Rubina Kochar | 12 Min reads | November 03, 2017

Being a princess was all that she had ever wanted. She remembered her six year old self folding her tiny hands in a temple her mother had told granted all the wishes in the world and begging with all her heart and desperation to be a princess. Her child like imagination gave her immense joy when she dreamt herself in finery, being the centre of attention, loved and envied by all. Attendants and servants would surround her waiting for her requests and calls, running around frantically to fulfil them before the words could leave her lips. She could command, demand and reprimand. She could ask for oranges in summer because her father would arrange wagons of them from far lands just for his little princess. She would sleep in a canopy bed with softest sheets and would wake up to a dozen people attending to all her needs and wishes. All she wanted to be was a princess.

God is kind and listens to children for all their innocence is worth. Lady luck smiled upon her and before her seventh birthday she became a princess. Her father won local elections and became head of the village. Her happiness knew no bounds and she was unable to contain her excitement. Soon, they moved to a big palatial house with pillars and dome. She was so happy she would barely sleep, she would stay awake in her canopy bed patting the soft sheets dreaming of more beautiful things for now she knew they could come true. Ever since, her heart had been so content that even losing her mother to the birth of a brother who didn't survive himself, did not dampen her spirits for too long. She mourned for a winter but soon after, she was eating oranges in summer and nothing else mattered.

She grew up and accustomed to her life as first lady of the village. The excitement of her dream coming true faded over time instead being a princess became the part and parcel of her life. But what is life without dreams, so she moved on to new and better dreams. She wanted to travel the world, see mountains and snow, meet new people, fall in love, learn a new language, live in a city and go to college. She dreamt of meeting strangers with interesting stories to tell, she yearned to move to another city, make a career for herself. If anyone visited the village from lands far off, she'd invite them to dinner, learn all she could from their experiences and weave them into her dreams and fantasize. Her eighteenth birthday was near. And she decided to open up to her father about these dreams. A day before her birthday, her father summoned his precious daughter. She knew that was the moment. She dressed in most beautiful dress she could find, did her hair in a fancy manner, wore some jewels and walked as gracefully as she could without hopping in excitement. Her father was mesmerized (just as she had hoped) , gifted her a dress more beautiful than the one she was wearing and disclosed that he had accepted a proposal of marriage for her from neighbouring village. Her chest closed up and with her eyes holding back a sea of tears, she saw her dreams stifling. She protested like a person being smothered should, violent and convulsing. She argued and laid the corpse of her dreams on the table for her father to see, in the hope that he'd empathize and show some mercy. But the decision had been made for her. She was to marry the eldest son of the head of neighbouring village.

"The family you're marrying into is powerful and we need an alliance for coming elections. You are a princess and this is your part in the empire I have built. You asked for this more than anyone else." He had finished the conversation leaving her nothing to say.

The very next day, on her 18th birthday a pompous dinner was arranged and it was announced to the whole village that she'd marry her intended exactly after a month. She stood there on the platform, dressed in most beautiful dress her father had gifted her last night, as ladies stood in the crowd awed by her beauty, envious of her fortune and men looked down upon their own wives and daughters. She stood with a smile on her face and a fire in her heart that consumed her. Explosions that were so loud that she couldn't hear a sound of anything else, yet so silent no one else could sense were happening. It was like all those years of bliss and contentment needed to be balanced.

As planned, she got married one month later on the same platform under a grand pandal. As the rituals began, she crushed her wishes, plunging a knife deep into her past self, letting the blood splash on her present, watching last drops of it trickle as she completed all the ceremonies. She left the bubble of princess in her canopy bed with soft sheets, a part of her had died as she got married and reached her new home as a wedded woman.

She was a first lady here too though it meant different. Here, it meant running the house in order for her father in law to rule as opposed to running around the house. She arranged for gatherings where her husband would be introduced as a heir to his father and missed the days when she used to dress up to be a part of such gatherings back in her maiden home. But most of all, she had to make an effort to keep her husband's heart warm to her in contrast of burning anyone's but her own emotions when she was unmarried. As hard as it was, she took to everything like duck to water and in the heap of responsibilities buried her old aspirations. One thing that did not change was insomnia. She would stay awake in her marriage bed and imagine what it'd be like to live in a foreign land, go to college and meet interesting people. As the darkness of night deepened, so did her thoughts. Some days she mocked the incoherence of her dreams and other days they were all that seemed real to her.

But next morning, she'd leave her bed and become the lady of the house, the princess of the family, unsure of whether she had signed up for this or not as the six year old in that temple. Things were different in her family after marriage. While her father had believed in winning over people by goodness or bargain to the most, her father in law conformed to power and fear. His definition of illegal was liberal or so it seemed to her from all she could see from far or hear from the staff that never intended to let their words reach her. She overheard a kitchen staff that her family had plotted to destroy an enemy and her husband had executed it in a barbaric fashion slitting open the throat of his enemies with a sword. She had not slept that night, trying to decide whether or not to confront her husband about it. She decided not to by morning. She didn't want to stress over anything that was not her concern. She adhered to her duties and responsibilities.

One morning, the sun brought news of her father's demise. She visited her childhood home and mourned on the same platform that she was married. Whatever little pieces of her dreams had survived till then, succumbed that day. Despite being married and amidst the biggest crowd she had ever seen, she felt the pain of being orphaned. A big black void surrounded her and everything seemed vague and hazy to her. She wanted to burst into loud wails and shed all her blood in tears but her heart was damaged beyond repair. Her father had left everything to his son in law and that made her family most powerful in the region, a vision her father had sacrificed her for.

