During the next week or so, The Broad decreed that Kunwar, Zafar, Mahnoor and I had to take Alpha Male sightseeing. I was a little impressed with his knowledge of the area, actually his knowledge about a lot of things. He was well read and well-travelled. I felt extremely jealous. He’d been to all the places I’d only read about—one more reason to incinerate him.
‘It’s a beautiful place to grow up in. So vast, with so much history and most of it linked to your family. What does it feel like, knowing you come from such a name? You’re practically royalty aren’t you? So the pressures must be great too.’
How many people would have thought to ask that? Or realized that? I refused to give him any grace marks though.
I shrugged nonchalantly and replied as off-handedly as I could, ‘It’s mostly my grandmother who’s at the receiving end of that same reverence. She’s the widow of the last Nawab of Jalalabad. She’s been the symbol of the ruling family. She saw the army merge with the State’s, the accession go through, and the seat abrogated. She doesn’t miss it. She still fights for the people when she feels she has to. I was born after it all changed. I see it as a chapter of history rather than a chapter of my life. I’m not affected by it so much.’
He looked at me thoughtfully, seriously.
‘You don’t think of it as a privileged life do you? For you, it’s just your life.’
He had a point but what he was actually trying to say was that I was lucky and didn’t know it. Why did he make me feel as if he knew more about me than I did myself? What a ridiculous thought, I countered immediately. Of course he didn’t know me at all. Just for making me think like that, and messing with my head, I gave him a withering look and sauntered over to Kunwar’s side. I saw from the corner of my eye that his face darkened a little. He didn’t follow me.
Whenever he tried to talk to me, we ended up sparring with each other. I threw literary insults at him, which he understood immediately and countered with his own horrible observations about me and my ‘pampered life style’.
The rub was that on reflection I realized that more often than not he was right. That made me think that despite all her strictness, The Broad had never found fault with me in any way. She pushed me to do my best and whatever I was, she’d accepted as being, well, the best. I’d never had any complaints about my behavior from any one until Alpha Male came along. He didn’t have any illusions about me and that stung for some strange and unfathomable reason.
Then one day The Broad called me to her boudoir, which meant trouble. It was only when she wanted to emotionally blackmail me, which was seldom because she had so many other ways of torturing me, that I was ‘summoned’ to her lair. So I was prepared.
‘Chandni, I am getting old.’
Lights, camera, action, I thought yawning mentally.
‘I won’t be here forever.’
Why! Did Satan dump ya’ll? No more livin’ together forever and ever?
‘It is time to think of your future realistically. So I have decided that you should marry now.’
Now we’re talking! I’m all attention and obedient little Pakistani girl, willing to get married and have children—lots and lots of dark skinned, hazel eyed children. Mm’mmm.
‘The only two choices we have are Cousin Rania’s son…’
Yeah, sure. Cousin Rania’s son is a dumbass and ugly to boot.
Silence of the lambs. Bakra eid is too far away and I’m no lamb, you wily old Broad. Taimur as in Evil Moriarty a.k.a. Alpha Male. I’d known it all along.
I ventured hesitantly, ‘Bi Amma, I don’t like him. He has a hundred girlfriends. I’m sure he doesn’t want to marry an over-protected prude like me.’
‘Nonsense. He is very traditional and does not appreciate girls throwing themselves at him.’
Zeenat Mahal was born in Lahore, Pakistan and grew up in that city of gardens, and saints, shrines and Sufis. She absolutely loves reading and writing romances and cannot resist paranormal and historical romances. She enjoys reading fantasy, literary fiction and children’s literature as well. She’s been published in online literary magazines like The Missing Slate and Running Out of Ink. She also writes as Faiqa Mansab. That’s a name she uses for her darker endeavours concerning realism. Zeenat Mahal is her nom de plume. Zeenat’s third novella Thank you, he’s for me, will be coming out in March, 2014. She has three gorgeous sons, with whom she lives in Kingston Upon Thames, UK. She’s doing the MFA in creative writing from Kingston University London.
Haveli is available at the following sources: