It was like a damsel; like Keats’ La Belle Dam Sans Merci that lulled me to sleep’ and made me dream-the dream of the world of the fairyland- the fairyland that throughout my childhood, Ibelieved was in the lap of Zabarvan hillock. All of us, my sibs, my pals and I believed that fairies bonnier than the bonniest of damsels in our locality lived behind the mountains that perennially dipped in the crystal waters of the lake.
I believed, I think all children believed that ruins of the Pari Mahal were the palace where Queen fairy and her princesses lived. And whenever grandmother narrated a story about some ‘pari’, I often thought she lives in the Pari Mahal. We often heard one or other handsome boy coming under the spell of a pari. To save children from coming under the spell of a fairy amulets were tied to the arms of the children- even some fair complexioned boys were advised by peers to wear black clothes. It was perhaps in class six when we started reading Hamari Kahani (Our history) that I learned that Para Mahal was constructed by Dara Shikoh (20 March 1615-30 August 1659) the eldest son of Mughal Emperor Shah Jehan for his teacher, Malla Shah Badkshi. And it was an important centre of falakyat’.
Many times, on seeing these mountains bathing in the waters, my imagination galloped, and I started imagining fairies swans; which often looked to me like animated white marble toys, I had a fascination for rainbow plumed ducks with many colours, the green plumes around the neck looked like an emerald necklace , the dove coloured black and white wings made them look a bride in beautiful tunics. I loved watching the ducklings following the mother duck-it looked like a tiny army following their commander to the battlefield. My friends and I chased the drakes to pull out the curled pitch black tail feathers which we knew as “wonk”. There was something royal about the ‘wonk’.
We had heard stories that this was given a silver base and used as an amulet to ward off the evil spirit. There were stories that wonks studded with precious stones, adorned the caps of tribal heads. I do remember having seen them dyed in red and fixed in green caps of the school band uniform. On seeing the drakes with long beautiful wonks, I got tempted to jump in the lake and pull as many curled tail feathers as I could, but was never allowed to do it.
Unmindful of permanently anchored Dungas, the army of swans, ducks, drakes and duckling swam across the canal that connected the lake with the Shalimar garden. The cascades from the Shalimar garden continuously fed this canal with fresh waters.
I remember it was one of the most beautiful waterways- perhaps that is why it finds a mention even in Rushdie’ s famous short story, the Prophets Hair.
Our boat often remained moored at the end of the canal. The walk from the Shalimar garden to the boat had its fun for the children. Many times we played what we called as “Tikatar” slinging artistically Katar, a piece of terracotta across the waters- it flew in the air and touched waters at many places till it would sink in waters. It was a sport in itself- the mastery making it touch waters at as many places as possible and going as far as possible.
I remember while we relished the tea in the garden the ashpez would buy fresh vegetables and mutton.He mostly remained confined to Khouth cooking lunch. No sooner all children and family members embarked on the craft it started moving towards our next destination that was the Nishat Garden.
The distance from Shalimar to Nishat was not much, but it had its thrill. It was not only the ducks, drakes and swans that made me crazy- I often felt envious of boys and young girls in skiffs dexterously plucking lotus fruit pods. If I had my way,I would through them out of their skiffs (Chahta-Shikar) and pluck all lotus flowers.
On reaching Nishat Garden our Dunga was moored at “wounta-kadal”- the hump shaped bridge.
Z.G.Muhammad is a noted writer and columnist