_Diwan-i-Khas_. She was resplendent, and her face announced her pride
in being selected for the first night of the wedding celebrations.
After she had finished her dance, the veiled women again emerged from
the _zenana_, carrying a large silver vessel, and saluted Allaudin. He
was brought to the center of the square, where they began to remove the
red bindings on his hands and feet. His hands, then his feet, were
bathed in rosewater. After they were dried, he was taken back to the
_Diwan-i-Khas _and attired in yet another of the new suits of clothes
given to him by the bride. He returned to the general cheers of the
assembled guests, whose hands had also been washed while he was gone.
As the formal ceremonies drew to a close, Arangbar produced heavy
brocade waist sashes for all the male guests. Hawksworth was last, and
when he received his from Arangbar's hand, he bowed in thanks and
examined it quizzically.
"It is a _kamar-band_, Inglish, for you to wear tomorrow night at the
wedding." Arangbar took Hawksworth's red-stained fingers and examined
them for a moment. "If you can get the rest of the henna off your
fingers by then."
He roared with delight and signaled the musicians to start again.
Allaudin was escorted from the square by a number of young men in
foppish cloaks - Hawksworth assumed they were his friends - and then, as
midnight approached, servants appeared with the evening's meal.
While the men drank and dined, Sangeeta entertained them with more
Kathak dance. When she was near exhaustion, other dancers were brought
out, and the music and dance continued undiminished through the short
hours remaining before dawn. Only when the eastern sky began to lighten
did Arangbar rise and bid the guests farewell. The courtyard cleared in
As the crowd dispersed, Hawksworth watched the Moghul down another ball
of opium and call for Sangeeta to accompany him into the palace. She
was escorted by the eunuchs, her smile brighter than the rising sun.
Hawksworth was momentarily startled as a fanfare of trumpets announced
to the guests in Zainul Beg's hall that Arangbar was approaching. The
center of the hall cleared, leaving a pathway from the entrance to a
low platform at the opposite end, on which were two large cushions
fashioned from gold cloth. On some unseen command musicians in an
adjacent room began to play, and then the doors of the hall opened
Women from Arangbar's _zenana _entered first, sweeping past the guests
in a glitter of silks and jewels unlike anything Hawksworth had ever
seen. The women displayed heavy gold necklaces and multiple strands of
pearls. Their arms were scarcely visible beneath their wide gold
bracelets. For this evening, all wore a headdress of silver cloth and a
More trumpets sounded as Arangbar himself entered, Queen Janahara
striding imperiously behind him. Hawksworth examined her hard features
with curiosity for a moment before the significance of the scene
registered. She was not wearing a veil.
He looked about him and realized that the other guests had noticed as
Nadir Sharif trailed behind the royal couple, and after him came a few
select officials of the court, including the _qazi _who would perform
the ceremony and officially record the marriage.
As Arangbar and Janahara seated themselves on the cushioned platform,
the guests all performed the _teslim_. Arangbar motioned for the crowd
to be seated, and Hawksworth was already halfway to the carpet before
he noticed that no one else had moved. Only after Arangbar had demanded
three times that the guests seat themselves did those around Hawksworth
accede to his request.
More trays of rolled betel leaves and _sharbat _were circulated, and
the guests settled to listen to a lively raga performed on sitar and
tabla drums by musicians who were seated on a small dais at the
opposite end of the hall. The time was approaching eight o'clock when
the musicians brought the music to a rousing finish.
Hawksworth found himself beginning to wonder where the bride and groom
were. They were nowhere to be seen.
No sooner had the last notes of the raga melted into the tapestried
walls than there came a knocking at the closed doors of the hall. There
were sounds of a raucous, but not rancorous, argument. Everyone around
Hawksworth fell silent to listen. There were more words, and he managed
to grasp that the family of the bride was demanding a payment for
entry, apparently a mock ritual. Finally there was the jingle of coins
dropping into a cup. The money seemed to settle the dispute, for the
doors of the hall suddenly burst open, to the sounds of a trumpet
Hawksworth looked through the doorway to see a horse and rider,
surrounded by a milling crowd.
