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The Ring of Memories
Chapter One: Misfortune and Hatred
Once upon a time there was an Indian Mughal emperor named Shah Jahan who lived happily with his beautiful wife Mumtaz Mahal. He was deeply in love with her. Mumtaz’s fair, smooth skin was the color of an elephant’s tusks, her hair dazzled like his golden sword, and her eyes pranced in a meandering manner. When she walked her silky hair lightly swayed in the most serene manner. Together they had 14 children, but tragedy struck the emperor’s family.
Right after the birth of Shah’s 14th child, his lovely wife passed away. She left behind a gorgeous ruby ring for her 14th child and named the innocent baby Gauhara. Without Mumtaz, Shah Jahan’s heart turned bitter, as he had gone through immense pain that was unforgettable.
Emperor Shah strongly despised his 14th child, a charming daughter, who carried the same striking features as her mother, since she was the cause of his soul mate’s death. Mumtaz had perished shortly after the birth of this child. He shipped his young infant away to a Hindu foster mother with two daughters of her own because he was worried that his baby would bring nothing but more inhospitable misfortune to his family.
His daughter grew up in an upper middle class family, in Agra, India, unaware of her true identity. She had to complete all household chores in her family in order to be fed. She was prohibited from going to school and instead she scrubbed the floor until her hands were blistered and bloody and dusted the furniture until her bloodshot red eyes watered due to the large concentration of dust she had to come in contact with. She had no proper bed, but rather slept in the cinders by the fire pit. When she would wake up, her tattered rags would be coated in a heavy layer of soot. Therefore, her foster mother named her Angarika, meaning girl of cinders. Her mother mistreated her because she couldn’t bare the unfortunate truth that Angarika’s beauty was no comparison to her own obese daughters who were severely deprived of glamour, grace, and elegance, not to mention basic etiquette. Angarika had dainty nostrils in contrast to their abnormal sized flared ones. Her older daughter had a frizzy mountain of untamed hair and her younger one had hair that consisted of knotty clumps that lacked basic shine. In addition, they both were well past the age of marriage and therefore had no chance of having marriage proposals. They both ordered Angarika to pamper them, in addition to the backbreaking work she already suffered, in order to compensate for their tremendous pain of being unwed due to their tremendous lack of attractiveness.
Chapter Two: Rejection
One starry night, a royal minister came to deliver regal invitations to the Maharaja’s (king) grand ball. Angarika’s sisters each received one and therefore were invited to a 7 day fair at Shah Jahan’s court with parties of great exquisiteness. Only girls of high caliber-beauty were invited to the fair so Angarika was quite confused. She thought to herself how it was simply possible that her unattractive sisters managed to be present on Shah Jahan’s list. The reason for her confusion was that she was unaware that her mother had made the emperor promise to invite her own two daughters to one of his fairs no matter how unattractive they were, if she took custody of Angarika. He was desperate and therefore had accepted her offer at the time. Feeling guilty, Shah Jahan had also sent an invitation for Angarika, but her mother had torn it into shreds and burned it in the fire pit before Angarika could reach any suspicion.
“Where is my invitation,” Angarika asked in a devastated tone.
“You didn’t receive one my dear,” she cooed, her soothing voice masking the cruel truth.
The shock of being rejected by the king lingered in the heavy air causing Angarika to prod like an elephant to her bedroom, the servant’s quarters that comprised of a small hole in the ground for the disposal of her bodily wastes and her horridly brutal bed of cinders. That night Angarika sobbed and bawled, thus leading to her crying herself to sleep after five hours of pure grief.
The next day, the first day of the fair, Angarika woke up with tangled hair and swollen eyes that displayed her pain effectively. As she arose from her bed of cinders, she noticed a burnt invitation that was shredded and scattered into the cinders. It was mostly impossible to comprehend, but there were three legible words on the invitation, fair, Angarika, and Shah Jahan. Suddenly, blood rushed to her head and her visage displayed the purest form of fury. Her eyes became fierce and she started to gain mental assurance. Suddenly, her ruby ring, the only valuable she possessed, started to glow in a magnificent manner that she had never experienced before. Angarika’s heart leapt as she started to build up confidence. Before she could realize herself, she was dashing toward the door of her stepmother’s room. A tall dark figure was standing right in front of this door, leading to a sharp head on head collision. Significant pangs of pain raced to Angarika’s head, but her moments of physical pain were interrupted by the harsh shriek of her mother.
“Angarika, why are you always such a klutz. You need to learn how to make yourself useful without causing trouble. By the way, where do you think you are going?” her foster mother questioned in a hostile tone.
Angarika locked her eyes with the floor as she quietly moaned, “Mata Ji (mother) I am going to the lavish fair, as I was invited too.”
“Chup! (silence) Have you lost it! You have a handful of chores to do. You are losing the quality of your work these days. I expect the farsh (stone floors) and porch to be scrubbed for one hour not five minutes. Now finish your chores quickly before I have the urge to whip you. After the completion of your chores, you will dress up my daughters beautifully to their satisfaction so that they look fit for the fair. If I hear even one complain from them then I will give you ten lashes and you will sleep hungry tonight,” her foster mother thundered.
