From the moment I stepped inside the Golconda Fort I knew that I was Taramati. Believe me, I really did. Don't ask me how I got inside a time machine, travelled at jet speed and landed into the year 1628 CE, but somehow it happened. Peculiarly, in spite of being in 1628, I did not lose my connectivity with 2018. Oh, what a pandemonium it created! My husband, who got no air of the change in me, behaved normally as he always did.
"Coffee?" he asked.
"Sharbat," I replied.
Ultimately we settled for tea.
Our guide was trying his best to hold the attention of his tourists, but his lengthy, historic narrative made them distinctly bored. To put that history in a nutshell, the Golconda fort was built by the kings of the Kakatiya dynasty. Then it passed on to the Bahmani kings, followed by the Sultans of the Qutb Shahi dynasty, who turned the original mud fort into a massive fortification of granite with a circumference of around 5 miles. Mughal emperor Aurangzeb led a eight-month-long seige in 1687, after which the fort fell into ruins. Famous diamonds like Koh-i-noor, Hope, Noor-ul-Ain, Regent, etc were found in the diamond mines of Golconda.
The diamond part of the narrative was followed by several "wow"s and sighs from the ladies.
My eyes were searching for Taramati Baradari beside the Musi river. My beloved Sultan Abdullah Qutb Shah built the beautiful mansion especially for me. The twelve doors allowed cross ventilation and the surrounding garden of Ibrahim Bagh burst into a plethora of colours in spring. It indeed was a sight to behold. And in the exquisite dancing pavilion I used to sing and dance exclusively for my Sultan.
"Let's not waste time here any longer."
I jumped back to 2018 CE.
"Yeah, yeah, you're right Ani," said I.
"Who needs a guide? We can explore the fort by ourselves," said Ani.
"Of course," I replied.
We entered into a disintegrated monument. Ani started exploring the ruins while I explored the past.
"Oh dear! Look at those hundreds of bats hanging from the beams!" cried Ani.
I saw colourful chandeliers tintinnabulating from the ceilings.
"It smells so bad inside," complained Ani.
I got the faint fragrance of jasmine attar.
"This damn place is rat infested" said Ani. "Just listen to their sqeaks!"
I heard the tinkling sound of the court dancers' payels as they danced to the rhythm of tabla and sarengi.
"Oh my God!" cried Ani. "I swear I saw moving shadows on those walls!"
I saw men and women moving about in colourful dresses playing Holi.
"What's the matter with you?" asked Ani. "Why are you so silent today?"
Not at all! I was chatting with my friends from the past.
"I hate this place. Let's get out of here," said Ani.
I love this place. Let's stay here forever.
"Thank God, finally we got out of that hell hole." Ani sounded relieved.
Bright sunlight fell on my face and brought me back into the present.
"Oh no! It's almost two!" exclaimed Ani. "Guess what? We spent almost two hours inside that spooky ruin."
"Really?" replied I.
I thought we spent very little time there.
"I feel so hungry," said Ani. "Let's go and have our lunch."
Ani wanted Chinese, but I chose Biryani. Ani was surprised.
"But you love Chinese food darling."
"Yes, but today I'll have Biryani," I replied.
"Okay, as the lady wishes!" sighed Ani.
Hyderabadi Biryani was Abdullah's favourite. Mine too.
After lunch, Ani said he would go to a cyber cafe to take the print outs of some official documents that had been sent to his email that morning.
"Would you mind, sweetheart?" he asked.
"Not at all," replied I.
The rented car dropped me at the hotel.
As I entered the room, my eyes fell on the large mirror in front. I was shocked! Was that me? Impossible! What the hell was I wearing? Where was my ghagra-choli? What happened to my jewellery? Who shortened my hair?
I flopped down on the bed, speechless.
The sound of the door bell brought me out of the 1628 spell. I shook my head and my eyes fell on the mirror again.
