The story goes in the backdrop of post-independence era when freedom to India was something new to cherish. In those days, I used to work as an accountant for the last emperor of the Mithila region. It was 29th of July,1954, when the first misfortune ever known to me hit the kingdom. I was at the animal ward of the royal hospital when I was informed about Bhagwati, which Maharani was supposed to know in the absence of the King. So, I quickly rushed to the palace and looked for her everywhere.
After the constant hunt for an hour, I finally saw her entering through the main door of Maharaja Sir Kameshwar Singh’s library. I followed her over there and stood at the door itself as no one was permitted inside except Maharani Kam Sundari and some extremely trusted maintenance staff.
‘She stood by the palace window, tall and still, gazing absently at the blurred distance. She had two choices: both unattractive, out of which, she would have to take a decision…’
After the initial few moments of hesitation, I finally knocked on the door.
“What is it?” She asked firmly without caring much to look at me.
“I am sorry, Maharani, but there is an important message to tell. Trust me, I have already considered it more than a hundred times before bothering you.”, I wanted to say it all at once, but every word seemed to be exhaustible.
“If it is that urgent, then do not wait for any further to tell me, and then, please leave. It looks like rain is going to be relentless till morning, and you must reach your home before it gets too dark to see.”
With the best possible verbal techniques known to convey sad news, I said it all. She turned back and looked into my eyes. I bowed my head and was about to leave, but she asked me to wait.
“What has happened to her?” She further interrogated.
“I am not sure Maharani, but after verifying the autopsy report, Bhagwati was found to be poisoned last night itself. Doctors did their level best to revive her, but it all went in vain. I have asked them to send the report to you by tomorrow morning.”
She took a deep breath. Then instructed me to leave and went back to her position at the window.
“Shall I send the telegram to Maharaj?”
She pretended not to hear anything, and I then preferred to leave without troubling her with any further stupid questions.
Bhagwati was a beautiful female tigress brought up by the great King himself some five years back as a cub after her man-eating mother tigress was shot dead in the nearby jungle. It was a gift to the King’s third wife, Rani Kam Sundari, who was not happily married to the King because he was an elderly and twice married man, and as a result, she spent most of her time in solitude.
The arrival of a tiger cub changed the chemistry between the two, and it was well-taken care by the Queen herself who decided to name it “Bhagwati.”, which shortly became the symbol of pride for the princely estate of Mithila along with its unmatched beauty of forts and temples.
Things never remained the same for Mithila in the post-independence era as one of the most flourishing princely states of India doomed forever. The government decided to snatch away significant powers from the King, who was once the head of All India Association of Landlords, a member of the constituent assembly of India and a prominent member of the administrative committee of Banaras Hindu University.
That evening, on my way back, I kept on thinking about all the possible suspects who could poison a beautiful animal and dare to face the wrath of the King. It smelled like a much bigger conspiracy for a small servant like me to understand. On top of it, the mysterious silence of Maharani. What was about to happen? Maharaja was out to Delhi to attend the monsoon session of parliament.
The next day Bhagwati was cremated with state honor in the backyard of the palace. Maharani Kam Sundari was sobbing inconsolably while the other two queens were sharing some lighter moments with their servants. At that moment, it was evident and straightforward to understand why the King bestowed his love towards the youngest queen and deplored the other two.
She kept the pride of Maharaja in every aspect. She studied the old secret scriptures preserved in the library along with ancient architecture to design the famous Raj Kali temple as per the King’s wish and got it constructed under her own supervision. Her excellent reputation among the royal families and politicians was an outcome of her intellect and dignity, which she carried in her work.
That day, I could not control my emotions, seeing her cry. So, I went to her and said, “I will find the killers and will bring them to justice. Bhagwati was not merely an animal; she was the pride of our great Mithilanchal.”
Maharani asked me to accompany her till the sandalwood garden along with her trusted sepoys. I followed her there. In the lowest possible decibel of her voice, she gave precise instructions to the head of security, and they all dispersed in different directions to kill anyone found spying on her in any way.
“I have something important to discuss with you, Ram Sevak, since you are the most trusted sevadar(servant) of Maharaj. There is a ploy by someone from inside the family to put Maharaj’s life in danger. The killing of Bhagwati was just an indication of the power and advantages that enemies have. I wanted to tell you that I got only two miserable options at this juncture of my life. Either to accept all the horrifying things as my destiny or to kill everyone behind this conspiracy.”, She said.
