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6

I did not go for the horse ride on that day; I gave up wearing kurta and hat since then. At around midnight, as I sat on my bed I heard someone sobbing in a heart-rending manner. It was as though someone below my bed, someone beneath the floor, someone beneath the very stony foundation of this palace, someone from the dark depths of a tomb was crying aloud and pleading, "Oh, rescue me and carry me away; break through the barriers of illusion, slumber and unfulfilled dreams, and pressing me to your bosom carry me away on your horse to your sunny home, riding through woods and hills and across rivers. Save me."

Who am I? How can I rescue you, beautiful maiden? When did you exist and where did you live, you beautiful maiden? Who was the homeless desert dweller in whose lap you were born? Who were the Bedouin raiders who snatched you away from your mother and carried you away on horseback, riding over scorching sand, and sold you in a slave-market? Who was the Badshah's officer who inspected your newly-developed youth, counted the gold coins, and carried you across the seas in a golden palanquin to present to his master? What a history. There was the music of the sarangi, the tinkle of the anklets; and, then, there were the flash of daggers, the agony of poison. What wealth, what never-ending imprisonment. Two maidens, one on each side, pull at the fans while the Badshah reclines. At the door stands a black sentry like the god of death with an unsheathed sword but dressed like an angel. While drifting in this blood-soaked and opulent flow, you, flower of the desert, were cast off upon what illusory shore?

Suddenly I heard the screams of mad Meher Ali, "Stay away, stay away. Everything is false! Everything is false!" I saw that it was early morning: my servant came to me and handed over the letters which had come by post. The cook came and asked me what I would like to have for my meals.

I decided not to stay in that house any longer. On that very day, I packed my things and took up residence in the office. The oldest-serving employee, Karim Khan, gave me a wry smile. His smile annoyed me but I ignored him and continued with my work.

As the evening approached, I became unable to concentrate in my work - I began to feel that I had to go somewhere immediately. The tax ledgers seemed unimportant just then. The Nizam's reign too appeared to be a trifle matter. The present, and everything around me, seemed meaningless.

I flung away my pen, closed my ledgers, and hurried to fetch my carriage. The carriage, as though on its own, carried me to the palace just as dusk fell. I climbed the steps hurriedly and entered the house.

There was a deafening silence all around. It was as if the dark rooms had turned away their faces from me sullenly. I felt a deep regret, but from whom was I to ask forgiveness I did not know. I went from room to room in that empty palace. I wanted to pick up a musical instrument and sing, "O fire, the moth that tried to fly away from you has returned to die; forgive it. Burn its wings and turn it into ash."

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