At the Theme Party

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic
The theme party was first of its kind that I ever attended.

It took another few days to know my answer. Once back to Kolkata I goggled “ Captain Sanders”. The online encyclopedia has this to offer:

Captain Sanders, a young and handsome British officer of seventeenth century was posted in the princely state of Deoghar as the Nawab’s bodyguard. Challenged by Azam Khan, the heir apparent, of treachery against the Nawab, Captain Sanders and Azam Khan engaged in a game of duel. Captain Sanders died in this duel. It seemed there was no bullet in his gun. A conspiracy hatched by Azam Khan was assumed although no proof was ever found.

Azam Khan never sat on the throne. That very night after heavy drinks post his victory at the duel, he was going up to the chamber of one Sahiba Bibi, the chief courtesan those days when he slipped from the palace staircase and injured his spine and never recovered. He lived to be a very old man but always paralytic and bed-ridden

Submitted: September 02, 2009

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Submitted: September 02, 2009

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The theme party was first of its kind that I ever attended.

It was the first wedding anniversary of my friend Ravi and Sujata. I was out of country during their wedding and so, there was no way I could have given this time a miss. “ You would certainly lose two close if you miss our anniversary party, Manas”, Sujata had warned. I knew Sujata since my high school days, in fact for at least one whole year had a crush on her but then she was not interested to date me. Gradually we became best friends, each sharing all details of one’s life with the other. When she finally met Ravi, she wanted me to meet him and approve. I was not jealous because by that time even I had moved on: one heartbreak, one divorce and one live-in relationship that I hoped would get over soon. I wore my marriage and relationship related skepticism on my sleeves. My friends tried pursuing me to change my stand on matters but I was hell-bent on continuing with my belief. There is no such thing called true love. In fact there is no such thing called love. It was all arrangements of convenience.

Finally after when after six years of courtship Sujata finally popped the question to Ravi and he did not say NO they both decided to tie the knot within the next fortnight.

Sujata by now was thirty-one and I, thirty-two. Ravi who actually looked almost double our age was the youngest at thirty.

****

But I do not have Mughal costumes, I had tried reasoning with Sujata and Ravi.

“ No body HAS them, silly. You need to hire them,” explained Sujata in her characteristic rolling the eye ball way.

“ But I do not know of any hiring agency there,” I was indeed trying very hard to wriggle out of the situation. Dressing up like a Mughal warrior was not my idea of spending an evening.

Ravi, who probably hates me for some genetic reason, was fast to point out that he and Sujata knew several ones at his ancestral town of Deoghar where the party was supposed to happen and all guests had been invited two days in advance to try out the costumes at the hiring studio. It was going to be a long weekend, Republic Day having fallen  on Friday.

Long weekend not for me buddies, I shrugged my shoulders. I genuinely had this photographic assignment for an international agency and was travelling to Rajasthan. In fact I would back only on the same day to Kolkata. If I wanted to attend the party I would then have to catch a train from Howrah Junction to Deoghar and would be able to reach there only at very late hours. There would not be any time to try out or even slip into Mughal costumes.

But Sujata has the fixity of a cheetah chasing a deer for his dinner. She immediately pointed out that there are in fact some costumes in the attic in Ravi’s ancestral house. “ You see his forefathers were feudal lords of Deoghar and used to be great patrons of theatricals.”

“ In fact there used to be a group of actors , musicians and playwrights ready at hand. They used to perform a new play every month which was attended by all members of the family and even extended family. In fact these artistes were on monthly salaries”, Ravi added.

“ So then it fixed”, declared Sujata and so it was fixed.

***

The party was in full swing by the time when I could finish dressing up in old moth eaten attire smelling heavily of naphthalene. But mine must have been the most authentic costume of the evening: at least hundred years old and real gold -bordered. I even had a turban on my head, a rusty sword hung from my scabbard stuck at my kamarbandh.

That, complete with my beard, I keep one, made me look quite grand. The servant who was helping me looked impressed with my appearance. I paid him a bakshish of fifty rupees . He salaamed me graciously and left.