With limited understanding of politics, initially, I tried to compile everything in my semi-literate brain and then asked, “And who do you think is behind all this? I mean, do you suspect anyone in particular?”
“I suspect everyone and most likely the queens because an ignored and powerful woman can burn the entire lineage to ashes, and we got two such burning souls in the palace. They hate me equally to an extent where they will not even mind murdering the King to ruin my life. But their significance is limited in the game, and so we can think about them later.”
I heard everything keeping all my senses awake as being trusted is one of the many challenging responsibilities a man can handle. Maharaj’s life was undoubtedly more precious than anyone else I knew in the state. I thought of confirming the killers of Bhagwati because it was vital for me to know that who could murder a tigress with the name of a much-worshipped deity in the region, and for sure, it was never considered a good omen in those days.
“It could be anyone. Trust is hard to keep these days. Even the daily suppliers of meat are under my suspicion, and I have already set up a team to investigate it silently. Whoever did so will meet a similar kind of fate? So, for now, focus on how to evade the danger lingering on Maharaj’s life.”, She said, interrupting my thoughts.
“I am a tiny person with limited education, and so I can’t think much like a detective. You tell me what to do, and I will not disappoint you. But it is essential to know who the real enemies are and by what interest they would like to murder a king who spent his entire life serving the humankind.”
She stayed silent for a moment and then whispered, “Have you heard of Shyam Nandan Mishra?”
“Yes, Maharani. He is one of the freedom fighters from our region and a famous congressman.”
“As per my information, he is the one behind this conspiracy, and the reason is pretty simple. He can never win the election from Darbhanga till the time Maharaj is alive, and he is desperate to go to Lok Sabha. You must be knowing; he is quite popular within the royal family and servants, and a lot of them are secret admirers of him. He has promised them all a gratifying job through the central government of the congress party. I hope you can connect the dots now.”
I heard everything loud and clear, but still was not convinced by her convictions. As a loyalist, I had to believe in everything that she was saying, but what bothered me that even if she was lying, Maharaj’s life was still in danger.
I tried to reason with Maharani, but she was confident in all that she said.
I knew Mr. Mishra and heard his speeches during my college days. He was a learned man like our King, who himself was the big supporter of democracy, unlike many in royal families. Mr. Mishra was in jail for almost 41 months and remained sick for a very long-time post-independence. He could be everything but not a murderer or a conspirator.
I guess she read my mind and thus spoke, “Look, Ram Sevak! I may be wrong, but at this part of the time, there is no one else who could be suspected based on the information I have. If you do not agree with me, then you are free to continue with your work. Think that we never had such a discussion, and I assume you will maintain the confidentiality of it.”
“You certainly misunderstood, Maharani. I do not see any reason for suspecting your words. It’s just my personal view about Mishraji that made me reason you, and I am extremely sorry about that, but then I want to understand how are we going to foil their plan?”
For the first time, she smiled and said, “It is getting late now. We will have a long hour of meeting and discussion tomorrow at my palace. You will get to know about the plan. Please be there at 9 AM sharp.”
That night was proved to be the longest one in my life. I could not sleep and vowed to kill any secret wisher of King’s death. Around ten years back I had to kill a British coup for putting Maharaj into a dangerous fight with malicious intentions. Later, I fed the body to vultures residing next to the railway station. Except for King and his personal bodyguards, nobody else knew about it, but that night I had the gut feeling that Maharani knew about it.
The next day, I reached the palace on time. She had organized the meeting at a secret chamber attached to her living room. The latest ammunitions were decorated on the wall, and in very dim light, her face was shining like a river on a full moon night. Upon her instruction, a white paper was laid on the wooden table. She took an ink marker and started writing things in English. Basically, she was laying out a plan.
“1. Ram Sevak will go to meet Shyam Nandan Mishra today evening at his residence and will engage with him in political discussions.
2. During that timeframe, Mohan Singh (head of security), along with his two associates, will secretly explore Mishra’s room to collect any sort of communication (letter or telegram) or personal diary.
3. Ram lochan Singh will spy on both the queens and their sons for the next five days. Make a note of their activities and visitors.
4. Nobody will allow any kind of letter or telegram to be reaching to Maharaj, which talks about the painful death of Bhagwati.”
She turned to me and asked me if I had any questions, which was none.
