‘Raman…That’s what your name is right? You want to marry my daughter but tell me one thing what made you think that? Neither your family has a good house nor do you have a stable job. I heard you work for the ironsmith…How you will pay for my daughter’s expenses? I must tell you your love isn’t meant to pay bills!’ the father spoke with distrust and disgust.

The lamps in the courtyard flickered as the wind blew. The wind was cold and harsh, swiping the dry leaves which cracked as they moved.

‘But father…I’ the girl tried to rebel but soon lost words after seeing the face of her furious father.

‘Diya!’ the father shouted, ‘Don’t you have any shame left? You are a disgrace to our family. How will I face our ancestors after I die.’ Diya started sobbing at once. Her father had never talked to her like that. She ran inside the room. Her anklet made a musical sound as she ran which rhymed with that of the crickets in the nearby bushes.
‘Believe me I would take good care of your princess and keep her happy all her life.’ His eyes were filled with passion and he trembled with the immense desperation to achieve his love. ‘I have got a place in the king’s army sir…I would not work as a ironsmith now. I love her and I would do anything and everything to be with her.’
‘The king’s army? That would fetch some decent money…Are you sure that you are not lying young man?’

‘I have brought the paper with me sir,’ Raman handled a rolled document to Diya’s father, ‘Please sir have a look.’

The father opened the knot of the golden thread to spread the sheet. He went close to the lamp near the well.
‘So you are appointed in the chief’s troop…’ he said touching the king’s seal at the bottom of the paper. ‘Is it a permanent position?’.

‘I will be trained and examined for three months sir after which I could make it permanent’.

‘I work in the ministry…’

‘I know sir, Diya had told me once that you are very dear to the king. I would prove my worth sir and then come to you.’

‘I may seem harsh but I am a father. Diya is my only asset and I want best for her future. You are a good man and so I would be glad if you get a position in the army.’ he looked at Diya who peeped from the room with teary eyes. ‘If you prove yourself…I will take you as my son in law.’
‘Oh father!’ Diya ran to her father and hugged him tightly. ‘You are the best father in the world!

Jannagar, the state that they lived in was a Hindu state ruled by an Islamic ruler. Unlike the neighbouring countries here no one was compelled to convert to Islam, no temples were destroyed, the tax system was good, people lived in harmony. It was a rich country in terms of culture, mines, grains and education. This rising power filled the neighbouring rulers with insecurity and jealousy. Enemies started forming alliances to stop the growth and bring down the ruler of Jannagar.
Hence it was necessary to increase the army strength and put more skillful people in the ministry. Raman thus got a chance to get into the army. He went through three months of rigorous training. He learnt to use the sword which he once used to make. Meanwhile Diya eagerly waited for him religiously in front of the masjid everyday and dress his wounds. The masjid was a magnificent structure which the ruler had made. It had four pillars in the four directions, more than thousand cells surrouned the major body which had large pieces of mirrors attached to it. At night the light from the numerous lamps would reflect from the mirrors and the place would look unbelievable. In the morning the mirrors would be covered with large pieces of cloth. In the evening the prayers from the masjid and the prayers from the nearby temple would merge beautifully to create a divine sound. Raman and Diya would sit around the pond behind the masjid for hours gazing at the flickering bright lights and listening to the soothing prayers.

‘The king is in danger dear… Enemies are all around us.’ Raman said to Diya. They sat near the pond dipping their feet in the cool water. The setting sun looked mesmerizing.

‘I trust you. You’ll save us and the king.’ Diya smiled at Raman.

‘I am serious Diya…Why do you think the sudden recruitments were made? Tomorrow the chief told us about a special troop training…’

‘Special troop training?’, Diya became serious now. Something was disturbing Raman and she could sense that. ‘What do you want to tell me Raman? You can tell me everything.’

‘The special troop would be appointed for the king’s safety. That means we would no longer be able to meet like this.’
‘You are on national duty Raman, I understand. The King’s a great man and he should be protected. You do your duty. I am so proud of you.’ Diya brushed Raman’s hair with her finger and touched his would in his forehead. ‘ I will wait for you. I promise.’

