Khushi looked at Arnav who was looking at her as if she was an alien. She didn’t know what to say when he walked in hastily and claimed her hand to present her to the Valley. However, Joel was briefing him all the time, and she realised he didn’t notice her. But when he did, his jaw dropped and Khushi was a trifle disappointed as she expected a different kind of a reaction from him at her attire. He didn’t seem like a husband who was floored by his new bride. He looked more or less like a man who was looking at an incredible phenomenon.
She smiled nervously and said, ‘Is something wrong with me and closed her eyes in embarrassment and defeat.”
Arnav immediately hugged her saying, “No darling! I am so sorry! I… its just that…ohho! You would know when you walk in with me. You can’t blame when you…look…he shook his head and she tried to ease it out between them by saying, “Ok! I won’t…but what took you so long? Me and granny were waiting for the better part of an hour!”
“Oh! Some ritualistic crap that is mandatory for the Simha clan. Had to rush to the Masaani Amman temple! And…” Arnav was interrupted just then.
“Sir your names are being announced.” Aman butted in making him smile at Khushi and after giving her hand a squeeze in assurance dragged her along, as he walked into the ball room.
“Ladies ad Gentlemen, presenting the First couple of the Valley His highness the honanrary Governer of the Valley Council Arnav Simha –II and the First Lady of the Valley Lady Khushi Tripathi Simha!” The announcement went off…
Khushi walked into the huge ballroom, and there was applause, which broke into a collective sigh and suddenly silence ruled the Ball room and Khushi realised that everyone was looking at them oddly. She felt very nervous and tightened her hand, which held Arnav’s left arm.
She looked around. People were dressed heply and she could imagine how it would have been when Arnav Simha the Great graced a ball…in the legend! After a full minute, there was again a thunderous applause and everybody cheered. Khushi sighed and Arnav egged her on, as they moved to a cordoned off area, where Granny was already seated. Khushi realized that it was for the Simha clan. Arnav walked on to the small make shift dais and greeted everybody and then he announced the Annual Ball open.
The next few minutes Khushi found herself being introduced to several originals from the valley, who expressed their surprise at Arnav getting married, and Khushi noticed that they stared at her oddly. She asked Granny the same, “ Is there something wrong with me or my attire granny?”
Granny beamed at her and replied, “Infact everything is more than perfect” and at her frowning she said ok wait… she called a helper and said, “Show her the Original Art!”
Khushi didn’t know what to do, as she was taken to the other end of the hall and the helper who too was looking at her oddly and said, “ Please! This is The Orignal Art!”
Khushi looked in the direction that his hand pointed. She gaped at it and gasped inadvertently…There stood before her a huge portrait and she found that she and Arnav were gaping at her from the portrait. It was exactly a replica of them. She looked at her dress. It was exactly the same that was painted in the portrait!
How could it be? She looked at the helper who looked at her and his eyes said, ‘See? That’s the whole issue!’
She looked at the portrait again. It was a vintage and it had Willow Feathers Simha and Arnav Simha standing hand in hand. Willow feathers had a wonderful smile on her face, and Arnav Simha looked stern and very standoffish even in the portrait, Khusi thought. What struck her however were the similarities. She was wearing the exact dress and even the accessories that Willow was painted in, and Arnav too was an exact replica of his ancestor. As she mused about it, she felt an arm round her waist and turned to see Arnav smiling at her.
“So you got to see the original” he said smiling still and added, “ I wanted to show you myself but well…” he said.
Khushi looked at him and the portrait and again at him making him to chuckle, as the Iyengars stepped in wishing them and Krishnaveni Iyengar the grand old woman of the Iyengar family, who was supposed to be very knowledgeable about the valley quipped, “So should we hope for the grand finale for the legend as predicted by the Amma of Palachi, now that the legend is repeating and Your Highness would your new bride indicate the truth of the legend?”
There was a sudden hush over the small group, as Ganesh Iyengar gasped in embarrassment, “Amma! C’mon! How could you?”
