Putting aside her simple black dress, Perse looked at all the clothes that Sunitaji had given her to try. It was a huge pile. Sunitaji has confessed that before her marriage to Arun she had been as slim as Perse and had loved to buy clothes but had hated throwing anything away in the hope of one day getting that slim figure again or passing them on to her daughter. Sadly she had only sons so, she was left with all these.
Perse tried on lenghaas, chaania cholis and all sorts of saris but then her eye caught on simple chiffon sari in shades of blue, there were tiny mirrors sewn all over it, making it sparkle like a million stars.
“That one!” Perse said excitedly. Sunita looked at her critically for a moment and then beamed “yes that is perfect for you. It will look beautiful, the perfect match for you eyes. Now for the blouse.”
“Blouse? Oh, but we have only today left, and its already late evening, we will never get it sewn!” Perse frowned. “Never mind, I will choose something else.” she said good naturedly.
Sunita said, “No, you will wear that and it will look beautiful. Come on, I know just the right person who can make you a sexy choli blouse in one night, lets go and get you measured up.”
Perse blessed the travel agent yet again for bringing her to the Lake palace.
Sleep alluded him, restlessly Samir stared at the moon in the inky night sky, countless stars sparkled. It was a beautiful night, the whole scene was so beautifully framed by the golden coloured window in his mother's office. The whole Peacock Palace itself was so stunning, his ancestor's had built something worth preserving. Once he got a handle on things he would think about opening up the palace for the local people to enjoy as well, but at the moment that all seemed a long away away.
The cool night breeze wafted in bringing with it fragrances from the gardens of sweet night jasmine, scented heavy roses, gardinia, raat ke raani and others, reminding him of her, the smell of her in his arms. The woman who he had only met for a couple of hours but seem to play on his mind all the time.
Turning back to the desk he glanced at his laptop where her pictures were playing on the slide show. He had no idea why he had downloaded them from her SD card onto his laptop. They were quite beautiful pictures, she had taken a lot of care over light and angles, he thought, as they displayed one after another. One could get a feel of the place and the message she had been trying to convey. There was only one picture of her in the hundreds of photographs she had taken, she was sitting with a small child who was dressed in traditional goat herders clothes, bright red paghdi, white top and white little dhoti, they appeared to be sharing a joke. He stared at her face, she was quite exquisite, her face scrunched up in the bright sunlight, laughing with the child, wearing a loose white shirt and a long skirt which she seemed to favour.
With a muttered curse he snapped the lid shut on his laptop chastising himself for acting like an idiot. Damn, he had been stuck too long in this place he thought, maybe tomorrow’s party would be a good antidote, once he saw her again he would be able to dismiss her from his mind, he reasoned with himself.
Sunitaji was good as her word the blouse was ready by the following afternoon.
Perse had been out all morning arranging interviews with local people that Arunji had refereed her to. The book she was currently working was a look at Indian palaces from the peoples perspectives. She had already amassed a wealth of photos around town and other places now she needed to interview people with connections to the palaces. From the families of artisans whose ancestors had built them to people who actually worked there now. She was really getting excited by the anecdotes and stories she had gathered hoping that her publisher would also be happy with it.
This was a new venture for her, usually her books had always been academic, her father being an eminent Professor in the field of classics at Oxford University, and her mother too had been an lecturer in Philosophy at Oxford, so she had a lot to live up to. She had been weaned on philosophy, mythology and classics.
Having a parent of Indian origin had always drawn Perse towards India and its people. Her father had gone to study in London, England and met her Irish mother at college, they had fallen head over heels in love. His family had rejected him for marrying a non-Indian and he had lost touch with them all, through the years. Her mothers large Irish family had accepted him as one of their own and he decided to settle in London and then Oxford when their work took them there.
Sadly her mother had died from a particularly virulent form of cancer just after she received her Doctorate in philosophy a year ago. After that her father had withdrawn completely from the real world at his immense loss. For him looking at Perse, who was the image of her mother was both painful as it was happy. Now he barely ventured out, choosing to bury himself in ancient books in the literary cocoon that was the Oxford library.
Buying some of her favourite mangeos from the local market she headed back to the hotel, it was about time she made preparations for going to the party she thought.
“Perse! Where have you been?” Sunitaji asked her as soon as she got to the reception. “Your blouse has come and we need to try it on before the girls for the facial and hair arrives.”
“Err...facial? Hair?” Perse stared at Sunitaji. “Err I have not arranged for anything like that.”
Sunitaji looked at her smiling, “But I have. Did I forget to tell you? Perse , I know you have beautiful skin but everyone could do with a facial. You are after all going to a royal party!” Sunitaji declared.
She grabbed the bag of fruits out of her hand and ushered Perse into her room. Handing her the blouse she asked her to go and try it on.
Perse obediently tried it on loving the way Sunitaji was bossing her about, it reminded her very much of her mother. Slipping out of her loose linen shirt, she pulled on the blouse, it had one single gold clasp at the back, which she managed to hook with a little effort, she stared at herself in the mirror, the deep dark peacock blue of the blouse looked beautiful against her pale almond skin.