I sat alone in the attic meaning to take a puff before joining everybody in the garden that served today as the party area.

“ Never thought we would meet again.” The voice coming from my back startled me. A look at the owner of the voice and a faint smile broke out on my face. In front of me stood one of the guests dressed not like a Mughal but a British army officer, complete with gun and headgear and all.

The attic was dark but even then I could make out that the man was taller than an average Indian.

Some people are good at imagination. The invitation card said in costumes of Mughal era. There were English officers posted in India during that age, some of them more famous for various reasons than the Emperor even.

While most of the guests had dressed up as a Mughal, this man had the sense of dressing differently. An English army officer! Not bad! Must be a teacher of History or something…

“ Strange that we meet again”, he said in accent befitting the character he dressed up as. Impressive! Must have been a member of his college dramatics team.

I decided to play my part to perfection. “ Yes Walters”, I said, “ strange it is ! But life is stranger than fiction!”

I would tell why I thought of “ Walters”; that was the name of my Keralite Christian cook when I was posted in Kochi.

“ Walters? Who the hell is Walters?” He made himself sound furious. “ Stop pretending that you can not remember your dear friend Captain Sanders, Azam Khan.”

So ,ok, my name was to be Azam Khan in this game. So be it, I thought, grinning to myself. This was fun!

“ Azam Khan does not forget Captain Sanders, not in  along time . And how old is our friendship now? At least thirty forty years?”

“ An exact hundred and fifty completed today, Azam Khan.” The man spoke in whispers. Did I catch bitterness in his voice?

“ Silly of me to forget,” I said. “ Your servant begging your pardon Sir,” I said courteously bowing my head.

“ How many pardons would you ask from me , Azam, how many? You know your sins know no bound!”

“ But I can always count on you, can’t I Sanders? My dear friend …”

The man hissed at me. “ Stop calling me a friend, you bastard!”

“ Hey, hey”, I objected half-jokingly, “ rules do not permit verbal abusives…”

“ Indeed, mere abusives are not meant for spawns of Satan like you. You need a neat bullet to pierce the middle of your head, you scum!” He was excited and panting. For the first time I felt a little weird. The “ English Captain” seemed to have got into the skin of the character he was playing. Or probably a little drunk, I reasoned to myself.

“ Let’s go to the lawn and join others in the party. Sujata and Ravi must searching for both of us,” I snuffed out my cigarette butt. A gush of wind from somewhere blew off the only candle. The source of light gone the room drowned into pitch darkness. I shivered.

“ Oh, no, I can not let go of you unless the scores are settled,” the Captain said. “ I have waited and roamed about too long for you, Azam, and every moment of my existence in this state I had thought of only one thing: that devilish smile of your face as I breathed my last.”

For some reasons I had goose bumps. As if I truly believed that I had a role to play in his death .My mouth felt dry. I was not enjoying this game anymore.

“ Let’s go to the lawn,” I tried convincing him weakly once again. There are all kinds of people on earth. For all you know this man was stark mad!

“ I am not mad. I can not let you go.” It was as if he could read my mind.

“ Please…”, I begged.” I am asthmatic and too long in this dusty room would trigger a bout of …”

“ Shut up!” he cut me short. “ You can only go after you have confessed everything to Sahiba Bibi.”

“ I do not know any Sahiba Bibi,” I said. My voice was shaking.

“ Let me refresh your memory then, Azam “, Sanders sniggered.

“ Do you remember that was deputed by my superiors to be the body guard and chief security in-charge of your Uncle, Nawab of Deoghar, after he accepted British sovereignty and asked for protection?”

“ No I don’t”, I said fumbling in the darkness for my mobile phone. If only I could send a miscall to Ravi or Sujata even.

“ I was sure that you would not like to remember, Azam. But perhaps you can remember the jealousy that you felt at heart as I became a close ally and confidante of the Nawab, a place so long enjoyed by you, his nephew and adopted son.” His voice was sharp and almost growling. His spoke his words in a manner one spat out a bitter pill.

