This happened some four months ago during my visit to Jaipur with friends although I chose to remain quiet and ignore it till today until evidence came knocking me off my feet this morning. I am not superstitious and I stay at an arm’s distance from anyone who believes in irrationally of horoscopes, planetary predictions and past life regression. But then what I have experienced makes me rethink my entire surmise.
In March, my husband and I along with another couple and our kids took a four days trip to Jaipur and Ajmer. On the second day we decided to hire a hotel cab and visit the famous Amber Fort. It was all marvellously exhilarating to see history drenched walls and chambers and walk through the royal whims and fancies. However, all the mirth became a little dimmed when I became conscious of someone staring at me. No, this was not a situation where a street loafer checks you out. Here was a typical ripened Rajasthani man, with the signatory big and excessively greying moustache, the head covered in a red turban, adorning a white kurta pajama along with the jutees completing the look-the kinds you see or rather un-see merging in the backdrop of some filmy moments on screen.
I noticed him first outside the huge gates of the inner fort area and looked past him thinking it to be the curiosity for visitors. But then as sharp as my sensory perceptions have always been, I soon realized I was being followed by a very intent pair of eyes. He stopped when I did, pretended to look around and then walked on while he saw us strut. After a while I became very uncomfortable more so with the idea that we had two little girls with us and the world is becoming weirder.
My husband was duly informed and he gave him a stern look. The stranger seemed to have backed off, when shortly we spotted him again almost running after our car as it left for the hotel. The matter ended for me then but for him had just begun.
The next morning I became aware of him outside our hotel premises while we left for the sight-seeing and again after two hours when we returned-juxtaposed there like a pole. I generally would not have recognized him had he not got that same peculiar stare that he brutally and unsparingly showered me with. Something was wrong. He didn’t seem like an old man in heat or greed. I spoke to my husband and we got the man called inside although we thought it safe to meet him in the lobby itself.
What he said thereafter left us totally befuddled. At the very onset he showed us a picture to get what he desired-our riveted attention and jaws dropping. Within the frame was he and a woman in her twenties that anybody would agree to, was me. Only I didn’t know the man, had never been to this part of the world before and why would I get clicked with him in a traditionally Rajasthani outfit?
The picture was of his daughter’s. He then narrated a tale which I would relate to you, minus the historical and religious names that he had mouthed but I can’t seem to remember now however much I jog my memory. His daughter’s name was Ajeeta, a wonderful girl born in a humble family-cheerful, outgoing and rarely intelligent for someone brought up by his almost poor means. He had a set of six camels that he supplied to the Fort, to earn his livelihood-a kind of family business he explained.
Ajeeta was married at the age of twenty one and allowed to study by her husband who was in the police force, due to her love for learning. She became a professor of Economics at Rajasthan University. However, she could not bear children despite many years of attempting for it. It was then that they went to a local tantrik to seek for some ‘cure’ while he opened skeletons from the past instead. He said that Ajeeta’s soul was cursed. It was a set of seven souls, conjoined at the origin and bearing the same fate and face as I did, that followed a predefined circle of life till death.
He lost me as soon as he brought in the tantrik stuff but my husband and the couple with us were intrigued. I left to put my daughter to sleep, while he narrated more. About half an hour later, my husband returned to the room very concerned and his face death pale. I almost regretted getting the old man inside to talk-a complete waste of the afternoon over gibberish and hallucinations of a lunatic.
He made me sit on the bed before explaining more. Apparently Ajeeta and I had many similarities. She had near death experiences at the age of 18 and 25. The man had asked if I did too. My husband knew of an accident that I had at the age of 25 when our driver almost rammed into a lorry with me getting severe injuries on the left side of the body. He asked me if something had happened at the age of 18. I told him I had severe jaundice that lasted for almost two months but laughed it off as a coincidence.
What about being over intelligent and the love for learning, he asked. So now, did I have the copyright on that, I reasoned. He was getting exasperated for he wanted to convince me and yet not, to keep me away from the fears that had gripped his being.
He: “He asked if you have a big birth mark on your right thigh. Please, tell me this is a coincidence too. He reasserted that this set of souls cannot bear children, Suruchi. He said when he saw you with our daughter that it was the only perplexing factor. He begged me to tell him if the daughter really is ours. Can you still disagree? When I told him we have adopted her after years of turmoil for being unable to have our own, I cannot tell you whether there was reassurance more on his face or pain....”
Me: “But so what even if all of this was true. Does it affect our lives? Okay, there may be seven women of my face walking about the earth right now, with extra ordinary intelligence, leg birth marks and no children and near death experiences, so what?”
I was losing my mind here because I often get into these disagreements with him when like his mother he gives way too much importance to astrology and planetary influence and stuff that I consider as total hogwash.
He: “Had it been just that I would not have bothered so much. There’s more. It seems that Ajeeta died three years ago of a mysterious fever at the age of 32. The souls transfixed to your face and destiny come a full circle after completing thirty two years. We are just four months away from reaching yours. And since everything else has come true, what if....”
And his voice faded and he broke down like a little child. Although I still did not believe it was possible yet I chose not to laugh at it this time. How do you handle a grown up man, crying with unshakable belief that he was going to lose the only love of his life, the mother of his child in a few months? He was almost convinced that this would happen. I was wondering why all the drama has been destined in my life only although this peculiar epiphany really took the cake.
I became silent too, I know not because of seeing him like that or subconsciously realizing that death was as real as life and probably lurking around some corner for more significant instances were quoted to prove the similarities of our lives. I now had questions of my own circling and churning my mind.
What would a random stranger gain out of creating such a story anyway? How would he know exact details of my life? And most importantly, what was his motive behind telling it all to me? My husband then related that I was the last link of that chain and the other six have already succumbed to the same fate through the ages. The tantrik had foretold him that I would come. He was the envoy of sorts of this foreboding and....
And just then my daughter awoke and began to cry. We abruptly ended the conversation there and the same evening left for Pushkar. Although every one lightened up soon but the conscious effort of it was straining the natural enjoyment that we would have otherwise had on this trip. The matter was never brought up again until this morning.
Being a lazy Sunday and while everyone still being engulfed in the comforting arms of sleep, I sauntered outside the room, my eyes falling upon the silent newspaper as though beckoning me. After ages and after a severe bout of boredom, I picked it up. On the fifth page my eyes fell on the face of a dead, aged Rajasthani man with a peaceful pallor spread on his countenance. The report said that within minutes he had died of a mysterious fever on the road side outside the Kanpur Central station. It was reported that he carried a picture of his daughter and asked the people around if they had seen her. He also seemed to be saying repeatedly “They are coming, they are coming...”
I folded the newspaper with a sick dread swallowing up my heart.
For a long while I was lost in a reverie or perhaps blank in my mind.
And in the backdrop crooned actress Rakhi’s voice in some movie as she hammed a line again and again, “Mere Karan Arjun aayenge....mere Karan Arjun aayenge”. I got up and switched off the television. What crap lady! At least my story above is more believable than yours. I sipped my coffee and waited for husband to get up and tell him how he married me and wasted my life in Kanpur. I should be writing scripts in Bollywood! *Sigh*
P.S. Just so you know and see above, I really did go to Jaipur :p