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Mom had this silly notion that I had to get out of the house more. What made it sillier was that I was going to leave home for my MBA programme in a few months anyway and I always thought my family would like to see the most of me until then. But I guess I was wrong. “But you are a young boy. Why are you wasting your time sitting at home all day ? You should talk to people, mix up.” “Mom, I do the exact same thing on Facebook. I have 150 friends.” Hmmm…Why didn’t I think of that before ? “That’s enough ! No more excuses. I have already talked to your father and we have decided that you are going to Chittorgarh tomorrow. So, save your breath and start packing.” Okay, I admit I am your typical introvert and I find it easier to walk upside down than have a conversation with a person but that doesn’t mean you have to banish me out of my own home. There are other ways like…like…I can’t seem to think of any right now but we’ll get to that some other time. Have you ever had this feeling that the song you’re listening to is mocking you ? Well, I have. My very loving parents had already got me tickets for the journey. There was just a little problem though…those were bus tickets. Oh, no no, don’t judge me yet. I am not some naughty pampered momma’s boy. I just don’t find it humane to travel in a bus for 8 hours in a sweltering 45 degrees. And adding to all that, the bus was a chicken-coop on wheels, not to mention the sick old lady sitting near me who kept puking out the window every half hour (I checked it on my watch). Sorry…forgot to tell you about the song I was listening to – “Misery loves company” by Simple Plan. Poetic justice, ain’t it ? It was 7 in the evening when the bus pulled in at the Chittorgarh bus-depot. The usual bustle near a busstand was absent there even though there was still daylight. People strolled lazily with no worry in the world. Great ! Now I was going to die of utter boredom. Left with no means of escape, I called an auto. Dad had booked a room for me at the Circuit-house. As the auto entered into its huge driveway, I had a fleeting glimpse of its magnificent structure. Its architecture reminded me of the royal palaces I had seen in Jodhpur. “I want to check-in today. I am…” “Oh, yes yes. Here are the keys. Room 12.” “Okay. Thanks.” Wow, that was fast. I love it when things get done without uttering more than 10 words. Good for me. It was a huge building made by the British in the early days of their occupation. Room 12 was in the west wing on the first floor. That part was quite deserted this time of the year due to the heat. But here I was, the sole occupant. So much for mixing with people… Room 12 was your typical hotel room – a single bed, a TV, a decrepit cooler and a telephone. But leaving all those means of comfort, I went on to check the most important thing – the bathroom. It was not satisfactory but I guess it would do for a few days. At least the flush was working. By the time I checked the TV (it had cable) and the cooler (it had a sticker on it saying – “New design ! Fitted with a fan !!”), I was dead tired. I put away my bag near the TV, put off the light and dropped on the bed, shoes and all.
It was 2:30 in the morning when the sound woke me up. I am not a heavy sleeper but that day was an exception. I was groggy and had a splitting headache. I looked around the room trying to pierce the darkness, too tired to get up for the light-switch. After a few minutes I seemed to get a general idea of the room and the sound seemed to be coming from the bathroom. It wasn’t more than five steps from the bed but that seemed impossible when one’s head felt like it was about to explode. Still, that sound….How shall I describe it ? It was like someone was breathing heavily, someone who had a bad cough in the chest…a raspy sound. Maybe it was the air through some half-open skylight. Sometimes air flowing through a tiny fissure made that kind of sound. Whatever it was, it was enough to keep me awake. Cursing under my breath, I got up and walked towards the sound. Since the light-switch was on the other side of the room I decided to let it be. I felt the wall and a few feet later, the bathroom door. I pressed my ear to it. That sound was definitely coming from in there. Slowly, I opened the door and flipped on the light-switch. My heart almost leaped out of my body when I saw a person standing in front of me ! But I sighed with relief when I saw that he looked exactly like me. Great place to put up a mirror, huh ? The next thing that I noticed was that the flush was on. Must be one of those faulty plumbing works. Water keeps leaking through a tiny hole and the flush automatically starts filling itself every few minutes giving the impression that somebody had recently used it. But, I could see no leakage whatsoever. Anyway, I moved towards it and pulled up the lever. There…No more sound. Silent as a lamb. I came out and walked towards the bed. Just as was about to lie down, it started again. The first thing I would do tomorrow morning is kick the manager’s ass but what about tonight ? I gathered what was left of my strength and walked towards the bathroom door. Wait…This time the sound was coming from somewhere else. The headache was making it difficult to determine its new coordinates. I kept walking towards where I thought it had to be. As I was about to reach a dozen steps, my foot knocked into something and I fell head-on ! Just the thing I needed right now. My head felt alright but I couldn’t be sure about my foot ‘cause I couldn’t feel a thing. Mentally kicking myself for not putting on the light, I took out my mobile-phone. It had a tiny screen but I could see a stool not far from me. What the hell was it doing in the middle of the room ? By the time I pulled myself up, the sound had ceased. Hey,did I tell you I had insomnia ? No ? Then, I mustn’t have told you that it tends to manifest itself in these kind of situations when you are cruelly woken up from your deep slumber by some freaky sound. So, I turned on the TV. It was 3:15 so I didn’t expect any entertainment but at least they had Discovery channel. Watching some chimpanzees grinning at each other and trying to attract the females, I fell asleep…. Today was one of the most unforgettable days I had ever had. I had told the manager about the flush and he had assured me that it would be attended to. Soon after that I had hired an auto and gone to visit the Chittorgarh fort. It was huge -13 kms in length and 6 kms in breadth. The officials claimed it to be the largest fort in the world and I believed them. It was practically a town in itself. People lived up there. They had markets, transportation…everything. What appealed to me the most was the bloody history it carried. The guide had told me that the fort was attacked by Alauddin Khilji but he couldn’t get in for many days. He had heard about the beauty of the queen, Rani Padmavati. So he put a condition before the king that if he let him see the queen he would leave them in peace. But the king didn’t trust him and showed him the reflection of the queen through a mirror. Alauddin was stunned by her beauty. He decided that he would capture the queen at any cost. He told the king to see him off at the city limits. When they reached the gates, Alauddin’s men captured the king and a message was sent to the
