Parasrao was astride a camel, in Baroli in 16th Century Rajasthan, waiting for the priest to bless the camel train that he was to escort to the King’s palace. The King was building an impressive fort, and he was proud that he had been given the duty to escort the sculptors and their finished pillars and frescos to the fort. At seventeen, it was a command that made him proud. His brothers thought he was too young. If he reached home without any untoward happening, they would shut up and not tease him any more. In the distance he could hear the sculptors going clink clink as they chiseled the stones which would soon be beautiful pillars with intricate designs, or sculptures of Shiva or the Mother Goddess to adorn temples and palaces far away. He smiled to himself thinking of the end of the journey. His uncle, the King, had fixed his marriage with a beautiful young girl who had caught his eye. She was a friend of his cousin, the princess and also came from a respectable Rajput family. This was his last mission this year. After this he was to get married to Girija. His brother would escort the next camel train.
As was the norm those days, a camel train this size attracted people who wanted to travel. A few spice merchants, some peddlers who sold glass bangles, toys, and a family that wanted to go on pilgrimage, all of them had joined his train. He and his band of soldiers would protect them and guide them through the desert. At the end of the journey they would be paid in cash or would be given gifts by the people. At the auspicious hour, a pundit came and chanted some mantras and distributed Prasad, and with the blowing of the conch shell, they began their journey through the desert.
“Shirish, you’re still up?” Tara’s sleepy voice brought him back to the present in a start.
“Huh, what time is it” he asked, rubbing his tired eyes. It often happened like this. He would be so engrossed in the book he was writing that he would forget the time and sometimes even his present surroundings. She reached for her mobile phone and checked.
“Its 2 am. Why don’t you get some sleep, Shirish? Its late, and you must be tired”
“No, darling” he said absently. “You go back to sleep. Shall I turn off the lamp?”
“No, its all right” she replied, and he went back to the story he was typing frantically on the lap top, forgetting his wife and his surroundings.
The desert…..hot…… endless, the sand dunes going on for miles. The sun was beating down on them. They could see no village or human beings. Just the rippling sand stretching to the horizon. It did not bother him. He was Parasrao, nephew of the King, a Chandravanshi soldier. He had traveled from his town Amber to Baroli and back many times with his father and brothers. This was the first time he was doing it independently.
“Shirish, are you writing a new story” asked Tara softly. There was no answer. She smiled to herself and settled herself in a more comfortable position. He was sitting at the table engrossed in typing on his lap top. He was such a compulsive workaholic. Many times, when he got involved in the story he would be writing, he would be unaware of any one. He had to be reminded to eat and would fall asleep in front of his lap top. She sighed. She looked at him with, smiled sleepily and slowly drifted back to sleep.
When he judged the sun to be at its peak, he gestured to the train. They stopped and made camp. It was time for their mid day meal of bajri and green chillis, pickle, washed down with salted butter milk and then rest under the wagons. They would resume their journey later when it was cooler. By night time they would reach the oasis and have fresh cool water. It was just a two day journey in this season. It was dangerous to travel this stretch during summer storms but no storms were expected in spring ….
At three they resumed their journey. It was cooler now, and Parasrao did not let any one slow the pace. They had to reach the oasis by night-fall. Darkness fell with suddenness in the desert. The stars were bright and shiny. He took stock of their direction from the Pole Star. They were traveling in the right direction. He could feel the gritty sand irritating his skin around his neck and under his eyes. One of the wagon drivers gave a shout. They all breathed a sigh of relief. They were approaching the oasis. Even the camels had smelled water. They sped through the sand eagerly. They did not notice the shadowy figures of the bandits until they were attacked.
The attackers must have got their information from spies so they were waiting to ambush the camel train. Maybe a rival king wanted to delay his uncle’s fort. There was no time to think. His shield went up automatically to deflect the sword that was descending on his neck. The rest of the soldiers were busy deflecting the attack. Even the sculptors all had weapons and joined in repelling the attack. The old people, women and children quickly hid under the wagons. His adversary was strong and well trained. Parasrao was battling for his life and honor. The attacker was astride a horse. Parasrao feeling handicapped on the camel, slid down, bringing down the horse with a blow on its neck. The bandit jumped of the horse straight on to Parasrao. Parasrao deflected the man with his shield. He thrust his sword at the man’s chest, but the man was wearing armor. He parried the sword thrust with ease. This was the first time in his life that Parasrao was fighting in earnest and not with his brothers for practice. All his life he had trained for this day. The bandit managed to run his sword through Parasrao’s side. It was a shallow cut, but he was bleeding profusely. He could smell the blood …… and then he went berserk. He did not know how it happened but he was on a killing spree. He fought like a maniac, killing the bandit who had attacked him and then attacking the others. The smell of blood drove him over the edge. He killed another, then another. He kept slashing those bandits, even though he knew they were dead …….
Tara woke up to the sound of breaking glass. Shirish had a metal curtain rod in his hand, the wardrobe was ransacked and he was smashing the mirror on the dressing table.
“Shirish stop it” screamed Tara. “Some one help me!!! She sprang to hold Shirish but he was uncontrollable. The dresser fell down with a crash and a piece of wood embedded itself in Shirish’s leg. He started bleeding profusely. The noise roused the entire household. The door burst open. Ashwin, her brother and Shirish’s agent and servants rushed in. It took Ashwin and three servants to restrain the writer. Someone switched on the light. The room was in shambles, things strewn around, glass shards all over the floor, furniture upturned. Shirish, totally overpowered, stopped struggling and collapsed in a heap.
It took all the soldiers to control Parasrao and take away his sword. Even then, he calmed down only when they threw all their precious water on him. The smell of blood got washed away and Paras collapsed, shivering. He was so tired. He somehow stumbled into one of the wagons and fell unconscious. The camel train resumed its journey to the oasis. Even after reaching the oasis, he did not wake up for his dinner or a wash. They let him sleep. A poultice was applied to his wounded side and he was wiped clean. He did not wake up. They put him in a sarai room and let him rest. He had been so brave. A true Chandravanshi soldier. He had earned his rest.
Dammit Ashwin, it was a bad fit this time, said Tara extremely annoyed. He needs a doctor.
Get the doctor here then, Tara. We can’t get the people to know, said Ashwin
Tara knew the facts, her husband was mad. No, not the usual kind of mad. When not writing he was a quiet shy kind of a man. When he wrote, it was as though some one else took over. It was getting even worse now. Her brother was of no help. He wanted book after book to be written. The books sold like hot cakes. The sad thing was that with every book, they got richer and Shirish went deeper into madness. Today he attacked the dressing table, tomorrow it could be her. She kept all these thoughts to herself, knowing that Ashwin would not listen.
What happened, is he writing something new?
I think so, she replied
Is the lap top safe?
Yeah, I guess so
I got a call from the publisher. Some minister wants to meet Shirish.
You know how it is, Ashwin. He wont be able to meet anyone or even make sense until he gets the book out of his system.
She got up and picked up the phone
Who are you calling? He asked
The doctor, who else?
She was irritated. Her husband was unwell, her brother was greedy and paranoid. It was easier when she was just an artist who drew attractive pictures for childrens’ books. That is how she had met Shirish Desai, started making book cover art for his novels and became his wife. At first she thought her brother who worked as her agent would help her manage the publishers etc. Now she wondered ….