It was as if the end was near for Shuorani.
Life felt unbearably suffocating, nothing appealed to her anymore. All zest for living lost, Shuorani lay, as if, in her last gasp. The physician arrived with his vials and pills aplenty. Promptly pounded the pills with honey and confidently prescribed: Eat up! Yet, summarily, she pushed them aside. The news reached the Raja’s ears. Leaving his royal court in a hurry, the Raja came to visit Shuorani. Sat down by her side and asked: ‘What ails you, my dear? Tell me what you wish for!’
Suppressing the constant nagging ache in her heart, she replied: ‘Leave me alone, all of you. But do send for my sangatni, my bosom friend, my childhood companion, my closest ally for once.’
The Sangatni came soon. Rani held her hand and confided, ‘Dear Shoi, please take a seat. I have much to tell you.’
‘Open your heart and tell me all,’ warmly responded her confidante.
Shuorani said, ‘At the other end of my seven-mahal royal residence stood the three mahals that once belonged to Duorani. Gradually their numbers dwindled to two, then just one. Then finally, one day, she went away, leaving the royal palace altogether.
Thereafter, my mind simply forgot all about Duorani.
Then one day it was doljatra, the holy festival of colours. I was travelling to the natmandir, the temple courtyard, sailing on the mayurpankhi, my royal peacock-shaped-boat. My subjects headed the grand convoy, while an army of guards followed behind. A melodious flute played on my right, on my left wafted the cadence of the sweet Mridanga drums.
Just then, by the wayside, beside the river, right on the top of the village quay, I saw a thatched hut, standing in the soothing shades of the champak trees. Aparajita flowers blossomed on the creepers that climbed the wicket fence; an auspicious alpana was painted with rice flour at the door front. I asked the woman who held the umbrella over my head, ‘Oh, how lovely! Whose home is that?’
She replied, ‘Duorani’s.’
Later that evening, after returning home, I sat still in the darkened room. I hadn’t lit the lamps, nor spoken a word.
The Raja came and asked, ‘What is the matter with you, dearest? What do you want?’
I replied, ‘I don’t wish to stay in this house any longer.’
The Raja said, ‘Don’t fret, my dear. I’ll make you a large brick bungalow with ivory walls. Made from shell dust, the floor would be as white as milk foam; with pearly oyster shells I’ll have lotus garlands designed on the edges of that floor.
I said, ‘It is my great desire to stay discreetly in a thatched mud hut in the outer gardens of your palace.’
Raja replied, ‘Oh is that all? It’s not a bother at all.’
They made a thatched hut especially for me. Yet that hut seemed like a wild flower, untimely plucked. It wilted as soon as it was made. I went to reside there, yet only got ashamed of myself. A few days later, it was the auspicious event of Snanjatra, the day of ritual bathing. I went to bathe in the river. A hundred and seven female companions by my side. The bearers put down the palanquin by the water side, and we finished our bathing.
On our way back, opening the palanquin door just a little, I peered out. Oh, who is she? Which family does she belong to? I wondered, taken aback. She looks as pure as the flowers in a garland offered to the deity in worship. White conch shell bangles adorned her wrists, a red bordered white sari worn over her body. She was carrying water in a pitcher after her bath; the morning light glistened on her wet hair and created a rainbow arc reflected from her wet, dripping pitcher.
Once more I queried, ‘Who is that girl? Oh, in which divine temple does she worship?’
The woman who held my umbrella, smiled and replied, ‘Don’t you know her? She is our very own Duorani.’
Afterwards, on returning home, I sat alone, unable to utter a word. The Raja came and asked, ‘What is the matter with you! What do you desire?’
I said, ‘It is my heart’s desire that every morning, after bathing in the river, I would fetch water in an earthen pitcher up the Bakul shaded lane.’
The Raja said, ‘Very well, Rani, this is easily done.’
At once sentries were posted to guard the lanes, and people came to be barred from the streets.
I wore white conch shell bangles and a red bordered sari. After a bath in the river, I tried to fetch water in a pitcher. Yet, as I neared my threshold, I flung the pitcher to the ground and broke it in utter misery. The picture I had so lovingly contemplated never took shape, only I felt terribly ashamed. Then came Rasjatra, the celebration of divine dancing.
Tents were erected in the honeyed grove on the full moon night. The long festive night grew pleasant, charmed with dance and songs.
The next morning the howdah was placed on the elephant. Sitting behind the purdah, I returned home; suddenly I saw a child walking through the narrow paths amidst the wilderness, his age radiated youth. The crest atop his head was adorned with a garland of wild flowers. On his hands was a small wicker-basket that held Shaluk water-lilies, wild fruits and tender, juicy greens fresh from the farms.
I asked the woman who bore my umbrella, ‘Who is the lucky mother, whose son has brightened up the path?’
The umbrella-bearer rejoined, ‘Don’t you know? He is our Duorani’s son. It is for his mother that he is taking those water-lilies, wild fruits and juicy greens fresh from the farms.’
I then came home and sat alone without speaking a word.
The Raja came and queried as usual, ‘Whatever has happened to you! Oh, what is it that you want?’
I answered, ‘It is my fervent wish to eat water-lilies, wild fruits and tender, juicy greens fresh from the farms everyday; but my son should pick them with his own hands and bring them to me.
The Raja gave his consent and said, ‘That’s alright, it can be done without much ado.’
I sat on the gold bedstead, and my son brought the basket. His body was drenched in sweat, his face red with anger. The basket lay strewn in indifference, I felt only shame.
What has happened to me after that, baffles me!
I brood alone, without a word. Everyday the Raja comes to ask, ‘What ails you, dear queen, tell me what you want!’
Even after being the Shuorani, the favourite queen of the King, I am ashamed to tell anyone what I really wish for still. That is why I’ve sent for you, dear friend, my childhood accomplice. Let me say my last words for your ears only, ‘I want the grief that is Duorani’s.’
Shuorani’s bosom friend touched her cheek in wonder and said, ‘Ah, why do you say that?’
Shuorani replied, ‘Her simple bamboo flute plays easily in melodious music, but I merely bear the burden of my gold flute, watch over it and protect it, yet forever fail to play it.’
Published in Parabaas August, 2013.
The original story by Rabindranath Tagore, 'Shuoranir Sadh' (সুয়োরানীর সাধ ) was collected in Lipika published in 1922 (BE 1329; লিপিকা, ১৩২৯). Illustrated by Ananya Das. An author of several books and an illustrator, Ananya Das is based in Pennsylvania.