“No Mr. Iyengar that’s fine” Arnav tried to play the situation saying, “Amma is echoing the general musings of the Valley.”
Krishnaveni was not a lady to be deterred. She said, “Let me meet Devyani. I am going to ask her what she has planned, for she now got the couple intact, there is so much that is expected to happen.”
Ganesh Iyengar thought the better off it and ushered his mother and his family into the great hall. Apologizing to Arnav and Khushi.
Khushi turned towards Arnav and he smiled and said, “I told you I shall explain tonight. He then surprised her by bending and giving her a peck and said, “You look lovely. Stunning!”
Khushi blushed but recovered immediately and said, “Arnav what is this about the couple and who is this Amma of Palachi? Please! I can’t wait till tonight”
“Khushi please! Now is not the time. I can’t share all that here.” Arnav said looking at the milling crowd.
Just as if on cue, there was an announcement urging the first couple to start the waltz, and Arnav dragged her along exclaiming, “C’mon! Lets have some fun and after all we are just married, shutting her up.
As they moved to the lilting music in muted lights, Khushi put her cheek to Arnav’s chest and tried to feel calm. But she became restless as the minutes ticked by…
“Khushi, I told you I shall explain” Arnav growled giving her a squeeze with his arms.
“I know Arnav, but so much has happened and…” she stopped abruptly as she felt some bulge on his wrist and asked, “What is this?”
Arnav looked at his wrist and said, “Oh that? It’s a taaviz (Talisman tied to the ruler of the Valley at the Maasani Amman temple. The Annual Fair begins with the ritual at the Masani Amman temple. The Talisman is only opened after the ten-day festival during the festival of Dussera.”
“You mean to say you can’t remove it for the next six months?” Khushi was incredulous…
“Sort off” Arnav said sheepishly, and said, “Some punishment for being the descendant of the rulers of the valley.”
“Is it not cumbersome to manage?” Khushi enquired shifting his cuff a little and seeing the dark burgundy thread with which the silver talisman was tied to his wrist.
“I just stuff it under my full sleeves.” He said.
“So you don’t remove it.” She observed.
‘I cant KhuShi. Its …lets say a tradition of my land, and I cant show disrespect to it. Also GranNy says when I removed it in my childhood, I was severely ill and she took a vow that I would never repeat It. Now its gran’s angle too” he shook his head in exasperation.
“Didn’t know that there was so much to a small fair…” Khushi quipped in amazement.
“You see this was basically a tribal festival, which was converted into a larger and broader fair allowing the cosmopolitan population of the valley to participate and blend with the locals. But the local tradition persists and so was even late to the ball.” “Oh!” Khushi said and asked, “You mean to say even Arnav Simha got tied with a talisman?”
“Yeah!” Arnav said and added, “ Khushi the Whisper Valley is a real maze of old and new setups and is so complicated that a lifetime is not enough to fathom the depth of the legend and the Valley.”
“Hmm” she said, and looked up into his eyes and asked, “What makes you so wary of me?”
Arnav was shocked by her sudden query and said, “Whoa! What makes you think so?”
“No please don’t dodge anymore. I see that you all are very wary as far as I am concerned. Why?” She demanded.
Arnav sighed looked away and then said, “Ok! I was about to tell you everything in detail…but…that’s ok. I can tell you this. You see? The Amma of Palachi…”
“Who is she?” Khushi asked.
“It’s a he” Arnav corrected her, and chuckled saying, “That’s why I said this is complicated and also that it will take time. Let me talk to you tonight.”
“Sure but just finish what you were about to say.” Khushi prevailed.
“Are you this stubborn in bed too?” He asked, and this time Khushi was caught unawares, but recovered immediately and said, “No! We are not getting into that and you can’t intimidate me that way!”
“No?” He asked softly.
“Never!” She growled.
Arnav chuckled and said, “I bet it will be very interesting story time tonight.”
Khushi huffed and said, “Arnav are you going to tell me or not?”