‘And what if I never return? What I …’
Diya put her palm on Raman’s lips and stared at him with teary eyes.
‘ You will… and if you don’t…I will come to meet you, I promise. You are my hero.’

The next day onwards Raman’s training for the special troop started. He with the other few soldiers were taken to the Royal palace to understand the structure of the great architecture. He was amazed to see the marvellous buildings and the concept. The ministry hall was giant with huge mirrors in all four walls. The officers told them to take close look into the mirrors. Raman went near to one the mirror. As he moved forward he could see the reflection of the other soldiers who were standing in front of the mirror of the opposite wall.
‘Incredible!’, Raman whispered to himself and as he uttered the word the whole room filled with the echoes of his voice.

‘Yeah! We can see any person, any weapon he is holding and can hear every word he says or even whispers…So boys each and every thing has been specially designed to aid the security.’ the officer told the soldiers. ‘Now you may look above…Look at the ceiling’, the officer ordered.
Raman looked above. It was a chandelier. Sparkling and reflecting light.
‘It’s not any chandelier…It is made of diamonds! There is no fire allowed here to light the hall. Now…In the morning the sunlight is reflected by the diamonds and during the night the moonlight does the work. The hall is closed during new moon and I think you are smart enough to figure out the reason!’

Raman was overwhelmed by the palace with each fact he got to know and every thing he got to see. For the next few days Raman and the fellow soldiers were briefed about some unknown and hidden facts and paths about the palace. There was always something more interesting thing to learn than something they had just learned.
Diya on the otherhand was passing her days dreaming about meeting Raman and being his wife someday.

‘Raman! What a surprise…What are you doing her?” Diya’s father saw Raman outside the ministry hall. ‘Are you allowed to come here?’

‘Sir I have been appointed in the special troop…I am…’Raman stopped as the officer arrived.

‘Raman!’, the officer shouted, ‘What are you doing here? Go to the field now.’

‘Sorry sir…He is a kid…New recruitment…’, the officer said for justification.

‘Oh I know him actually…Is he doing good?’, asked Diya’s father.

‘Yeah, He’s bright sir and can be counted on.’ replied the officer, ‘I have to return to field for the class. It was nice talking to you.’

Raman went to the field all confused. He wanted to ask about Diya. He wanted to talk to her father about his progress. He wanted to show him his capabilities. But why the officer didn’t let him talk? Why he didn’t let him talk about the special troop?

‘Raman how did you forget about the secrecy?.’

‘Sir I am sorry but isn’t he in the ministry? He already has the knowledge about the troop. Doesn’t he?.’

‘No. And you did a horrible mistake for which I could punish you. The ministry doesn’t know about many things which the army and king decides. I am forgiving you this time. You are a good soldier but you must know to assess people.’

‘I don’t understand sir’

‘ I cannot say anything more than this. Return to your training.’

As the days passed, the heat between the countries increased. There were numerous meetings to dissolve matters and avoid the war. All was in vain. It seemed that war was inevitable. The enemy had also built an army…An army bigger than Jannagar…An army well equipped than Jannagar. Their soldiers were as pumped as that of Jannagar. But was only the opposite army the reason that the king and Jannagar was unsafe?
‘What do you think…Can we defeat them? Their army seems big!.’ one of the fellow soldiers asked Raman. There were sitting on the terrace and keeping an eye on the surrounding. The night was silent but windy. It was a new moon.The lamps and hurricanes went off every now and then. The light was enough to see each other’s faces.
‘They might be big…But we are more brave and size doesn’t matter my friend.’

‘Are you not afraid that may be we won’t be able see the faces we left at home?’.

‘Yeah…A bit but remember we are fighting for them. We have to protect them.’ Raman got tears forming as he thought about Diya.

‘What is that noise?’ the soldier cried. The bushes from the nearby jungle shuffled as a fire surrounded the palace.

