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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 dug to bury the Moghul dead. The members of the Council had got used to my being the only one to introduce a sour note in the proceedings. They humoured me but I didn’t know how to give up.


‘The only battle plan we have is to soften the enemy under the feet of our thousand elephants and then to follow this up by getting the four seemingly monolithic blocks of our army to move forward and attack. We have no overall strategy, no way to monitor the progress of the war and to make continuous adjustments to exploit the weaknesses of the enemy and break his nerve or to rush help and reinforcements wherever we are taking a beating. The first prerequisite for this is an overview where you can see the moment-to-moment developments taking place on the entire battlefield. You then have information to which people on the ground, both your own and the enemy’s, are not privy. We have a huge army. If we can place a man at a vantage point, he can move bits and pieces of the army backwards, sideways or even trap the enemy in a pincer movement. I believe that we can even now with this one advantage alone use the sheer weight of numbers to crush the better-equipped and fortified Moghul forces.’


‘Where is the hill or height nearby from where one can get the kind of panoramic view you speak of, Highness?’ Hasan Khan of Mewat asked me.


‘There isn’t, Sire. Which is why my men and I have built a mobile observation tower. It is sturdy and portable since it has wheels and it will always be just beyond the reach of the cannon balls.’


‘How high is it?’ Rao Medini Rai was the other person who had been paying close attention to me.


‘Fifty feet.’


‘And you see yourself up there ordering all of us around, including His Majesty?’ Silhadi was doing target practice on me again.


‘There is only one person whose vision we all respect because he has not merely Mewar’s interests at heart but those of the entire confederacy of Muslims and Rajputs gathered here today. He has fought and won more wars than any one of us. His experience and expertise are our biggest resource. He alone is fit to analyse and interpret the overview and decide what action needs to be taken. A series of couriers will stand along the main ladder and pass his messages swiftly to different parts of our armies and their leaders.


‘There is one more consideration. For us, in Mewar, the life of the most insignificant soldier is priceless. You are our dearest friends and doubly precious to us. It is our fervent hope that at the end of the day tomorrow, we’ll embrace every member of this Council in celebration of victory. Which is why it is important that His Majesty guide and not fall prey to a random shot or arrow or the sword of a Moghul trooper.’


‘There’s no question about it.’ Rao Viramdev had not only caught the drift of my circuitous speech but realized that he, and not I, must articulate the sentiment that amongst all of us His Majesty’s life was the least dispensable. ‘We cannot afford to put His Majesty’s life at risk for entirely selfish reasons. If he conducts the war in the manner the Maharaj Kumar has suggested, then we can get the better of the Padshah.’


‘That is a brilliant strategy. We’ll yet teach Babur that we, too, are fighting a jehad.’ The Chief of Mewat, Hasan Khan, had reason to believe that as a Mussalman he too was fighting a Holy War. ‘Not only that, we must guard His Majesty’s life at any cost.’


There were yeas and murmurs all around.


‘A Rajput king, that, too, the Maharana of Mewar run from the battlefield as if he were a frightened chicken or a woman in a ghagra and choli? What an absurd idea. What message will we be sending to Babur and his troops? That His Majesty’s afraid of him?’


‘Quite the contrary, the message is that if there’s a leader who’s in total control of the war, then he, and he alone will win the day.’


I knew that my proposal had already been defeated. Silhadi had diagnosed Father’s rawest nerve and pressed on it. Ever since the day, so many years ago, when he had fled, badly wounded and with one eyeball hanging out, from the unexpected and dastardly attack by his brothers, there was no man in Mewar as sensitive to the charge of cowardice as Father.


‘And pray, how will you explain His Majesty’s absence to our own armies? What kind of example will the Maharana be setting?’


‘If each of us, His Majesty’s closest allies and advisers takes his men into confidence, I’ve little doubt that they will understand our strategy and support it fully.’


