Reveries of Rathore
The story of how "Reveries of Rathore" came to be
Met an acquaintance recently. Perhaps, he can be designated as a friend now, both having known the existence of the other for almost five decades, and having met on five different occasions time-spaced far apart, during this period. The one that would qualify as the longest of these meetings would be when we played cricket in our early teens, in an unfenced, dusty, and government-housing-lined ground at Delhi over a few days, in the winter of 1969. I was visiting my first cousin and his family on a vacation at the time and our man in focus was my cousin's classmate and buddy. Subsequent decadal meetings would have been for a few minutes each, exchanging pleasantries. The latest in this series happened in October 2017 at my cousin's son's wedding. It lasted for more than a few minutes. No longer pressurized by business or service matters, both of us had more time on our hands for a little small talk which centered around our current interests. It so transpired that he was painting and I was writing, for a pastime. Why not attempt a joint venture, we thought aloud. A notional agreement was immediately drawn up, imaginably signed and sealed, and a punishing schedule for project execution finalized and set in motion - all in a matter of minutes, our long associations with the corporate world helping the exercise. Importantly, my acquaintance had now truly become a friend!
He digitally mailed me a set of twelve paintings mentioning that, if at all one searched for a common thread in them, it would be the Indian state of Rajasthan….. And I set to work, arranging those pictures in various sequences to imagine what they collectively told me in each of them. One of those sequences particularly tugged at my heart. So was born, the story of old man Rathore, a common surname in that part of India. Initially, it was a rough outline and as the ink began to flow - which in reality should be expressed as "as the fingers began to furiously tap on the keyboard", the little twists and turns of the story started to unravel. Obviously, there were some yawning chasms to cross, some fast-flowing rivers to ford. I communicated the technical specifications of the situations to my friend and he responded with painted solutions. And the story would get rolling again along its winding path…
Twenty five paintings and a hundred ninety two lines of verse later, the story concluded, sadly but satisfactorily, in an exercise spanning two weeks.
The vision distant, the thoughts fervent,
reminiscing upon a whole lifespan spent;
While the creaky chair compliantly kept time,
Its rhythmic rocking set an ambiance sublime;
Between joy and grief did the old man swing;
Tranquilly clutching a nostalgic string.
For a backdrop was the fort of Ranthambhor;
Built by long deceased clansmen of yore;
For centuries it stood, an indomitable citadel;
Many an attempted invasion did it help quell;
Privy it was to peace, wealth, wars and gore;
And the constant intrigues of clan Rathore.
For determined kings, a location perfect;
To enforce order; power, glory to project;
To the east, fertile alluvial plains verdant;
Arid hills to the west, quite discordant;
The terrains, upon the populace bestowed;
Contrary, yet cordial, leanings they avowed.
Intertwined invariably with his every thought;
Whether pleasant or with poignancy fraught;
Were memories of his ever-composed consort,
An ideal counter to his disposition athwart;
A native from across the hills, the land beyond;
Ruled his heart delicately; in love did they bond.
With every possible hue of every color shade,
Was their life in unison smeared and sprayed;
A vibrant tint to go with a happy mood;
Somber and pale for a dispirited interlude;
Tumultuous variegation, a celebratory décor;
Suffused, stained even the clothes they wore.
The glorious brightness of day had no monopoly
On prevalent chromatic ebullience or apathy;
The darkness of night had its own dramaturgy,
With shadows to express disdain or sympathy;
Suggested clarity of purpose, the contrasts nocturnal,
Their import and purport was for connoisseurs to cull.
For six long decades almost, they had been soul mates,
Old memories now, were subject to amnesic ablates;
Some did hustle out of the mists, in confused enlace,
That brought a wistful smile upon the old man's face;
One reflection though was so meticulously portrayed;
Where he was the flautist; his wife, in ecstasy swayed;
At their place secluded, all through moonlit nights;
Soaring in abandon, hand-in-hand, in fanciful flights.
The afternoon Sun lazily wended its way down;
Causing the ever-busy birds and bees to frown;
Shadows lengthened; the sky red, as if ablaze;
A bird's languid glide caught Rathore's gaze;
As the avian went past his field of vision;
His eyes rested on another artistic composition.
A creation of his wife; for him a treasure priceless;
Her first material offering of love, of tenderness;
Adorned with animal motifs, it was a quilt so quaint;
Passion, ardor, cloth, thread - used without restraint.
Fidelity for base, warmth as cover, tacked by esteem;
Emotions embroidered atop, delight the final seam.
With her gone, an object of worship, it graced a wall,
Its spirit his succor; its beauty held others in thrall.
The horse tracery recalled a memory interesting,
Of his service as a guard to a dysfunctional king;
'Ceremonious', was his intermittent duty's brief;
For a pretended, liveried platoon, he was the chief.
Stallion-mounted, he would lead the royal parade,
Enabling citizens, woes for past glory, to trade.
Off duty, was Rathore's joy, 'twas the best he got,
When man and wife ranged the terrain at a trot.
Assayed, the intrepid man, embracing many a calling;
With the sapient ones his accord, generally appalling;
Tried his hand for a while with cross-border trade;
His wife by his side, she was his perennial comrade;
With goods exclusive, to strike a rewarding bargain,
Traverse the dreary desert they did, in a camel train.
