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A Tale of Two Generations: A fictional story of Karachi's most ancient past.

The Royal Family: The Ruling Class of Kolachi

That was a fine evening. A great merriment and dance was underway in King Ruru’s palace—a usual sight in the royal palace of Kolachi! However, that day was different, for our king’s love affair had taken a new but pleasant twist; he’d appointed his beloved, Neelamal, as his new chief minister, and she was sitting beside him on the throne.
The king was in his fifties—not too old to fall for someone in her thirties, and beautiful like Neelamal. His wife Ambika, the queen of Kolachi, who was the princess of the neighboring state of Alore, had died a few weeks ago, relieving the king from the bondage of marriage to enter the new relationship!
Despite all his satisfaction and happiness, our king wasn’t fit to rule our country; that was because of his dementia. He was prone to lose his memory, persistently, after every two or three days, due to a strange fit that would temporarily omit the mnemic inscriptions from his mind, only to be recovered after a few hours. Although he would usually regain his memory within a few hours, the frequency of those fits, and their impact on him, had left him invalid for the state affairs.
The king, like most of the kings, wanted to be a king, forever, or at least, throughout his life; it was such a pleasure for him to rule his country that despite his disability, he hadn’t yet given the throne to the crown prince, even though he was expected to do so when he’d developed that dementia a few years ago. Instead of leaving the throne, the king had decided to appoint a wise and beautiful chief minister to handle his affairs, needless to say to the dismay of his son.
They had gathered in a big rectangular hall, to initiate the celebrations of the birthday of the mother goddess Ghaghar. Though the actual birthday was some three weeks ahead. The irony of it was that our mother goddess, the mighty Ghaghar, had already died, only 25 years ago! Her alternate, Birha, whose reincarnation the king had taken the opportunity to present to his people that day, was there in the form of Neelamal. So, in a sense— and that was the commonly prevailing sense in our city then— it was a party to say goodbye to the older goddess, and to welcome the new one!
The king was proudly seated on his precious throne; fixed under a golden canopy, carved with beautiful trellis work on its front and sides. On the sides of the king’s throne, stood his attendants; two women, with an air of indifference on their faces, as if they had no idea of life other than their present occupation. They were perpetually fanning the king and his beautiful companion, with large peacock wings.



O

Marvi, the beautiful 18 years old daughter of Kaido Pruhit, the head of our religious class, was anxiously waiting for her beloved Raju, the son of the business community chief of Kolachi! She was attending the royal gathering that evening with her father and mother. Her servant Buddho, who had drove them to the venue in a cab, was serving the people sitting around in the hall. Marvi considered him as her friend and not a servant.
Her mother Bhagi, the wife of the chief priest, was talking to the mother of Raju, Reshman, the wife of the chief of business class, Ram Lal. The two ladies, unlike their husbands, who were the rivals of each other, were old friends, and weren’t much interested in the politics prevailing in the city. The two ladies were sitting close to her.  Her father was busy talking to the elites of Kolachi in another corner of the hall.
They were sitting on a beautiful velvety, blue and red carpet. The artwork on that carpet was simply beautiful, reflecting a scene in which a lover was shown chasing his beloved in a beautiful bower, full of flowers and singing birds, imploring her to accept his love, with a red rose in his hands, apparently to no avail.  She thought that the lover in the scene was Raju and she was the girl. Then she’d waved her hand to caress the hair of the boy in the scene. As she waved her hand over the delicate long woolen threads on the carpet they waved like long grass leaves in the wind.