“ And more than being jealous , you were scared . Scared because you knew that I had come to know of your wasteful habits. The royal treasury was suffering because of your irresponsible behaviour and extravagant lifestyle. Your Uncle was a pious man . He lived frugally. The reason he had asked for British protection was because he hated blood and gore. He did not want to fight with other rulers to maintain the indepence of his kingdom. He loved poetry and fine arts. You might call him a weakling but I would think of him as a man of fine taste and religious demeanor.”

“ I need water, “ I whispered. I was feeling breathless and my throat was dry.


Captain Sanders paid no heed to me but continued:  “ And the price I had to pay for my knowledge was too much.”

“ What price?” I had to keep him engaged in conversation until someone came looking for me. Shouting might enrage this mad man. He might just strike me down with the gun he was carrying as apart of his costume.

“ I paid with my Life, you scum, I paid with …”, suddenly he broke down in tears.” It was I who had taught you how to fire a gun. It was I who taught you English; else Urdu was the only language you read , write and spoke”.

“ That’s not true, “ I tried to object faintly. “ Listen, now we have carried this too far. My name is Manas Chakraborty. I studied in South Point High School in Kolkata , then St. Xavier’s College and at present work as a professional photographer for a famous news agency. My mother tongue is Bengali. I do not at all know Urdu. I am really asthmatic and right now I am feeling quite suffocated. Please let’s join the party. It was very good knowing you.” I tried to grope my way out of the attic.

“ None of us going anywhere unless this is settled,” Captain Sanders growled. “ Now tell me one thing: did you really really love Sahiba Bibi? Or was it another bound of your jealousy? Just because she , the most beautiful court dancer to adorn Nawab’s palace those days, favoured me more than she ever favoured you?”

“ But we were in love, Azam Khan,” he continued without waiting for my response. “ Such love as is written in your poetry. We wanted to get married. The Nawab was the happiest at this decision. But you had other plans…. . Oh why didn’t I see through your evil plans when you invited me for duel to settle everything. Duel is a game of brave honest souls , Azam , and not a pastime of crooked wicked characters like you. Sahiba had warned me. If only I would listen to her. But even I could not believe that you could stoop so low…” The man was now shouting in anger. Surely someone would hear his voice and come to enquire.


“ Manas ! Manas! Are you here?” came Sujata’s voice. Steps were proceeding towards the attic. With all the strength left in me I let out what could be closest to scream. Then blackness closed in. I do not recall anything that happened after that.
***
I woke up  at noon next day . I found a very anxious Sujata sitting in  a chair close to my bed.” Thank god, you have finally opened your eyes. We were so scared you know.”

I was about to ask what had happened to me when slowly it all came back to me. I must find out more about this mad guest. “ Listen…”, I told Sujata,“ who is this guy who was speaking out of a historical novel last evening at the attic? The one who called himself Captain Sanders , me , Azam Khan and talked of some Sahiba Bibi?”


“ What are you saying Manas ?” Sujata’s voice was sympathetic.’ There was no one with you. You were alone . Now close your eyes and try resting some more. You know how scared Ravi was yesterday?”

***
It took another few days to know my answer. Once back to Kolkata I goggled “ Captain Sanders”. The online encyclopedia has this to offer:

Captain Sanders, a young and handsome British officer of seventeenth century was posted in the princely state of Deoghar as the Nawab’s bodyguard. Challenged by Azam Khan, the heir apparent, of treachery against the Nawab, Captain Sanders and Azam Khan engaged in a game of duel. Captain Sanders died in this duel. It seemed there was no bullet in his gun. A conspiracy hatched by Azam Khan was assumed although no proof was ever found.

Azam Khan never sat on the throne. That very night after heavy drinks post his victory at the duel, he was going up to the chamber of one Sahiba Bibi, the chief courtesan those days when  he slipped from the palace staircase and injured his spine and never recovered. He lived to be a very old man but always paralytic and bed-ridden.




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