M A L AY S I A
Notion Press Old No. 38, New No. 6 McNichols Road, Chetpet Chennai - 600 031 First Published by Notion Press 2018 Copyright © Aasiya Maryam 2018 All Rights Reserved. ISBN 978-1-64324-255-2 This book has been published with all efforts taken to make the material error-free after the consent of the author. However, the author and the publisher do not assume and hereby disclaim any liability to any party for any loss, damage, or disruption caused by errors or omissions, whether such errors or omissions result from negligence, accident, or any other cause. No part of this book may be used, reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
Two brothers on a stormy night, Ere they perceive their plight; Two ladies take secret flight From shadows that cause them fright; An inferno rages in the eyes of a beholder, Becomes too heavy a burden to shoulder – Families that are torn apart Take shelter in the deep dark; Brothers that part ways Reunite and mend their frays.
The wind howled ferociously. All the villagers had locked themselves in because they were afraid of the storm that was raging outside. A poor man’s hut stood a little apart from the village. He was the local fisherman and the storm was worrying him. He knew he wouldn’t be able to fish for the next few weeks; maybe even a month. He was almost out of money and there was almost nothing to eat. The rice was barely 2 cups full and the crushed spices were hardly visible. He had decided to go hungry for the night as he blew out the lamp and lay down on his straw mat. He was making himself comfortable when a knock sounded on the door. “Who is it?” he shouted to the darkness. A woman’s voice answered, “A traveler caught in the storm. Can you please give shelter till the storm is over?” The old man lit the lamp and a few candles around the house. He was a poor man yet his ethics were simple. ‘Never leave anyone in the cold rain to suffer.’ So, he opened the door and two people hurried in. They dumped their wet shawls on the floor. The old man handed them two blankets to wrap themselves in as he lit the old stove. He put in some wood, added some oil and struck a match to light it up. He saw a small girl of 12, all teary eyed and sniffing. She clung on to a middle-aged lady, who had a motherly air around her. ‘Must be a nurse or a governess’ he observed. She looked tired and the corners of her eyes were crinkled up sadly. It looked to the old man as if a storm greater then the one outside had come in their lives. “I’m Padmini.” said the woman. “And this is my daughter Roopali.”
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“I’m Keshav.” said the old man. “I’m the village fisherman.” They both settled themselves near the stove. Keshav boiled some milk, put it in two copper glasses and added what little turmeric he had left in both the glasses. The hot milk was welcomed with much enthusiasm. Soon, both the woman had fallen asleep. The old man looked at them both. Padmini had wrapped a protective arm around Roopali, who had curled up to that warmth. The old man turned the other way and slept on the hard floor as the mat was occupied by the two ladies. The next morning, over a breakfast of apples and porridge, conversation took place between Padmini and the old fisherman. “I used to be the nurse for a rich family. I can’t tell you who, because of certain complications that raised last night. I had to flee the place with my daughter or be mercilessly killed.” Padmini sniffed at the memory. “Anyway, I was headed to my mother’s place in the neighboring Kingdom. But, I don’t want Roopali near me and I just don’t know what to do.” she rubbed her forehead in worry. Keshav began nervously, “I could take care of her.” then he hesitated and looked around his hut. There was one straw mat, a barely functioning stove and barely visible food. He couldn’t even take care of himself, let alone a little girl who would mature soon. He said, “But I’m a poor man. I don’t have much to take care of a girl properly.” Roopali, who had been sitting nearby, eating her porridge and half-listening to the adults, began rummaging in her skirt. She pulled out a purse from a secret pocket and took out ten pieces of gold. The old man stared at the money open-mouthed. He had never seen so much money 2
collectively in one place. Ten pieces of gold were worth about lakhs and you could buy a small house for half of it. Padmini merely said, “Looks like she wants to stay with you.” she chuckled tiredly. Bringing himself to speak, the old man asked, “Can’t she talk?” Padmini’s eyes filled with tears. She hugged the girl close to her and said, “She’s been through too much at such an early age. I think she just prefers not to.” She kissed the girl’s head affectionately as tears plopped down on her lap. Keshav agreed to take care of the girl. Soon, Padmini left for her mother’s village in the neighboring Kingdom. That very evening, a terrible news was announced in the village square. The King and the Queen had died in an unfortunate accident and the Princess was missing. The villagers talked amongst themselves. “How did the accident happen?” “Looks like they were travelling through The Devil’s Pass and some boulders had come loose from the mountain top.” “That’s why I say, never travel when it’s raining. What were they thinking, passing through The Devil’s Pass on a night like that?” “What about the Princess?” “They don’t know yet what happened to the Princess. Some say she was in the carriage with her parents. And some say that she’s being hidden somewhere.” “Poor child! My daughter’s her age and I can’t think of something more horrible for a child to experience. I do hope she’s safe!” “What happens to us? Who will rule over us?” 3