Rao Viramdev made good sense but Father was not about to tell Silhadi that he refused to be provoked by his needling but would act according to what he felt was best for the future of the confederacy. ‘I thank you all for your concern for my safety but my place is with our forces. No more about the observation tower now, it’s time to retire for the night.’


‘It’s not concern for you, Your Majesty,’ this was the closest I had come to an open disagreement with Father, ‘we need a leader who will lead us, not one who is lost among a lakh and twenty thousand soldiers.’


‘Maharaj Kumar, I did say that the subject was closed, did I not? There are enough capable leaders here who can lead our armies as well as I.’


* * *


March the seventeenth, fifteen twenty-seven. It was cold when I got up. Most of the fires the soldiers had lit the previous night had died down. As I sat up, I may have startled a scarlet minivet which had roosted on a low branch of the tree under which I had spent the night. It took off in that first light, a shrouded scarlet-red meteor rising into the sky instead of hurtling from it. Red would be the colour of the day.


I felt rested. I did not have any anxieties about what lay ahead of us. For a brief moment, I had the feeling that Babur and I were mirror images. Which was the real person and which the reflection? I was sure he, too, was composed and steadfast of intent. He too would be up and bathing with cold water. Perhaps it would not matter if we changed places. I looked around. Is this what they mean when they talk about an ocean of people? Mewari and allied troops were sprawled all the way to the horizon.


Bath, yoga, meditation, breakfast, I got into my armour and was on the battlefield. I could see the cannons in the distance. I wondered why Tej, Shafi, Hem Karan and I hadn’t gone across in the night and rolled them over to our side. Both the armies were in position now. The minivet swept past, east to west with a couple of worms in its beak. It was indifferent to our hectic preparations. War was for fools called men. It had more urgent matters on hand. I had seen two minivet chicks sitting in their nest. All the while their father was away, and he would be gone for a good fifteen minutes at a time, the idiot fledgelings kept their beaks open, ever ready for some delicacy to fall into their mouths. The Moghul armies were barricaded behind an unsightly line of wagons and ditches. Where was the Padshah? Would I recognize the man I knew better than most of my colleagues in Mewar? I rode back to the observation tower which had been set up just in case Father changed his mind. The army carpenters had built it in three parts. The lowest was twenty-five feet high. It was on wheels with a platform on top. The next one was fifteen feet tall, flat-topped and had wheels that could be removed easily. The top section was heavily armoured except for open slits at eye level all around. It looked a trifle awkward but it served its purpose. I climbed up to the top storey.


I had a better view of the battlefield now. There was a hole the size of the eclipse in the centre of my vision. My eyesight fluctuated, sometimes from hour to hour. There was no logic to it. On good days, I could see almost normally; at other times while my peripheral vision was passable, I could only see vague, bleached and burnt images when I looked straight ahead. A fine way to go into battle with Padshah Babur; I would have to request him to step aside so I could see him clearly. I’m sure there will be a school of historians in the future who will put forward the theory that the black sun in my vision was not due to chance or bad luck. Somewhere deep inside me, they would say, I wanted to dissociate myself from the war, which is why I had deliberately arranged an accident. Fortunately, while I will fight to kill as many of the enemy as I always do, our allied forces are packed with some of the fiercest warriors in history, and if I grope and blink and stumble, it shouldn’t make too much of a difference to the outcome of the battle.


Ours was the classic battle formation. It had been the same for I don’t know how many hundreds of years: a semicircle of elephants behind which were ranged three densely packed armies. Mewar’s vassals and feudal chiefs stood in the centre while the allies were massed to the right and left. Behind this impenetrable phalanx were His Majesty, the Mewar and allied generals, and when I climbed down, there would be me. Placed in the middle behind us was another solid block of our back-up soldiers. Somewhere in the centre of the Moghul armies a little before their reserve force was a huddle of men. One of them, I was certain, was Babur.


