our soldiers are. They are wearing such brilliantly colourful clothes, you would think they were going to a marriage. First the cavalry, then the camel corps, the elephant brigade and the foot soldiers. Bows across the shoulders, arrows in their quivers at the back, swords at the waists and spears in their hands. Finally the matchlock company of a hundred men. The Mewar troops are followed by the armies of many of the allies who have already joined us. The pageantry and magnificence of the procession seem to go on forever. Is sheer size a virtue or a disadvantage? The sight of so massive an army, serried upon serried ranks of fierce soldiers, can overwhelm and paralyse an enemy. But it also precludes flexibility and mobility and makes you the perfect target if the enemy is armed with guns, great and small. Anywhere he fires he is going to reap a crop of dead men. Suddenly our soldiers didn’t seem so formidable.


There I go again with my misgivings. I’ve been watching myself for the past few months. I seem to have become brittle and fragmented. This is not the final battle, I tell myself sharply. We’ll do our damnedest to win it and put the Padshah to flight all the way to Kabul. If by any chance we don’t succeed this time, it will only be a temporary reversal. We’ll have learnt a lesson and will be far smarter, shrewder and better-equipped the next time. Let’s go, Maharaj Kumar, let’s go. Let’s get on with the job and terminate the enemy for good.


The Princess was waving out absent-mindedly, not to anyone in particular. Did she know that her husband, the legal one, was going to fight a war? Did it make a difference to her? I suspected she was preoccupied with matters of greater moment, nothing less than god himself.


The war, I had to admit, had some things to recommend it. I had avoided her for the past two and a half weeks as scrupulously as possible but not always successfully. Now I was going away and there was no chance of running into her or seeing her face even accidentally. There was nothing I wished for more fervently than freedom from her.


* * *


Fifty miles from Bayana, Mangal’s words came back to me: The Padshah Babur was sending a substantial party to reinforce his garrison at the fort since he thought that it might be at risk from us. Perhaps we shouldn’t disappoint him. It might help create the right kind of climate before the war.


It was doubtful that Father would approve of my harebrained scheme at the eleventh hour but I decided to chance it. Having said no to my big plea, he was willing to indulge me in inconsequential matters. I’m being unfair to him. I think he liked the idea of introducing an intimidatory note prior to the main campaign.


‘Once you are in secure possession of the fort, we’ll join you. We’ll leave for Mandakur together.’


I did not ask Father why he didn’t consider the possibility that Babur’s men might butcher our small party.


Tej, Shafi and I left with five hundred cavalry. We knew the lay of the land better than the Padshah’s men. We had worked together and had developed a rapport that was almost akin to knowing each other’s minds. We took the shortest possible route, made good time and got there a good eleven hours before Babur’s begs and men. We fell upon them just as the governor of the Bayana fort opened the great gates for the reinforcements that Babur had sent. Luck was very much on our side and we made the best of it. Within an hour the enemy had lost several of their soldiers and company commanders and we had stormed the fortress. Sangur Khan Janjuha never saw the light of day again. And the formidable Kotta Khan had nearly overwhelmed one of our soldiers when he snatched a sword from the enemy and slashed the Khan across his shoulder.


Looking back, though, Bayana may not have been such a wise idea. The very success of that sortie may have made us a little overconfident. It certainly sent a wave of panic through Babur’s soldiery and commanders and forced the Padshah to take a decision that had the gravest consequence on the outcome of the war.


We were waiting for His Majesty and the rest of our armies when I realized that I had left Chittor without saying my farewells to the Gambhiree and without taking my standard tour of the fort and its environs from the Victory Tower. Was I too losing my cool and calm? Father had agreed to my suggestion that life should continue normally at home and that the work on the water systems and the tunnels should proceed as planned. The only hitch was that I had forgotten to hand over to the town planner His Majesty’s sealed order asking Adinathji to release monies for the job. It was locked in the second compartment of my desk at the office. I must remember to send the key with the next courier going to Chittor.


His Majesty and our allies were in great spirits when they arrived. They felt the fall of Bayana was an auspicious omen. Father appointed Rao Pranmal to the governorship of our latest acquisition and early the next morning we were off. We had made excellent progress so far and I was elated that His Majesty wished to press home our advantage. The less time Babur got to prepare, the better our chances of making a clean sweep of the enemy. Besides the word was that the Padshah’s camp was badly demoralized because of our lightning attack.


Then the Rana did something which I cannot explain to this day.


Babur had initially pitched his camp at Mandakur between Agra and Sikri. His soldiers had set up tents and his heavy artillery was in place when he realized that the plain did not have an adequate water supply and decided to move to Fatehpur Sikri by the side of the lake. If we marched north-east from Bayana for barely a day, or a day and a half if we wanted to take in the scenic beauty around, of which there is none, we would be in Sikri face to face with the Padshah’s forces. But instead of pressing on and catching the enemy unawares while he was still unpacking, Father chose to go north-west and halted at Bhusawar. I doubt if my children or anybody else will believe this, but Father’s reasons were that he wanted to cut off Babur’s lines of supply. Couldn’t His Majesty think straight any longer and do simple calculations? Had he gone out of his bloody .... Never mind, what was the point of fuming, it only makes you feel more impotent. That delay cost us close to a month. The Padshah couldn’t have asked for a more obliging foe.


