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The Fort

By Dr (Major) Nalini Janardhanan

“Hi Nandini… you are still with the text books? Don’t you get bored? Why are you always busy with studies? See we are planning a picnic. Do you want to join? ”

Nandini’s concentration was disturbed and she got annoyed. Her friends, Mini and Renu, were looking at her in anticipation. To their dismay she replied, “Sorry, I am not coming, I am left with enormous  amount of studies. Don’t you both remember exams are next week? ”

“We do not want to hear anything.  Today you have to come with us. You will be enthralled to see our picnic location. You know we are going to that ancient Fort on the hilltop.” Mini said.

Nandini’s face brightened with a smile. She always wanted to visit that fort. The old fort on the hill was a historical monument.

Nandini and her friends Mini, Renu, Suma and Rajani were excited when they started their journey uphill along the narrow path towards the fort. The majestic fort was seen standing tall atop the hill. Whenever Nandini  glanced at the fort, an unknown force had seemed to draw her towards it.

“Oh,  what a strenuous climb! We are exhausted and literally gasping for breath. Let us rest for a while, okay? ” Renu  suggested. Nandini and her friends relaxed on the lush green lawn in front of the fort.

There was an eerie silence with just distant cooing of pigeons at the hilltop. Suddenly some of them flew away flapping their wings. Nandini was startled but chose to look past it. Melodious bhajans and chants with ringing of temple bells could be heard from the valley downhill. Sunset was close. The sky was painted in hues of red, crimson and purple. Within minutes dark clouds converged in welcoming the calm night. Nandini could feel a chilling hollowness in the air. There was a bizarre feel to the breeze that grew cooler as they climbed.

“Friends let us get back before it is too dark,” Nandini spoke in a tense voice.

“Look at Nandini, all frightened and sweating. Are there any ghosts here, Nandini? ” Suma teased her with a wink and grin.

“Of course, a spirit will come and take our Nandini away. A spirit of a handsome young man, isn’t it Nandini? ” Others laughed when Rajani said this.

“Stop it! Please! Let us just quickly see the fort and head back at the earliest,” Nandini retorted.

They reached the fort entrance. The main gate was open. The cobble stoned pathway leading to the monument was adorned with trees and bushes on either side.  The heavy antique iron door had an enchanting brass handle with tiny contemporary bells hanging from it.

Nandini felt an uncanny presence around herself. The air had a sweet fragrance of evening primrose flowers, though there were none in the vicinity.

“You know girls? This fort is haunted by the spirit of a Prince! It is believed that he attracts beautiful girls! People reported hearing strange sounds and music from this fort. But nobody has seen the ghost of the Prince. Today is a full moon night. The Prince may just walk in…spooky, no?” Mini whispered.

Nandini felt an unknown presence in the courtyard. And a strange fear was enfolding her in its grips. They entered the fort. The fragrance of sandalwood and roses wafted to Nandini’s nostrils. The atmosphere was serene and silent. For a brief moment, she felt as if a pair of eyes were following her.

“Oh it is nothing… probably a figment of my imagination.” Nandini convinced herself and rushed to catch up with her friends.

She reached the courtyard. The open space appeared radiant under the moonlight. The calmness of the night swept through her being like a newlywed bride creating a romantic ambience.

Moving into the main quarters, Nandini continued feeling the presence of the unknown eyes. She shuddered when a cool breeze embraced her. Next moment she felt the gentle touch of an unknown breath caressing her cheeks like a solace.

“Girls, you know something? The Prince used to sleep here and it is claimed that people can still hear the tunes of Gandharv Veena from a distance on moonlit nights! Isn’t that interesting?”

“I so wish I could meet the Prince,” chuckled Rajani. For a scary moment Nandini felt a chill down her spine. What if I had a spooky encounter tonight?

Nandini was looking at the rich design and architectural details which were discretely lighted with concealed bulbs that lit up the darkness of the rooms as the sun set. They had been installed by the archaeological department that maintained ancient buildings. The other girls went on to explore the rest of old fort.

