The Harem of Prince Sumru

Farzana Moon

[The abode of Prince Sumru was Malir, and still is (I guess), it is the suburb of Karachi. Rajput princess sounds ideal, for many lords of the land had Rajput princess' in their harems. FM]

The sand-swept desert of Sind, boasting a few scattered villages and one large city, was the land where maidens danced and troubadours whirled lovelorns in song and music. In one of these villages, one maiden blossomed like some rare desert rose, whose perfume no youth or beauty could match or attain. Marvi was the name of this beautiful rose. Her parents had adopted an orphan boy form another village, who had been Marvi's playmate and confidant. Phog was the name of this orphaned child, who was hit by the arrows of love, even before he could reach the rungs of adolescence. Declaring his love in passionate outbursts, he had frightened Marvi by urging her to be his bride. Still a teenager and luxuriating in her sense of freedom, Marvi had rejected his love, vowing to be a free spirit till her dying day.

Phog was crestfallen and inconsolable. Such misery and wretchedness had settled in his heart that he had decided to abandon this abode of torment, and seek diversions eleswhere in the big city of Malir. Wearing a mask of stoic resignation, he had infomed Marvi and her parents of his decision in seeking knowledge as well as fortunes away from this village, so that he could return and repay their kindness'. Marvi's parents were reluctant to grant him this permission to leave, but since he was adamant, they had no choice but to consent. Promising to write regulary and to visit occasionally, Phog was on his way to the land of fortunes, leaving behind his heart, and hoping only for riches and adventure.

Riches, as well as adventure were his to explore and exploit as soon as he had crossed the Indus River valley and had reached Malir. Playing on his lute and evoking sadness from the strings in his heart, he had attracted the attention of Prince Sumru's vizier, who was on his way to the palace to dine with the Prince. Invited by the vizier to be his guest to entertain the Prince, Phog could not thank him enough, his young spirits suddenly soaring beyond imagination. At the grand banquet, he was the star of the royalty, delighting all with the music of his lute and voice.

Prince Sumru was so moved by this youth's passion in song and music, that he had appointed Phog as one of his grandees. And Phog had begun to lead the life of pomp and luxury. He was a victim of his own passion and incontinence, but Marvi was not forgotten. His passionate epistles to her were the fire of his avowal in love and longing, still imploring her to be the queen of his wealth and emincence. But Marvi was the rose of the desert, claiming the wealth of freedom in dancing and singing, and rejecting the fetters of riches which could never chain her to luxury and opulence. Her last letter was a rock of tragedy for Phog, announcing her betrothal to one young beau, named Khet. Phog's passion was shattered to smithereens under the weight of this cruel confession, and all his passionate vows were silenced inside the everlasting torment of his body and soul.

Pain and dissolution had become Phog's constant companions, and he had surrendered himself to the absolute tyranny of drunken orgies. Consuming the wine of lust, and spilling the libations of desire on the very hearths of evil and darkness, where the fire of love could not even cast a shadow of light. Prince Sumru had become Phog's greatest of friends, so he was wont to invite him to his harem to entertain his wives and concubines with song and music. On one of these occasions inside the gold and crimson warmth of the harem as Phog sat playing his lute with a mingling of mirth and melancholy, Prince Sumru opined whimsically.

"No other harem can boast of so much wealth in beauty as possessed by me!" Prince Sumru drank deep out of his jeweled goblet, flashing a mute challenge at Phog. "Don't you agree, Phog? Have you seen any other girl more beautful than my wives and concubines?" he asked abruptly.

"No doubt, my Lord, they indeed are the houris of the paradise, but the beauty of the Sindi girls in my hometown is nonpariel," Phog boasted. Half drunk and half stung by the memory of his own bruised love.

"Do you know of any Sindi girl more beautiful than the ones in my harem?" Prince Sumru laughed, the fire of agog shining in his eyes.

"Yes, my Lord. The one and the only one, Marvi," a volley of tormented mirth escaped Phog's lips.

"You are to fetch her here to be my wife," Prince Sumru commanded. Warmth and curiosity in his own eyes gathering rills of mirth.

"I can't, my Lord," one anguished lament died on Phog's lips. "She is betrothed to be wedded."

"She is to be my wife, and that is an edict, and no fool or prude dare stand in the way of Prince Sumru," the note of finality in Prince Sumru's voice brooked no disobedience.

Marvi was abducted one moonless night, not by Phog, but by the royal guards of Prince Sumru. Inside the palace, she was treated with respect and reverence, and brought to the harem decked with jewels and finest of silks. Her pale, waxen beauty illumined by jewels had attained the coldness of marble as she sat there in some stupor of shock and bewilderment. Only her dark eyes, wild and shining could be seen lowering bolts of lightning on the very head of Prince Sumru from where he sat watching her, rapt and stricken. His plea of wedlock had bounded back to him in one thunder of a rejection from Marvi's ruby-red lips, and she had swooned under the weight of her own grief and despair.

