Noor’s kohl rimmed eyes followed Haider everywhere. He would get up early at dawn for his work. Her furtive gaze was interspersed with blushes as he made his way around her palatial house to the artisan’s camp. Haider knew Noor was a woman any man would dream to be with. Her sublime beauty can only be rivalled by the purity of her heart. He knew in his heart that he loved her. However it was a desire beyond his reach. He was a bonded slave who pledged his life and work to the emperor. Love and marriage are seen as deterrents to his work and are forbidden. Ever since he turned down her advances, their love was reduced to silent gazes and an unfulfilled dream.
Haider was exceptionally gifted with a prodigious talent for architecture and design of forts and monuments. He earned a high reputation among his peers and worked directly under master architect of the Royal Emperor. He was present in the Court hall on the day when the Emperor unveiled his grand plan and vision for a new monument in the capital city. It was unprecedented and required the best artisans and craftsman of its times. Haider saw it as an opportunity and worked on it sleeplessly for months. The designs were personally selected by the Emperor who was impressed with Haider. He granted him a direct audience one day and appreciated his work. However the Emperor said that his designs were inspired and wanted something original and breath-taking. He was given a month to complete this task.
Haider was disappointed and spent several days at his study working on the new design. After a few days he knew he was struggling. He would hide himself in his house without food or water for days. He teared apart his designs which were either inspired or clichéd and was desperate looking for new ideas. Time was running out.
Noor couldn’t see Haider for many days and was worried. One day when she saw him in the bazaar, she went quickly and confronted him. His face was pale and lifeless. She asked what is bothering him but he wouldn’t answer. She kept following and pestered him with questions. He then pulled her into a desolate street and warned her not to look for him again. She exclaimed that she loved him and will continue to love him. He saw her fierce and deep gaze and was astounded by the intensity of her love. He then steadied himself to tell her the truth. “I am a Hindu by birth. I was an artisan in the neighbouring kingdom which was annexed by the Emperor. I was enslaved and was forced to convert to Islam”, he said controlled his anger and tears. “I cannot afford to love and live a life of my own. Now tell me if you still love me?” She was stunned into silence with tears running down her face. Haider left her and walked in dejection to his house.
The last day approached for Haider to prove his worth. Disillusioned by his failure and devastated by his love, he was spiralling into self-destruction. He drank all the opium he could get and his head was spinning beyond control. He dropped down in his study, shut his eyes and ears and tried to block his pain. Just when it was becoming unbearable, she came like a dream. Noor’s uncovered face was shining like moonlight and her eyes were like the deep recesses of the night. He never saw her this close and was enthralled by her pristine beauty. She lifted him out of his darkness and placed him on his bed. She laid beside him and kissed him gently on his head. He took her into his arms and they made love to each other passionately. He wasn’t sure whether this is a dream. The experience was transcendental taking him into the very edge of light and darkness. He remembered his work suddenly. In a flash of brilliance her hand joined his and the design drew itself on paper. Ideas were flowing like a river from their confluence and could not be contained by the limitations of his mind. He then fell into a dreamless sleep.
Haider woke up next morning hardly remembering anything. To his shock there were the design of the monument hand-drawn during the night. He studied it and was shocked by the beauty of the design. He rushed to the palace chambers. The Emperor hailed his extraordinary vision and brilliance. He claimed that this would be an unparalleled wonder in history and would make him immortal for ages to come. He then decided that the building of the monument would begin immediately. The best builders, artisans and masons from all over the world were brought in to work for this monument.
Haider’s popularity grew and he became a legend across the kingdom. However all this unwanted attention made him lonelier by the day. His heart was beating for Noor and he was longing to see her again. He was ordered by the Emperor to stay at the camp site of the monument and oversee the construction. However he had made up his mind. One night he sneaked into Noor’s house and woke her gently. She was startled to see him by her bed and cried with joy. They hugged and comforted each other. He exclaimed that they will have to leave this place if they wish to live together. Both of them agreed and he made an elaborate plan to escape from the city. He asked her to meet him on the next full moon night at the dungeons on the outskirts of the city. Meanwhile he would make arrangements for their travel. He kissed Noor goodbye and left.