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“The Queen’s sister, Rani Madhuvati.” “I hear she’s a very unpleasant one. Probably killed you-know-who.” “Hush! Don’t talk about such things. She’s the Queen now. She could have our heads for anything she likes.” The villager shook their heads sadly at their grim future. They were also sad that the King and Queen had died, because they were the greatest rulers to rule over the BrahmanaKingdom. This news didn’t affect the fisherman’s daily routine much. From the girl’s ten gold pieces, Keshav had used up just one piece to buy the girl some clothes. She was still aloof and hadn’t spoken a word to him yet. It was like that one time he had found a wounded street dog by the river. It had kept licking its wounds and had stared distantly at something not there. A wounded creature distant from the reality it was living in. The old man shook his head sadly. But what did affect Keshav’s composure was a letter he received 3 months later. It was from his brother Vishwa, a sculptor, informing him of his wife’s death. She had gone peacefully in her sleep, thankfully. She was being cremated the next week. Letters had been sent to the remaining members of the family. Keshav visited Vishwa in his village to attend the last rites of his younger brother’s wife. He took Roopali with him with Padmini’s permission. There, in Vishwa’s house they met Surya, Vishwa’s grandson who was just 2 years older than Roopali. He had lost his parents 3 years earlier and now lived with Vishwa. Surya was reserved and silent. Somehow,
Roopali’s loss mirrored Surya’s. In making Roopali laugh, Surya managed to find the cure to his pain. When Keshav and Vishwa heard the tinkling laughter of a young girl coming from the inner room, they ran over with happiness and stood at the door of the room. Surya had taken out a statue which had been wrapped in red silk cloth. He was carrying the statue in one hand and posing like Hanuman. The statue was that of Hanuman carrying the mountain Sanjeevani in his one hand. With his cheeks puffed out, the statue of Hanuman in his one hand, the other hand outstretched, on the edge of the bed, with one foot on the bed and the other foot and hand stretched out – that was the delightful cheeky picture that had set Roopali into peals of tinkling laughter. Even as Keshav and Vishwa looked on, Surya lost his balance and toppled over…to the accompaniment of greater peals of laughter from Roopali. Vishwa thatha entered swiftly and caught the statue as it fell. That night Keshav and Vishwa had a heart to heart talk. Each of them had taken the huge responsibility of bringing up a young child. Keshav had not married and Vishwa had just lost his wife. They decided to merge their households. That was how Keshav’s week-long visit to Vishwa’s village with Roopali changed 4 lives. Surya, Vishwa’s grandson made Roopali smile and dance with joy. So Keshav winded up his fishing livelihood. Roopali and Keshav moved in with Vishwa and Surya. Padmini had given her consent. She just wanted Roopali’s happiness, safety and well being. * * * 5
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8 Years Later… In a land far away from Vishwa’s village, a palace stood upon a distant cliff overlooking its capital. On the other side of the cliff was a river that joined the ocean a little farther off. In the palace was a particular room decorated lavishly with Bengal tiger furs and the finest satin bedspreads and cream-colored silk curtains. In it, two people stood conversing. One faced the bed, his hazel eyes sweeping the wide assortment of clothes spread on his bed. Behind him stood his friend of long standing, his valet and his personal right-hand man. And, more often than not, the perfect partner in crime. Indrajeeth said, “Do you think it’s safe?” The young man raised an eyebrow. “Are you asking me whether I would be safe? Are you out of your mind? I won the Kalyug for father with little to no help.” Indrajeeth let the matter slide. After all, he had it handled. Then, he looked at the clothes on his friend’s bed and sighed disapprovingly. “We’ll have to make do with simpler clothes.” Adi’s nose scrunched up. “Simpler clothes?” One hour later, two commoners left the palace gates in simple dhotis. One was a lean and lanky fellow while the other was a body of muscles and rock. * * * In the small country house of Mr. Varma and his sister Mrs. Iyer, a fight was going on. It was not between the owners of the house but between Mrs. Iyer’s daughter Padmini and the daughter of a ‘friend.’