 “How beautiful is she!” Said the mother of Raju to the mother of Marvi, while looking towards Neelamal, who was regarded as the icon of beauty and wisdom in the city of Kolachi.
“She has bewitched the king by her beauty!” Said Raju’s mother. Marvi looked towards Neelamal and admired her dress. She was wearing a white Ghaghra and Choli that was beautifully and skillfully embroidered with golden threads—a skill our women possessed at the level of perfection.
“Do you know she doesn’t belong to our country”, Said Bhagi, Marvi’s mother.
“It’s something to which her extraterrestrial beauty, undeniably and convincingly testifies.” Said Marvi. She wanted to participate in their talk
“Where is she from?” Asked Bhagi to her daughter, who had for the time being forgotten that she was waiting for Raju.
“Her ancestors came from the banks of the Nile in Egypt— the mystery land which may have something to do with her supreme constitution— some fifty years ago.” Said Marvi in a dreaming voice. She liked her very much. She was her idol.
“How beautifully she has adorned her. I’ve never seen a woman more skillful than her in this art.” Said Reshman.
“She has lived in the South, where she excelled in the 64 liberal arts of our times. That’s why she is so skillful!” Said Marvi.
“Why she left that place then?” Asked Reshman.
“I’ve heard that a Pruhit killed her husband because he wanted to marry her. So she migrated to our city, 10 years ago, with her son Nala.” Said Bhagi.
“A Pruhit?” Reshman asked for confirmation.
“Yes! A Pruhit.” Said Bhagi.
“What about your husband Kaido. Is he still after her?” Asked Reshman in a low voice. She didn’t want Marvi to hear this.
“He was crazy for her. But my father interfered and stopped him.” Said Bhagi in a low voice while looking towards her husband who was busy talking to a group of man. She took a sigh of relief to find that he wasn’t looking at Neelamal. Then she turned her attention to Reshman.
“What about your husband Ram Lal. Is he living with you now or not?” Asked Bhagi.
“No! He only visits us once in a year. He doesn’t live with us, and even today he is coming from his apartment, not to greet king like us, but to attend a political meeting.” Said Reshman in a low but sad voice.  A tear slipped on her pale cheek. Her husband Ram Lal, the head of the business community had abandoned his family and lived alone. Bhagi caressed her. The two then kept quiet for some time.
“Is it because of some other woman that he lives away?” Asked Bhagi.
“No! He lives away due to his political ambitions!” Said Reshman, and looked towards the entrance where she saw her sons Raju and Arun entering the hall. Her husband hadn’t come with them.
“They have come, but their father isn’t with them!” Reshman pointed out. Bhagi looked towards the entrance and took a deep sigh. She was sad on her behalf.
In the meantime, Marvi left her place for she’d seen Raju entering the hall.  He was18. He was handsome, tall and fair. He’d arch like eyebrows, covering his black eyes, and a broad forehead. He was with his elder brother Arun. She straightaway went to him. The two mothers looked at their kids talking to each other.
“Have you settled her marriage?” Asked Reshman. She’d noticed on many occasion that her son Raju took interest in Marvi.
“Yes! She was engaged to Saido in her childhood. He’s the nephew of my husband. But we don’t want to marry her to him.” Said Bhagi.
“Why?” Asked Raju’s mother, while looking towards her sons who were talking to Marvi.
“He isn’t a good boy. We don’t like him, but we can’t break the engagement until we find her a good match!” Said Marvi’s mother.
“Are you looking for a Pruhit boy?” Asked Reshman.
“Strictly a Pruhit boy. Her father is very strict in the matters of caste!” Said Bhagi.
Reshman, the mother of Raju was quietly looking at the entrance where her boy Raju was busy talking to Marvi.



