In search of Arcadia.
In mid-August when the entire earth is draped in a million shades of green, the sun is gentle. Hiding behind the clouds when it peeks on to the earth for precious brief moments, the hues of nature come alive with mysterious tones of greens, blues and yellows radiating an inner light when the breeze touches the dripping leaves.
The land gently sloped northwards towards a distant lake, dotted with five trees in a row; some shedding yellow flowers, on the left side. A koel sang sweetly in one of the trees. On the right side at the front was a large lopsided tree, although its trunk was in the corner, the branches spread inwards towards the plot, as if its whole purpose in life was to provide shade without encumbering the land.
A shepherd marched with dignity carrying a long stick, followed by innumerable sheep mostly walking in a straight line, some clamoring over hedges looking out for fodder, tender leaves which were boundlessly strewn upon the landscape.
Nearby was a cottage with red walls decorated with plantain patterns in white lime. The terracotta walls transported the architect to Calcutta, childhood, aroma of fish, canal, boats, water lilies, stench of stagnant water and moss laden walls.
There was an indescribable peace in the air. This was his space.
The Revenge of the red roses
It was the Blue Queen who did it. After all, provoking is also a crime.
Every morning she walked through the central arch and made her way to the river through the Mughal gardens of the Palace. The seven Arches on the River facing wall of the palace were built on the Blue Queen’s demand. The bathing ritual commenced with the royal musician playing raga bilahari 1 on shehnai2 and the queen stepping out with six of her maids, one from each arch. It was a very beautiful sight beheld by none.
The Blue Queen didn’t like being stared at.
Dotted with Parijat3 and travelers’ Palms, the entire pathway was laden with fresh petals of red roses plucked from the Rose garden of the Palace, much to the agony of the roses.
The path beyond the gardens was so thick with overgrowth that only one lady could at a time. The river was infested by the Queen’s pet crocodiles who mastered the art of devouring any peeping Tom that dared to sneak a view of the ladies.
Every day the Queen along with her six maids would merrily walk to the river, enjoying the heady fragrance the rose petals let out at the time of being crushed under the weight of the beauteous women.
The roses had to die every day and be reborn every week. Her ladyship’s feet are too soft, they will be hurt even by sand; the gardener would lamely console them.
Tired of dying every day, the roses planned a revenge.
On the first day of holy month of Shravan4, each rose hid a thorn in its chest. As usual, the Queen and her maids pranced to the river. The thorns cut deeply into the roses. They began to bleed.
The ladies immersed themselves in the river and frolicked in the water till they grew tired and famished with hunger. No sooner did they approach the path to return, the roses quickly overturned themselves; so the thorns, hidden amongst the petals, now faced upwards.
As the soft feet stepped upon the roses, the thorns pierced them till they bled. The ladies began to scream in pain and broke into a run. By the time they reached the palace arches, they could barely walk and had to be carried on stretchers by able bodied henchmen. The almost dying roses again overturned themselves hiding the few left thorns- most of them were now in the ladies’ feet.
No one could fathom out the strange phenomena of the thorns on the path.
The enemies are at work, the king declared, as he ordered a new hamam5 be built for the Blue Queen inside the palace.
The roses heaved a deep sigh of relief.
Raga bilahari 1 Indian classical music played in the early morning shehnai2 Indian musical instrument Parijat3 Night flowering jasmine Shravan4 fifth month of Hindu calendar, falls in the rainy season hamam5 Indian bath