It suddenly occurred to me that I had lost count of the number of years I had been carrying on my conversations with Leelawati. What a pompous ass I was not to have seen what was in front of my nose. I had blamed myself for my sister Sumitra’s death. If only I had taken her limp seriously ... if only I had disobeyed Father and asked the surgeon to amputate her leg ... Leelawati was my expiation, the price I had decided to pay for my guilt. Better late than never. Enough was enough. I didn’t give a damn any longer whether the social mores of Mewar allowed a marriage between a Rajput and a Jain. At worst, there would be a scandal. That would be tough to handle. But my wife had tutored me in such matters. I had better send a courier in the evening to Leelawati telling her that she need no longer be patient with me. I was coming to fetch her from Mandu. Or if I couldn’t get away, Mangal would escort her back.


I climbed down and went back to my post a few hundred yards from Father. It was nine thirty. Suddenly there was an earth-shattering sound and a celestial missile sped towards us like the wrath of God. Its thunderous rumble was accompanied by a thin slithering sound that penetrated the eardrum and lodged in the brain like a vibrating needle which jangled every nerve in the body. Where Rao Raj and Rawat Somnath were, there was now a crater five foot deep and three foot wide. The war had begun but the Rajput armies were petrified in their places. I frankly don’t think they were terrified as much as confused and bewildered. Where were these flying missiles coming from? Six more landed at various points and all we could do was to wait patiently for the one with our names written on it to land in our midst and kill us. Fortunately Rao Medini Rai and Rao Maldev were leading our left front and after the first moment of disorientation took off against Babur’s right wing. That seemed to snap our men out of their paralysis. There was incessant fire from the matchlock battalion of the Padshah. They were not aiming particularly well but the shots picked our men at random in the hundreds. Medini Rai and Maldev made a battering ram of their forces and did not let up the pressure. On the other side Akhil Raj, Raimul Rathod and Hasan Khan Mewati engaged the Padshah’s left wing. Babur’s men had begun to cave in under their relentless attack when one of the Padshah’s flying flanks arrived to their rescue. The two sides were now equally matched and would have been locked together till evening but for the havoc wrought by the matchlocks. Soon the Moghuls were on the offensive and there was a wide crack between the right wing and the centre of the Rajputs.


Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. You can make that sound with your mouth. Not at all scary, is it? Hear one of those cannons shattering your eardrums and you lose all confidence and sense of purpose. It’s worth pointing out that the cannons didn’t do extensive damage to our people; after all, the Padshah had only seven of them and it takes a while before the gunpowder compartment cools and you can clean the barrel, reload it and fire. What pulverized us was the sound of those hot balls flying in the air and landing with a strangely repressed, and hence so much the more fearful, thud as they dug into the earth. Plus the terror of not knowing when and where the next stone-death would fall. What happened then? I have no idea. I was far too preoccupied with the immediate business of galvanizing our men and fighting the Moghul menace through the air and on the ground to have any concept of the overall picture.


The matchlocks kept picking on us, ticking off one soldier at a time. You rarely knew where the bullet was coming from except when it hit you. In any case, what difference would it have made even if a soldier knew who was firing the musket? His best chance was to hurl his spear at the opponent but before he had extended his arm backwards for leverage, the bullet would have blown his brains away or nestled nicely in his heart or gone right through his upper intestine or if he was lucky, lodged in his thigh.


One bullet at a time, it should take a month or two to kill or cripple a hundred and twenty thousand, give or take a few thousand, Mewari or allied soldiers. But let’s do a little arithmetic here. My guess is that five thousand of Babur’s soldiers had muskets, perhaps seven thousand, but the conservative number will do. I think the Padshah saw our hundred and twenty thousand-headed behemoth ranged against him and said a prayer of thanks to his God. Barring his first line of musketeers, he asked them to point their guns at an angle of 45 degrees. The bullets shot out and curved down at us at 80 to 105 yards per second. Even a bullet flying at barely 65 yards a second will penetrate the skull. No need to aim at all. Just cock your gun and fire.