O

“Why are you so late?” Marvi asked Raju.
“We were waiting for father, but he said that he would come afterwards.” Said Raju.
“How are you Arun?” Marvi turned her attention towards Raju’s elder brother.
“I am fine, how are you?” Asked Arun, and in the meantime, Buddho came with a flask of wine and clay pots.
“What would my friends like?” Red or white!” Buddho mimed the typical royal attendants. Buddho was tall and well built, with a serene and kind face; besides his dress, there wasn’t anything in him that was like slaves or Haries.
“I am observing that you are taking special interest in that dancing girl!” Marvi teased Raju. Raju looked towards the girl.” Not a bad choice!” Said Raju admiringly.
“You aren’t allowed to admire anyone as long as I am standing in front of you!” Said Marvi and hit Raju’s arm with a fist.
“Go and ask her name for me!” Buddho requested Marvi, who then reached the place where a group of musicians was playing a soothing music on the string instruments. Two girls were dancing on the rhythm, amidst the rattling of wine pots and flasks. She’d asked one of those two girls.
“What’s your name?”
“Momal!” The girl had replied without discontinuing her dance, with a heart touching smile. Marvi came back where she was talking to Buddho and Raju.
“Momal!” Said Marvi. Her name is Momal.
“Ah! Her name is beautiful like her!” Said Buddho and closed his eyes for a while.
“Where is Arun?” Asked Buddho as he opened his eyes.
“He was here just a moment ago!” They all searched for Arun, who was standing with his father, Ram Lal.
“He keeps himself busy with his father. Why don’t you hang around with him?” Marvi asked Raju.
“Leave this question. I don’t like him. He has left our mother without even leaving her completely!” Said Raju and he sounded bitter. Marvi didn’t like it when he got bitter so she abandoned the topic.
Then they filled their glasses of wine and drank and talked. They were standing in a corner of the hall. On the roof of the hall, hanged a big chandelier, surrounded in a beautiful pattern by the smaller ones, producing a daylight effect in the middle of the hall. However, that effect had dimmed into a melancholic glow, as it had reached the side wall where the three of them were standing.
“Look at these paintings on this wall Raju.” Said Marvi while pointing towards the work of renowned artists on the walls. The wine had some impact on her. She was looking more expressive then.  “The gods and goddesses, under this dim light are looking drunk!” Said Marvi. “I think you are drunk now!” Said Buddho in a teasing manner, and Marvi had shown him a fist. The three then looked towards those paintings in which gods and goddesses were involved in exotic acts; goddesses preying on fierce lions and tigers, and male deities, meditating under the huge Peepal trees in their spiritual defiance surrounded by venomous cobras. Such paintings were present in almost each household of our city, to keep the religious fervor alive in the busy residents.
It was Buddho’s voice that recalled their attention back.
“Oh God! My father has come along with mother!” Said Buddho. There was a panic in his voice, and that panic was visible everywhere. His father was the fiercest bandit Kashmira; the head of the slave community. He was going towards the place where Ram Lal and Kaido the priest were talking with a group of people. A silence had prevailed in the hall then.
“Can he visit the royal palace like this?” Asked Raju, while looking amazingly towards the father of Buddho, Kashmira, who was passing through the hall amidst a relative silence. The soldiers attending the gathering were alert.
“Why they can’t arrest him now?” Said Raju again.
“No! They can’t right now, for our age old tradition allows him to attend a gathering such as this!” Said Marvi.
“How? I mean why he has this amnesty tonight?” Said Raju, He was still puzzled.
“He’s the head of the slave community, that’s why! All other heads are present here tonight. Your father is the head of business community, mine is of the religious community, and he’s the chief of slaves or the Haries as we call them.” Said Marvi.
“Couldn’t they have a law abiding person for the chief of slaves? I mean he’s a bandit! I don’t mean offence Buddho, but it’s a question!” Said Raju.
“I don’t take any offence in it if you call my father a bandit. For He’s a bandit, and I am not very much fond of his profession!” Said Buddho smilingly.
“You two are disobedient sons. Look at me how I obey my father.” Marvi pinched both Buddho and Raju as she said this.
“Okay! We two are disobedient, but tell us why this man, who is a bandit, is allowed to enter this place tonight?” Asked Raju, as he rubbed his arm where Marvi had pinched her just a moment ago.
“He’s the head of the Haris. Our age old traditions acknowledge the fact that our law discriminates Haris, so they are always expected to rebel against the law. That’s why our slave class always have a bandit, a rebel of law, as their chief!” Said Marvi, who was a learned Pruhit girl.
“Where is your mother Buddho? I haven’t seen her since long!” Asked Marvi.
“She’s saying hello to your mother.” Buddho pointed towards a tall but dark complexioned lady with attractive features, meeting the mothers of Raju and Marvi.
In the meantime Marvi’s mother called her. Marvi went to her mother.
 “Tell your father and Uncle Ram Lal that I and Reshman want to congratulate the king and Neelamal. After which we will leave.” Said Bhagi.
“Why you want to leave so early mother. I want to stay here till late!” Said Marvi, for she wanted to spend some more time with Raju.





