Rai Parveen Mahal, Orchha
Priya Sarukkai Chabria
Emperor Akbar summoned Rai Parveen, beloved of Raja Indrajit, from Orccha to Delhi.
Her poetry and beauty captivated the Mughal court. She said to him: Emperor, only a
crow or a dog or a beggar eats leftovers. Why taste me? Amazed by her audacity and her
love for Raja Indrajit, Akbar plied her with presents and sent her home. Her lover’s
palace, Jahangir Mahal, rises like a bank of cloud near her mansion.
The curator points his singing mobile to raised rectangles
of salmon pink stone amidst the bare garden. ‘This was her
stage, that her makeup room, she strolled here composing
poetry.’ In a corner, the gardener’s roofless hut where
children’s’ laughter ran barefoot. We climb through brooding
rooms with shifting amplitudes of shadow but no trace
of indolence’s velvet smear. On the terrace a grey cat slips
down the stairs like water into a latticed drain. Below,
leafless trees stand in mist-shot light corded by crows.
Relentlessly the present pulses into the past
Life-size paintings caressed
by time’s soot still cadence her beauty.
On one wall the king gallops towards her
the steed’s flared nostrils neighing his desire.
Facing him she waits under a willow’s dripping branches,
gossamer skirt and duppata billowing around her dark body,
her breasts and sex rounds and triangle of white plaster
gouged by the hands of a passing vandal.
Relentlessly the past presses into the present.
from “Views Through Watered Opal”