Our men kept advancing and falling steadily hour after hour. Again it was not the bullets that inflicted such fearful casualties upon us. What the new weapons technology did was to destroy our morale by the middle of the second hour. By itself a cannon ball could kill maybe two or five soldiers at the most, and that, too, if they were huddling together in the path of the ball as it landed. But it was its impact on earth which could be far more deadly. Thousands of tiny, medium and big shards of rocks, roots, branches and jagged chunks of earth were dislodged and flew at great velocities into our midst. We were blinded, knocked down, stupefied. And yet I wouldn’t have minded the pandemonium around me so much if I could have strangled the throats of all the soldiers, mostly ours.


I had never heard the likes of the cries and shrieks and the weeping and the screaming that day. The disbelief of an arm separating from the shoulder and hitting the ground; the horror of a spear twisting spirally in the belly; the appalling pain of a shoulder blade cracking as a sword cleaved through it and continued its progress till it breached the backbone, disconnecting the seventh vertebra from the eighth; the amazement of discovering an arrow that was stuck in the neck like a weather vane; the realization that the hole where the floating ribs and liver should have been was a clear air passage all the way to the back Above all, the gasp of astonishment and the sharp break in the intake of breath as death closed in. I was a veteran of wars and the suffering of the men in this war was no different from that of all the others. Wherefore my surprise and intolerance? Was it because my sight was impaired and my hearing that much keener? Or did I react harshly because every one of those agonizing calls only confirmed our rout?


And now they were coming back, those asphyxiating ten thousand Gujarati soldiers, from the misty marshes and bogs on that early morning, phalanx upon phalanx, ten thousand faces caught timelessly in anguish with soundless open mouths. Smile, I begged them, smile. We are paying for what we did to you. See the hands, legs, hearts, pancreas, kidneys and innards flailing and flung to the winds. Breathe easy now, we have to pay for our karma, sometimes in this very life itself. Take pleasure while you can. This is revenge, my friends, the sweetest satisfaction life can offer. But they did not smile and the twisted faces and the horror would not pass. All day long, as the wounded fell and the dead piled up helter-skelter and graceless, some of them with their chests, stomachs and privates exposed, the ghoulish Gujarati troops watched silently. If not absolution, I yelled, give me oblivion. They did not hear me, or if they did, they were not about to oblige me.


Babur had done his homework carefully. He knew we were not one army but at least fifty armies. He concentrated on ripping open the slight and insecure seams that held together our various forces. He put pressure along these fault lines till we came apart. That was not very difficult. We didn’t have a unified discipline (Shafi, Tej and Hem Karan’s seven or ten thousand men could have been a single lethal force but the men were attached to different divisions), whereas Babur’s twenty thousand had fought at least five wars in India alone and were compact units which the Padshah handled like a master juggler.


Think of a game of chess. At the start we were facing each other, pawns, king, elephants, vazir, horses, on either side. Halfway through the game Babur had moved his pieces so skillfully and swiftly we were under attack on all sides, and losing our men at a staggering pace. Among the leaders Sajja Chundawat, Rawat Jagga Sarangdev, my uncle Lakshman Simha, Rawat Bagh, Sajja Ajja and Karamchand, Chandra Bhan Chauhan, Bhopat Rai, Dalpat and Manik Chandra were all dead. The Moghuls had even captured the Rana’s colours but Karan Simha Dodia rescued them at the cost of his life.


We were in desperate straits. Perhaps it might have been a good idea to use strategy three from Shafi’s book of retreats: ‘Slowly and unobtrusively back out, scatter and meet at a predetermined place where the enemy would not pursue you. Then if all is not lost, take a long detour, mass behind the enemy and attack.’ No one among our leaders, however, had taken into account a defeat, let alone a retreat, so there was no question of a premeditated and orderly withdrawal. In the meantime, His Majesty saw the dismal fate of our troops and decided to commit the most foolish blunder of his life. He took it upon himself to rally and inspire them. He exposed himself between two divisions when a random arrow laid him low. It was a mortal blow but you forget that after eighty-seven or ninety wounds to his person, His Majesty was immortal. We raised him gently from the ground, he was unconscious and losing a lot of blood, and transported him in a litter to a distant place called Baswa just in case Babur himself came looking for him or sent someone else to finish him.