Shiraz Ali, our chief field-intelligence officer, told us that Babur had chosen the flatland next to the village of Khanua which is about ten miles from Sikri as the site for the battlefield. Setting about his job with a civil engineer’s precision, he positioned his field-cannons up front facing the enemy. They rested on wheeled tripods of wood which also gave shelter to the gunners. Behind them he placed his wagons, seven or eight yards separating one from the other. He secured the wagons with solid iron chains and tested them repeatedly to make certain that they were held tightly and firmly. That was his second line of defence behind which his artillery, the men with the matchlocks, took shelter. Where the carts did not offer protection, Babur had his deputy, Khurasani and local spadesmen and miners dig ditches.


The storming of Bayana had sent shock waves through Babur’s forces. Tales of our fierceness and valour spread through the Padshah’s camp. Added to that, the astrologer, Muhammad Sharif, who had recently arrived from Kabul prophesied: ‘Mars is in the west these days; who comes into the fight from the east will be defeated.’ Try as he might Babur could not allay the anxieties and fears of his men. His response to the crisis was typical. He was completely unmoved by all this talk of defeat and decided to make the two most dramatic gestures of his life. I have little doubt that it was done in good faith but like all great leaders, he also has a superb sense of timing and theatre. The first was to renounce his greatest addiction: wine. Babur issued and had posted a farman over his dominions. It is written in a florid style and full of bombast, obviously not the work of the diarist I knew but one of his secretaries or priests. Here are some excerpts from it.


‘In that glorious hour when we had put on the garb of the holy warrior and had encamped with the army of Islam over against the infidels in order to slay them, I received a secret inspiration and heard an infallible voice say “Is not the time yet come unto those who believe, that their hearts should humbly submit to the admonition of God, and that truth which hath been revealed?” Thereupon we set ourselves to extirpate the things of wickedness ... And I made public the resolution to abstain from wine, which had been hidden in the treasury of my breast. The victorious servants, in accordance with the illustrious order, dashed upon the earth of contempt and destruction the flagons and cups, and the other utensils in gold and silver, which in their number and their brilliance were like the stars of the firmament. They dashed them in pieces as, God willing! soon will be dashed the gods of the idolaters – and they distributed the fragments among the poor and needy.’


That last bit was not the only philanthropic measure Babur took. In a bid to enlist the support of the Muslim populace of his kingdom he decreed that no Mussalman would henceforth have to pay tax.


And yet even this great pledge and sacrifice did not seem to have had the desired effect. There is a note from Babur’s diary that Shiraz Ali sent me:


‘At length after I had made enquiry concerning people’s want of heart and had seen their slackness for myself, a plan occurred to me, I summoned all the begs and braves and said to them:


“Begs and Braves! ... Better than life with a bad name, is death with a good one.


        Well is it with me, if I die with good name!


        A good name must I have, since the body is death.


“God the Most High has allotted us such happiness and has created for us such good fortune that we die as martyrs, we kill as avengers of His cause. Therefore must each of you take oath upon His Holy Word that he will not think of turning his face from this foe, or withdraw from this deadly encounter so long as life is not rent from his body.” All those present, beg and retainer, great and small, took the Holy Book joyfully into their hands and made vow and compact to this purport.’


When we finally arrived at Khanua, Babur was ready and waiting for us.

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Chapter 10-

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Chapter 11-

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Chapter 12-

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Chapter 13-

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Chapter 14-

15 January 2024
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Chapter 15-

16 January 2024
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Chapter 16-

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Chapter 17-

16 January 2024
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Within a week, Greeneyes was walking about the house. On the tenth day she visited the orphanage. Rather, she intended to. The people of Chittor had got word that the Little Saint had resurfaced and s

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Chapter 18-

16 January 2024
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He was returning from a seven-mile walk along the parapet of the fort at eleven at night when he saw his wife sitting at the Flautist’s temple. He turned towards the palace but something about her mad

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Chapter 19-

17 January 2024
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Things had not changed much. Father pleaded indisposition when I asked for an audience to lay my head at his feet. Why had he called me back? When I went to the Victory Hall in the evening, a bandage

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Chapter 20-

17 January 2024
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Raja Puraji Kika and I may be soulmates but it’s mostly a long-distance closeness. Besides, even when we are together, neither of us is very voluble. What we share is taciturnity and silence. I often

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Chapter 21-

17 January 2024
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Chapter 22-

17 January 2024
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I am like a schoolboy, I am always rushing home. From Idar, from Kumbhalgarh and now from Dharampur. It’s as if I need to pretend that there’s always something of moment, a crisis that cannot be resol

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Chapter 23-

17 January 2024
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Chapter 24-

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Chapter 25-

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Who, Mangal, who?’ It was seventeen days since ‘the accident’ as the court bulletin preferred to call it. ‘Could be any one of a hundred and fourteen people.’ I looked sharply at Mangal. Why

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Chapter 26-

18 January 2024
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Chapter 27-

19 January 2024
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Had I really been that preoccupied formulating the new tax proposals to finance the war that I hadn’t noticed the night descend? How could that be, surely it wasn’t more than two and a half hours sinc

28

Chapter 28-

19 January 2024
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‘Krishna Kanhaiyya, Krishna Kanhaiyya,’ she had called him. He had decided that night that he would never, not even on pain of death, enter her bed. And yet here he was, going through the blue charade

29

Chapter 29-

19 January 2024
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At the final meeting of the War Council on the night before the battle, the mood was buoyant, even jocular. Most of the talk was about how small the Padshah’s army was and whether the ditches had been

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Chapter 30-

19 January 2024
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That afternoon a party of seven came over from Mewar to meet His Majesty. Father was delighted with the company and the attention. Baswa is a godforsaken place though its ruler, Rao Himmat Simha, has

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