The dark, billowing clouds of shock and hopelessness had enveloped Khet in a blanket of sorrow as soon as he had learned of Marvi's abduction. Crippled by his own hopeless, helpless pain, his mind and body were drained of all sense of sanity and vengeance. Besides, who could dare challenge Prince Sumru whose own edicts granted him the right to marry any girl from Sind to Hind, if that were his need and command. Months of grief and infirmity, and he was jolted to the sense of a challenge by the anguished pleas of his own parents and of the parents of Marvi. Out of the very fabric of his lacerating wounds was blossomed forth one tapestry of hope and intrigue. Donning the garb of a jogi, he was hurled on the path of Love by his own burning desire to be united with his Beloved.

In Malir, the harem of Prince Sumru was overcast with its own clouds of doom and darkness. Marvi was ailing and repulsing each plea of Prince Sumru with the daggers in her eyes alone, if not with the sling of poisoned arrows from her ruby-red lips. Phog was suffering the most excruciating of pains for his own love and betrayal, unable to comfort either his First Love or his First Master. He was the slave of all, and most insufferably, the slave of his own heart, vile and corrupted. He had suffered before, had always suffered, but had not ever known such sufferings as these, such unutterable agonies of the body and soul. His agonized spirit had driven him to such oblivion and wildness, that he was seen wandering on the streets in the middle of the nights. His sufferings were at their culmination one rueful night when the moon was high and the cold stars throbbing with some mockery of a glee. One jogi in saffron robe was the only one recognizing a kindred spirit in sorrow and darkness, as he followed Phog on his heels, meekly and thoughtfully. No other than Khet, this jogi was to meet another devotee of his Beloved who was wallowing in his own sin of betrayal and bitterness. A bond was struck, the two Lovers of One Beloved were joined together to rescue Marvi from the golden cage of Prince Sumru's harem.

The harem of Prince Sumru was still flooded with song and music, but he had ceased to visit his wives or concubines. So smitten was he by the beauty of Marvi, that even the venom of reproof and rejection from her lips fell on his ears like the sad, sad songs of the nightingale, which he inhaled and savored with the hunger and thirst of a true lover. He had grown aloof and dejected, rather possessed by the fever of a need to win Marvi's love. Another fear, more savage than the first one, had become his tormentor, and that was the fear of Loss. He could not endure to watch his rose of the desert wilt and suffer. Summoning physicians from all over the cities, his edicts were flying wild to find a cure for Marvi and for the deformity and sickness in his own heart.

One such edict had reached Phog amidst his own travails of contemplation and wanderings. Fortunately, his own heart joined with that of the jogi, had carved one polished plan, which could free both Marvi and Prince Sumru from the shackles of incongruity and bereavement. Presenting jogi to the Prince, Phog had informed the Prince that this jogi had the powers to cure any illness,as well as to bestow love in the ailing hearts burdened with pain and bitterness. The reed of hope in Prince Sumru's mind was clinging on to the words spoken by Phog, and he had employed the jogi in curing Marvi and in filling her heart with love for him alone. The jogi agreed, on one condition though, that Marvi was to visit him four times in one month in his own hut, so that he could ensure the efficacy of his treatment without interruption. Prince Sumru had agreed with hope as his shield and honor.

A wondrous change had come over Marvi after her first visit to the jogi, and she was kind to Prince Sumru. He in return was drowned in profoundest of raptures, dispatching gifts in gold and jewels to the jogi through the very hands of Phog. The last and the fourth visit was to be celebrated by some ritual concocted by Khet. He had perfumed his saffron robe with musk, inviting the chaperones of Marvi to drink a holy potion of wine which he had prepared himself. All the ladies-in-waiting were to drink two cups of this holy elixir, then dance around Marvi, while he himself would whirl on his toes in a ritual dance of love and marriage. One cup each of that sweet, holy potion and all the ladies-in-waiting were succumbed to sweetest of slumbers in colorful heaps. Khet and Marvi, supplied with racing steeds by Phog, were sent flying out of the precincts of Malir. They were not to halt, crossing the border of Indus River Valley, into the sandy domains of Kutch. Another city, another land, not under the sway of Prince Sumru, where his Law was not their Law, and he had no choice but to accept the Law of Destiny. The white sands of Kutch were the wedding songs for Khet and Marvi, where they were wedded with all the splendor of a king and a queen. How could they not, the gold and jewels from Prince Sumru were to last them a lifetime, if not generation after generation. Prince Sumru, too familiar with the Law of Destiny, was wise not to follow the young lovers. He was to nurse his passion with the Wine of Forgetfulness inside the glitter of his harem, where youth and beauty were the eternal blooms of his Pride. Marvi had chosen not to live like a painted doll in the harem of Prince Sumru, and was blessed with the Jewel of Freedom. This Rose of the Desert was destined to bloom in the scent of her own Free Spirit.

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Last modified 18 May 2001