As always, amid desire and success, the usual slip;
Compensated adequately by their true companionship.
In his final occupation for pecuniary gain;
Its rigors, an ailing body could ill sustain;
A concierge he was, at a jungle retreat;
For days, no other human soul to greet;
However, with the varied fauna around,
An affinity he shared, deep and unbound;
Their living, with strife and affection, rife;
He blessed them all, remembering his wife.
He had no clue of when his tired eyelids slid;
Ceased sensing life briefly, their constant bid;
The chair's sway stalled; its creaking stopped;
An owl perched on the sill, sideways hopped;
The Moon's turn it was at mazy shadow play;
A slumbering Rathore, was enforced to belay.
A soporific illusion of his ladylove; spellbound;
In both states of being he plainly ran aground.
Heralded, the freshness of morning twilight,
Another glorious day after a restful night;
Awoke Rathore, rejuvenated; a new sunrise,
To hearten, to deter, to extol, to chastise;
At the luminary, an obeisant nod, nonchalant,
Started proceedings, as was always his wont;
A practice from childhood, mother-inculcated,
To the progenitor of their race, to be ingratiated.
The illustriousness of his clan did instill,
A sentiment of pride, an occasional thrill;
The lives of the more famous among them,
A mix of adventure, romance, and stratagem;
The truth was that for each person so famed,
Were many thousands, by anonymity maimed;
Doubts, he had none, on where he belonged;
Never thought, about being anyway wronged.
From a young age, he had this ingenious ploy,
Of besting typical societal norms that annoy;
He devised and utilized, his private yardstick,
From available offers, to select a personal pick;
His wife too was similarly and naturally prone,
Their fellowship had nothing to want or bemoan.
Eminence, prosperity, fortitude, and adequacy,
Transcend them, they did, in their intimacy.
In destiny too, implicitly believed the old man;
Sensed, he did, a great, grand existential plan;
Lack of a reasonable alternative had him accept,
An almighty; a counsel that, to himself he kept.
On odd occasions, a brief but reverential visit
To a temple, summed up his spiritual commit.
Neither a show of gratitude, nor blessing sought;
Just an admission of wonder at what was wrought.
The wife was however, given more to rituals;
To religious formularies, assertive presbyterials;
'It was that feminine thing', Rathore surmised;
Resignedly went along; at himself surprised;
The covenant to his wife, of it always aware,
Realized he, she practiced them for their welfare.
Engrossing howsoever much may be retrospection,
Hunger soon induces a diversionary insurrection;
The old man felt its effects; it was breakfast time;
His wife's culinary skills, he had learnt to mime;
Of warm porridge, he quickly whipped up a mug,
And hobbled back slowly to bed, so cozy and snug;
There was a smell of wet mud in the gentle draft;
Of the elusive monsoon, a very welcome waft.
A draw on his lighted chillum; a coughing spree;
Rathore was back to his ever-absorbing reverie.
Rarity of rains, maybe played a defining interface
In shaping of the psyche of the general populace;
Agriculture chiefly reliant on this natural bounty,
And providence assumed to control uncertainty;
It was only logical to conclude that the almighty,
Will shower grace and more; praised adequately.
In a land, badly parched for most part of the year,
It must have been an idea disproportionately dear.
A flash of lightning; the sky, a downpour feign;
Nudging Rathore to recall his love-tales in rain.
Infrequency alone did not make rain exceptional;
It seemed to turn rigidity into being very gentle;
Water flowed freely, into every inaccessible nook;
Or gurgled down slopes like a customary brook.
The environment did, the flavor of life, enhance;
No wonder it made the peacocks, in ecstasy, dance;
The Rathores would search for a homely niche
Huddle; cuddle; for togetherness set a high pitch;
With no particular agenda; with nothing planned;
Watch the beauty of the downpour, hand in hand.
The attitudinal orientation of a precipitous aftermath
Had a strange sense of impasse sans sadness or wrath
That transforms to one of attainment, of fulfillment;
Desiccates in throes of revival; of re-excitement.
Lady Rathore would examine all pearly dewdrops
Clinging tenuously to slippery surface-tops;
More precious to her were these than real jewelry,
These fluid nuggets, mementos of nature's revelry.
Rathore would watch his beloved in admiration,
Lost in such pursuits of indulgent fascination
The reinstituted macrocosm had its hands full;
New intricacies; new mechanics of push and pull;
New meanings, new leanings; new deliberation;
Means of curtailment and paths of proliferation.
To exploit, new schemes; to discern, new categories;
And thought Rathore happily, a zillion new love stories.
Half a century of wedlock, and nary a discord;
From rancor, mutual trust, a fitting safeguard;
The physique tired, fatigued by the act of living;
Time cared not for traits, 'twas ever unforgiving;
The relentless rhythms of existing took their toll;
Love lexis was now only for the mind and soul.
Looking gratefully to the past; their main activity,
Notional retrace granting them renewed felicity.
And abruptly his wife's health went downhill;
Her vision blurred; her voice hoarse and shrill;
For a while Rathore had had a premonition;
Of an impending transformation, an intuition.
A mystifying calmness pervaded his ideation;
Accepting her life's imminent culmination;
'Was this wisdom?' he wondered doubtfully;
Expecting a credible reply he knew was silly;
A few labored gasps preceded her final breath,
Bodily in Rathore's arms, she embraced death.