The cottage in the grove

Rajgarh Palace, 1873

The little girl was sitting under her favourite tree in the tamarind grove.

She wasn’t allowed to be here. The tamarind grove was forbidden to everyone but the Maharaja of Rajgarh and whichever woman he chose to bring to the special cottage within the grove.

From her spot under the tree, she could see directly into the cottage. But she had learnt the hard way that it was best to keep quiet about what she saw there, for no one liked a sneak. The last time that she had blabbed about what she had seen there, her father had slapped her mother right across the face. And in turn, her mother had whipped her for carrying tales.

The little girl rubbed her back restlessly against the bark of the big tree. Her back was still healing from the whipping and the scabs itched before they fell off.

She lined up her dolls on the ground in front of her, wondering which one of them could be married off to the gardener’s son’s boy doll. That is if she could convince the fool to follow her orders. He only ever wanted to send his boy dolls to war. Against the angrez, no less. As if anyone could win a war against the angrez.

She sighed over the stupidity of boys and decided that today she would play a different game—a game called murder.

She placed a tiny but sturdy twig in the hand of her favourite doll, Gehna, and lifted the little hand to stab her least favourite doll right in the neck. Over and over again, until the cotton stuffing fell out of the victim’s neck.

When the doll was destroyed entirely beyond mending, the little girl shook her head.

“You’re such a savage little doll, Gehna. You must learn to control that vile temper,” she crooned.

Just then, she heard voices coming towards her. One of them was her mother’s.

There was a lot of begging and pleading.

“Please let me go. I’ll take my child and go away. You will never see me again.”

And then there were no words. Only the sound of lathis striking a body followed cries of anguish. And that awful mocking laughter.

The little girl covered her ears to shut out the screaming and peeked out fearfully from behind the tree.

Photo by Vlad Bagacian: Pexels.com

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