I have only two more things to report. We had removed Father in as clandestine a manner as possible because we did not wish either of the armies, ours or Babur’s to know about His Majesty’s departure. The elders appointed Raja Rana Ajja, Chunder of Halwad, to lead the battle in Father’s absence. They hoped that once Raja Rana Ajja was seated on Father’s elephant, no one would notice the difference. It is difficult for anyone to impersonate Father, you would have to lose an eye and have a few dead limbs. I had my doubts if Rana Ajja could double for the real Rana but anything was worth a try and I was all for it. All the emblems of sovereignty including the chhatra were in place on Father’s elephant and war was resumed. We had hoped that since we had acted quickly, word of Father’s injury would not get around. It was at precisely this moment that Silhadi deserted us and joined Babur. He also did us the favour of telling the Padshah that a makeshift pretender was sitting on the Rana’s elephant. I should have been incensed by his treachery but I took the news matter-of-factly. Silhadi liked being on the winning side. Besides, his presence or absence wasn’t going to make much difference. The end was nigh.


In the evening the Padshah ordered the heads of the enemy to be gathered and raised in a column. I was not there to see this ghastly victory tower but they told me that it was a little higher than the fifty foot tall observation tower I had built for His Majesty and just as secure.

I reached the palace on the hill at Baswa late at night. There weren’t too many people with Father. Perhaps it made sense to abandon ship, if I may use a maritime image for a land-bound conflict. Even the few people who were there looked coldly at me and gave me a wide berth. (Is my unconscious switch to seafaring imagery trying to tell me something? Do I wish to leave the shores of this land for good?) Since I had been so insistent that we postpone the battle of Khanua by a year or two and they had all vetoed my arguments, I’m somehow or other held responsible for today’s rout.


‘We were worried about you. I’m so thankful that you could make it in one piece,’ Rao Medini Rai greeted me.


‘How’s Father?’


‘Considering the injuries he’s suffered, very well indeed. When he came to, he wanted his armour and horse, so he could get back to the battle. He’s very weak but has been asking for you every five minutes.’


‘I told Prince Hem Karan, Tej and Shafi to arrange for the wounded to be moved here once the Padshah’s men leave the field. They should be with us by morning at the latest.’


Father suddenly looks so frail and small. His lips and skin were ashen and his pulse uneven. I sat numbly next to him. My tongue seemed to have gone dead.


‘Are you disappointed in your father, son?’


I would prefer His Majesty to be distant and curt with me. ‘I will be disappointed if you are not up in the next seven days. There’s a great deal of work to be done before we take on the Padshah again.’


‘You warned me at every step but I would not listen to you.’


‘Do you know the kind of people I can’t stand the sight of? The I-had-told-you-so types.’


‘So what do you suggest we do now?’


‘I’m in earnest, Your Majesty. I’ll nurse you back to good health in a week’s time, or ten days on the outside. We’ll be back in Chittor in fifteen days and get down to work.’


‘I’m not going to Chittor.’ I almost didn’t hear him.


‘Not now, Your Majesty. A little later when you are feeling better. We need to look at our finances. We’ll have to come to some kind of terms with the Padshah. I suggest we be friendly with him from now on for a year or two. By next July or August we’ll have got the field-cannons. Six months or a year’s practice with them and the matchlocks, and some sound rethinking about how to deploy our forces and we’ll be ready for Babur.’


Who was I trying to cheer up? Father or myself? And yet I meant every word I said.


‘Didn’t you hear what I said?’ His Majesty sounded peeved with me, ‘I’m not going to Chittor until I’ve vanquished the Padshah.’