The blouse, she had to admit was a feat of astounding engineering, it pulled in and pushed up her breasts and displayed her cleavage in a way that would have had the current Bollywood dance queen Mallika salivate with envy. She turned to look at the back of it in the long bathroom mirror, it dipped low, laying most of her back bare, there were pretty long tassels that needed to be tied across her back. She had to admit she had never worn anything quite like it.
A sudden thought jumped into her mind like stone dropping into a still pond, she shivered as she remembered those dark sooty framed eyes taking stock of her from the tips of her toes to her flaming red gold hair, what would her scowling stranger make of it she thought, blushing to the roots of her hair.
“Does it fit?” Sunita called from the room interrupting her musings.
“Yes it fits ...but..”.Perse hesitated...she opened the door and stepped out for Sunitaji to see.
“OH! My Gosh, Perse you look so sexy!”
“I think I look like a bollywood item girl!” Perse muttered, “this is so far removed from Persephone Gupta's usual long black number.”
“Bah! Black is for funerals!” Sunitaji brushed away, “you are going to knock their socks off, and anyway your Sari will drape over it, you will look beautiful, trust me.” She pondered with a sigh, her dark eyes twinkling. “I wonder if there are any eligible bachelors on the guest list?”
Perse burst out laughing, it seemed that marriage is the only thought on all mothers minds the world over.
Two hours later, Perse was finally ready to Sunitaji's satisfaction, she had a facial, showered, had her hair washed and dried (she had insisted on her natural style).
Light make-up applied, they had done something to her eyes that made them smoky and seductive and dressed her in the exquisite sari which had been pressed and preened to an inch of its life.
She had to admit that she looked amazing. She had never spent this long getting dressed, all this kind of thing was totally beyond her. Thankfully her mothers Irish heritage and her father's Indian genes had given her a naturally good skin. But Sunitaji and her assistants had made her look like a million dollars.
She thanked them all pulling out her purse to pay the girls, but Sunitaji refused and said the treat was on her.
“Perse, its been such a long time since I have enjoyed myself so much. One day when my sons get married I will be able to dress up their wives like this. Now Arun will drop you in the car and you are to call when you want to come back.”
“No! Please,” Perse gasped, horrified at the thought of Arunji waiting up for her. “I will get a taxi and book one back.”she insisted.
“Ok, but Arun will drop you.” Sunita insisted.
With that she sent Perse off to the party.
Bahadhur Singh looked at his watch for the tenth time. Where had Samir sir got to? He had promised that his business with some lawyers in Delhi would be finished by late afternoon, leaving him plenty of time to fly back. Bahadahur Singh did not like him to fly in that old Aztec Piper twin engine plane of his father's, but Samir sir seemed to love it.
He heard the screech of tyres outside and saw Sameer stride in with an apology on his lips, “I am sorry I am late but the meeting took longer then I had thought it would.”
“I have had the valet lay out your clothes for the evening Sir.” Bahadhur Singh said, heaving a sigh of relief that he had managed to get back safely in that old plane.
“I am going to see to the arrangements,” Bahadahur Singh told him.
“OK, I will see you there.” Samir said striding into the bathroom for a cool shower.
Bahadhur Singh went off to the main palace looking for a certain special guest that he knew Samir sir would be interested in seeing. He had seen the way his eyes had lingered on her picture on his laptop when he thought he had not been looking.
Perse stepped out of the car and adjusted her Sari. It had been a long time since she had worn one, but she loved wearing it, the floaty chiffon made her feel totally feminine, she looked up as a voice called out 'Good Evening' to her.
“Bahadhur Singh! How are you?” Perse asked happy to see a friendly face and equally surprised that he was here.
Arun looked at Bahadhur recognising him as the man who had helped Perse the other day, smiling he said 'have a good time' and drove off.
“I am fine madam, and may I say you are looking very beautiful tonight.” Bahadhur Singh said to her smiling face.
“Err..Thank you Sunitaji and her helpers at the hotel seems to have worked wonders on me.” she told him, climbing up the steps towards the entrance.
For a moment she stood and stared at the magnificence of the inlay and the doors framed by many arches. Peacocks depicted in many forms, in exquisite colours graced the doors.
“There are still many peacocks still roaming around the palace madam. Sam.....Er the late Maharajah's mother used to love watching them.” Bahadhur Singh reminisced.
Other guests were arriving, Bahadhur Singh said to Perse “Why dont you go in and meet the other guests, I just need to attend to some matters.” Smiling merrily, he signalled for one of the servants to come and escort her in.
“Dr. Persephone Gupta!” announced the man.
Choti Raani looked up to see and stood startled for a moment. This was Dr Gupta? Well, well, well she should hopefully keep Samir busy for a while she thought.
Perse stood in the grand entrance of an equally dazzling grand room. Her creative and photographers eye looking around at the exquisite detail.
“Dr Gupta, Hello!” somebody spoke to her, “I was looking forward to meeting you. When I read the guest list I was excited to see your name on it.”
Perse looked at the man in front of her. She was sure she had seen him somewhere before.