In the lamplight he could see the horse was covered with a fine brocade
tapestry, into which fresh flowers had been woven. Its legs, tail, and
mane had been dyed red with henna, and all its body outside the
tapestry was covered with glistening spangles. The rider's cloak and
turban were heavy with gold thread, and his face was hidden behind a
thick veil of silver cloth attached to the top of this turban and
hanging to his waist. On either side of the horse two young men stood,
each carrying a large paper umbrella, which they held over the rider's
head. Behind them clustered singers, dancers, musicians, and a mob of
tipsy young men in extravagant finery.
The crowd cheered the veiled rider and he saluted them. From the
chatter of the guests, Hawksworth gathered that the horse had led a
procession through the streets of Agra for the past two hours in
preparation for this grand entrance.
The rider, whom Hawksworth assumed to be Prince Allaudin, was helped
onto the back of one of the young men. He was then carried to the dais
where Arangbar and Janahara sat and gently lowered to the ground. The
silver veil was removed and he performed the _teslim_, the fatigue in
his face beginning to show.
Arangbar beckoned him to rise, and two eunuchs who had been part of the
Moghul's train stepped forward and placed two large silver boxes beside
him on the dais. Arangbar opened the first and drew out a string of
large pearls. He admired them for a moment, showed them to Janahara,
then looped them around Allaudin's neck. Next he opened the other box
and drew out a crown of silver trimmed in gold. He rose to his feet and
held it aloft.
"Two months past I presented a _sachaq_, a marriage present, of two
_lakhs _of silver rupees to honor the bride. And tonight I bestow on my
son the same _sehra_, the same bridegroom's crown, that was placed on
my head the night I wed Her Majesty, Queen Janahara."
Allaudin slipped off his turban and knelt before Arangbar. After the
crown was fitted, he stood erect to acknowledge the cheers of the
Without further ceremony, Arangbar turned and spoke to Zainul Beg. The
old _wazir _beckoned two eunuchs forward and passed an order. There
were shouts, and torches were lighted in the upper balcony of the hall.
Then, as Hawksworth watched in amazement, the tapestries at the far end
of the hall were drawn away, opening the pavilion to the riverfront.
Arangbar and Janahara revolved on their cushions to face the water,
which was now a sea of floating candles and lamps. The guests surged
forward toward the opening, and as Hawksworth passed near the royal
dais, Arangbar's voice cut through the din.
"Inglish, come and join us. There will be no henna on your fingers
tonight." He gestured toward the carpet near his feet. "Sit here. I
would have your opinion of this."
"Thank you, Your Majesty." Hawksworth sensed that Arangbar was already
partly drunk. "What will happen now?"
"Just more tradition, Inglish, but the part I always enjoy most." He
pointed toward the river, where servants were carrying torches in the
direction of three decorated wheels, each several feet across, mounted
atop what appeared to be small-gauge cannon. "Tell me if your king has
anything to equal this."
As he spoke the servants touched the torches to the center of each
wheel. Lines of burning sulfur traced their spokes, then ignited the
squibs attached around their perimeter. At that instant, other servants
stepped forward and thrust a burning taper to the touchhole of each
cannon. The cannon spewed flame, lofting the wheels upward over the
river. They suddenly began to rotate, creating a whirling circle of
colored flame tips in the night sky. Just as they reached the top of
their trajectory, they began to explode one by one, showering sparks
and fire across the face of the Jamuna.
The turbaned crowd scarcely had time to exclaim its delight before a
blue flame suddenly appeared from behind where the wheels had been,
illuminating the palace walls in a shimmering, ghostly light. As it
grew, Hawksworth realized it was an artificial tree whose branches were
saturated with black powder and brimstone. Next more flames spewed from
the tops of five towers that had been erected near the riverfront.
There were sharp reports, as though a musket had been fired, and dense
streaks of red billowed into the sky. All around powder pots began to
explode, hurtling lightning, dazzling white with camphor, and writhing
serpents of flame into the smoky night air.
"Well, Inglish, what do you think?' Arangbar turned to Hawksworth with
a delighted smile. "Have you ever seen anything to compare?"
"We have fireworks in England too, Your Majesty, particularly on the
eve of St. John's Day, when we have barges of fireworks on the Thames.
And sometimes they're used in plays and pageants. And at the wedding of
His Majesty's daughter, four of King James's gunners gave a show with a
fiery castle, a dragon, a damsel, and St. George. But English fireworks
generally make more noise than these." Hawksworth paused, wondering how
much to tell. "And some countries in Europe use fireworks in battle,
Majesty. Helmets that throw fire, swords and lances with fiery points,
and bucklers that give out flames when struck."