queen – “Come to the gates right now or you won’t see your husband again.” But he didn’t know that he had grossly underestimated the queen. She sent back a message requesting the company of her dasis. It was granted. She, then, ordered the soldiers to be dressed as her dasis and together, they reached the city gates. At the right moment the soldiers attacked the other side and the battle of Chittorgarh ensued. The queen was safely escorted back to her palace. The battle went on for days. The queen and her dasis kept looking for any signal for its end. On one fateful day, they saw a smoke rising up from the direction of the battle ground. It was a defeat signal. Assuming all their husbands to be dead, the queen and her dasis drank poison and committed suicide. But unfortunately it was an error, the king had won. When the king came to know about the death of his beloved wife, he was filled with rage. He again ordered his soldiers to kill ever one who was alive on the other side. Quite overwhelming ! Too much for one day. Now I was back in my room, lying on the bed. Why did history have to be so complicated ? I have a strong imagination and I didn’t find it difficult at all to imagine those days. The city walls seemed to be hiding a lot more than it appeared. There was a certain vibe around the place and my room wasn’t left out of it. Maybe it was the loneliness but the room seemed to have its own personality. The manager had told me of a British official who claimed to have heard a metal clanking like some sword being dragged through the corridor. It had happened in the east wing though. I, in the west wing, had better sources of sound…like the toilet flush. I couldn’t help breaking into a smile. Imagine a ghost using the toilet ? There was a bright full moon tonight and a slight breeze blew through the window. I closed my eyes and wandered off into dreamland. The bloody battle was coming alive before my eyes. One soldier ran holding his decapitated arm, dripping blood. Another crawled on the ground crying for water while others kept trampling over his hands and feet. Bodies lay on the ground as far as the eye could see. It was too much to take. Then I heard someone crying. It seemed to be coming from someplace else. I woke up with a start. Beads of sweat were forming on my forehead. I had kept a water-bottle near the bed. I shook it…only a few drops left. I felt the slightest relief as the drops trickled down my throat. Then, I heard it again. It was dropping with the breeze but still it carried some of it into my room. It was definitely the sound of someone crying. Was the ghost disappointed to see the repaired flush ? Okay, no time for jokes. I remembered the British officer’s story and decided to check the corridor first. It was pretty bright due to the moon and I could easily find my way around the room. Very quietly I unlatched the door and opened it. It creaked slightly but was silent again. I peeked into the corridor…not a soul. The corridor was lighted every few meters by dim bulbs which were doing a poor job with the illumination. One could get a nice view of the garden from the far end of the corridor, so I decided to walk in that direction. The moonlight cast a silvery glow on the far wall. As the garden came into view, I felt the breeze on my face. It was heavenly. The garden looked beautiful. I took out my mobile. The display said it was 2:45. About the same time as yesterday. There it was again. The wind carried it loud and clear towards me. Someone was sitting on one of the garden benches. I would have missed her if her dress hadn’t fluttered in the wind. She had her hands on her face and was crying silently. I couldn’t help feeling a pang of sympathy towards her. What had caused her so much pain ? My heart seemed to reach out to her. At that instant, she looked up at me. There was a surreal glow on her face. She was stunningly beautiful. I was in a trance. I felt my limbs but couldn’t move any of them. Was it because of her ? Her silken locks tried to hide her face in the breeze but it was like the moon itself. No clouds could
hide it for long. She kept looking at me for what felt like eternity. The anguish on her face pierced my heart. I couldn’t stop my tears. Why was I crying ? Words refused to come out of my mouth. Nothing else in the world mattered. I was lost…The moon slipped into the clouds as if unable to take the pain anymore. When it returned, she was gone. I was all alone again. I looked around me. My face was still wet. Who was she ? Where did she go ? Maybe I’ll never know. Sleep was the last thing on my mind. So, I went to my room and put in my earphones. I lied on the bed, staring at the ceiling while Hariharan sang in his mellow voice: Aaj chaandni bhi meri tarah jag rahi hai, Palkon pe chiraagon ko liye raat khadi hai… The next morning I packed my bags and headed to the reception. The manager stood there grinning stupidly. “Good morning sir ! How was your stay ?” “Yeah. Good.” “I hope you’ll visit us again sir. Now, please sign here. Thank you. Have a safe journey.” As I turned to leave, my eyes fell upon an oil painting of a woman. She had an uncanny resemblance to the girl I had seen last night. “Uh-excuse me.” “Yes sir ?” “Whose picture is that ?” “Oh, she is Rani Padmavati. She was the queen of Chittorgarh…” “Yes, yes I know.” A chill went through my body. Suddenly, everything made sense. I didn’t want to appear a fool but I had to ask. “Last night…Did you hear something ?” “Did the flush trouble you again sir ?” “No no there was a…never mind.” Ignoring his slightly puzzled face, I walked out. The title of a Stephen King story kept cropping up in my mind – “Sometimes they come back !”. I guess they do….
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