‘Enemy…Bloody cowards! They attacked us in this dark.’ Raman ran to inform the chief. ‘You wake the other soldiers. Our brothers are sleeping they must be awaken!’ Raman shouted.
Raman ran as fast as he could to find the chief. Battling his way…Killing enemies…Facing the fire which was in the palace too. He reached the hall only to find out something he couldn’t even believe in his wildest dreams. The king was surrounded by the ministry officials. They were not protecting him but ready to attack him. The chief stood in front of the king to protect him. He was hurt himself. He was stabbed several times on his chest but still he stood like a true warrior.

‘Sir!’ cried Raman. He felt disgusted. He was filled with anger seeing the enemies within. They not only betrayed the king… They betrayed the country…The people.

‘Raman…Go to the city… Wake people up. Send the soldier here. Being killed in sleep is the worst thing to happen to warriors. Everyone must fight for freedom!’ the chief ordered.

Raman ran at once to the secret path to the core of the city that was the masjid. He looked back. The fire and the enemies were engulfing the palace. The silent night had turned to a storm of warcries and prayers. He reached the masjid. His legs were giving up. He panted heavily. He heard the prayers. The prayers of the masjid and the temple. The night was dark and it became darker with each moment though the city burned. He ran to Diya.
Diya was standing with other people. There was fear in their faces. There was uncertainty in the faces.
‘Diya we have been attacked. The cowards have shown their true colour. We have to fight. The whole country has to fight. Gather the youth. Man…Woman…Anyone and everyone has to become a warrior. The country is asking for blood.’

‘We will unite. We will fight.’ shouted one of the people. ‘Our country needs us….We have to fight till the last drop of blood in our body!’

‘I will bring the youth together. Raman…We will fight.’

‘I am going back to the palace. You all have to protect the people…Keep the spirit alive.’ Suddenly the fear and uncertainty in the faces turned to a strange spirit to do something. There was fire in everyone’s eyes…The blood of each citizen boiled.

‘Diya… I love you and you must know…There are enemies within…The betrayers. One is very close to you and me…’

‘No…Father?’ she uttered.

Raman sighed and looked at the ground. Diya came close to him and kissed him.

‘Kill him…Kill the betrayers…Kill the wolves.’ she said looking into his eyes.

Raman returned to the palace. The chief was aided by the other soldiers. Raman went in to save the king. Probably this was the closest he came to the king. Suddenly the chief collapsed on the ground. The king who was fighting with the enemies came running to hold him.

‘Raman! That’s your name right?’ the king called Raman.

‘Yes my majesty…’ Raman nodded.
‘Take the chief out of here. I am here with the soldiers’


‘I am the king…Its my order!’
Raman at once lifted the chief and went towards the door. He looked in the large mirrors. There stood Diya’s father with a dagger. He swiftly kept the chief beside the door and took out his sword.

‘You were never worthy to marry my daughter…The new King would make her the queen!’ Diya’s father attaked Raman. Raman at once passed his sword across the chest of the betrayer.

‘Your daughter will decide what she wants not you. You deserve death and that’s what you get!’ Raman took the sword out to stab him again.

Raman then took the chief to the masjid to keep him safe and told the students to serve him. He returned to the palace only to see the king lying in a pool of blood. Raman was exhausted and seeing the king dead broke his spirit.
He was losing himself. He was blacking out. He bleeded badly. Now the wounds started hurting. He closed his eyes for a moment. All he could see was Diya with a beautiful smile on her face stretching her arms and calling him. He opened his eyes. There was light! The first sunray hit the diamonds. There was light! He then saw his soldiers and the citizens rushing in. He closed his eyes again.
When he opened his eyes. He saw white cloth overhead. He tried to get up. It seemed as a tent. They were under medical camps the people had set up.
‘Let me help…’, the chief held him.

‘Sir! You are alive! What happened? I collapsed…I couldn’t save the country…the king.’

‘We couldn’t save the king and his family. But the country is safe for the time being. You saved us!’
‘We saved us. We fought….But where is Diya?’

Chief had no answer. Diya died fighting the enemy. She sacrificed her life. The silence of the chief was enough for Raman to understand. He went out of the tent and went to the pond behind the masjid. He dipped his feet in the water and closed his eyes. Diya flashed infront of him. She still stood smiling and happy. She was content and satisfied.