What was wrong with me? I was in my usual jeans and top and my hair was cut in it's usual layered style. What was so shocking about them?
I opened the door and let Ani come in.
"Hard luck," said he. "The cyber cafe is closed today. I'll have to try again tomorrow."
"Too bad!" I sympathized.
"I'm feeling so tired," yawned Ani. "Let's have an early dinner and hit the bed."
There was no reason to object.
The night express deported me to 1628 CE. I was landed on the day of my arrival at Ibrahim Bagh with my parents and sister Prema. My father bought a modest mansion and opened a sarai (inn). The journey began.
Baba was an ardent music lover. He soon engaged music and dance teachers for Prema and me and made sure that we practiced regularly. Within a few years we became the best performers of the locality. Prema excelled in dancing and me, in singing. People stopped on the roads just to listen to my songs.
In the daytime I helped my mother with her domestic chores and the evenings were reserved for my riwaaz.The soft spring breeze would deport my melodious voice to far off places and one night it reached the Golconda fort two kilometers away.
One quiet evening I was leisurely combing my long, luxurious tresses while watching the sunset from the upper balcony. The sound of horse's hooves broke my reverie.
I looked at the road and saw the silhouette of a man riding towards our house. As he rode with the sun in his back, I could not see his face clearly.
'Must be a traveller,' I thought.
To my surprise, he stopped his horse in front of my father's sarai.
As the man dismounted from his horse I bent over the balcony and got a good look at him. Oh boy, what a looker! My heart skipped a beat. Who was this tall, handsome man with sharp, Aryan features?
Our servant Maqbool said that the man, who introduced himself as Siraj, had travelled a long distance to come here in search of business.
I felt glad that Siraj had chosen our sarai to stay and wondered how to impress him. I fervently hoped that he was a music lover.
I saw Siraj appearing in the garden a few minutes after I started my riwaaz. I secretly smiled and started singing a romantic ghazal. He listened mesmerized, standing beneath a tree till the end.
"A letter for you Tara Didi." Maqbool handed me a letter and ran downstairs before I could ask him any questions.
It was a message from Siraj requesting me to meet him in the garden after an hour.
I was impressed by his boldness.
Thankfully Ma and Prema were staying the night at my aunt's place. Otherwise my tryst with Siraj could have created problems.
I carefully dressed up in a blue sequinned ghagra-choli and accessorized it with matching jewellery and a garland of jasmine flowers round my long braid. Yes, I was ready to meet the handsome stranger.
It was unbelievable! Siraj was none other than Shehzada Abdullah, the Crown Prince of Golconda. For the past few nights he had been mesmerized by the melodious songs brought to him by the spring breeze. Each song made him more eager to see the singer. At last he had asked his friend Salim to search for her. It took just a day for Salim to find me out. And why not? Was I not the best singer in town?
Shehzada wished to see me and listen to my songs personally. That was the reason he came here incognito. And now, smitten by my beauty and talent, he wished to marry me.
A proposal to become the future queen of Golconda must have taken any other girl to the Seventh Heaven. But I did not feel elated. Much as I adored Abdullah, I did not want to be just another woman in his large harem. Hence I politely refused. Abdullah, who was not used to refusals, looked crestfallen. He went back to his palace heartbroken, only to return on the next day. This time he made a fair proposal that was approved by both Baba and me.
The marriage took place a few days later. At my request Abdullah confined the wedding ceremony to a simple affair where only our close relatives were present. I was a Hindu girl and Abdullah agreed to let me pursue my religious beliefs even after marriage. This enhanced my respect for him. He built a beautiful mansion and dancing pavilion at Ibrahim Bagh beside the river Musi and named it Taramati Baradari. It was here that we began our married life.
United we lived for 34 years and united we died in 1672 CE.
Tell me, wasn't our love a fairy tale romance?
Someone was shaking me back into the present.
"Heyy! Are you okay?"
It was Ani, my husband from 2018 CE.