Arangbar gave him a puzzled glance. "But what good are those, Inglish?
In battle the most important use of flame is the fire lance. What use
are sparking swords? Watch and you will see what I mean."
Arangbar pointed to a line of Rajput marksmen, carrying horn bows and
heavy spears, who had assembled at one side of the clearing. While they
fell into a formation perpendicular to the river, servants were placing
clay pots on small stands at the opposite side, perhaps seventy yards
away. The Rajputs watched impassively as the arrows in their bows were
lighted, and then on the shout of their commander they lifted their
bows and fired in unison.
Ten streaks of flame shot across the riverfront, and the crowd fell
expectantly silent. All the arrows seemed to reach their target at
precisely the same instant. Each had been aimed at a separate pot, and
as they impacted, the silence was rent by what sounded like a single
explosion. The pots, Hawksworth realized, had been primed with powder,
ready to detonate.
The smoke was still drifting across the grounds when torch carriers
with large flambeaux moved to the center, illuminating scaffolding that
had been hastily erected. More clay pots, painted white, hung suspended
from the scaffolds on long ropes. The servants set the pots swinging
and then fell back, while the Rajputs ignited the tips of their spears.
Again flame streaked across the clearing and again there was a
simultaneous explosion as the spears caught the swinging pots.
Arangbar joined the cheers, then turned and slapped Hawksworth on the
shoulder. "That, Inglish, is how you use fire in battle. You must put
it where you want it. No soldier of India would be daunted by trick
swords and bucklers."
"My king agrees with you, Majesty. He leaves such toys to the Germans."
The display continued for almost an hour, as one exotic device after
another was carried next to the riverfront. The water became littered
with burning paper and the air so dense with smoke that Queen Janahara
finally started to cough. Arangbar immediately ordered an end to the
fireworks, and as the crowd filed back into the hall, the tapestries
were lowered to again conceal the smoky view of the river.
Now the music began, and the dancing, as musicians and women moved to
the center of the hall. Servants circulated with more betel leaves and
_sharbat_, and Arangbar took his first ball of opium.
Hawksworth glanced guardedly at the queen. Her manner was imperious,
regal, everything a sovereign should be. Everything Allaudin was not.
And, he thought, probably a lot Arangbar himself is not.
She'll soon have India by the _cojones_, not a doubt on it. And then
it's farewell Jadar. And probably farewell Arangbar too. Will I get a
signed _firman _for trade before it's too late?
As midnight neared, the music and dance were suddenly interrupted by
trumpets and a drum roll and shouts of "the bride comes." The curtains
covering a large doorway leading into the palace were drawn open, and a
closed palanquin was brought in by four eunuchs. It was accompanied by
veiled women singing something Hawksworth did not understand. The
palanquin was carried to the center of the room, where a low platform
covered with gold brocade had been positioned, and then the eunuchs
lowered it to the marble floor. The curtains were drawn aside and a
veiled woman emerged, her small body almost smothered in a dress that
seemed made of multiple layers of beaten gold. She was helped to the
middle of the platform, still wearing a veil that covered her entire
face. Chants of "Hail to the bride" arose on all sides.
Then Allaudin was escorted forward, taking his place on the platform
beside her. He stole a quick, distasteful glance at the veiled figure
beside him, then an official smile illuminated his face and he sat
patiently as the _qazi _was summoned in front of them. The official was
bearded, stern- faced, and transparently arrogant. He stood before the
veiled bride and motioned around him for silence.
"Is it by your own consent that this marriage take place with Prince
Allaudin, son of His Royal Majesty?"
From beneath the layers of the veil came a muffled, almost hesitant,
"It is by my consent."
The _qazi _seemed satisfied and began reading a passage from the Quran,
informing her that marriage depends on three circumstances: the assent
of the bride and groom, the evidence of two witnesses, and the marriage
settlement. He then turned to Allaudin and asked him to name the sum he
Allaudin mumbled a figure that Hawksworth did not catch, but then the
_qazi _repeated it for the guests. Hawksworth caught his breath when he
realized the amount named was fifty _lakhs _of rupees. Then Allaudin
said something else, which the _qazi _did not repeat.