The chief came and sat beside Raman.

‘You have the right to grief but the country wants you now…The throne is empty and the neighbouring states won’t wait for long to attack again.’

Raman looked at the chief and asked, ‘But who is worthy to sit on the throne? The Royal family is destroyed. The ministry has fallen.’

‘True…The king was one of a kind. He was like god and should be worshipped. We have kept his body beneath the centre of the masjid as he wished.’ The chief handled a small vessel to Raman. ‘This is Diya’s remains…Her ashes…She wanted you to put her in this pond. Take your time and when you are ready…Come to the ministry hall.’

Raman took the vessel close to his chest and cried his heart out. He put the ashes in the pond water and waited till the sunset. ‘You are my hero…Diya. You will live with me.’

It was midnight when Raman reached the palace. The chief and other officials who fought the war waited for him. Raman went slowly towards the chief. He limped as he took steps.
‘Raman… We thought about it…We want you to sit on the throne.’ said the chief.
Raman was shook. He couldn’t speak for a moment.

‘I am not worthy…I am an ordinary ironsmith!’.

‘You are a warrior…You are a brave soldier! You guided the people towards the win. You filled them with spirit.’

‘I don’t know how to be a king…How will I …’.

‘You became the bravest soldier…You learnt. I will be there to make you a great king. I will get you close to the greatness of the fallen King.’

Raman had no answer to this.

The next morning with the blessings of the maulvi and pandits Raman took the responsibility of the king.
He ruled the state with glory and kindness. Jannagar once again stood back with the same prosperity. Raman declared Diya as the queen.

Diya lived indeed not only in Raman but also in the folksongs and stories as a hero!

The Pride.

‘Papa please let me study there…Please papa,’ Gauri begged to her father who was busy solving the soduko in the weekly newspaper. ‘All my friends are going there too and that is the best in the country.’

Gauri lived in a small town with her parents. Her father worked in a big company and was a respected person there. Gauri went to the best school in the town and was a bright student. Once in a while the family would go on trips and vacations outside, mostly in the big cities. Gauri was always intrigued by the city life. While growing up she always thought of living in the fancy big cities. She was fed-up of the narrow roads and the even narrower mindset of the people living in the town. So when she did complete her school, she was determined to study further in a renowned college in the city. She thought it was the only chance to get out of the boring life she had in the town.
The father sighed and folded the newspaper. He could no longer concentrate in the soduko due to the constant whining, ‘I told you that I would not let you stay alone in an unknown city. It is dangerous and you would not be able to live there alone.’

‘You are seventeen now and still cannot tie up your hair or wash your clothes,’ Gauri’s mother jumped into the conversation, ‘How would you manage there without us?’

‘Then come with me mom. And I know how to tie my hair or wash my clothes. You didn’t ever give me my space to do those things myself. I wouldn’t be alone there. My friends would be there for me…Papa please ‘ Gauri sobbed.

The conflict went on for days until Gauri’s parents had to surrender to her stubbornness. They were reluctant to send their daughter so far but they couldn’t fight Gauri’s urge to get and explore the world on her own.

The first few days were the best for Gauri. She was finally out of the captivity of the overwhelming care and suffocating love of her parents. She was tasting freedom for the first time. The clean campus, new friends, the happening hostel life. She loved it but everything has a price attached to it. Soon she realised how badly she was missing her home, her mother’s food, her father’s boring speech. She missed the overwhelming care and suffocating love! She missed her small town. She missed the warmth she got in the town where almost everybody knew eachother. She got her new friends but missed the old ones she left behind.
Soon she found herself drowning in her routine. Her happening life started to becoming less and less happening. The boring lectures, the projects, the filthy canteens and the dirty hotel’s washroom. The only thing which she anticipated was the phone calls from her home and the vacations.