"Oh yes, I'm fine," I mumbled.
"You were talking and tossing in your sleep. Were you having a nightmare?"
Nightmare? Bull shit! I just had the sweetest dream ever.
"No dear," I replied. "a sweet dream."
"About me?" smiled Ani.
"Ahh huh!" I too smiled back at him.
"My sweet baby!" said Ani and lightly kissed me on the head.
"Impossible!" cried Ani. "I'm sure this bag belongs to someone else."
"But Sir, Madam herself handed over the bag at the billing counter and went away to look for you," protested the salesgirl.
I rushed towards the billing counter as Ani continued to argue with her.
"My wife never wears ghagra-cholis and such heavy junk jewellery. She prefers western clothes and light ornaments. There must have been some mistake."
By that time I had reached the counter.
"Relax honey," said I. "There's no mistake."
"You mean you really bought those things?" he sounded shocked. "But you never..."
"I know darling, but...well, I liked the things so much that I bought them. Please don't get mad at me."
Ani put up his hands in surrender.
To his great relief, the cyber cafe was open. He said he would complete his work and get back to the hotel within a few hours.
"No problem, take your time," said I and returned to the hotel.
The moment I put on the blue sequinned ghagra-choli, I felt a change coming over me. In a trance I finished my dressing and booked an Ola cab.
People stared at me in amazement as I walked down the hotel lobby. I heard one of the men say, "What a beauty!"
Before boarding the cab, I deposited the room key at the reception.
The cab sped off towards the destination.
An unknown number was calling me in my mobile. I rejected the call and switched it off.
It was already dark when we reached the Fort. I paid the cab and walked towards the ticket counter. The Light and Sound show was about to begin.
I wrapped a stole around my head and covered part of my face in it. Nobody noticed when I silently left the crowd and stepped outside. The night was dark and not a soul was to be seen anywhere. The black stole helped me to merge with the dark night. Finding my way was difficult in that darkness. But I knew. My destination was only two kilometers away.
It took about half an hour to reach Ibrahim Bagh. There it was. The palacial mansion in the distance was veiled in darkness and silence. It looked lonely and desolate in the faint light of the crescent moon. I had reached.
Lonely? Desolate? Had I gone crazy? The dancing pavilion was ablaze with hundreds of colourful lanterns. The atmosphere was overflowing with the cadences of sarengi, shehnai, flute and tabla. The sweet aroma of jasmine attar floated in the air.
Wasn't that Prema laughing in the distance? Wasn't that Abdullah's voice calling out my name? My heart filled with unbearable happiness at the thought of his strong arms around me. They were all waiting for Taramati. Abdullah was waiting for me!
"Abdullah! I'm coming darling!"
I ran towards Taramati Baradari.
The rest is blank.
I regained consciousness in a hospital in Hyderabad. The doctor said that I was in a critical condition for the past two days. But now, he said, I was stable.
"Where's my husband?" I asked in a feeble voice.
"He never left the Visitors Room since you were brought in" said the doctor. "Shall I call him?"
"You made me a nervous wreck with your sudden disappearance," said Ani. "Why did you do it? And what made you go inside that haunted monument at night?"
I did not know. I could not recall a thing.
1628 CE was now a blurred vision to me.
Ani had to call in the police to find me out. They interrogated the hotel stuff and got the number of the Ola cab from the hotel's CCTV. The driver led them to the Fort. After a long search they found me lying unconscious two kilometers away, inside Taramati Baradari.
When Ani brought me to the hospital I was in an acute state of delirium. The doctors had to use sedatives to stabilize my condition.
I still cannot remember what happened inside Taramati Baradari. What did I see that made such a tremendous impact on my nerves? Was the place really haunted? Was I really Taramati in my previous birth? There was nobody who could tell me the answer.
I gave away the blue ghagra-choli and junk jewellery to the hotel's maid before we left Hyderabad. I no longer wished to live among the spirits of the past. Let them rest in peace.