I could barely keep myself from smiling. ‘But that’s precisely why we have to get back. We need to be at home. The Rana must be on his throne with the full machinery and dignity of his office behind him for us to marshal our resources and launch our next attack upon the Moghul intruder.’


‘When I gained consciousness this afternoon, I took a vow in front of our allies.’


‘We’ll go back on it. Nobody’s going to hold it against you. You were, after all, in shock and had lost an incredible amount of blood.’


‘Don’t you understand?’ He turned his head away. ‘I cannot show my face at home.’


‘This is not the first time that Mewar has been given a thrashing and it won’t be the last. Look at Babur, he made a career of defeat but he hung on till he had forced the fates and fortune to change his luck.


‘I’m not going home.’


‘You rest now. We’ll talk about it tomorrow.’


The mood at Baswa was, at first, a little down, at times even downright morose. But just the fact of a number of people in the small palace had given it a busy, purposeful air. Now, all of a sudden, Baswa has become eerily quiet. My father-in-law, Medini Rai had to rush to Chanderi when word reached us that the Rai’s capital was under threat from Babur. The Padshah of Delhi was moving swiftly, annexing smaller kingdoms and principalities and there was a good deal of uncertainty about who he would attack next. Almost overnight all our allies, Amber, Jodhpur, Sirohi, left for their homes fearing that Babur might turn his attention to them.


There are just thirty of us now in Baswa: Father, me and Rawat Ram Simha, chief of the elite security force of twenty guards attached to His Majesty. The soldiers play cards, chess or sleep when they are not on duty but there’s no denying that morale is tepid.


Like me, the soldiers want to go home. We suffer from the same malaise, boredom.


Some days ago, my mother wrote saying that she was coming to Baswa to be with the Rana and keep house for him. Father sent her a curt note telling her that he would prefer it if she looked after her home in Chittor rather than take care of somebody else’s palace in Baswa.


A month has passed and I’ve still not been able to persuade Father to return to Chittor.


‘Who’s going to look after the administration, the civilian, military and financial affairs of the kingdom? A sovereign state cannot and must not function without a sovereign.’


‘The Prime Minister and Mangal are quite capable of looking after Mewar. No man, be he prince or pauper, is indispensable.’


‘Mangal has been sending a courier almost every day asking us to come back. Are you reading his reports, Your Majesty? There’s serious trouble brewing in the capital. Vikramaditya and Her Highness, Queen Karmavati, are now openly talking of removing the Pradhan, Pooranmalji, from office. If you don’t show up in Chittor right away and take the reins of the kingdom in your hands, it will be too late.’


‘Too late for what?’


‘The war’s been over for weeks. Your subjects can’t understand why you won’t return and take charge. Pooranmalji is old and feeble. Now more than ever Mewar needs a firm sense of direction. What they have got instead are a lot of rumours and fear of what the future holds in store. You must go back before the machinery of the state breaks down altogether.’


‘Is that really why you want me to go back? Is it because you want me to wear the crown or because you wish to secure it for yourself?’


‘You are the crown. Which is why you must go back and take charge of your throne. Of course I want the crown. I am the firstborn and the Maharaj Kumar. It will descend from your head to mine but only after you have lived a full life and long after you have driven the Padshah back into the Hindukush mountains.’


What had happened to Father? Was it that last wound and the injury to his head as he fainted and fell from his elephant? Or had he lost his nerve? Did he really believe that the people of Mewar would scoff at him? Even if they did, did he not know that hired hands are but parrots, they’ll repeat anything they are taught? I am impatient and irritable with Father because I know time is running out. But that doesn’t in any way mitigate the fact that I’m being crass and unreasonable. He has suffered a terrible defeat and it is little wonder that his spirit has been crushed.


