Lal Mahal – the Red Palace


Update for week ended 15 July 2011 

The jeep had reached the Dak Bungalow. We were tired after that long journey through the dusty countryside. Ramdeen, the caretaker of the bungalow greeted us and quickly guided us into the old mansion. It was built like a haveli of a rich trader of yore. The house must have seen better times, but now was desperately seeking a coat of paint, some real good cleaning and better furniture. However, as students on a study tour, smaller niceties of life may sometimes get lost on us, and we really did not mind, as long as the loos were useable and the caretaker could rustle up some good food, and for a weary weekend night, perhaps some drink. Ramdeen looked like the person who could manage that, so we quickly settled in, as we checked out the rest rooms. Ramdeen’s helpers brought in the luggage and we washed and spruced up for the evening repast. Ramdeen was asked to quickly put together a feast for ravenous students – some rotis, masala scrambled eggs (anda bhurjee), dal and rice. As Ram (we had little patience to call him by his full name) served us the piping hot rotis, he asked us whether we would visit the Lal Mahal – tonight being the full moon night, the sights should be quite ethereal.

And indeed the Lal Mahal juxtaposed to an inky blue sky, looked eerily reddish yet ethereal. As we walked up to the deserted palace, the old “chowkidaar” walked out of his little post. The old man was bent with age and had a shawl draped over his shoulders. His monkey cap obscured his wrinkled face and muffled his baritone voice. He hailed out to us and stopped us, enquiring on what we wanted. After brief introductions, he agreed to let us onto the little terrace of the adjoining little villa – Lal Kothi. The view from there would be even better, promised the chowkidaar. He also accompanied us onto the terrace with his kerosene wicker lamp in hand. Our curiosity got us asking questions of the old man, who readily agreed to tell us the story of the Lal Mahal.

In the early 1940s, the ruler of this principality, Rajasaab, lived here alone. He met with a young and feisty woman Mandira, in whose company he would drink and lead a happy life. All this went on for a while, until a younger and prettier, Sumitra came into his life as his nurse. Rajasaab had fallen off a horse during his hunting expedition and Sumitra moved in to nurse him back. Sumitra was the mild and innocent and really enamoured Rajasaab with her simplicity. He immediately married her. Of course, a woman spurned cannot be held back for long, and so Mandira worked on finding out about Sumitra’s past. She traced a teenage romance (or perhaps a crush) and called him under some pretext to Lal Mahal. Shekhar was Sumitra’s childhood friend and on hearing that she was married to a nobleman, was quite pleased to meet and greet the newly married couple. He spent a few days with them. This suited Mandira who told the Raja about the “romance” between his newly-wed wife and the young and handsome Shekhar. Rajasaab’s jealousy and anger knew no bounds. He was determined to end this romance, and perhaps the romantics as well. And so he plotted to get both the “lovers” to the terrace of the Lal Kothi (the side-house of the Lal Mahal), without either knowing the other would be there, on the full moon night. Rajasaab stood at the window of his room and awaited the rising moon. And then he saw Sumitra walk up to red sandstone open stairway to the terrace of the smaller villa, dressed in a white saree with sequins and golden brocade. She gazed out at the moon. After a few minutes Shekhar slowly started his climb. When he reached the head of the stairs, he was surprised to see Sumitra there, alone. That was when Rajasaab took aim and shot at his bride. The loud bang scared her more than the whizzing bullet, and she rushed to hug Shekhar, out of fear. Enraged further, Raja saab took aim again and this time, did not miss his target. First it was Shekhar and after a couple of seconds, it was Sumitra. Both lay still on the terrace as their blood trickled down the red sandstone steps.

 

The D Boyz set off on their study tour. After the adrenalin induced week that passed, they needed some softener and perhaps relaxant. However, their trip to some sedate looking old town villa did not prove as relaxing as they thought. They were treated to some bad news from afar and near.  So if pasta chomping Italians suddenly had dried wallets looking like their favourite sun-dried tomatoes (red and squishy); the Bad Boyz with their Terror Toyz revisited streets not too far away from D Street. So enough of blood and gore into their lives caused mayhem on their street and their favourite SENSEX – letting it slip 297 points to 18561.

 

Rajasaab rushed down his stately staircase in Lal Mahal and ran towards the terrace of Lal Kothi. As he saw his bride breathing her last, a lump grew in his throat. He went to her and tried lifting her head into his lap. She whispered about how lucky she was to die in the arms of her husband and sought his blessings as she died. Rajasaab was shocked. He looked intensely at her and asked her about Shekhar; and she told him about how she had tied a “Raakhee” to him as a child and felt sad that her “brother” was also dying on the same night – though he had a bright future ahead of him. Rajasaab sobbed as Sumitra’s lame hand dropped onto the red floor, crushing the lac bangles she wore.

That was when the old Chowkidaar stopped and walked out of the terrace. No-one knew where he went without his wicker lamp. At that moment, the faint sound of an anklet could be heard, climbing up the steps. A lady dressed in a shiny white saree with lac bangles jingling on her wrists walked daintily onto the terrace. She stood at a spot where many moons ago, perhaps the young Sumitra stood gazing at the moon, or maybe where she lay motionless after being shot by Rajasaab. And to everyone’s shock, a loud shot was heard, and the woman suddenly collapsed onto the red sandstone. We could hear loud footsteps and shouts of the familiar baritone of the Chowkidaar. We were stunned to see that despite his age, he was still agile and his shawl gave way over one shoulder revealing a brocade and silk kurta. He rushed upstairs, but by then, the woman had already got up and rushed to meet him. She was consoling him and telling him that this is just his dream. She held his drooping shoulders and slowly walked down the stairs into the little post where he lived.

We were all too stunned to stay back – and quickly followed them to the exit, and that was when the woman came out of the post. She meant to rush away, but was stopped by me. “Who are you and what was this all about?” I enquired. She pleaded to be let off and looked at me with eyes welling with tears. I could not hold her for long. She eased her grip and disappeared into the moonlit night.

So this weekend – as we start off with a Full Moon night tonight, what are your plans? Do you plan to visit a deserted old Haveli or Palace and seek out some history and adventure. Whatever you do, please be safe and enjoy the weekend..

Cheers…

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