The Shadow - Chapter Four

"Murderer!" The girl echoed staring at Karan in horror. "Yes," thought Karan grimly, "I am used to this kind of reaction. And as a myriad of expressions flitted across the girl's face, Karan thought back to that horrible day five years ago.

January 30, 2009: 3:30 am


The wind gustily billowed at the undulating white sands spread like a pristine white sheet across the vast desert. And as the grains of sand stirred in chaotic frenzy, the sands of time ushered in a new chapter of bloody mayhem at the Udaya Fort Palace Resort in Agarpur, in Rajasthan.

Three shots in quick staccato ricocheted through the air, slicing the stillness of the pitch black night with the cutting sharpness of a serrated knife. The guards manning the magnificent gates of the Udaya fort palace briefly wondered if the sound was of crackers or a car's silencer backfiring in the distant highway. But the highway was too far off for the guards to hear any sounds of vehicles.

Of course, it could be one of those frequent explosive arguments between the hot-blooded members of the royal family - They were legendary for their 'slang'ing matches… but shots at the Fort Palace?

… Suddenly, anguished, panic stricken screams, yells and loud voices rent the air, disturbing the peace once again. They were stilled into silence by the sound of gunshots going rat-at-tat once again and this time, it went on non-stop for at least 2 minutes. The sound had come from the direction of the royal suite and the guards rushed upstairs almost in unison, clambering up the ornate staircase well-lit by neon lights at each baluster in files. At each landing, they passed regal paintings of men and women dressed in princely garb, obviously kings and queens of the past that had lorded this very old palace. But the guards didn't bother to look at the opulent ambience, instead rushed frantically upstairs. At the Maharajah's door, they briefly stopped - even in desperate times; proper protocol was to be maintained. The personnel at the Fort Palace still stuck to decorum followed 500 years back.

…Built in the 16th century, the Fort Palace was considered the most formidable and magnificent fort in Rajasthan. Rao Jodha Saxena founded it in 1459 but subsequent rulers of Jodhpur added to its splendor over the centuries. Battle scarred by the gory violence of the past, one could still see evidence of canon ball attacks by marauding armies on the second gate. Beyond the left side of the tall walls of the fort; acres and acres of austere desert sand lay dangerously silent waiting in anticipation of an impending storm. On the other side of the fort, there was a sprawling dark forest called Rajouri or 'Death Jungle' fearfully coined by the local population - People whispered that 'he who entered the Death Jungle never returned'. In front of the fort, a meandering road with serpentine curves, rose and dipped precariously to the main city, 65 kms below.

The fort palace, with its looming arched gateways lead to a central compound and all the rooms opened into this compound. Inside the fort, the rooms were opulent with a collection of treasure troves of yore. No wonder, it was bought over by one of the leading hotelier groups of India and turned into a seven star resort. Incidentally, it had even been listed as one of the most beautiful holiday spots in the world by the Travel and Living channel.

The royal family headed by the current Maharajah Anand Saxena, his wife Maharani Savita and their three daughters and their husbands still lived in the palace in different wings that was closed to the public.

The Maharajah's son, Crown Prince Karan Saxena was a film star and was even called 'India's Favourite Lover Boy' by the magazine of the elite 'Vanity Fair'. A couple of years back, he had married the former Miss Universe, Sasha Ali. The royal wedding was called by all lthe uxe magazines as the 'wedding of the decade'.

Within a year, Sasha had given birth to a baby and the entire state rejoiced, amidst spectacular fireworks, crackers and drumbeats. Currently, the entire royal family was all gathered together at the Fort Palace along with Karan's cousin and best friend, the illustrious lawyer Vijay Aditya, to celebrate the Maharajah's 65 th birthday. The residents of the state claimed this would be one occasion that would be remembered for decades. And so it was… though for different reasons!