Angarika started to finish task after task as fast as her body would permit her, determined that if she completed and fulfilled her mother’s exacting and stringent requirements, her mother would enable her to visit the fair.
As she dressed her stepsisters in gorgeous salwaar kameezes (type of outfit) she heard complain after complain.
“This is too tight. This is so shabby. How will we be presentable for the fair?” both of the brats, who were spoiled to the rotten core, whined.
Finally, both girls smiled as they shoved Angarika out of the way to admire themselves with satisfaction in the sleek golden mirror with intricate carvings. They both grunted and tossed their hair back, as they toddled away, their backsides bouncing from side to side viciously. After briskly rubbing her hands together, in order to soothe her bloody blisters, Angarika ran to her foster mother. “Mata Ji, I have completed all the tasks you assigned me in the highest quality my body could manage,” she proudly informed her foster mother.
“Good. Now be sure to stay up late so you can open the door for us when we return from the fair,” she coldly whispered as she slammed the door behind her.
“My hopes have been thrashed,” Angarika cried to herself, as she headed upstairs to sit in the parlor. Her dream had been shattered into thousands of helpless pieces causing her to douse herself in tears. As Angarika scurried up the stairs, feeling like a petty mouse, she saw her wicked foster mother’s bedroom door ajar. She ran to shut it, but her eye caught some shiny paperwork on her brutal enemy’s desk. She entered the room, feeling disobedient, as she was not permitted in her stepmother’s bed chamber and snatched the paperwork. As she observed the pieces of paper with great detail, she found Emperor Shah’s signature on an adoption certificate. She started to sob uncontrollably again, and her grim face displayed her new realization. She was heartbroken to know that she was the unlucky 14th child that had caused Mumtaz Mahal’s death. She was the baby who had landed the headlines of all the akbaars (newspapers) eighteen years ago. She was the burden that the whole royal family had strong and pure hatred for. She was the baby that slaughtered her own mother gruesomely due to birth complications. Angarika suddenly hit the ground in shock as she dug her head into her scrawny, malnourished knees to weep and weep in solitude.
Chapter Three: Coping with Realization
When Angarika had pacified herself, she quickly gathered some rags made of loincloth, her precious ruby ring, and the adoption certificate as she sprung through the door of the house, hoping never to return back. She soon had left the dreadful village part of Agra and had made it to the Taj Mahal. Angarika sprinted to her mother’s intricate tomb that showcased precise marble inlay work. She flung her hands like a vulnerable duckling as she threw her head on to the front of the tomb and started to shed tears.
“Why Amijan (Muslim mother), why oh why, did I kill you? I truly am dreadful and unlucky. I cannot bear to live or show my face again!” she wailed.
All of a sudden, wind blew onto Angarika’s face, making her locks of hair that had caressed her face rise upwards. Suddenly magical ruby colored lights beamed from the sky on Angarika as her ring started to glow again.
“Quiet, my loved one,” a gentle voice soothed, “you are my beloved child. I knew that you would be the one to carry my features. Bitiya Rani (daughter), what are you going to achieve from sitting on my tomb and lamenting? Go and enjoy the fair.”
“I don’t have any proper clothes,” Angarika managed to choke out while her lower lip quivered.
“I know dear, but this will not be a barrier to this nourishing once in a lifetime experience if you listen to my directions thoroughly. Go to the town of Burhanpur in Deccan as this is the town where I died. You will see one banyan tree that has the most aerial roots, along with the highest elevation. This tree has two aerial roots that your father and I tied together to form the shape of a heart, in order to express our passionate love for each other. This area is magical as it is the place holding my fondest memories. In addition, it is where my soul was lifted into heaven. Please for my sake, stand on that spot and I will give you more directions then. I love you very much, so please visit the fair and make me happy,” her birth mother instructed
Everything suddenly grew quiet and a map from Agra to Burhanpur was dropped into Angarika’s shaking hands. Angarika whispered, “I will make you happy Amijan. I truly promise.”
Chapter 4 The Journey to Burhanpur
Angarika’s map, displayed a jungle between Agra and Burhanpur. Angarika’s heart skipped a beat at the thought of walking through a jungle as she had great fear of tigers. She was petrified at the thought of walking through a location that potentially could have hundreds of them.
She walked for three kilometers in a dirt path until she reached the treacherous forest with a dark canopy of mundane trees. Angarika managed to find Burhanpur after following winding dirt paths. By the time she made it, her already filthy treacherous clothes were ripped and tattered so badly that they were about to fall off.