“Three years ago, I came to Oxford to meet your father.” he said “Do you remember I have a great love for classics. “The name is Drummond, Mike Drummond I was looking for some information on a long lost Greek book.”
Perse looked at him “Yes..” she vaguely remembered Mr Drummond coming to visit her father. But she had just met him very briefly.
“I read your last book, very interesting. Come ............” He took her along with him to introduce her to the rest of his party.
Raghav looked around the room idly with a bored expression on his face. Not one interesting looking woman that would be good enough for him he thought. He would have to make do with the politician's daughter who was practically throwing herself at him, and then his roving eye stopped on her.
Amar Singh watched his nephew with despair. He was already well on his way to getting drunk and the evening had hardly begun. He made his way through the throng greeting people politely here and there until he stood next to Raghav.
Between clenched teeth he warned 'Raghav! Do try and limit your drinking, we have a long night ahead. You need to keep your head so we can get the others drunk enough to set up a poker game, the more drunk they are the higher the stakes will be, but you need to keep a clear head.”
Downing his neat whiskey in one gulp, Raghav put his arm on his Uncle's shoulder his eyes still on that beauty, he said “Relax, Uncle I have it all under control.” He pointed to his friends in the bar area who were busy plying drinks to many of the guests including the young royals.
Amar Singh looked around, the waiters were all diligently topping up everyone with drinks, not letting anyone stand with an empty glass.
Where was Samir? His dark eyes scanned the room. He would have to keep an eye on him too.
“Bonjour your Highness.” The French Ambassador's wife said from next to him. “ I am so pleased to be here.”
Amar Singh turned on the charm like a tap, Choti Raani thought as she watched him gush over the French woman. He had never even bothered to do that even when they had first married. She hated her husband, how could he be so charming with others and so cold with her, but then she had grown used to it. The only person her husband had ever wanted, she knew had been Raani Saheeba. Whenever she thought about it rage filled her, but she was so very good at hiding it now, she pasted a happy smile on her face and greeted her guests like the perfect hostess she was.
Samir walked in almost thirty minutes late and the first thing he saw was the frown on his uncle's face. He looked at what his uncle was frowning at and the blood rushed to a part of his anatomy that had nothing to do with thinking.
It was her, he was sure of it. He would recognise that red hair anywhere. She had her back to him. Her posture was ramrod straight, it looked like she was wearing a sari. She turned towards him to say something to a woman standing next to her and he stopped dead in his tracks.
His dark eyes stunned, he looked slowly from the tips of her toes slowly travelling up the shimmering sari in shades of blue to her exquisite face. But it was her eyes that had him catch his breath, she had done something to them to make them look so sexy, the blue-violet of her eyes surrounded by greys and deeper blue's it made her look as if she was in a sensuous haze.
All thoughts about dismissing her from his mind fled. His mind flooded with the memory of her softness in his arms, her fragrance, her flashing extraordinary eyes. He wanted to sweep her away back to that moment in his arms.
“Sir! Look!” Bahadhur Singh warned from next to him nodding his head in the direction where he and his uncle were looking.
Then he saw why his uncle was frowning. Raghav and his friends were on their way over to her. They were all already a little worse for wear, loud and causing people to glance at them.
He could see Raghav's eyes were fixed on her. He strode forward to intercept him.
“Dinner is served!” came the loud announcement from the end corner.
Damn! He had wanted to speak to her to make sure she kept away from Raghav and his friends. People were already coming to him and chatting away, he half listened as everyone went towards the grand dining room.
A frown came over his face as he followed everyone in, barely glancing at the woman who was gushing all over him.
Perse was escorted to her place by a servant, she looked at the name card next to hers. Maharajah Udayveer Samir Singh Rathod? The name rang a bell, she vaguely remembered Sunitaji saying something about him.
Samir groaned he could not get to her, she had already walked in.
He strode in as Bahadhur Singh pointed him to his seat. Looking up he saw she was being seated quite near him. Good, he thought he may be able to talk to her. Maybe he could get Dr Gupta to exchange seats. He walked forward and spied his name on the card right next to her.
Perse looked up, she saw him striding towards her. Mr Scowl? What was he doing here. Her heart skipped a beat. In a formal midnight blue sherwani with a embroidered yoke and round collar he looked formidable, his height, his muscled body shown off to perfection. His long dark hair had been brushed but still managed to look unruly and so touchable as it fell across his brow making her fingers itch to run her hands through it..
They stood staring at each other for a moment oblivious to all around them. His eyes impossibly dark as they drank her in and then at the name card.
“Dr Persephone Gupta?” He queried his voice deep.
Finally all the pieces fell into place. Udyaveer Samir Singh Rathod! The playboy Maharajah! Mr Scowl!
Perse blushed to the roots of her hair, as the distinct memory of her calling him an idiot and a playboy sprang to her mind.
It looked like he too remembered as his eyes filled with mirth as he saw the colour flood her cheeks.
“Persephone..... the goddess of spring” he said in a deep and sexy tone, rolling her name around on his tongue as if he were tasting a fine champagne.
© Jane Meme Copyright 27.02.2012