“No, it cannot be….” I croaked with disbelief.
“I cannot break the curse.”
“But only you can! If you are not convinced, let me show you something.”
He hobbled over to the back of the stall and came back with a red pouch. He pulled out a small silver dagger. It was the most beautiful dagger I had ever seen, intricately carved and studded with precious uncut diamonds which glistened in the candlelight. It looked familiar. “This is no ordinary dagger,” the old man whispered. “It was found on the battle ground by one of my ancestors and passed on from generation to generation. This holy dagger has the power to reverse the curse.” As I looked more closely, I was flabbergasted. It was the same dagger that I was gripping in my dream!
The old man continued, “After the death of Singhia, Ratnavati approached the king and relayed the incident. Perturbed and all too aware of the powerful curse, he consulted the royal priest. The priest performed an elaborate yagna. This puja was held at the pond near the Someshwar Mahadev temple. The holy water of this pond is believed to have magical properties. After the completion of the puja, princess Ratnavati was asked to pierce this dagger into the blood smeared boulder that killed Singhia. This would reverse the curse and condemn Singhia’s restless spirit to hell, where it belonged.
On the full moon night, when Ratnavati was to complete the ritual, the war took place and Ratnavati died leaving the ritual incomplete.”
I was shocked into silence by this unfortunate tale.
“Only Princess Ratnavati can unsheathe this dagger.” To demonstrate he pulled hard at the dagger but failed. With trembling hands I took the dagger. It slipped easily from within the cover.
“Now you must believe that you are the princess and only you can break the curse.”
“What if I refuse to do this?”
“Then you have the suffering of an entire empire on your conscience. You will never be at peace and your dreams will continue to haunt you. I don’t know what will happen but I can assure you that the consequences will be disastrous. Can’t you see? The wheels of time have turned, after 300 years the same full moon night has returned, you are 18 again and it is only tonight that time will allow history to be rewritten. The deed must be done.
I was torn between fear and duty. I wanted to put an end to the misery of the people and Bhangarh and my nightmares. Only one way seemed to lead to both and that was agreeing to this crazy plan.
“Where will I find the boulder?”
The old man sighed, “I wish it was that simple, but the whole fort is in ruins. It’s impossible to find the boulder that killed Singhia.”
I was flabbergasted! “Do you expect me to fight a dead man with this dagger?” How do I break this goddamn curse?
“No, you cannot fight a dead man today but history can be rewritten. You must go back in time and stop Singhia from cursing Bhangarh.”
“What? How is that even possible?”
The old man smiled and said, “You can! The Pandanus trees will help you. They have remained in Bhangarh for 300 years, the only living thing, which remained intact in the fort and witnessed the horrible fate. Only they can take you back in time. Hurry! We must reach Bhangarh today before the full moon rises.
The countdown to relive my terrible past had begun. I explained the situation to Radhika. She was aghast and unwilling to believe a word of it. Nonetheless she came along. The journey to Bhangarh was terrifying and seemed never ending.
At last the car halted. The road ahead was uneven for the car to go ahead. The enormous fort loomed in the distance, surrounded by green rolling hills on three sides. The old stone castle was exactly like what I had seen in my dream, only now more weather beaten and looked every bit haunted. Dried leaves crunched under my feet as I walked to the entrance. The atmosphere was heavier and chilly. The wind whispered in my ears and dark grey clouds hung above us. The dying rays of the sun shone on the deserted temples and palace ruins.
With no electricity, we were soon shrouded in darkness. Holding a torch, I walked towards the Pandanus trees whose branches swayed in the cold breeze. I was alone now and unadulterated fear made me tremble like the very leaves of the Pandanus trees. My heart was beating like a sledgehammer and I tentatively touched the tree. Everything around me started to blur. Clouds moved faster, the wind soared; the sun rose high up in the sky. I heard the bustle of a busy market place, the formidable palace at a distance was restored to its former splendour. I was indeed back in time, 300 years ago! I was dressed in a beautiful ghagra choli and wore exquisite jewellery.
“Ratnavati! Come here, I have found the jasmine oil you wanted.”
A girl, presumably my friend, called out to me. I walked in a daze towards the perfume shop. I looked around for Singhia. There he was, a conspicuous man in black clothes. He had high slashed cheek bones, curly shoulder length hair and a long crooked nose. He was tall and built like a brute and a thick black beard completed his menacing look. He stared at me with lustful black beady eyes. A shiver ran down my spine. I reminded myself that I could not afford to be intimidated and quickly began the execution of my plan. I scribbled a note and sent it with a maid to Singhia. The note read- ‘I want to meet you at the pond near the Someshwar Mahadev temple at dusk. Come alone.’
I waited at the pond. It was covered from public view due to the shrubs and bushes. I once again checked for the dagger hidden in the folds of my ghagra. I heard footsteps and straightened. Goosebumps prickled at the back of my neck. A deep voice drawled- “Princess Ratnavati, why do you want to meet me?”
I masked my fear and turned around with a demure smile, batting my eyelashes.
“Singhia, you have stolen my heart. I wish to marry you but father will never allow it. Let us run away from here.”
Singhia was taken aback but the shock soon turned to a diabolical grin.
“I have always loved you Ratnavati and can do anything for you. I will take you far away from here.”
“I’m scared, father will catch us; please take me in your arms.”
Singhia’s dark eyes widened in disbelief at my brazen request but nonetheless he inched closer. This was my chance. He had almost hugged me when with all my might; I thrust the dagger into his stomach. It plunged deep into his body and warm blood oozed out. His face was convoluted with disbelief, anger and pain. Before he could think of using his black magic to curse once again, I pushed him into the holy pond. What I saw next baffled me. The water became turbulent and black like a menacing vortex. Strong currents engulfed the writhing and thrashing Singhia as if the gates of hell had opened up.
I stared in horror, rooted to the spot. A sudden flash of light blinded me and the next thing I knew, I was lying on the ground near the Pandanus trees. I blinked in confusion and saw Radhika’s ashen and worried face peering at me.
“Are you alright?” Radhika asked.
“Y-yes I’m fine.”
The old man exclaimed, “My leg, my leg! It’s completely healed.”
It seemed like the curse was broken. The knotted tension and crippling fear disappeared and relief coursed through my veins. Reliving my nightmare had been worth it, if the life of several miserable people had miraculously changed for the better.That night I had a dreamless and peaceful sleep.
After a year, I happened to cross Bhangarh on my way to Delhi I asked the driver to stop at the Someshwar temple. I sat on the exact same spot at the edge of the pond and reminisced about that incident feeling grateful that it was all over now. Unlike that day the water was crystal clear now and reflected the bright blue sky. I absently threw a pebble into the pond and was entranced by the graceful ripples it created on the mirror like surface. I peered at my blurred reflection. Suddenly I felt anxious and restless. A strong gust of wind rustled the leaves, the sky became overcast and I felt a familiar heaviness in the atmosphere. I saw the face of a man next to my reflection in the pond. A face that sent chills down my spine. Black beady eyes staring back at me.