The only daughter of the most influential priest in Kalinjar peeked out of the first-floor window of her father’s mansion. A group of Brahmin men in lightly colored turbans, white kurta, and dhoti were bidding her family goodbye. The negotiations around her upcoming marriage had gone well. She thought so, because her father, Panditji, looked pleased. By all accounts, her future husband was a very handsome man, although she would not see him until the day of the wedding.
Soon the horse-drawn carriages carrying the men disappeared into the distance. Her father’s heavy steps on the stairwell became louder.
“Lakshmi, I think I have finally found the right man for my precious girl,” said Panditji.
“As long as you think he will keep me happy, Baba. And I hope everyone agreed that I can continue to stay here in Kalinjar?” she asked anxiously.
Panditji took a deep breath. Keeping married daughters at their parental home was frowned upon. Lakshmi’s voice became almost grating when she tried to push forth requests she knew were unreasonable. Perhaps it was his fault; he had often in jest said that he would never allow her out of his sight even after marriage. He had indulged her whims, large and small.
This man is perfect though, thought Panditji. Despite his humble beginnings, Mahesh Das showed great promise. At age twenty-two, he had already worked at two very respectable courts. Panditji picked Mahesh, a talented singer and poet, as his son in law at first sight, and easily convinced his patron king, the Raja of Rewa, to hire Mahesh.
“Baba, you know how much I like our wooded property near the river? That is where I plan to build a house and raise my children. It would be a great wedding gift for me!”
Lakshmi knew what she wanted. Her father was a wealthy man, but the piece of prime property she had her eyes on had always been intended for her oldest brother. Panditji quickly changed the topic.
“Did you see the man wearing a blue turban? That was Mahesh’s uncle, a renowned astrologer who raised Mahesh after his father died. We both noticed something troubling when we tried to match your horoscopes,” said Panditji.
Lakshmi looked annoyed. Her father’s pickiness had thwarted her desire to become the first among the cousins in her family to get married. And now she was almost the last one.
“Unless there is a big dosha, and one of us is going to die because of the marriage, I would rather go ahead,” she replied tartly.
Panditji assured her that no one would die; in fact, Mahesh had great success written in his stars. But what worried him was an unusual planetary combination in Mahesh’s birth chart—his life would change, maybe he would discover a powerful love in his forties that would, well . . . have unexpected consequences.
“Are you saying that he will marry another woman twenty years from now, Baba?” asked Lakshmi.
“It is not as simple as that. And the stars could be wrong . . . you know that prominent Hindu men are allowed a second wife with the king’s permission. But . . . nothing is set in stone. It all depends on you,” he said, gently placing his hand over her head.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“Once married, I am sure you can make him promise you that he will not take another wife. One thing I can say of Mahesh: He is a man of true honor. He will always keep his word,” said Panditji.
A sly smile appeared on her lips. She was glad her father had warned her. She did not like sharing things, least of all her husband, whether the law permitted it or not.
After her father left, she broke off a sprig of purple flowers from the potted tulsi plant that adorned her balcony. She muttered a prayer to Lord Shiva, the deity of the temple of Kalinjar. A gust of strong wind blew the tulsi out of her hand, tossing it into the air before she completed her shloka.
Lakshmi watched it become a speck between the branches of rosewood trees and then wondered if her father would grant her the property that stood beyond those trees.
Half a mile away, at the edge of a forest, a young girl picked up the purple flowers the wind had dropped at her feet.
“Look Bapu, where did this come from?”
The girl and her father were returning with other fellow pilgrims to the neighboring kingdom of Gondwana.
Her father looked at the skies and frowned. The sacred tulsi plant did not grow in the wilderness.
“It’s a sign,” he said with a tinge of sadness. She was too small to understand the story of the tulsi plant—the story of unattainable love.
The girl carefully placed it in a box that held her most precious possession to date: two coral bangles and a variety of wildflowers in various stages of drying up. She started humming a song to herself.
“What are you singing Radha?” asked her father.
“That song we heard at the court last week. It’s stuck in my head—I can’t make it go away,” she replied.
“Maybe it’s stuck for a reason,” replied her father.
“Maybe it is . . .” her voice trailed in the breeze as she raced after a spotted blue butterfly.