O

 The three of them, Marvi, Buddho, and Raju walked towards the other corner of the hall, where their fathers Kaido Pruhit, Ram Lal and Kashmira the bandit were talking to each other. The army chief of Kolachi, Rohil, who was also the son in law of the king, was also expected to be there, for it was his duty to confront the bandit chief in all circumstances. Tonight he was supposed to confront him not with weapons, but with words. The three of them wanted to see that most interesting display of tradition.
It wasn’t that easy to reach that point, for the place was crowded. They crossed the people sitting in pairs and groups, with their faces sparkling with the flash of wine, served to them in silver Surahis; a beautiful long necked flask, very much like the lady sitting on the throne —spherical at the middle, then narrowed down as it reached its wide conical bottom.
They finally reached the spot, and for some time, instead of calling the attention of their fathers towards them, tried to hear what they were talking about.
 “Has he appointed her because he admires her beauty or because he is impressed by her wisdom?” Asked Kaido, the head of the priests smilingly.
“Difficult to decide! Her beauty or her wisdom, whichever virtue had merited her to be the new boss, it must have had a fierce competition with the other, for she’d both in abundance. She is as wise as she is beautiful!” Said Ram Lal the head of the business community, while sipping from his wine.
“It is a decision based on a perfect judgment, for Neelamal is popular among the business and slave class like elixir among the near death patients. They regard her as the reincarnation of the goddess Birha. In these turbulent times, when the class struggle has already peaked, the king wants the support from each of the four classes” Said a self-proclaimed expert of politics.
“It is because of his lascivious nature. He can’t live without having beautiful women around him.” Said Kashmira the bandit.  In the meantime the army chief of Kolachi had also reached there. He was looking fiercely towards Kashmira.
“Had it not been the tradition to welcome you on such occasions, I’d have arrested you. You should stop your vile activities.” Said the army chief.
“You stop discriminating the Haries, I’ll stop my activities. As long as you are doing injustice to my people, my rebellion will continue!” Said the bandit, who knew that the army chief couldn’t arrest him then.
“You should abide by the law!” Said the army chief. His eyes turned red.
“You make a law that accepts us slaves as your equals, I will respect it. But this present law, which allows injustice to the slaves doesn’t commend respect; it should be broken, and I break it. “Said Kashmira, while his chest heaved. The people around them were looking towards the two interestingly. That confrontation took place whenever the thousand years old strange traditions of Kolachi would allow the bandit chief to visit public gatherings openly.
“What is wrong with our law?” Said the army chief, while rattling his teeth with anger.
“Under your law, my son is the slave of your sons and daughters, though he’s in no way inferior to them. The only reason; he was born to a slave father. Isn’t it wrong in your eyes?” Said Kashmira and pulled his son Buddho towards him to show him to the army chief.
Marvi couldn’t stop her laughter, for Buddho was looking like an innocent chick in his father’s grip. As she laughed the people around her laughed too. That confrontation was likely to continue till the departure of the bandit chief. It was the traditional duty of the army chief to confront him in the public gatherings, where he was protected by the sacred and old traditions of Kolachi; outside those gatherings, the two were deadly enemies.
Marvi felt that her father wasn’t involved in the discussion, so she called him.
“Father!” Said Marvi in a loud voice to make her audible amidst the noises resounding in the hall. Her father heard her, and then she told him what her mother had asked her to tell him. In a few moments, the three of them were moving towards the place where the two ladies were sitting. Buddho was still hanging in his father’s arms, and was serving the role of a living testimony to his father’s claims of injustice.



O
They went towards the throne to congratulate the king and his new chief minister Neelamal. Raju and Arun were also with them. Ram Lal and Kaido Pruhit were walking behind their wives, and Raju and Arun were behind their father. Marvi was with her mother.
As they were making their way towards the throne, Marvi saw the prince of Kolachi, Bhola, and his sister, Princess Vinika entering the hall. She told her mother.
The prince was a tall and handsome looking man, of 23, with a strong but slim body. He’d a kind face, with a broad forehead, and a slightly protruded chin. He wore long hair that were tied on his back with a band. His sister, Vinika, was ten years older than him, and was married to the army chief of Kolachi. The prince, on the other hand, was still unmarried, but he was engaged to the beautiful princess of the neighboring state of Alore, ruled by his uncle Joginder Pal.
“Aren’t they late in the party tonight?” Said Marvi’s mother to Reshman.
“It’s understandable. They are not looking happy with their father’s decision to be with Neelamal.” Said Reshman, the mother of Raju.
“Ah! Our late queen Ambika! She was such an admirable lady. The king didn’t even wait for a month after her death, and brought a new one!” Said Bhagi.
“Let’s first meet them, for the king looks too busy right now!” Said Reshman, and the two ladies asked their husbands to wait for them right there, and went towards the prince and the princess. Marvi went with them.
“How are you princess?” Said Bhagi and hugged her. After her Reshman did the same.
“We are alright!” How are you? The princess had asked the two ladies.
“Have you married her? She has grown into a charming lady!” Said the princess and hugged Marvi.
“No, but we are thinking to do it as soon as possible.” Said Bhagi, the mother of Marvi.
“How are you prince? And how is your fiancĂ©e, princess Heer?” Asked Reshman to the prince, who smiled.
“I am fine and she must be fine too.” Said the prince, but he wasn’t looking happy. “Will you excuse us for a while?” The prince had asked politely and then the two of them, the prince and the princess, went towards a corner of the hall.
The two ladies along with Marvi had come back to their place to greet the king. Their husbands were waiting for them. Upon reaching there they met the king and Neelamal. After which Ram Lal had asked his wife to excuse him, for he wanted to have an important meeting with the king. Ram Lal then went with the prime minister of Kolachi, Sadhu Ram, towards a lonely corner of the Hall. Kaido Pruhit had also decided to leave and Marvi had to leave the party, though unwillingly. They had called Buddho, who had to drive them to their home in the priest neighborhood. However, Marvi had asked Raju to meet him tomorrow. She wanted to attend the festival of goddess Birha at the Hari neighborhood with him and Buddho. She’d already told her mother that she wouldn’t be at home for the whole day, but she hadn’t told her where she intended to go. She’d just told her that she was willing to visit one of her friends and wanted Buddho to be with her as her cab driver.


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