The power rendered to her family brought enemies that she often got to know about from the murmurs of staff, people at temple and sometimes from visitors when she served them tea and overheard them. Some days, it would be the curse of poorer people being cheated and other days a rival was acquiring allies. She would be scared but reassured herself saying, she was a princess and princesses do not concern themselves over insignificant affairs. Instead, as a princess she did what she was supposed to. Be the woman of the house and ironically, have no say in anything.

Life went on as usual except that day, she could not get up before everyone else. Her body felt hot as an iron plate in sun and she threw her guts out at every attempt of drinking a sip of water. A priest and a medical practitioner were called and both of them confirmed, the family was to get an heir. After a long time, something inside her felt alive. Suddenly, she was not completely alone. As weak as she felt in the body, she felt empowered as a woman. She would give birth to an heir. Only she, the princess could do this. The whole family and world was at her feet since that day. She hired the same midwife who had taken care of her mother. A fat old lady, with more age spots than hair, the midwife spoke harsh and fearless, a trait that comes with age. "I told your mother, she'd die if she tried having another baby but your father wanted an heir. And lost his wife instead." She was shocked to hear it. She didn't know, that her desire to be a princess, for her father to build a legacy was what had claimed her mother's life. Her canopy bed with soft sheets had been much more expensive than she ever knew. Another piece of her heart crushed that day. Something strange started happening around the same time. In her awake midnight spells, she'd find herself search for memories from before that temple where she had begged to be a princess. As desperately as she tried, she could remember nothing. She passed days waiting for her child. The pregnancy took a toll on her. She could barely eat, not just during first few weeks but entirety. She lost weight and looked as hollow on the outside as she had been on the inside. But it didn't bother her. The anticipation of having a baby overcame everything and she powered through each day of her pregnancy.

She was wrapping everything for the night when she overheard her kitchen staff describing about the only surviving son of a family her husband had slashed mercilessly with a sword has come back to town seeking vengeance. She reprimanded the staff for spreading stupid rumours and asked them to focus on their jobs. She retired to bed but before she could indulge in her thoughts, she felt a convulsion in her abdomen. She grunted and clutched her husband tight for a moment. Startled her husband howled out for the fat old lady, the handmaidens and names of all women in staff he could think of. The fat old midwife rushed as fast as her stiff legs could take her. By then, the shrieks were louder and the bed was wet. It would seem like any other night to others except for the timely screams of a woman delivering a baby who should've stayed in her womb at least two more months.

Before dawn, her husband pacing back and forth in the balcony heard his son's cries for the first time.

The fat old lady placed the baby in his arms, "He's strong for a premature baby but he will need a lot of care if he's to grow as healthy as any other boy."

The first time she held her baby, world around her melted into a puddle. His small structure embodied innumerable emotions that had been oblivious to her. Her heart that had died piece by piece seemed to flutter once again. He was small and needed her constantly. The fat old midwife instructed her to keep him close to her skin at all times. She'd keep him in her arms and when she needed her hands free, she'd sling him to her chest. The boy picked up on feeding soon and fed voraciously growing stronger day by day. Meanwhile, she observed an increase in the number of guards around their home. At first, it was only for the night but later the house was manned every hour of the day. Her intuition cautioned her and scared her. But she focused her attention to her little boy whenever anything else overtook her.

It was a usual evening for her. She moved around the corridors of the house, her son in a sling clinging to her chest. The weather was bad and she expected a storm. She instructed the clothes to be taken in, tasted the food, switched on the lights around the house and shushed her baby in between. Her shoulders ached a little and she headed towards her room to unsling and rock the baby to sleep before performing her evening prayers. Before she reached her room, a big spark exploded in near sky and the area drowned in darkness. The transformer must've failed. She lit an oil lantern in her room and as she bent over her son's crib to lay him in, a vociferous scream shot through in near distance. She turned towards the door and followed another wail which was silenced before completely leaving the throat. Few more steps, when she was pulled back by the fat old lady. "Stay with your son. We're surrounded from all sides. Try to leave through the back door. I'll keep that door open for you." As she paced back towards her room, another howl reached her ears. This one was easy to identify. It was the same voice that had echoed through these halls with authority and power. Her father in law had fallen. As she put her son in a sling across her chest, her ears followed the screams from across the house trying to decipher which direction was silent and where should she head. She put her feet in slippers and headed towards the back door but was stopped by a loud cry that was unfailingly the fat old lady’s. Back door had closed to her. There were wails and screams and howls and shrieks from all around. So she bolted the door to her room and stayed in. She stood there listening to the massacre and looked at her son's face lit dimly by the oil lantern. Her sobs were uncontrollable and her tears were falling all over her son. Her nose kept watering. She closed her eyes and flashed back through her whole life. She looked beyond that temple where she had begged to be a princess and she remembered a small cottage by a stream of water, where her mother pushed her in a swing and she laughed like she never had ever since. She burst into loud wails and tried to hold onto that vision but repeated thuds at her door brought her to the bloody present. She wiped her tears, looked at her son one last time before her eyes met another pair, bloodshot. The man held a sword dripping blood in one hand and a head in another. As he threw the head to her feet and light fell upon it, she realized it was her husband's. She closed her eyes and in that moment all she wanted was not to be a princess.

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