Then suddenly something changed. She once again started liking her life in the city. The change was a boy named Shoib. Shoib was a senior in the college. She met him in the second year of college. Shoib was like a fresh breeze in Gauri’s life. Gauri had many flings earlier but this time it was different, either Shoib was a perfect boy for Gauri or she was really emotionally vulnerable and looked for a support. Shoib helped her in her studies and projects, they would go out almost every night and spent the nights talking on phone. The bond was getting stronger. They were in love.
Shoib had an elder brother as his family. It was easy for him to convince his elder brother about Gauri. But for Gauri it was a difficult task to make her parents agree upon the relationship. When Gauri was in the final year of the college, Shoib got a government job and both decided to get their families involved. They wanted to get married.

‘Shoib?’ Gauri’s father frowned, ‘He’s a Muslim?’
‘Never. Gauri…this is too much. We have had enough of your tantrums but this time you have gone very far.’ her mother yelled.
‘But I love him and…’
‘Love…what about us? A Muslim boy? There was so many good boys in our community…’ her mother yelled again.
‘Mom..but I said I love Shoib… please understand…please mom…’ Gauri pleaded. She had cried enough to make her eyes swell. Her nose was all red and watery. She was trying hard but she knew this time it was hard to get what she wanted.
‘Enough is enough.. Gauri. We would never allow this boy into our family’, her father said in a shivery yet firm tone trying hard not to cry.
‘Then I guess,’ sighed Gauri wiping the tears rolling down her cheek, ‘I should get out of this family. I know you have done so much for me but …’ Gauri went to the door opened it uttered, ‘bye mom…bye dad.’
‘What are you saying…have you gone mad?’ the heartbroken mother tried to stop Gauri.
‘Let her go.’ shouted the father.
Gauri went out and slammed the door hard. She left her parents, her home and the town that day and promised herself to never return.

Gauri and Shoib got married two years later after Gauri got into a decent job. Shoib mostly had to stay away from Gauri due to his posting. It was more like a long distance relationship except for some lucky days when Shoib had his vacations. It went like that for a year or so but one day Shoib left Gauri. Shoib went away from Gauri and never came back. Gauri was devastated and angry. She always questioned herself why Shoib left her alone. She sometimes thought if she got her parent’s support everything would have been different. If she didn’t marry Shoib everything would have been different. She often questioned the decision she had made so far.

Two months after that Gauri came to know that she was pregnant. She didn’t know what to do. She was happy that she has got someone to live with but at the same time she was worried whether she could give birth to the baby alone without any support. She was tempted to return to her home; to her parents but there was something inside her which didn’t give her the affirmation. It was very difficult. The monthly visits, the abdominal cramps, the frequent refluxed. She managed them alone. She again started questioning the decision she had made. She was approached by many people mostly males for help. She had many proposals for marriage again. But she denied them all. She still loved Shoib. She wanted to live with dignity. She wanted to give birth to a healthy baby with dignity.
After few months she gave birth. She gave birth to a healthy boy. She named him Armaan. Raising a child in the economic conditions she had was tough. It was tougher for Gauri as she even didn’t have the emotional or mental support. She missed Shoib badly but was strong enough to not breakdown. She again had questions to herself that whether she could give the boy a good life, whether she could make the boy a good human. Self doubt once again surrounded her.

Now Armaan was four years old. It was time for him to enter the school. Gauri made sure that Armaan got the best education. She wanted to get him admitted to the best school in the city. She got him trained to answer the questions ususaly asked during the admission interview.
‘What is your name son?’ the teacher asked Armaan in the interview.
‘Mohhemmud Armaan…miss!’ he replied in the cute voice. Gauri sat beside him and filled the admission forms and heard his son answering the questions without any fear.
‘What do you want to become when you grow up?’ the teacher asked. Gauri lifted her head to look at her son. She had not rehearsed this question with him. She was tensed. She then looked into the form. The next point in the form was ‘FATHER’S NAME’. She rolled the pen in between the fingers and continued to look at her son. She could feel her heart thrombing.

‘I want to become…’ Armaan paused, ‘l want to become a soldier like my father … Caption Mohammed Shoib…he died protecting our country.’ he then looked to his mother.
With his answer all the questions Gauri had in her heart were answered. She knew she had made the correct decisions. Her eyes filled with tears and her heart filled with pride. She took a deep breath and wrote in the form ‘Late Captain Mohammed Shoib’.