Her ring started to furiously glow again as she indentified the heart made by the aerial roots. She started walking around the correct area and suddenly golden light hit here. In just milliseconds, her loincloth became silk cloth made with genuine golden brocade. The outfit’s decorative patterns mimicked the Taj Mahal’s designs and the delicate patterns were made from tiny diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds. Her braid was decorated with golden ornaments the shape of flowers and beautiful shells from the sea. He eyes were lined in jet black eyeliner and here ankles boosted jingling golden payals (anklets). She looked magnificent and her ruby ring was more prominent then ever before.
Out of nowhere, her mother’s voice chimed, “You look wonderful my Bitiya Rani. Now all you need is to wear the same smile that I once was praised for. Chalo (go), what are you waiting for my precious heera (diamond). There will be a chariot on the other side of the tree waiting for you.”
“Thank you so much, Amijan. My gratitude cannot be expressed in words,” Angarika genuinely uttered.
“Remember darling, whatever you do, do not lose your ring. It is your only memory of me,” Amijan said.
“I promise,” Angarika replied loyally.
Angarika boarded the chariot and the journey to Shah Jahan’s court started.
Chapter Five: The Fair and its Consequences
As she arrived at the fair, her radiant smile was planted on her face. She saw Shah Jahan’s highest court minister, named Asaf Shuja, standing at the door greeting people. He had shiny hair, a handsome smile, and looked very courteous. He welcomed Angarika with a warm grin, and they both couldn’t help but stop staring at each other. They watched the sword fighting together, ate jilabi (sweet snack), watched elephant taming and went shopping at the bazaars.
Then Angarika bumped into Shah Jahan by accident. Jahan’s eyes grew warm as they had been before Mumtaz’s death and he got Angarika mistaken for the reincarnation of Mumtaz. He started to follow Angarika and the court minister everywhere. Shah Jahan was instantly in passionate love with Angarika. Suddenly, cold blood rushed through Angarika’s body as she shuddered at the thought of Shah Jahan knowing who she truly was.
“Please marry me,” Shah Jahan said to Angarika. Angarika grew bleak at the thought of marrying her own father, so she made a dash in the midst of all the confusion.
She sprinted, in order to escape Shah Jahan who was absolutely clueless about what he had just done. She soon became aware that her ring had fallen off as her gorgeous outfit had turned into her disgusting rags.
She shed an outrageous amount of tears as she abandoned the fair and ran to the Taj Mahal, her only form of shelter. After a couple of hours she reached her Amijan’s tomb, where she sat and blubbered for eight days without food. She sobbed even in the night time causing her to cry herself to sleep
On her 8th day of weeping, she had grown weak and had lost her ability to move due to starvation. As her head lay on her Ami’s tomb, she felt a finger tap her shoulder. She turned around, using the last ounce of energy her body contained, to see the court minister she had fallen in love with at the fair.
“Excuse me. I have been trying to search for a fair maiden that I had fallen in love with at Shah Jahan’s fair. I have asked every beautiful woman to try on this ring to see if it fits, as it is custom made. Please try this on,” the court minister said earnestly.
Angarika smiled as she clutched the ring in absolute exhaustion and slid it onto her finger. The ring fit exactly as it started to gleam in the same magnificent manner.
The court minister said, “You are the one that I shall marry.” as he picked up Angarika in a romantic fashion. He proudly displayed his affection publicly by twirled her around gracefully, yet tenderly. He handled her as though she was a dazzling diamond sitting in a bed of coal. Next, he carried her to Shah Jahan’s court, where he married her in the same beautiful clothing that she had worn to the fair.
After all the ceremonies had concluded, Shah Jahan approached Angarika and said, “May I please know who you are as you have the same features that my wife Mumtaz had.”
“I am your 14th child and you are my Abbajan (father),” Angarika responded, revealing the dark truth.
“My daughter, I have made you suffer so much. I made such a senseless decision then… in fact, it was an immature decision that was based on pure superstition. You are not an item of misfortune; you bring me memories of my sweet Mumtaz. I can sincerely say that you provide my heart with sheer bliss. Please forgive me my loving Bitiya Rani. I am happy that you have taken a wise decision by marrying the highest court minister in my court. He is a very trustworthy man who will protect you and cherish you your whole life,” the emperor said solemnly.
“I love you Abbajan. Of course I will forgive you,” Angarika said with an authentic smile. The emperor smiled gratefully and blessed his daughter.
Angarika lived with the court minister in Shah Jahan’s sophisticated palace her whole life. Because Angarika was Shah Jahan’s own daughter, he gave the couple one of the most luxuriant bed chambers. To honor her true identity, she changed her name back to Gauhara, and through marriage, became Gauhara Begum. Asaf Shuja and Gauhara Begum had 14 children just like Shah Jahan and Mumtaz. The dashing couple became richer by the day and was admired by all the people of Shah’s Kingdom for their achievements. They managed to become the richest people in the kingdom leaving even Shah Jahan behind and Gauhara’s husband’s position as highest court minister got elevated to prime minister. Whenever Gauhara was afraid to face her life’s obstacles, her ring would glow, which gave her strength. The ring became her most prized possession. She lived happily ever after and her mother’s memory lived on with her.