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Allauddin...Chapter 1

A tale of mystery and romance set in India in 1905.



I.

As I gazed....her countenance changed with her mind
As she plann’d how to thrall me with beauty, and bind
My soul to her charms, and her long tresses play’d
From shade into shine and from shine into shade,
Like a day in mid autumn, first fair, o how fair!
With long snaky locks of the adder – black hair
That clung round her neck…………… 

- Thomas Hood.

 

“Father, father, father, quickly, there’s an English officer at the door and he’s asked to see you!”

Allauddin abruptly stopped playing and looked up at his son. The intense enthusiasm in the boy’s large brown eyes always reminded him of himself at the age of twelve. He smiled inwardly, whilst maintaining the usual impassive exterior that he cultivated and gently told the boy,

“Ali, have I not told you never to disturb me while I am practising?”

“Yes, I’m sorry baba but this gentleman is from the office of the Viceroy.”

Upon hearing this Allauddin knitted his brow slightly, a gesture that Ali instantly noted, adding ceremoniously,

“Perhaps the Viceroy wishes to honour you father.”

Allauddin put down his sarod, resting the resonating chamber of the instrument on a flat pillow and delicately lowering the fingerboard onto the carpet upon which he sat. Looking up, he noticed Ali looking at the instrument with mild curiosity; it was an old one that he had recently cleaned and restrung. He had not shown it to the boy since its restoration.

“It is an object to be respected, nay venerated Ali, as you would respect your mother and venerate the prophet. Take heed.”

“Indeed yes father, so you have often told me,” Ali replied, bowing his head.

“As for viceregal honours, vanity and conceit becomes no one. Now go and ask your mother to make tea and please bring it up to the balcony room then proceed with your studies.”

“At once baba.”

As the boy departed, Allauddin stood up. He paused momentarily to assume the face that he used when dealing with the British - a complex mixture of haughty disdain, sagacious dignity and serene indifference. I am the quintessential inscrutable oriental he told himself with an inner smile. Emerging into the courtyard, Allauddin was met by the sight of a tall, red haired, freckle faced young man of no more than twenty who perspired copiously under an immaculate, over starched white tunic.

“Mr Khan?” The youth asked nervously. Allauddin’s eyes narrowed, he looked the young man straight in the eye but remained silent. The young officer then raised his voice slightly, “Are you Mr Allauddin Khan?”

“Indeed I am,” replied Allauddin, throwing his head back and continuing to regard the Englishman, who towered head and shoulders above him, with a steely gaze. Now the young man’s face broke into an almost comical grin as he exhaled loudly.

“I am Captain Charles Mackay, third secretary to Lord Minto.” Mackay then cautiously began to extend his right hand towards the Indian. Allauddin pretended not to notice this and immediately brought his palms together before his face. With eyes shut he bowed,

“Greetings Captain Mackay. Peace be upon you.”

Mackay smiled nervously as Allauddin resumed his unblinking stare.

“I…I’m sorry Mr Khan, the lad who answered the door led me in here without saying anything. I was unsure as to whether I was even at the correct address.”

“Please forgive my son Ali Captain, I have taught him never to talk to strangers.”

“Quite rightly so, Mr Khan.”

“I was not aware that his Excellency the Viceroy had three secretaries.”

“Oh, yes indeed.”

Then Allauddin asked, “Have you been long in India Captain?”

“A year.”

“Ah.” He said knowingly.

“I understand that you performed for Lord Curzon at the durbar in 1903.”

Allauddin nodded.

“Well, I have an invitation for you to perform at the Residency in two week’s time. Lord Minto is holding a reception for His Highness the Maharajah of Jaipur.”

Mackay’s tone indicated that he felt that Allauddin would be impressed by this honour so his eyes widened when the Indian made no comment, casually asking instead,

“Captain, I wonder if you would be so kind as to tell me today’s date?”

“Why, it is the tenth of November….1905.”

“Ah, yes of course, it was the king’s birthday yesterday, indeed yes.”

The Indian then turned, holding his chin with one hand and folding his other arm in a deeply thoughtful attitude. He maintained this stance in silence for several minutes not once looking at Mackay. At length the latter asked gently,

“I trust that the answer is yes?”

To which his host made no reply but instead began to pace slowly back and forth. A hint of bemusement now entered the Captain’s eye and he casually folded his arms. Allauddin, noticing this, at last said,

“Hmm, two weeks, two weeks.”

Just then the faint chime of a bell was heard from somewhere in the house, causing the little Indian to stop pacing and announce, “Ah splendid, I believe our tea is ready Captain. Would you be so kind as to follow me please.”?

With that he exited briskly, leaving Mackay momentarily at a complete loss. However the sound of the Indian’s departing footsteps was enough to rouse him and he followed Allauddin down a dark corridor that led from the courtyard for several yards to a flight of stone steps. Mackay began to realise that the house was much larger than it had seemed from the street and it was pervaded, he noted by a variety of warm, rich and pleasant aromas. At the top of the steps was a landing that led to a bright, airy room overlooking a walled garden. Arranged on a small octagonal table near the wide balcony door was tea: two cups, a teapot, a small jug of milk, sugar in a silver pot, two tea spoons and sweet preserved fruit. The whole seemed to have appeared by magic but Mackay guessed that his host must have very efficient servants in his employ. Allauddin now gestured towards a comfortable looking carver chair that faced the balcony door.