* * *


Two days later, I sat down to write to Leelawati. It had taken me over a month but I had finally got down to it. I may have got a little carried away before the battle but I had not changed my mind about one thing: if she would have me despite the defeat the Padshah had inflicted upon us, we could start living together. It was, however, not going to be easy. What would she tell her husband? Would she run away? Her great-grandfather would probably resign the moment he learnt of our intentions. That was all right with me. We owed him so much money, perhaps that would get written off. Besides Leelawati could take over his job. No, facetiousness apart, it was going to be difficult, almost insurmountably so. Was a Rajput prince, a Maharaj Kumar in this instance, allowed to marry someone else’s wife? More to the point, could the Maharaj Kumar marry below his station, and that, too, a Jain moneylender’s daughter? No. That was unthinkable. Well then, we would have to set a precedent. There was, of course, the question of His Majesty’s approval. And then there was Queen Karmavati. But I needn’t worry on the last count. Leelawati would be more than a match for the Queen.


How had this romantic streak suddenly shown up in me? Why was I fantasizing like an adolescent? Was I out of my mind? It no longer mattered. One of these days I would be king. I needed a woman who would manage not just the home and be the mother of my children but also take care of the finances of the kingdom and be queen to Mewar.


I heard Father’s footsteps. ‘We’ll leave the day after tomorrow at seven in the morning for Chittor, Maharaj Kumar. Enough loitering and lingering. I’m like the patient whose only ailment is that he likes to stay in bed. We must get back to work as you suggested.’


Maharaj Kumar. How many years had I waited to hear those two words from His Majesty?


‘I’ll tell Ram Simha to have everything ready for departure by tomorrow evening.’


I called the Chief of the Security Guard, Rawat Ram Simha, and told him about the Rana’s decision. His old and lined face broke into a smile.


‘Shri Eklingji be praised that His Majesty has recovered his will. We’ll teach that King of Kabul a lesson yet.’


‘King of Delhi,’ I reminded him.


‘Not for long. His Majesty will send him back to his mountain hide-out soon enough.’


The guards had gathered around us by now and it was as if we had already vanquished Babur. ‘Long live His Majesty, long live Mewar,’ they cried again and again till the Rana showed up on the balcony and waved to them.


* * *


Why hasn’t Mangal written or sent word in the last four days? Even if it’s a three-line note, he sends a letter and a report every day. Is he all right? In the past few weeks it seems that things have come to a breaking point between Queen Karmavati and the Little Saint. Life teaches me a hundred things every day, and I forget ninety-nine of them, sometimes all hundred of them. I forgot once again never to take anything for granted, least of all the power and permanence of the great. My wife is the second most powerful person in Chittor, or Mewar for that matter, and I am even willing to wager that she can have her way in any matter, be it religious or secular. Fifteen days ago, she went to the Brindabani Temple for the evening arati and found the gates closed. Queen Karmavati and the priests who have always hated her, especially after she gained sainthood and the loyalty of the populace, had joined hands and declared that the shikhara of the temple was about to collapse and was a hazard to the devotees of the Blue One, especially the Little Saint. As our greatest spiritual treasure, it was their duty to safeguard the Little Saint’s life and hence until further notice, entrance to the temple was barred to one and all.


How I wish Queen Karmavati was my ally and not my enemy. She would make sure that I overcame any hurdle and sooner or later got my hands on the crown. It’s not even a year since the Brindabani Temple underwent extensive repairs and its wings and grounds were enlarged sevenfold. And now suddenly they discover that the steeple is unsafe. Bravo, second mother. Incidentally, guess which civil engineer signed the order regarding the structural problem and closure of the temple? My friend, the town planner Sahasmal seems to have joined the other camp. Perhaps Queen Karmavati will commission him to build a victory tower higher than Rana Kumbha’s celebrating her triumphs.


My wife, in the meantime, has taken off for Mathura, the hometown of her beloved.