Later Hawksworth learned that Allaudin had added he was giving only ten
lakhs of rupees then, and the balance at some indefinite future time.
The _qazi _blessed the royal pair, praying that they would be blissful
in this world and in eternity, and then wrote something quickly in a
book he carried. Finally the eunuchs appeared again and assisted the
bride into the palanquin. The marriage ceremony seemed to be over.
A glass of wine was placed in Hawksworth's hand, and he looked up to
see Arangbar beaming with satisfaction.
"Now we drink, Inglish. Come, sit closer and help me toast the
"It was truly a royal wedding, Your Majesty."
"But it's not over, Inglish." Arangbar roared with laughter. "The
hardest part is yet to come. Does my son have the strength to complete
the work he's offered to undertake? No one can leave until we're sure."
Hawksworth had begun his third glass of wine when Princess Layla
reappeared, wearing a lighter dress, though still resplendent. Behind
her eunuchs carried several palanquins piled high with vessels and
trays of silver. Following them were servants bearing bundles on their
"Those are the wares she brings to the marriage, Inglish, and her
servants. I think she will make him a good wife."
The royal pair moved together, Layla still veiled, and then Queen
Janahara stepped down from the dais and took a large mirror handed her
by a turbaned eunuch. She walked to the couple and stopped directly in
front of them. As they stood facing her, she held the mirror before
Allaudin and reached to lift Layla's veil, giving him his first glimpse
of his bride.
Hawksworth studied her with curiosity. She was plain. And she looked
"It's auspicious, Inglish, if his first sight of his bride is in a
mirror. I have not seen her before either." Arangbar examined her for a
moment, then turned to Nadir Sharif. "What do you think? Should I buy
him another one for his bed?"
"She's a goddess of beauty, Majesty. Inspiration for a poet."
"Is that what you think?" Arangbar sipped pensively from his cup.
"Well, perhaps it's true. We'll discover soon enough if she inspires
The guests watched as Allaudin and Layla were helped into a large
palanquin. In moments their procession was winding out of the palace,
followed by Layla's household silver, to a great fanfare of drums and
trumpets and the shouts of servants.
"Peace on the Prophet!"
"There is no nobility but the nobility of Mohammed!"
"Allah be with Him, the noblest, the purest, the highest!"
Hawksworth settled back against his bolster and realized groggily that
it was already past two o'clock in the morning.
When the wedding procession had disappeared from view, the jubilant
servants immediately turned to preparations for the banquet.
"Sometimes life can be sweet, Inglish." Arangbar leaned back against a
bolster and pinched Janahara's hand. "I think he should have more
wives. You know there's a saying in India: 'A man should have four
wives: A Persian to have someone to talk to; a Khurasani to keep his
house; a big-breasted Hindu from the South to nurse his children; and a
Bengali to whip, as a warning to the other three.' So far he has only
Hawksworth noticed that Janahara did not join in the general laughter.
Then Arangbar took another drink and turned to Hawksworth.
"But you know I don't entirely agree with that wisdom, Inglish. The
Holy Prophet, on whom be peace, wisely realized a man needs more than
one wife. He also demanded of us that we give each of them equal
attention, never to turn away from any one of them. What man can do
that, even with Allah's help? It is never possible. So we all do the
best we can. It is the will of Allah." Arangbar paused to swallow a
ball of affion as he watched the trays of lamb being placed before
them. "Tell me, Inglish, have you found a wife for yourself yet?"
"Not as yet, Your Majesty." He paused. "There are so many to choose."
"Then take more than one, Inglish." Arangbar washed down the opium.
"It's not allowed for a Christian, Majesty."
"Then become a Muslim." Arangbar smiled and took another sip from his
glass. "Are you circumcised, Inglish?"
"Never mind." Arangbar laughed out loud. "Neither am I. How are the
mullahs to know? My father, Akman, actually wanted to start his own
religion, combining the wisdom of India, Persia, and the West. He
thought circumcision was an absurd practice. You know, there was once a
_feringhi _here, I believe he was Portuguese, who decided to become a
Muslim, a True Believer. Apparently he had found a Muslim woman he
wanted to marry, and her father declared she could never marry a
Christian. So he had himself circumcised." Arangbar paused
dramatically. "And immediately bled to death. But doubtless he was
healed by the time he reached Paradise. Perhaps he made up there for
what he missed here." Arangbar chuckled and took a sip of wine.