Padmini was sitting on a chair by the open window sewing embroidery on a skirt. The January air was crisp and fresh. Roopali burst into the room, annoyance etched on her face. “But why can I not?” demanded Roopali all of a sudden. Padmini simply put down the stitching and sighed. She looked at her daughter. She had grown into a beautiful young woman. There was a certain elegance in the way she held herself. The bun which she neatly did herself was symbolic of what she saw herself as. Roopali stood with her slim hands crossed and stubbornness set on her face. As usual, the two were arguing over the sword fighting classes that Roopali was forbidden from. Padmini went back to her stitching and said, “There is no need for you to learn sword – fighting.” “I know there is no need now, what if the need arises tomorrow?” “Well, Baldev is there to do all the fighting.” Baldev had been the head cook. His father had been a wrestler and then a solider-warrior. He had taught Baldev everything about fighting. Even though Baldev was interested in the fighting and learnt it, his true passion lay in the finer art of cooking. And his father didn’t stop him after his training had been complete. Roopali pouted, “Suppose there are too many men for Baldev to handle? what then?” she demanded. Padmini bit her lower lip. She didn’t like it when her daughter talked like that; like she was waiting for a disaster to occur anytime. She looked at Roopali’s worried face. Maybe she was right. After all, she was an adult. And Padmini was
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growing old. And so was Baldev, though he wouldn’t accept it. “Okay” she told Roopali. “But, no sword fighting.” The momentary expression of joy turned into one of exasperation. “Just self-defense techniques.” said Padmini. “Learn sword fighting after your marriage.” Roopali held her head high. “Humph! I’m never getting married.” She said and stormed out of the room. Padmini smiled. Few seconds later, Roopali hurried back into the room and gave her mother a huge warm hug. “Thank you.” she said and hurried off again. The next morning, the skies were dark and it looked like it would start raining soon. But by the time breakfast was finished in Mr. Iyer’s house, the skies cleared. It turned out to be the perfect day to head to Baldev’s house near the woods and start practicing. Roopali found him washing dishes at the backyard. “Mum said it’s okay for me to learn just some defense moves.” she said. Baldev had come three years after Padmini had moved to her mother’s place. They had a chance meeting in the marketplace and companionship soon formed between the two former servants. Of course, Roopali was Padmini’s daughter to him, unlike the villagers who saw Roopali as Padmini’s friend. She spent the whole morning practicing with Baldev. Not just defense moves like punching and kicking. She already knew too much about punching and kicking. But what Baldev taught her were the basic defense moves of a soldier on the battlefield. And she learnt about five different ways to tackle someone sneaking up behind you. By mid-noon, Roopali was tired and hungry. Baldev was proud 8
of his little tigress. He invited her for lunch but she had to hurry home. “Mum will be waiting for me, Baldev. You know I’m seeing her now after 8 years. This one week has gone by in a flash.” Baldev nodded his head in understanding and agreement. He said, “I wish I’d known you since the time you were born.” She walked down the path, happily humming to herself. The spring air was warm and the flowers in the bushes looked very colorful. Butterflies danced among the flowers, adding more beauty to the scene. Her arms ached from too much practice but she knew that by next morning it would be alright, hopefully. She also had a certain sense of satisfaction at having learnt something really useful. She reached her grandmother’s home and opened the small gate on the front lawn. The lawn itself was a small garden of vegetables grown in neat order under the strict supervision of her grand mum. She loved that garden dearly. Roopali was about to open the door when she found it slightly ajar. Her heart thudded in fear. Then she calmed herself down by thinking that may be someone had forgotten to close it properly. Most probably her grandmum. Her hands were jittery. She told herself it was nothing and opened the door to step inside. What Roopali would find inside were two very dead people. * * * They were in a forest now. They were tired. They had been travelling for past 2 months – Feb marched into March and now at last their destination was near. The horses were tied to nearly trees and Adi stood listening to Indrajeeth. 9
