The loo* blew taking along with it a flurry of sand and Dhani pulled her odhani* and covered her eyes hastily.

“Kathe reh gayi” *, Manu bai questioned as she helped her put down the three pitchers of water that Dhani had been carrying.

Dhani adjusted her kanchli* and sprawled on the ground. It was an ordeal each day to bring water meandering through the hot sand. The dry and arid land stood in contrast to the variegated attire and persona of the people of this small desert village in Rajasthan.

For Dhani it was home. It was amidst these tawny terrains of Kuldhara village that she transformed from a little girl to an alluring beauty. “Roop (Beauty) has its consequences”, her mother Manu bai would often tell a naïve Dhani.

The Palliwal Brahmins lived in the village and led an uneventful life.

Salim Khan was a man who was abhorred by one and all. He was an unscrupulous fellow and the Palliwals swore at the sight of him. He was the Diwan* and he would levy heavy taxes on their produce.

Isn’t it perplexing as to how a singular moment can change the course of life for someone?

There was stillness in the air. Dhani was merrily treading the dusty lane with two of her friends. Their colouful odhanis shone in the scorching rays of the sun and the mirrors reflected back prismatic hues.

Just then they saw Salim khan, who sat on his camel like a king sits on his throne- majestic and with an air of arrogance. Their eyes met for some fleeting seconds. Dhani felt shivers run down her spine.

Then, it happened.

The village Sarpanch called Dhani and her mother to his small haveli*. Manu bai was apprehensive and wondered why the Sarpanch had beckoned them.

“Manu bai , Salim Khan came today. He wants Dhani. If we do not concede, then God help us. He threatened to levy more taxes and make our lives a living hell”, Sarpanch sa spoke with an urgency.

“What will we do Sarpanch sa”, Manu bai exclaimed and her voice trailed as she looked at her daughter.

“Sometimes there is no happy choice Manu bai, only one less grievous than the others”, Sarpanch said decisively.

The next day as the sun emanated its first rays on the Kuldhara village, something was awry.

The village stood gaunt and abandoned. The villagers had made a choice. In the stillness of the night thousands of them left the village- their home.

************

Today, centuries have passed. But, the dilapidated ruins of Kuldhara are a sight to behold and a major tourist attraction.

Dhani meanders through the decrepit alleys of her home. It is a sacred place for her- A place where her own people stood for her honour.

If only they did not have to make a choice!

A group of tourists walk towards the relics.

“Did you see a shadow”, one of them shouts.

Dhani disappears in thin air.

Glossary:

Loo- Loo is a strong, dusty, gusty, hot and dry summer wind.

Odhani- Piece of cloth worn by Rajasthani women over their head.

Kathe reh gayi- Where were you?

Kanchli- Blouse/shirt worn by Rajasthani women.

Diwan- Chief Treasury Officer

Haveli- Mansion

This story is based on the myth of Kuldhara ruins in Jaisalmer (Rajasthan).

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The above story is an entry into #TheChoice a Five00-6 entry.
Check out event guidelines here: https://artoonsinn.com/five00-6/

Check out Meha’s space here: https://artoonsinn.com/author/meha-sharma/

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Thanks for reading.

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