The full moon was up and high by the time Noor slipped out of her house. Her heart was beating loudly with hope and trepidation as she walked to the edge of the city. She found the narrow passage way and went down the stairs like he told. She carried a torch aloft as went further into the dungeons. There she waited for Haider to come. Hours passed without a trace of him. She searched for him in the tunnels calling out his name in vain. Soon her torch went out and she lay in pitch darkness. Her thoughts ran wild and anxiety overcame her senses. She did not know how she had ended up in this place. She had done everything right and she did not deserve this. Yet, here she was, in the dark dungeon that stank of stale urine and sweat. She never thought he would betray her like this. Then she broke down and cried her heart out. After a while, dawn broke through and beams of light showed the way out. She regained her composure and walked out of the place. She looked around for him one last time and went back desolately to her house.
Noor waited as days passed by without a word from Haider. She was held captive by her thoughts. “Did he betray her? Did something happen to him?” She couldn’t dare to face that reality. She withdrew herself into a shell and hardly smiled or spoke. Clinging on to hope she went again to the dungeons on the next full moon night but couldn’t find Haider. She returned crestfallen and the cycle repeated every month. She waited stubbornly drawing strength and resolve from her love. Months and years passed. Time marched on relentlessly. Yet there was no sign of respite for the pain and longing of Noor. She refused to get married and joined an orthodox religious sect. She spent her days in prayer and reflection. But she never gave up hope. For twenty years, Noor went to the dungeons every full moon night and waited for her love in vain. Haider seemed to have belonged to another life now. Her days of happiness were a distant dream. She was now old and withered and was slowly passing into memory.
However one full moon day when was about to turn back she heard a faint sound in the dungeons. She walked further hoping against hope. She turned into a corner and saw an old emaciated man lying on the floor. She quickly ran and turned him over. She saw Haider and yelled in shock. His thickly bearded face was covered with wounds and wrinkles. His legs were bound by chains. She held him close as years of pain melted into tears. He saw her face and smiled weakly. Each breath of his was taking its toll on his body and he knew he was dying. He summoned his strength and told her that he was imprisoned the day he met her 20 years back. The Emperor decreed that an architect like Haider cannot be left free to design any other monument in the future as it would belittle his present creation. He then sentenced Haider to life time imprisonment turning a deaf ear to his pleas for mercy. His life was wasted away in prison for two decades. Yet he stayed alive hoping for one last chance to meet his love. He was released as neared his end and he struggled his way to the dungeons which stood directly beneath the prison. Saying this he went quiet. Both of them shared a moment of peace and happiness together. Then Haider asked Noor to take him outside to see his creation before he died.
Noor steadied herself and helped him out of the dungeons. They slowly made their way to the banks of the river Yamuna. The now finished Taj Mahal stood on the opposite bank resplendent in all its glory. It shone pearly white under the full moon adding to its aura and magnificence. Haider and Noor looked at it in awe. “If there was ever a heaven, this is it.” whispered Haider as he breathed his last in the arms of Noor.
30 years from now, in the year 2050
Background: This story is set in the near future in a developing country like India/China/Brazil. The population has grown in huge numbers and spiraled out of control causing a severe scarcity of food, water and energy. The global warming and carbon foot print levels have gone up rapidly turning earth unsustainable to survive. There is a major crisis affecting the population and the government is overthrown and an authoritarian (dictatorship) government controlled by the military comes into power. In order to protect the people and the environment, and to make the population more sustainable, they immediately order the forced sterilization of all men and women so that they cannot reproduce and bring new babies into the burgeoning society. Especially women (who are physically weak) are forced in huge numbers in small camps all over the country for forced and mass sterilization. There are violent protests all around against this barbaric measure but the military uses force to dispel all the rebellion.
