An excerpt from the book, Mayurkhund by Sadiqa Peerbhoy

Mayurkhund, March 1999

The taxi turned into the outer gates marked by the Mayurkhund crest of the single peacock with its spread tail in fretted brass. Long suppressed memories surged up like bubbles to the surface of Amari’s mind. She clutched both hands together to stop the tremors that ran through them. What was there to be afraid of? No. It wasn’t fear…this was apprehension. What awaited her? How would she look into Sonny’s eyes without betraying her feelings? How would she face Maa Saa?

The place that held her childhood memories in its nurturing hands had grown hostile in the last few months that she was there. She had taken to drifting like one of the mythical Mayurkhund ghosts, talking to no one, eating her meals silently in her room and thinking of what she should do to avoid Sonny when he came back from college.
Unfortunately his vacation had coincided with her holidays from the Shantala Devi Junior college in town. There was no way of avoiding him. Even in the vast palace, if she remained out of sight, he sought her out. And her own body betrayed her by yearning for him. Now the memories of that difficult, time came back like a hurricane leaving her sense of self-possession in windblown shreds.

The car took a turn and there it was in all its splendour, with the Aravinda Hills as a backdrop and the noonday sun silvering the lake. Mayur Mahal nestled in the semi-circular hills that held it preciously. Its rose-hued sandstone wings spread to the right and left of an awe-inspiring entrance façade held up by scalloped arches and hand-
carved pillars. Four beautiful chhatris sat on its crenallated terraces. Perfect in its proportions and elaborate in its detailing, Mayur Mahal looked like a jewel transplanted from a bygone era.

The place that held her childhood memories in its nurturing hands had grown hostile in the last few months that she was there.

As the car neared the porch, Amari could now see the careless stamp of age and unkemptness on the building and its sprawling overgrown grounds. The slow crumble of a once elegant edifice. Memories like dry leaves fluttered sadly to the ground. There was that big peepul tree where one summer they had put up rope swings and the children had fought for their chance to swing high up in the air kicking the ground with their feet.

There in the distance was the lake, now just a greenish brown puddle. Then that thicket of bamboo where they played hide and seek and had created a small hideout for themselves in the middle. And there at the back, where she could not see, was probably the cottage that her mother had been lodged in.

At the inner gate an old man shuffled up to wave the car to a stop and peer into the backseat. A snag-toothed smile crumpled his face into wrinkles. ‘Baby Saa, it is you!’ A note of joy quavered through his voice. Amari felt the quick rush of tears. It was Gaganji, who used to be His Highness’s driver, now relegated to guard duty. She stretched her hand out to touch his gnarled fingers.

‘How are you, Gaganji? How is everyone in the palace?’

Gaganji wiped his eyes with the end of his dirty turban. ‘What can be said, Baby Saa. You will see for yourself. Everything…is changed.’ He fluttered empty hands to the skies.

Amari had a fleeting memory of how Sonny used to blackmail Gaganji into giving him secret driving lessons on the silver Rolls Royce with her in the backseat pleading to be given a chance at the wheel too. Then there was the time Sonny crashed the Jaguar into the gatepost…Gaganji had taken the rap for that.

The car glided to a stop and Amari climbed the broad marble stairs flanked by crouching marble lions. Her eyes scanned the verandah for Sonny. Just a glimpse of him to see the deepening look of pleasure reach his eyes. A part of her desperately wished he was at home and she would get to see him. Another skittered away from the emotional upheaval this would leave in its wake.

The deep verandah with the wicker sofa arrangements, skirting the palace was empty.

She stood for a moment wondering if she should push the carved mahogany door open. Then just as she was deciding to go in, there was a tinkle of ankle bells and a young maid with a shy smile was opening the door with bowing courtesy, her eyes cast down.

‘First Her Highness is waiting for you, in the chota divan khana, Hukum.’

Amari battened down a quick instinct to turn and run back to the waiting taxi. In a heartbeat she was back in a time when Maa Saa had summoned her for jumping into the lotus pond with Sonny or stumbling into a priceless vase. Or for pleading a stomach ache when it was class time with Miss Dillon.

Amari squared her shoulders and lifted her chin. You are not a child and she cannot do anything to you. Now put on that smile and walk in. Remember, she did look after you in her own fashion for years after your mother disappeared.

Or ran away.

Or died.

Whichever.

Picture Credit:

Excerpted with permission from Mayurkhund by Sadiqa Peerbhoy, Readomania.

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