This time suddenly a feathery touch fondled her and gently held her hand and whispered into her ears, “Nandini, can’t you see me? This is me! Have you forgotten me? ”

“Who was that? Who whispered in my ears?  Girls, it is not funny,” Nandini turned around suddenly but there was nobody around.  “Nandini! You are just being silly now. You are imagining things now,” she reprimanded herself.

There was a primeval majestic Veena at one of the corners. Nandini was fond of musical instruments. She ran her fingers through the rusted strings. A low pitched musical note echoed and she felt a soft kiss on her cheeks. She turned around in shock. The room had ornately carved sculptures of courtesans holding lamps.

Instantaneously the lamps lit up on their own. An unknown, unseen force led her to the featherbed in the centre and she sat there. It was like a fantasy castle… tantalizing music of sitar and veena… fleeting melodies of court music playing in the background. Wind chimes were ringing softly. She was astonished to see a handsome prince lying on the bed decorated with flowers. He was looking at her with anticipation — as if he was waiting for her. She fell for him the very moment she saw him. It was love at first sight!

Lovebirds were cooing at a distance. Romantic melodies enraptured her senses. It was the night of lovers, the night of the union of two souls in love. The prince embraced and kissed her. A symphony of love notes wafted in the air. Nandini closed her eyes. Her mind drowned in the oblivion of romance. She flew like a bird in the sky and then settled down on the branch of a tree with her lover bird.

“Love birds…. see how cute!” Suma exclaimed.

“Ok everyone, come let us go back now. What happened  Nandini? Now you don’t seem to be in hurry. It is getting dark. Let us head back to the hostel.” Her friends called out to her.

“No! Where is my prince? I want to sit here for some more time. I can’t go back without meeting my Prince,” Nandini murmured.

“What is wrong with this girl? Come Nandini. ” They dragged her out of the mysterious quarter.

In a calm, low tone she heard him again, “Nandu, why are you getting upset? We are inseparable darling. I was always with you. I am here for you. We are eternally bound. I waited for you over so many decades. I knew you would come for me. Now that we are together, please don’t think of leaving me and going. I can’t bear the sorrow of our separation ever again. We were made for each other Nandu.”

Those words echoed in her ears while his loving fingers caressing her hair… She could feel him… Her unknown lover.

Nandini was forced to depart from her strange reality. Others dragged her out. They were waiting for her. On her way back, she felt euphoric. She seemed to be lost in a trance. Her face was glowing with love. Her lips had a sweet smile. Her eyes were half closed in ecstasy as unknown lips caressed her like soft flower petals. She felt like a feather floating in the air. She felt her passion simultaneously burn with the flames of a hot fire and cool her soul like dew drops that enveloped her heart and soul.

She could feel the longing and deep affection of her lover. Both of them flew towards the horizon like a pair of golden love birds. Her soul had yearned to merge with his soul. His captivating smile, dazzling personality, mesmerising words and eloquent eyes drew her towards him magically. She could feel the warm breath and heartbeats of her Prince — the heart which was beating for her. There was a haunting eeriness in the evening winds.

She gradually started feeling like a princess. She wished her dream would never end or was it real? She wondered.

When Nandini  finally reached below the hill, she turned around to take a last glance at the fort. The fort seemed to be glowing with a mystifying aura. Amid all that was strange, she could see the silhouette of her Prince waving at her.

A cool breeze grazed her cheeks. A soft voice whispered in her ears again, “I will ever be yours. You are and will always be my princess. ”

The regal fort was looming against the dark blue sky — the fort of unrevealed stories, the fort of unrequited love, the fort with mysterious secrets.

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Dr. (Major) Nalini Janardhanan is a Family Medicine Specialist who served in Indian Army Medical Corps as an Army Medical Officer in the rank of Major. She is a popular  writer of Kerala who got Katha Award and a writer of many medical books for which she got IMA Sahithya Award. She is an All India Radio and Doordarshan approved artist of Ghazals and Bhajans[Light Music].She is felicitated with many awards for her contributions towards society as a doctor,singer, writer ,army officer and for her social service.

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