You may call me Lonely Heart,” he said as soon as he was close enough for me to hear him say so. After a quick, visual examination of the one he talked to, the conclusion of his small, twinkling eyes, I noticed was, nice. I smiled back as if I was not meeting him for the first time in my life. Together we walked out of the hotel lobby into the dusk that waited to descend upon a historic city, draped in festivities in celebration of 350 years of one of its most famous fantasy in stone.
Lonely Heart was only one out of millions of tourists visiting the city, mainly to wow the marmoreal mausoleum on a night when the sky had fanned out and the moon was swollen. Me, the local historian and archeologist was often hired by the hotel to guide various visitors around the ancient complex built by a medieval king to mourn the untimely death of a beloved wife, lost to him in childbirth.
“After you,” he said charming me into my own car that had appeared before the semi-circular steps to lead us away from the hotel.
“I do hope that you have a sense of humor?” he said quite out of the blue and as he made himself more comfortable on his side of the back seat.
“Come to think of it I don’t,” I said without thought.
“Infact I am quite sure that I do not have any sense of humor,” I repeated almost in glee.
“Then, I am afraid, we have no future together,” I heard him say.
The instructions meant for the chauffeur were given a sudden brake as I sat back to enjoy the funny conversation. I turned to my left to look at him and saw him preoccupied, trying to concentrate on what lay beyond the window.
The tapering fingers of his right, generous looking hand parked on the seat in the space between us, I noticed, played as if on a keyboard.
“What a gorgeous man,” I could not help thinking as I feasted shamelessly on a profile that was etched in lines so gracious that the sight hurt.
He said that he was a Syed. His scholar ancestors came to the Indian sub-continent centuries ago to study some more.
All Muslims like the Syeds, who claim to be direct descendants of the Prophet Muhammad, had found the vulgar merrymaking by fellow Meccans impossible to bear. They fled the Arabian deserts to the more civilized lands surrounding the Tigris and Eupharates rivers in search of solace to the soul as well.
Here they were nourished upon Mesopotamian, Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian, Assyrian, Persian and the Hellinistic way of life before they decided to troop into the Indo Gangetic plains to seek even greener pastures.
When we took a break in a nearby stall for a drink he made me sit at a corner table opposite to him, facing the wall.
“I don’t want to share you with anyone else here,” he said taking a sip from the glass before him.
“You still have to tell me your name,” he continued staring in to me.
I took my time to answer this one.
“You may call me Spirit of the Moon,” I said.
That made him smile. A sweeping, wide smile that got me wondering if it was dusk or dawn?
I could not help but continue to rejoice.
We reached the monument just as the last ray of the sun prepared to retire for the day and watched it wrap itself in sheets of shocking pink and purple, and then disappear.
Night followed decked in transparent alabaster.
We looked up at the moon, as big as my mother’s silver plated tray used for serving seven people at a time and saw it make the memorial, that seems so manageable on pretty picture postcards, quiver.
I had brought numerous visitors to this place so often before. But this was the first time that I stood frozen below the awesome arch of the entrance.
I let him take my hand. We strolled to the marble slab laid out as a seat and where countless people both couples and groups have posed for photographs as proof of their pilgrimage to the most mesmerizing shrine to love.
We sat down.
“If there is Paradise on earth,
Then it is here,
It is here,” he recited in Persian.
The river Jamuna meandering at the feet of the monument sighed. A whiff of fresh air teased a strand of hair away from a face so flushed.
Then I heard the first sob in the Garden of Eden.
“This was built by my ancestors. It is so beautiful. It does not belong here…” he was whining as if to himself.
I turned to him in disbelief. I saw snort flowing freely out of his Aryan nose and the high cheekbones were awash in a flood of tears.
One hand clutched his hand in mine closer and with the other I dug into my bag for a handkerchief. I tried to wipe away the sorrow that made his face glisten like molten gold in the moonlight.
The historian in me was appalled at what I had just heard him say but the wench went on to place his head with wavy, black locks on the shoulder and continued to plot with him to pluck the monument if we must, to put it on a platter and steal it away to any other place that would make him happier.
His head had now slipped on to my bosom that heaved back and forth with excitement I had not experienced before.
To further console him I promised to take him out for the best biryani and kebabs in the most mysterious back-lane in town, for breakfast.
The following morning I reached the hotel well before my rendezvous with him. I was settling the bills at the front office and enquiring about the transport that would take us places that day when I was distracted by the appearance of an attractive, young woman who had obviously forgotten to groom herself. She had dragged all her overnight anxieties with her to weigh them down upon all those who dared to cross her path that moment. And it was probably her sleeplessness that made her snap at the staff attending to her.
“I would like to know the room number of Syed Yusuf Hasan,” she almost barked, making heads turn. She did not care. She seemed obsessed with the way she was feeling.
“Mr. Hasan is in the room Madam. I will just connect you to him,” the receptionist picked up the telephone receiver and was about to dial.
“Stop! I don’t want you to phone the room. I want the number of the room,” she threatened to get physical.
“Madam I can not do that.”
“Get me the hotel manager. Now!”
The flustered receptionist did dial a number and handed the receiver to the agitated visitor. After talking into the telephone the receiver was returned to the receptionist.
“Please follow me Madam,” she said, having silently taken instructions over the wire and placed the receiver back to where it belonged.
The two dissolved away into a door for a few minutes and later the manager himself appeared in the lobby followed by the visitor and the receptionist. He marched briskly around the reception counter to pluck one key off a board lined with multiple other keys dangling down polished brass hooks.
The little army trooped towards the doors of the lift next.
None in the confusion seemed to notice that I had included myself in the gang determined to crack the code of the day.
The key turned and the clicking open of door number 850 was accompanied by a painful human screech louder than the lavatorial language playing on television.
We saw the Syed sprawled out before us, his limbs scattered around him and his pedigreed private parts swaying down one side of the bed like limp tassels to dirty linen.
He was sandwiched in between a naked body below and another mound of human flesh had just ceased to vibrate above him.
The table in the center of the room was littered with half eaten bits of food on white porcelain plates that only a few hours ago must have been served by waiters in stiff clothing as several sizzling portions of tanduri chicken and bread baked in clay ovens.
I also spotted serviettes with the drawing on them destroyed. Ash overflowed out of tiny trays and countless cigarette butts were strewn carelessly around a half full, and another empty bottle of Famous Grouse whisky, both exuding a little shame perhaps at being unable to retrieve their respective cap.
I locked the terror in the Syed’s eyes with a titter in my own. I was beginning to totter into unimaginable laughter at my own giddiness, of course. Perhaps for having fallen for a book only for its cover, once again?
Image (c) Chandrika Prajapati