It was a sunny afternoon. The air was still and the weather, hot. The chirping of the thirsty birds echoed in the sky. However, if one listened carefully, a faint sound could be heard. It was coming from outside. Maybe it was typical to hear that sound during that time of the day. It sounded like the bustle of battalions in the war.
The grass was dry green and the bushes, dense. The tall palm trees outlined the stony pavements. Other tall trees were full of long branches with numerous bird nests. The dark beehives caught in the myriad of leaves and branches were barely visible. The stony pillars of the tomb were strong and the rocky floor was hot. Men and women often sat together closely in the gravelly compartments of the tomb. The faeces of the insects and birds which often clambered there, caused white, green and blackish smudges on the sloppy buttresses at the corners.
A woman and two men were visible from a distance. The woman was in a golden attire which was embroidered with innumerable tiny red sequins. They matched the vermilion on her forehead. Her husband was posing with her and following her wherever she went. The other man looked vague. Maybe he was telling the couple how to sit or stand. Some other people rested under the shade of the dome to cool themselves from the scorching sun. Children were playing with a bat and a ball. Everything was as usual, except….
An adolescent boy was sitting alone in one of the stony compartments. His shiny black hair mirrored the sun. His face glistened with sweat. His long arms and legs were folded. He had a book full of white blank sheets. His eyes were closed. Maybe he was trying to listen to the sounds or smell the aroma. His feet were static on the pebbly bedrock. He cradled his face on the palms of his hands. Two tiny pearls rolled down his cheeks and fell on the white sheets. Maybe he was thinking about things. Maybe he was lost in life. Maybe he was dead. Maybe he was alive.
Suddenly the clouds began to gather and the light began to fade. The cheerful chirpings of the sparrows were replaced by the insane cries of crows. Strong winds flailed the branches and leaves of the tall trees. It started to rain. The people ran towards the garden shelters to save themselves from the downpour. The bellicose denigration of the skies darkened my eyes as I could not believe what I saw in front of me. Suddenly everything else faded and only the outline of a man was visible.
He was coming towards me very slowly and I could see that he had a sublime aura around himself. The way he conducted himself was strangely standard. He wore a crimson tunic, a golden silk cloak and a peach turban. His green eyes looked into my brown ones as he extended his hand towards me. He gifted me a milky moonstone. It produced a glint of light.
And that changed everything.
“I have come here to free you”, said the man.
“Can you see me?”, amazed, I asked.
“Can you see me?”
“I can, yes”
“Then I too can”.
He appeared to be valiant and honourable, his gait was feminine.
“Follow me”, he ordered.
I reluctantly followed him outside the confinements. I don’t remember ever being there. I saw a lake of rainwater, heard the quacking ducks, looked at the water under the bridge through which we went to the other side. He took me near the turret and told me to wait there. He put his hand on my shoulder but I couldn’t feel anything. It was almost as if his hand went through my body.
I marvelled at the lone turret. It was as alone and normal as I was. I don’t remember ever being up the there. I don’t even remember ever having seen it. It was a disappointing and abandoned structure after all. There were swamps and bushes around it. The rain stopped and the clouds cleared.
I heard a voice. It was a harsh masculine voice. But the speaker was a pale woman. “The turret was probably the corner tower of an enclosure, the walls of which have now disappeared”, she spoke to a group of people, addressing to no one in particular. “It is constructed of random rubble masonry. It has two levels with a small room at the lower level. The main decorative features are the Jharokha opening at the upper level and the ribbed dome. I could not follow what else she said. I looked up at the turret and before I could know, the speaker, along with the band of people, vanished.
The golden sunlight turned crimson at nightfall. It was soon replaced by the silvery moonlight. I didn’t know what I was waiting for. But I couldn’t move either. The turret reminded me of a memory of forgettable events. I felt as if something fell on my head and then, on the ground. It was a dusk rose. My favourite flower.
I bent down to pick up the fallen flower. I looked up and saw him. The boy was looking down at me from the Jharokha. His face shone like the sunless sea and his eyes glimmered in the colourful moonlight. Numerous pearls rolled down his cheeks as he saw me. Maybe he wasn’t lost in his thoughts anymore. Maybe he found something. Maybe he was dead. Maybe he was alive.
I heard his footsteps. He came down the turret and extended his soft arm towards me. I took his hand in mine but didn’t feel anything. He was weightless. The air around him was cool.
“Who are you”? I asked.
“A Highborn Hostage”, he replied
“So am I”.
The boy possessed a talismanic beauty. It reminded me of my adolescence. We walked for a while. We sat on a patch of cool grass amidst the tombs and mosques.
I asked him, “Who was the man who ordered me to wait by the turret’?
“A speck of dust”, he replied.
“Who was the woman with the masculine voice?”
“A Reluctant Reader”.
“Why have you brought me here”?
“To witness the coalition of chaos”.
“Who are you”? I asked again.
“Enamoured”, he said this time.
He put his weightless head on my lap and his floating hand around my neck. He wanted me to look into his eyes and I did.
I saw the bustling battalions on the battlefield, a pool of dusk roses, white skins and black blood. A golden woman with two men. Rains outside the fortress. White marbles on top of Qutab Minar. My huge durbar, my throne, my unbesmirched honour. Amirs and Ulemas. The face of my father. The face of my lover. The face of God. The face of death. Carcasses. Octagonal pavilions, enamelled tiles, umbrella domes and my tomb.
A broken promise – for the dreams of avarice.
I closed my eyes in the darkness of my grave. The boy was gone. What remained were ashes and bones, stardust and wanderlust – a saga in stone.
The above piece was written on the writer’s first trip to the Lodi Gardens. The piece aims at blurring the lines between who is the writer, who is the protagonist and who is the reader, and posits the question: can the dead dream? The piece is written from the perspective of Sikandar Lodi, whose tomb, built in 1494 A.D., is situated in the Lodi Gardens.