Ranjan Sen’s short story captures a historic moment in South Asian history leaving the reader thinking.
I awoke with a start, my heart thudding.
A bulky silhouette loomed in the semi-dark above me, odd shafts of lamplight bouncing off his gold chains, creating shifting shadows around his deep-set eyes and his thick, black oiled moustache.
“Wake up… ! It is a vital matter, come now…” Finance Minister Brihadrath said in a low, urgent voice, shaking my shoulder.
I blinked, confused. My servant Kurnoo stood at the foot of my bed, holding a candle aloft, his eyelids heavy with slumber and ringed by fear. The sound of battle staffs being bounced on the road by the night watch outside accompanied the calling of the time – it was the third prahar, the darkest part of the night.
My throat constricted with anxiety as a memory crept unbidden across my mind’s eye.
It had occurred barely a month ago…
…when the noble Brihadrath had complained to the Mantrimandal that the Empire’s tax revenues were down, I had gently highlighted that the common people were measurably wealthier, that commerce with the Southern kingdoms had grown manifold, hence the tax revenues should have grown as well.