Invisible Ties (Book Excerpt) by Nadya A R

Nadya is an author, a psychotherapist and a motivational speaker. Her latest novel, Invisible Ties, has been published by Rupa Publications in August 2017. Nadya has written articles and submitted papers on different psychological constructs and topics in International conferences and workshops. Below you can read an excerpt from invisible Ties. Courtesy: Rupa and Keemya Creatives.

“Excerpt from Invisible Ties”

FOUR

Lahore, Pakistan

Inside the walls, fortified with gates in the sixteenth century, stood a royal fort safeguarding its invaluable inheritance of Mughal architecture. Noor waited outside the Alamgiri gate with its lotus petal bases unfurling into fluted, semi-circular bastions and twin domed cubicles overlooking a view of the square marble pavilion and its twelve cusped entrances to the gardens in front of her.

She glanced down at the chain of butterflies on her shirt. Noor visualized its aari work being done by craftsmen, while her georgette fabric was stretched on a wooden frame and embroidered with a hooked crochet needle, in the midst of chinar trees and date palms lining the lawns.

Her mother cooled herself with a portable mini fan gadget, while Noor informed her, ‘Mummy, the garden, Huzuri Bagh, was constructed in 1818 by the Sikh Maharaja Ranjit Singh. He celebrated the acquisition of the missing Koh-i-Noor from Shah Shujah of Afghanistan and the diamond’s auspicious return to its native land.’

Daisy reminded her of a fringed ornamental spider in a tight black tunic and a yellow scarf plastered on her head as she scolded her, ‘How can you be so self-centred, Noor? You are more preoccupied with the fate of an inanimate stone that was cursed and sullied by changing hands throughout its course in history. What about your own mother’s homecoming, which was perhaps worse than her death?’

Noor loosened the silk tie-dye stole around her neck. She scrunched her hair and slid a silver pin into a messy bun.

Her mother marched along the mural of mosaic on the outer wall depicting the everyday reality of Mughal life. ‘Hurry, Noor.’

The paintings with elephants battling for the amusement of the royals, hunting scenes with snarling lions and tigers, horses stumbling in wars while camels buckled down near them, and startled birds tumbling down on the tiles of the fort prompted her to cry out, ‘You were taken by the robbers for a few hours, mummy. It has been two weeks and you still haven’t spoken about your ordeal.’

Daisy grasped the violet butterflies on Noor’s sleeves and dragged her into a trapezoid compound of brick and masonry structures. Noor hurried through the grounds, the hot sand trickling into the thin sole of her mojri slippers. She followed her mother through a stand-alone mansion and rushed past its arcade, with platforms for scribes to record entries of visitors and court events on a daily basis. Her mother wiped her tears outside a mosque, which looked like a pure white marble pearl cocooned inside a vast desert. Daisy raised her hands in front of the three pristine domes overshadowing a braid of enamel running along its roof. Noor wiped Daisy’s tears with the soft folds of her scarf and murmured, ‘I shudder to even think what could have happened to you, mummy.’

Her mother peered into arched bays and inspected the figures praying on black outlined, engraved mats on the floor. Pointing to the honeycomb-shaped muqarnas glued with stonework above them, she said, ‘I have locked your words inside this mosque built for the royal harem. Don’t ever utter them again. I don’t even want you to imagine it could have been you, instead of me, that day.’ A tall, bulky man pulled out his mobile phone to record his video of the lustrous marble floor, unmarked by the naked feet that soiled it. Daisy pushed Noor away from the focus of his lens and attention. ‘I sacrificed my own safety and sanity for the sake of my daughter.’ Her mother walked out of the mosque, her fingers still interlocked in an empty bowl. ‘I feel like a beggar, waiting for our fate to change.’

Noor unzipped her digital printed bag and took out a carton of juice. They travelled the distance to the gardens in the centre, with Noor gulping the mango nectar in the unbearable heat. A family with half-a-dozen children reviewed the twin canons and the lessons from British imperialism on the boundary of its trimmed hedges. Inside a hall for the public audience, Deewan-e-Aam, Noor stood under the ornamental throne raised on brackets for the emperor to hear the grievances of the common people. ‘What can I possibly do to make your grief lighter and bearable, mummy?’

‘My wounds are deep and will not heal that easily, Noor.’ Daisy walked through the pathways of parterres and towards the private suites in an extensive quadrangle with its roomy courtyards, empty pools and red sandstone elephants striding above its doors. ‘There is no longer a golden bell, hanging with a hefty chain above the bed of Emperor Jahangir, which rings to mete out justice to those who have been wronged, Noor.’

She followed Daisy into another courtyard surrounded by four green patches and conical cypress shrubs to beautify them. Noor tried to keep up with her mother’s frantic pace in the egg-white marble chambers of the Deewan-e-Khas, used for private meetings of the emperor with the nawabs, maharajas and people of exalted stature.

‘I am sentenced to a lifetime of nightmares and it is not even my fault.’ Daisy hobbled on the black-and-white stars inlaid on the floor and nearly slipped into the scalloped basin of a fountain. Noor helped her mother to regain her balance and lean against the geometric fretwork screens, which had awakened the minor sleeping chambers to the resonance of River Ravi flowing outside them. Daisy looked into her daughter’s troubled eyes and asked her, ‘Do you think that Emperor Shah Jahan can wake up from his deep slumber and address my shame and doubts, which are real and rational in these turbulent times?’

Noor answered in a resigned tone, as if she had woken up to fulfil her mother’s dreams, ‘Mummy, I have already told you that I will marry Meekaal Kalim. All I ask from you is some time…so that I can get to know him better.’

‘Kamal was just an intern in our office when my father insisted that I have to marry him. You can spend a whole lifetime together and still feel like strangers without the desire to know each other anymore.’

Noor shook the butterfly wings on her knees and mumbled, ‘Please.’

‘Don’t be silly, Noor. If there would ever be a repeat of the incident, how can anyone guarantee the identity of the fortunate survivor? Don’t we need more than a temporary break in Lahore to survive the uncertainty in our lives?’ Her mother ordered, like an empress condemning her to serve a life sentence, ‘Meekaal is waiting with Aunty Lily in the royal tower and I want you to accept his marriage proposal.’ She moved closer and Noor opened her arms to share their sorrow. Daisy reached for her daughter’s hairpin and slipped it inside her purse. ‘Who was foolish enough to think marriages are made in heaven when it doesn’t even exist in this world?’

While she stood outside the private court of the emperor, Noor realized that the humming echoes of the river had changed their course and could no longer be heard in the cloister imprisoning her dreams. She lugged her slippers on stones and fine white particles shining above heaps of red dust. They whirled like a sandstorm around her, reminding her of the kings who had dreamt of unparalleled glory and fulfilled them with the hands, sweat and blood of hordes of gifted artisans.

 

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