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Who makes up or invents proverbs? They are so often a crockful of never-mind-what. They pile up platitude upon platitude which the officious and unctuous mouth in and out of season and are taken to be

5

Chapter 5-

12 January 2024
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0

I have avoided speaking about the rights of succession as much as the other forbidden subject which tears my guts and paralyses my mind. But Prince Bahadur has touched a particularly raw spot and the

6

Chapter 6-

12 January 2024
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0
0

The wedding party returned home. Her favourite uncle, Rao Viramdev accompanied her to Chittor. She was allowed to bring a friend or servant along with her who would stay with her all her life. She bro

7

Chapter 7-

12 January 2024
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0

The news from the front hasn’t been either very bad or very good. Sometimes I think that Sultan Muzaffar Shah has lost his nerve and that’s why he has retired to Champaner instead of leading his armie

8

Chapter 8-

13 January 2024
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0

‘You think this is a laughing matter? You are going to tell me who it is. Now. I’m going to kill him and then I’m going to kill you.’ His voice was a strange and violent inhuman screech. ‘Have you no

9

Chapter 9-

13 January 2024
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0
0

She was a deep one. He had to hand it to her, it was, frankly, close to a master-stroke in the escalating war of nerves between him and her. You want a name, say it again, you want a name, you really

10

Chapter 10-

13 January 2024
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0
0

He was returning from work when he first heard the singing. It was faint and very distant and he didn’t know whether it was coming from the heart of the town or from one of the exclusive areas of the

11

Chapter 11-

13 January 2024
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0

Should he pull her tongue out, he wondered, or stuff a large silk handkerchief into her mouth? Was she perverse? Was she doing it deliberately to annoy him? He had broken the ektara into two. That did

12

Chapter 12-

15 January 2024
1
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When the Maharaj Kumar reached the palace, the guards on duty saluted him. Should he dismount? Why had he come home anyway? Befikir stood patiently while he tried to figure out what he was doing at th

13

Chapter 13-

15 January 2024
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0

When I look at my peers, friends, colleagues, cousins and brothers, I realize what a dullard I am. They carouse together, they go out whoring, they are lively and full of fun and pranks. I would like

14

Chapter 14-

15 January 2024
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0
0

Poor Malik Ayaz. He was recalled home in disgrace and disfavour. War is a risky pastime for generals, more so for them than for kings and princes. A sovereign is hardly ever dethroned because he loses

15

Chapter 15-

16 January 2024
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0

We left next morning. By evening we had joined Shafi Khan and the main Mewar army. The Merta, Dungarpur and other forces have gone their separate ways. Rao Viramdev and Rawal Udai Simha have accepted

16

Chapter 16-

16 January 2024
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It was a morning of sullen and lucid beauty. The Gambhiree was a festering gold rupture in the plains below Chittor. Someone had plucked the sunflower in the sky and torn off the petals and smashed th

17

Chapter 17-

16 January 2024
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0

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

18

Chapter 18-

16 January 2024
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0
0

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

19

Chapter 19-

17 January 2024
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0
0

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

20

Chapter 20-

17 January 2024
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0

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

21

Chapter 21-

17 January 2024
0
0
0

I got news from home mostly from Mangal. The first phase of the water and sewage system was coming along nicely. Lakshman Simhaji had had a stroke but was recovering fast. The royal barber’s wife had

22

Chapter 22-

17 January 2024
0
0
0

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

23

Chapter 23-

17 January 2024
0
0
0

The good times had idled by. The party was over. It was time to get back to work. What next, heir apparent, question mark; husband of the Little Saint; black sheep, black cloud on horizon, source of a

24

Chapter 24-

18 January 2024
0
0
0

I should have seen it coming but my vaunted prescience was malfunctioning or has it been just a matter of guesswork and some luck posing as clairvoyance all these years? Political considerations alone

25

Chapter 25-

18 January 2024
0
0
0

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

26

Chapter 26-

18 January 2024
0
0
0

The day before Bruhannada and his wife were to leave Chittor, he sent me a message asking if we could meet. ‘Forgive me, Highness, for not coming myself but as you know it is not wise for me to sti

27

Chapter 27-

19 January 2024
0
0
0

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
0
0
0

‘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
0
0
0

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

30

Chapter 30-

19 January 2024
0
0
0

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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