“O! Ok!” Arnav said, and whirred her around to the music and started talking, “The Nallamalai forests have been the havens of occult practitioners for centuries. The Goddess of Palachi Masaani Amman is actually considered to be the main source of energy for all these practitioners.”
“Oh really?” Khushi scrunched her nose.
“You cat believe it? Neither could I!” He sighed..
“But it’s a fact that these things exist. They exist in our society parallelly and none could prove them. None could disprove them either. It is all in the mind and people continue to be affected and continue to hold varied versions of these. Infact the Nallamalai forests were supposed to be demonic.
“What? Yeah! There are stories of even the lord Rama finishing the demonic out break of Tataka a grotesque demon in these forests.” He paused.
“What?” She gasped.
“Yeah!” He said.
It says that Lord Rama had a vow not to raise arms against a woman even if she were a demon and sage Vishwamithra convinced him to eliminate the demon by urging him to ask the Divine Mother to sit on his arrow and kill Tataka. And Sri Rama invoked the Divine Mother in the form of Masaani Amman and killed Tataka . However he forgot to restore her back to the universe, and ever since the Goddess stays in the forests of Nalla Malai and continues to be the medium for combating the evil.”
“How is this connected to the Valley?” Khushi asked.
“It does. Coz of this, many practitioners treat the temple as the seat of divine energy and draw several practices from the temple to empower themselves. However they use it for good and bad. They are human” he shrugged.
“You believe in all this?” Khushi frowned.
“I don’t!” He smiled. “But that’s how it is!” He exclaimed.
“What do you mean by that! Either you do or you don’t!” Khushi reasoned.
“True! But I have seen many things that happen contrary to the belief of a sane mind off late. I can’t always think its coincidence or some carefully concocted scheme you know?” He asked seriously.
Khushi scowled and said, “Arnav you are educated and you…”
He cut her short and said, “Certain things defy reason Khushi. I don’t want to believe all this. But how much ever hard I try, I can’t oversee certain happenings!”
“Ok lets not stray! Tell be about this Amma of Palachi…Khushi said.
She didn’t want him to deviate. As such everyone spoke in puzzles and the truth never came out.
“We are very determined! Arent we?” Arnav teased her.
“Yes! I am… now please go on…” She nudged him.
“Yes ma’am…Well Pravaara Sri MuktaAbhyanag MahaPurusha is called the Amma of Palachi. He was an evolved soul, and was supposed to be in conversation with the Goddess Masaani. His predictions and healings are very popular in this part of the world.”
“Oh!” Khushi listened.
He was a contemporary of Arnav Simha Sr.” Arnav said and paused.
“What?” Khushi asked.
“Well there is so much to it Khushi. Where do I start and how can I explain I am just thinking of a way to make it reasonably believable for you?
“Oh! C’mon! Just go on! I just want to listen to it. Enough of all the ambiguity.” Khushi said.
“Ok!” He said. “Well The great seer used to stay in the temple and was on a piligrimage when Arnav Simha married Willow Feathers.”
“So?” Khushi asked.
“His first disciple Gaura Devi Maa was a little different…” Arnav went on…
“Uh huh?” Khsuhi was all confused.
“Umm lets say that she wanted to make some money, name and fame unknown to her Guru…” Arnav said.
“Oh! But what’s wrong wit that?”
“It is Khushi, coz if you do that in the right spirit that’s fine. But Gauramma, as she was called by the locals, started supporting insurgency in the Valley.”
“You mean Lalitha and the dacoits and worked against the HBSV?” Khushi asked.
“Ha! There you got your facts right my dear!” Arnav chuckled.
“I had to coz none is forthcoming.. “ Khushi cribbed.
“You need to be patient darling” he said as his mobile buzzed, and he drew her off the dance floor and after seeing to it that she was comfortably seated at the cordoned off sitout, went to meet a distinguished guest on the other end of the valley.
“You never told me that you are the Lady of the Valley” Alberto Rossini’s angry words cut through her thoughts, as she whirred round to see him standing and glaring at her.