Hawksworth noticed that Queen Janahara was trying with great difficulty
to retain her pleased expression. "Do you believe there is a Paradise
after death, Inglish?"
"What man can say. Majesty? No one has returned from death to tell what
he found. I think life is best lived in the present."
"I've always believed the same, Inglish. And I've lived as few men on
Allah's earth have lived." Arangbar settled himself against his bolster
and reached for another glass. He was starting to grow visibly tipsy.
"I now enjoy all Allah could possibly grant to a living man. There is
nothing on earth I cannot have. And yet, do you know, I still have many
griefs. Show me the man whose heart is free of grief." He took a piece
of lamb from a dish and washed it down. "So I find my greatest
happiness with wine. Like a low-caste camel driver. Why must I still
endure sorrow, Inglish?"
"We all are mortal. Majesty."
"That we are. Inglish. But I will soon see this Paradise, if it exists.
I will find out the truth soon enough. And when I'm finally wise, who
will then come after me? Now my sons practically war among themselves.
Someday, Inglish, I fear they may decide to war against me as well. And
what of those I see around me? Do they think I am blind to their
deceit?" Arangbar leaned farther back on the bolster. Nadir Sharif sat
listening, rolling a ball of lamb between his fingers. "Sometimes I
think you may be the only honest man left in India, Inglish. You are
the only one who has ever dared refuse to _teslim_. It is only with the
greatest forbearance that I do not order you hanged."
"I thank Your Majesty." Hawksworth took a decanter and poured more wine
into Arangbar's glass before replenishing his own.
"No, Inglish, instead you should thank your Christian God. If He
listens to you. But sometimes I wonder. I've heard you called a heretic
more than once."
"And I have names for the Jesuits, Your Majesty. Would you care to hear
"No, Inglish. Frankly, I have names for them too. But tell me, what am
I to do to find peace?" Arangbar lowered his voice, but only slightly.
"I see around me an army of sycophants, _nautch _women dressed as men.
Whom dare I trust? You know, my own people were once warriors, Mongols
of the steppes. They knew that the only ties that last are blood. And
that's why this wedding cheers me. It is blood to blood." Arangbar
turned and again touched Janahara's hand. Her face was expressionless
as she accepted the gesture. "The only person in India I dare trust
completely is my own queen. She is the only one who cannot, will not
deceive me. Never. I feel it is true, as I feel nothing else in life.
Janahara's face remained a mask as Arangbar drank again. Nadir Sharif
was watching wordlessly, his face beginning to turn noticeably grim.
Hawksworth realized he had not been mentioned.
"I have loved her since I was a youth, Inglish," Arangbar continued,
his voice growing maudlin. "And she has never betrayed my trust. That's
the reason I would do anything she asked me. Anything, anytime. I
always know it is right."
Hawksworth found himself marveling as he glanced at Janahara's
I'd not trust her with two pence. He must be God's own fool.
Arangbar sat silent for a moment, savoring his own pronouncement, then
he turned to Janahara and spoke to her in a dull slur.
"Ask something of me. Let me prove to the Inglish that I can never deny
Janahara turned as though she had not been listening. Hawksworth knew
she had been straining for every word.
"What could I ask, Majesty? You have given me all I could ever want.
Tonight you even gave me a husband for my daughter. Now I can die with
the peace of Allah."
"But I must give you something." He settled his wine cup shakily on the
carpet, jostling red splashes across the Persian design. "You must name
"But there is nothing I could ask that I do not already have."
"Sometimes you vex me with your good nature. The Inglish will now
suspect the Moghul of India is a vain braggart." He fumbled with his
turban, trying to detach the large blue sapphire attached to the front.
"I will give you a jewel, even though you have not asked it."
"I beg Your Majesty." She reached to stay his hand. "There is nothing
more I could ever want."
"But I must give you something."
She smiled in defeat. "If you must bestow a present, why not give
something to the bride and groom? This is their wedding, not mine."
"Then at least you must name it. It will be my gift to you through
them." He turned to Hawksworth. "Whatever else you do. Inglish, never
marry a Persian. They forever study to try your patience."
Hawksworth noticed Nadir Sharifs eyes harden as he listened. He slowly
gripped the side of his bolster and absently pulled away a piece of