20 years later i.e. in 2070
There is a young tribal girl, an illegitimate child born on the day when the sterilization order was passed. She has no birth records and there is no record of her parents. Hence she is missing from all the government records and she is left untouched and unharmed. She is not sent to any of the camps for sterilization and grows up in fond memory of her mother before she died. All she remembers from her childhood is her mother's stories, warmth and love. And she aspires to become a mother one day in this strife torn world. She keeps this secret to herself and struggles hard to make a living in the city, by selling wild berries which are edible and makeup for the insufficient regular food. She knows it is 20 years since anyone in the world has become pregnant, anyone has seen a child being born and that it is illegal, with punishment by death. Meanwhile the government rations meager amount of food and oil to each family (on the condition that it is sterilized) though stringently monitored records.
A civil war kind of situation prevails in the country with open revolts and protests in the streets often turning bloody and violent. And during one of the riots by an unruly mob she almost gets killed in the cross fire and is rescued by a soldier who works for the military backed government. This soldier is a good-natured and kind-hearted person. Realizing that she is an orphan, he lets her stay with him until she recovers from her injuries. They stay together and eventually fall in love with each other over a number of days. Though marriages do not happen in the existing state of crisis, they exchange vows to remain together for life before a priest. Briefly they both share days filled with love and happiness.
She gets pregnant after a year. After spending many days silently in fear and suffering, she reveals her greatest secret to her husband that she can conceive. That she is pregnant with a child, their child. He is shocked to hear that and initially he resists her and urges her to undergo abortion secretly with the help of a doctor friend. He tries to convince her that punishment for illegal pregnancy is death, and even if they
are not caught their food supplies would be cut and they will be never able to raise their child in the current situation. She begs, cries and tries to convince him that this is what she wanted all her life, to become a mother and experience motherhood. Slowly as the months progress she feels the first signs of life in her bosom. She cries with happiness and shows it to him and he feels it too and they experience a mix of emotions. However they hug each other in pure joy and they decide that it is a cause worth fighting for. They have to survive for 9 months first.
He skips his government duties, stays at home and takes care of her. There are informants of the government all around the place and they are gradually targeted and spied upon. Suspicions start growing in the local community and some of notice the lump in the womanʼs belly. The couple soon realizes that they cannot stay in the city and they decide to go into hiding. Since no hospital is there to deliver the baby, she has to conceive naturally and they hope there would be no complications. They travel continuously along the country side covering her stomach all the time, without staying in any place for more than a few days. Her husband always stays with her and protects her all along. But when two months are left for delivery the bulge in the stomach becomes too big to hide.
Then she asks him to take her to her native tribal village which is surrounded by dense forest in the mountains. He agrees and takes her slowly to that place with lot of pain. Her native people seeing her state are moved to tears and worship her like a goddess. They pray for her and take good care of her. She is the girl to become pregnant in 25 years now. Slowly the news spreads like wildfire all across the country. The government fearing another major rebellion wants to crush this before it spreads too far. So they order a military strike on the tribal village to take the hiding couple into custody. Finally the 9th month comes and the woman is experiencing severe pains. There are a couple of old mid wives attending to her. Her husband decides to fight along with the tribal people and hold off the military forces for as much time as possible. He looks at her lovingly, touches her forehead tenderly, kisses their unborn baby and leaves her side. He fights bravely along with the tribal people but the military force is too great to hold back. Wave after wave of attacks hit them and he gets critically injured in the ensuing fight. He fights till his last breath and succumbs to his injuries. Then the baby is born with her cries tearing apart the silence of the forest. The woman comes out of the village in search of her husband carrying the baby in her arms. The soldiers are awestruck seeing the new born baby. All of them stare in shock and wonder at the beauty of it. They cannot harm her though they are ordered to do so. The woman sees her dead husband lying on the ground and grieves over his immobile body. The baby cries as if in mourning for all the death surrounding her. The head of the military forces comes forward and sympathizes with her. He takes the baby into his arms and holds her up against the shining night sky. The baby stops crying.
After a few days the baby and the mother are shown in a medical facility run by the government specially created for incubation and care of new born babies, bringing in a new revolution in the country. The baby smiles and giggles sleeping alongside her mother. The woman is singing a lullaby which her mother used to sing to her years ago.