As per the plan, I went to meet Mishraji at his residence near the congress party district office at Hasan Chak. He gave a warm hug to me with the same generosity of college days. I touched his feet and asked about his health conditions.
“It’s all good now, Ram Sevak. Sugar is under control, but poor me can’t have the sweets to eat. You say. Got the news about Bhagwati but could not come to meet Maharani Kam Sundari due to election campaigning and all.”
I could not say anything because my eyes were trying to grab a glimpse of a treacherous man in him, but it was nowhere to be found. His simplicity was still mesmerizing, and the hidden socialist in me got into conflict with a loyalist.
He ordered two cups of tea from a nearby shop and then enquired about my family. Apart from Maharaj, he was the only one who would care to know about the miseries of a poor man.
“Ram Sevak, I always wonder that how come an educated person like you has opted to work as the slave of a kingdom. It is democracy now, and people like you are required to establish democratic values in a great nation like ours. I know you are burdened by some unwanted favors of King, but self-respect is equally important.” He used the same old philosophy of socialist movement to break the hold of aristocracy.
I was not delighted to hear all that, and so my quick reaction to him was like, “Sir, I had been a great admirer of your noble words from my college days itself and did arrange chairs for your rallies. You always dared to speak against Maharaj in many instances, but he always considered you a friend and never ever spoken ill about you.”
“So, why do you think kings are displaying the act of mercy these days? Especially when they got the rich legacy of slaughtering anyone in the name of honor and false pride? I will explain that to you. It is because even the Britishers were afraid to mess up with revolutionaries and freedom fighters. Do you think your King can afford to win an election by retaliating against a freedom fighter? Never in this life.” He smiled with his last statement giving a gentle pat on my shoulder and left for a walk with his party members.
He was very rationale and not a person to argue with, but still, he remained cautious while choosing his words. I was left with no further notions about him, but I was still on duty. I went on the other side of his unguarded home to look for Mohan Singh. It seemed like they were all gone leaving me alone in the darkness.
The next day, early morning, my son rushed into my room and almost dragged me out of bed. I furiously slapped him hard, but he looked so traumatized that I could not take any further action against him. I went out of my door and was astonished to see Mohan Singh weeping at my door. I could not understand anything at that moment. My wife got some water for him.
“A brave son of Rajput crying like a baby. What is the reason behind such pain, my friend? We both are childhood friends and work together for the same master. Tell me what ill has happened?” I asked Mohan about the well-being of everyone I knew common between us.
“Everything is over, my friend. We both had been used as the clowns in a dirty game, and sooner or later, karma will catch up with both of us. Last night I assassinated Shyam Nandan Mishra along with his four-party members as per the order.” He said with tearful eyes.
“You killed whom?”
“You heard it right, my friend. I killed the great freedom fighter along with his men on their way back from Raj ground after you two had the conversation.” This time he could not look into my eyes.
“And who ordered that murder? Maharani Kam Sundari?”
“No, my friend. It was our Maharaj who ordered me to do so. You know I cannot take someone’s life without his orders. Yesterday after you left the meeting, Maharani dialed the phone to Maharaj and made me talk to him.”
It was still not making sense to me. But I further asked, “Then what’s the need to cry. You have followed your dharma following the instruction from the King himself.”
“Because he too is dead, my friend!!” He said, interrupting me.
I heard it like a thunderstorm and was not left with the courage to affirm that. Did I hear about the Maharaja Kameshwar Singh? I looked at my wife, my son, and others, and their bowed heads confirmed what I heard.
“But how is that possible? I had received his telegram day before yesterday, which stated that he will be back in 7 days. Is this a kind of joke?” I was yelling at Singh.
“I do not have the strength left in me to explain all that to you. You can go and hear it yourself at the radio station. They have already made the announcement about the King being deceased at the official residence in Delhi.” He said, keeping his hands on my shoulder.
“Let me go to the palace. Maharani must be in distress.”
He laughed out loudly, hearing that, which I found quite rude.
“She has gone to registrar office to file the nomination for upcoming elections, my friend. Today is the last day to file it. We need to go to the aerodrome to receive the dead body of Maharaj. So, let’s go. It will be there at any moment.”
Maharaj was given the last rite with state honor in the presence of the first president of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, along with other senior politicians, and the name of Shyam Nandan Mishra will remain buried in the pages of history.