Art Illustrated – The Peacock Plume

Although the full moon could not dissipate the melancholy encrusting the crevices of the dilapidated palace, the sweet fragrance of the jasmine

flowers mingling with the strains of a melodious flute stretched their arms to reach the unreachable. A fragile heart chided away the stupid tears lacing her long eyelashes as she stood at the window weighing her own heart. It was her last night in this palace. With a sigh dipped in trepidation, Nihar, the princess in rags, stared at the full moon while the lilting strains of the flute stormed her heart. She knew that Budhiya, the son of their gardener was playing the flute for her.

Tonight, his dulcet tunes tried to persuade her to make up her mind. Budhiya’s jet-black eyes crowned with long eyelashes and a dauntless reverie, stole her heart. If you peered into his dark face, you could see the dimples engraved in his cheeks as he broke into a smile revealing his uneven row of pearls.

He lived with his father Sujon, the official gardener and caretaker of two lonely peacocks in this dilapidated palace. The royal family had fallen into bad times. You could see the brutally bitten wounds of poverty in the broken turrets of the palace, the seeping roofs through which rain water stole in, the broken boundary walls crowded with mosses and in the unkempt garden where a broken fountain proudly supported a fairy in ruins.

For the past two years, the bankrupt royal treasury couldn’t pay the servants and as a result, only three of them remained, Sujon with his son Budhiya and Kamini, who worked for the royal household.

Sujon lost his wife Malini when Budhiya was born. A sorrow he could never come to terms with. He tried his best to mother the child, his only inspiration for living. He had received good job offers but the presence of Malini, prevented him from leaving the palace. When the palace was wrapped in the arms of a deep slumber, Sujon often heard the tinkling of trinkets and felt a warm breath on his face. Was it a nightmare or a reality? He often wondered.

Budhiya and Sujon tried their best to look after the garden with their limited resources. The two uncomplaining peacocks perhaps understood the plight of their owners and lived on whatever was offered. They lived in a small room along the crumpled courtyard which once housed hundreds of people serving the royalty. Every night an abysmal loneliness gobbled up the the residents. The young and restless Budhiya tried his best to dissipate this gloom by playing his flute. Its lilting strains challenged the loneliness that held the palace in a tight embrace.

Little did he know that the music wafted into the forbidden areas of the palace where Princess Nihar lived with her mother, Queen Mallika. The widowed Queen was being asked by the British authorities to vacate the palace since she could not pay the State taxes. The crownless Queen begged for time as the negotiations were being conducted by their Diwan, a traitor, who had already sold his soul to the British. Sixteen-year-old Nihar couldn’t completely comprehend the political game but tried her best to accommodate to the situation.

Every evening, Princess Nihar waited for Budhiya to dissipate the gloom with his melody. The music kindled an iota of hope in her otherwise bleak future. She wanted to meet Budhiya but her movements were restricted.

A month ago, it was Holi. The skies of the small village of Sharan surrounding the palace was filled with colours stolen from a million rainbows. Men, women and children sang and danced with abandon to the heady drum beats of the dholak. Nihar could not contain her excitement that day. How she wished she was a commoner! She tiptoed out of the palace as her mother was deep in conversation with the Diwan behind closed doors.

For the first time, she was in their overgrown garden. The scorching sun laden with a wild fragrance liberated her soul. She turned around to find a dark young boy drenched in colours. Suddenly, the crimson hues of the dawn adorned her cheeks as she lowered her gaze. Budhiya didn’t know who she was but couldn’t help gazing at the beautiful girl. The gushing stream of time stood still for ages.

Finally, Budhiya ran into his small room and returned with a peacock’s plume. The girl overcame her shyness to accept the plume and ran away. When she ran into the palace, Budhiya realised who she was.

That night, he emptied his heart into his flute and Nihar stood at her window with the peacock’s plume secure in her hair. She gently kissed the plume and put it under her pillow waiting in vain for that elusive sleep. Thus, began a saga where the two young hearts didn’t know what to do.

Every afternoon when sleep claimed the entire household, Nihar and Budhiya met at a dilapidated corner of the palace under a huge banyan tree which sheltered the young lovers from prying eyes.

Finally, they planned to elope. Where they would go to was uncertain but Nihar wanted to be an ordinary village girl. Following the strains of the flute, Nihar stepped out of the palace through a secret door where Budhiya stood waiting. She looked back at the palace one last time and then they ran hand in hand to the nearby river. A lone boat was tied to a pole. They jumped into it and Budhiya began rowing with all his might. As they looked back, they found the palace illuminated with the colours of the peacock’s plume and in one of the dilapidated towers, someone wrapped in a red saree stood watching them drift into an unknown future. The young couple waved at the figure and to their surprise, she waved back. Suddenly, all the peacock hues vanished, and the palace plunged into an unfathomable darkness as the dark clouds gobbled up the full moon….

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