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Adi nodded his head, showing that he was listening. But the young man was more interested in other things. He was waiting for someone to show up. He was anxious and excited. His eyes darted all over the place. Who was he waiting for? He himself didn’t know it. But it was someone important. He could tell it from the way his heart was racing. Then, something Indrajeeth was saying caught his attention. “There’s a story about this place. Apparently two lovebirds, I mean a young couple, had come here for some quiet time. Unfortunately for them, a sage meditating in the woods was disturbed by the two. He became furious and put a curse on the lovers. He cursed them to…” Adi didn’t want to hear it any more. For, he had heard something far more interesting. The soft crunch of leaves as a delicate foot put soft pressure on it. Dainty feet, trying not to disturb anyone. He could sense her behind him, facing away. A strong wind blew, willing him to turn around. But his excitement had paralyzed him momentarily. His heart thudded with unbelieving speed. Why wasn’t he having a heart attack? He put a hand over his heart at the same time she did and he turned around. “Adi!” someone shouted in his ears. He was being rudely shook awake. He saw Indrajeeth’s anxious face staring at him. Adi sat up groggily. The dream had been awesome! But interrupted… There was an idiotic smile on his face at the remembrance of his excitement in the dream. The same excitement still coursed his veins. Then, annoyance at being woken up. He turned to Indrajeeth angrily, “Why did you wake me up?” he demanded like a spoilt five year – old. He even pouted. 10
Indrajeeth stifled a giggle. It had been years since he last saw Adi like that. An innocent little kid. “We need to get going. It’s going to be dark soon and it’s not safe in the forest at night.” A blanket had been spread beneath a neem tree for the young man to nap on. Adi, still pouting, said, “Why couldn’t you have woken me before? When you were talking to me?” he asked. Indrajeeth was about to reply when the other half of the sentence stopped him. “What”? he asked bewildered. How could be have been talking to Adi if Adi had been asleep? Deciding that his friend was still half-asleep, he handed him the flask with water. Adi got up, grumpily took the flask and proceeded to go wash his face. They had been passing through a forest, when they had all stopped to rest the horses. Adi had fallen asleep on the sheet spread out for him. Indra would have woken him up earlier, but had decided to not disturb the young man’s fitful sleep. As their guide began checking their supplies and the horses and the saddles, Indra asked Adi what he had dreamt about. Adi whispered in his ear, “Tell you later.” He was feeling too shy and Indra caught on. He made a look. “Oh!” he drawled. “Was there a girl?” he dragged in a sing – song voice. Adi blushed. “Are you blushing?” Indra was merciless. The guide had looked up for a moment. That movement made Adi even more shy. He began sticking his big toe in the mud and drew a line like a shy maiden. Indra almost died laughing. To subdue all the emotion of awkwardness and to change the topic mainly, Adi asked, “Hey, Indra. Tell me about the sage in this place.” 11
A princess, her nurse and a heartbroken prince are rudely torn apart when an evil queen makes a move for the throne. Join the nurse’s daughter on the quest for her destiny; experience her suspicions, bravery and betrayal. Will the missing princess be found by the right people or will she vanish into oblivion? Aasiya Maryam was born in 1999. She started writing when she was ten years old. Her teachers commended her excellent use of the English language in her essays, compositions and project work at Rosary Matriculation Higher Secondary School. Poems were added to her portfolio a few years later. She went on to complete her twelfth grade at Fathima Basheer Matriculation Girls’ Higher Secondary School, where she enthralled both students and teachers with her stories. Aasiya enjoys narrating stories more than she enjoys writing them. She loves cats, but as she was denied one, she adopted a stray cat and named him Tiger. She enjoys spending time with him every day. She bonds emotionally with a few trusted friends. She loves spending her free hours reading storybooks, poems and classics. She spent her childhood reading Nancy Drew and the works of Enid Blyton. She loves the Harry Potter series and is a great fan of J.K. Rowling. During her teenage years, she introduced herself to ghost stories and horror genre through books and movies. She has attended a professional course in scriptwriting, which extended the capabilities of this talented young writer who “visualizes” stories. She resides in Chennai, Tamil Nadu.