“Please be seated Captain.” Mackay glanced at his companion, hesitated momentarily then sat down. Allauddin smiled at him faintly and asked, “How do you take your tea Captain?”

“Er.. white with one lump please.”

Silently pouring the tea and adding a splash of milk and one level teaspoon of sugar, Allauddin handed the cup and saucer to Mackay and sat himself down. Mackay took a sip and found the liquid delicious and oddly soothing. It was aromatic yet subtle but he did not recognise the flavour. He sniffed it discreetly lest his host should take offence then looked up to find the Indian smiling enigmatically at him.

“Is the tea to your liking Captain?”

“Yes, yes thankyou, is it a local blend?”

“I believe so.”

Mackay then noticed that the musician’s attention had been diverted towards the door. Ali entered, bowed, and then quietly exchanged a few words of Bengali with his father.

“I wonder if you might excuse me for a moment Captain. There is a matter to which I must attend. Please help yourself.”

Mackay was about to make an offer of assistance when Allauddin exited swiftly, followed by his son. He listened to their footsteps recede then took a large gulp of the delicious tea and put the cup down. The room was pleasantly cool despite the November heat and he noticed a faint sweet floral aroma in the air. He wondered vaguely whether there were flowers in the room then remembered the extraordinary perfume shop that he had passed on the way. His eye now fell upon a large dark sideboard on which was placed an intricately inlayed mother of pearl box. On the wall above, there hung a large framed photograph of a dignified old man, simply dressed and wearing a tight fitting white cap. Next to the sideboard on the floor, there stood an elaborate and obviously very old water pipe that did not seem the have been used in a long time.

It was slightly dusty and the water vessel was dry and much clouded with calcium. He looked again at the photograph. Was there some connection between the old man

and the pipe he wondered. He rose to his feet and peered closely at the portrait then noticed that the glass, surrounded by the heavy oak frame reflected the open balcony opposite. Turning, he took his cup out onto the balcony. The garden below was lovely and strangely quiet. Framed as it was by three high walls, the street beyond and the adjoining houses were not visible. Mature pepper trees and tamarinds stood at each end along with mango, persimmon, clusters of date palms and a variety of gorgeously flowering shrubs. But it was what stood at the centre, directly below him that now caught and held his eye. There, at the end of a narrow stone path, a wonderful fountain of pure white marble inlayed with variety of coloured stones quietly splashed glistening water drops from two identical spouts. The water was caught in an octagonal pool that rose about three feet from a stepped base. In the pool Mackay could see numerous tiny coloured fish that darted back and forth. It was a work of outstanding artistry and craftsmanship,

“Surely a relic of the Mogul Empire,” he reasoned. Just then a slow flying beetle whirred past, causing him to blink and steady the teacup.

He looked behind him. The room was still empty and so his attention returned to the fountain. He now noticed that to one side of it there was a sitting area paved with broad square marble slabs and bordering this, beds of herbs and wonderfully coloured flowers. He tried to take all that was before him in at once and immediately began to feel a warm, peaceful languor gently lap over him. He breathed deeply, concentrating on the sound of the fountain and felt the sensation increase. He then turned his gaze to the right slowly and there in amongst the palms, shaded by their overlapping branches he saw the tall slender figure of a veiled woman. She turned and for an instant he thought he could see a pair of large dark eyes looking at him through the shade, eyes like black onyx with a steady, unblinking, ophidian gaze. He stared at her as a gentle breeze tugged at her fine, pale purple sari. He thought he could see masses of long dark hair beneath the veil, broad shoulders and pale prominent cheeks but only as though he was trying to peer through a mist, which at that moment grew deeper. The woman then took a few steps backwards and vanished into the shade.

“Ah Captain, I see that you are admiring my garden!”

Mackay turned slowly to see the little musician with his head thrown back regarding him with that same faint smile.

Laboriously he said, “Yes Mr Khan it is lovely.”

He then turned to look at the place where he had seen the woman and noticed that several birds had alighted there and were contentedly pecking at the soil. It now occurred to him that Khan was standing immediately behind him so it seemed that the little man must have entered the room while he was still looking at the woman. He began to feel guilty and nervously sipped his now tepid tea as his host, still smiling, motioned towards a chair. Khan sat also and poured himself a cup of tea. He sipped it thoughtfully and reflectively for a moment, then looked up to see Mackay staring vacantly out of the balcony door. Khan took a deep breath and suddenly said,

“The answer to your invitation, Captain Mackay, is yes.”

Mackay looked at him like a man who had just woken from a deep sleep. “Hm, I’m sorry.”

“Yes Captain. I would be delighted to play at the Residence in a two week’s time. You will of course contact me with particulars regarding the day and time I trust?”

“Um, yes, yes certainly Mr Khan, thank you.”

Mackay then felt a sinking sensation as his host rose from his chair. Reluctantly he stood up.

“I am so sorry that I kept you waiting Captain.”

The Indian added sardonically.

“The third secretary to our illustrious Viceroy, Lord Minto must have a plethora of pressing duties to discharge. I will detain you no longer.”

This story is protected by International Copyright Law, by the author, all rights reserved. If found posted anywhere other than storiesspace.com with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.

Copyright © Copyright, Peter Karargiris.

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