I bolted and sat upright on the bed, petrified. I quickly switched on the table lamp. The bedspread was in a tangled mess and the blanket was damp with perspiration. I raked a hand through my hair and sighed. My body was still trembling involuntarily. I poured a glass of water and gulped it down, trying to calm my rioting nerves.
The clock showed 3 am. It had happened again. I had seen the same vivid pictures and heard those same sounds in my dream. Only this time, the images and sounds felt even more real.
‘Why do I see the same dream again and again? ’I wondered. Every time I see an imposing grey stone palace, hear the sounds of war and the helpless cries of dying men and women. The neighing of horses and the deafening clang of swords is overwhelming. Dead bodies lying on the ground, the putrid stench of blood in the air makes me reel. I am running away from someone and in my hand I have gripped a gleaming silver dagger. My heart thudding wildly I run towards the forest and then I hear a blood curdling scream and that’s it. I wake up at precisely the same juncture. Every time. These dreams started occurring after I turned 18, which was 6 months back. At first they were hazy and incoherent but over the course of time, they became more profound and scary.
I looked at Radhika, my cousin who was fast asleep, oblivious to my nightmare. I envied her peaceful sleep. Questions about the recurring nightmare hovered in my mind like an annoying fly buzzing around. Chanting the Hanuman Chalisa, I finally drifted off to sleep.
“Wake up sleepy head! Its 8.30!”
“Five minutes Radhika let me sleep”.
“No Renuka, wake up this instant! We have a lot of places to see in Jaipur and we have to leave within an hour, so hurry!”
I groaned and sat up. Rubbing the sleepiness from my eyes, I squinted because of the bright sun and mentally cursed Radhika for ruthlessly drawing the curtains apart. After getting dressed hurriedly, I gorged on hot aloo paratha in the dining room of the hotel. Radhika and I chalked out the day’s plan. We were to visit the Jantar Mantar observatory, followed by the Hawa Mahal and then the city palace of Jaipur. Post lunch a visit to the market and shopping plaza. The hotel receptionist had enthusiastically told us about the annual fair which was the melting pot of Jaipur’s traditional culture. The idea of enjoying the traditional fair and seeing the folk dances was enticing, so that would be our last stop for the day.
Radhika and I enjoyed the tourist attractions and soon we found ourselves walking towards the city square, bursting with people. Spicy aroma from the food stalls beckoned to us. I was enchanted by the quaint little food stalls and colourful bangles and clothes on display. I walked through the fair as if in a trance, taking in every fascinating detail. I halted before a queer looking stall. The sign above the shop read-‘Fortune Telling’. There sat an old man, surrounded by talismans, a crystal ball, some queer looking charms and candles. Curious, I went into the shop.
“Can you interpret dreams?”
The old man looked up from reading a book and stared at me. He was dressed in a traditional attire- a white kurta and red dhoti and wore a simple turban on his head. He had sad and distant eyes.
“Yes, I can.”
“Are you crazy? All this is nonsense. What makes you think he can interpret dreams? Let’s go from here”, Radhika admonished.
“No, wait, it’ll be fun. What’s the harm in giving it a shot?”
“This is such a waste of time. Anyways I’m in the next stall if you need me.” Saying this, Radhika walked out of the shop. I turned to find the man staring intently at me. Suddenly I was nervous and conscious. The small dark stall looked eerie in the flickering candle light. I swallowed nervously and sat down on the rickety wooden chair.
“I get this dream very often, what does it mean and why do I see it repeatedly?”
“Place both your hands on the crystal ball.” I obeyed his instructions and waited curiously. The old man shut his eyes and chanted softly.
“Can you describe what you see in your dream?” I began to describe my dream and he placed his hands on the other side of the crystal ball. Suddenly the transparent orb turned into a murky grey colour. His eyes flew open and his face turned ashen. He looked at me with increasing alarm and fear.
“Your past is going to eclipse your future, you must do what the force wants you to do, or else you will never live in peace.”
“What! What do you mean? I asked incredulously.
“Have you heard of Bhangarh?”
“Your future is linked intricately with Bhangarh’s dark past.”
Radhika was right, I thought. Coming here was a mistake.
“Thank you for your time, but I must leave.”
“Your life is in danger and that of several other people. You can end this suffering, please hear me out.”
Something about his earnest request changed my mind. The elusive mystery of my troubling dreams needed to be solved. Going with my instinct, I sat back down on the chair.
“Tell me about Bhangarh.”
“There is an old dilapidated fort located on a hill side in the town of Bhangarh. It is a deserted town between Jaipur and Alwar. It was a prosperous town before and the people were happy and content. But after a war and famine in 1783, the town has remained uninhabited. The palace erected in 1613 by King Madho Singh was a beautiful and huge palace, surrounded by the Aravalli hills but today it is a shadow of its former glory, lying in ruins, it is said to be haunted.
“According to the legend, the princess of Bhangarh, Ratnavati was exceptionally beautiful. Her beauty and grace were famous and incomparable to anyone in all of Rajasthan. By the age of 18, she started getting marriage proposals from nobilities of neighbouring states. A tantric, an evil magician named Singhia, who was skilled in black magic, stayed at Bhangarh. He fell in love with the princess and was smitten by her beauty. He knew he would never be allowed to meet her or talk to her. One day, he saw the princess with her maids and friends in the market, purchasing attar, bottles of scented oil. Seeing this, he made a plan to meet the princess. He used black magic and enchanted the bottle of scented oil, which would hypnotise the princess. Just one drop of that scented oil on her skin, and she would surrender herself to him. The princess however was not tricked and had seen the tantric casting a spell on the oil. She picked up the bottle and smashed it against a boulder. As soon as the oil touched the boulder, it started rolling towards the evil Singhia and crushed him to death. While dying, Singhia cursed the palace with the death of all those people who lived in it and cursed the town of Bhangarh. He cursed the royals to a brutal death without any rebirth in the future..
Within a fortnight, a battle took place between Bhangarh and Ajabgarh in which almost everyone including princess Ratnavati perished. According to the legend, the spirits of the dead roam in the fort of Bhangarh even today. That is why entry is prohibited for tourists in the fort after sunset and before sunrise. The few locals who survived the war are condemned to perdition; they suffer from malaise, ill fortune and grief. This curse has travelled to haunt even the life of their successors with generations leading a sorrowful life. My ancestors are also from Bhangarh. Like me, all my kin lead a miserable life. My wife died in a fire, my son is paralysed waist down and my left leg is limp.
We locals believe that despite Singhia’s black magic, princess Ratnavati has taken birth somewhere else and that the fort and the empire of Bhangarh are waiting for her to return to put an end to the curse. We need your help.”
“How can I help? Unless….”
I trailed off stunned. How can it be? My mind refused to acknowledge what my heart already knew. Suddenly the dream and its missing pieces fell into place. I was Princess Ratnavati!
(To be continued…)