The first time Veeresh saw her, he learned what a true heartbeat was. It was more than two years before he would find himself in a prison. The son of the city’s wealthiest man was getting married to a girl from a highly respected family and nearly every townsperson was in attendance. Dressed in their finest garments, men wore bright-colored sherwanis. The heavy fabrics had the presence of a lining and were a cross between the British frock coat and Indian kameez. Alongside their male companions, women were covered in vibrant shalwar kameezes or saris. Their garments came in many colors and sizes. Some were heavy while others were light.
The groom’s family owned a large three-story complex where the entire family from the great-grandfather to the great-grandchildren lived. It was the largest home within a hundred mile radius of Bhagwanpur. The red-bricked building could be seen for miles around and its architecture was something to be marveled at. It reminded many of the palaces of old.
The festivities were being held in an open field next to the complex. Red, green, and gold tents and canopies had been set up throughout the grounds, protecting the wedding’s guests from the evening sun. The largest canopy, a red and gold patterned one, was set up in the center of the fields. The last marriage ceremony, the Saptapadi, had been performed under it only hours ago. The fire that the groom and bride had circled seven times still burned and its thin line of smoke continued to rise into the air.
A professional band played joyous music in the field, using a variety of instruments ranging from stringed instruments to aerophones to drums. But the two most prominent were the drum-like dholka and tabla. The musicians expertly beat upon them and their sounds could be heard in every corner of the field.
Children could be seen running around the tents and dodging the adults as they chased one another. To them, this was the highlight of the wedding. Their laughter filled the air as they played their games. Their jubilant voices were so loud that they rivaled the music.
Women wore the decorative henna on their hands and the younger ladies took every opportunity to compare their temporary body art with one another. After all, whomever had the better design would have bragging rights until the next occasion. Older woman all spoke of the new couple and surmised what their thoughts were. They guessed whether the first child would be a son or a daughter. And as they did at every wedding, they tried to predict which eligible singles would be next in line for marriage.
Men spoke with one another of politics. Tensions had been escalating between the Company and the people of India. Some spoke of revolution, but most did not believe it would come to that. At least not in their lifetimes.
Over the last century, blissful occasions like this had become rarer and rarer. People could not afford lavish ceremonies such as this and the ones that could were not willing to do so. After all, it had not been long ago that countless Biharis were forced to migrate to the West Indian islands as indentured servants. And at the root of all the chaos was the misrule of the Company and Crown.
But today, that was on nobody’s mind.
Veeresh was well-groomed for the function. His cheeks and chin was cleanly shaven. The only facial hair he wore was the traditional Brahmin mustache. He wore a light brown outfit with loose, white trousers that covered him to his ankles. After witnessing the ceremony, he chose to go to the complex like many of the men. He was not one who enjoyed being in the middle of a celebration. Instead, he preferred to be outside-looking-in. With his hands behind his back, the handsome and well-spoken man walked along the balcony of the third floor as he looked down at the function below. He could see the entire thing in one glance from his high vantage point. Although he was a man of eloquence, he was not one to start a conversation. He was an observer. Many described him as a man of quiet strength.
As he passed by numerous people, they all spoke their greetings to him and he returned them with respect. Every person in the town recognized Veeresh, but it was not just because he was one of the strongest and tallest men in the city. Instead, it was because he was a man who many youth aspired to be and a person who many elders even looked at with reverence.
His eyes came back onto the scene on the ground floor. It seemed that there was more excitement as the day went on. Men mingled with men and women mingled with women. Outside of the children, there was not traditionally much interaction between the people of opposite genders.
And it was here, at this point, that he saw her beautiful face.
When he first laid eyes on her, she was smiling and laughing. Dressed in a vibrant, yellow outfit that covered her slender figure, each lock of her long black hair seemed to fall perfectly into place. Her face was fairer and lighter than any other person’s just as his was. She appeared to be a few years younger than he. She was surrounded by other girls her age and younger. Their laughter filled the air and drowned out the music at times. However, he could make out her pretty laughter above the rest. Its sweet sound filled every inch of his heart and he felt his heart rate start to accelerate.
But the thing he saw most was her eyes.
They were the eyes of beauty and innocence. Almond shaped, the brown eyes had a hint of yellow in them. It was seeing them that Veeresh knew what perfection really was.
His gaze remained on her as she moved her hands through the air in excitement and spoke to her peers. As she turned her head to look from one companion to the next, her hair moved flawlessly. Her eyes held so much excitement and happiness. Veeresh was not sure how long he spent looking down and marveling at her beauty and perfection. It may have been minutes. A slight smile formed at the corners of his lips without his knowing. He became lost in her. Lost in her movements. Lost in her voice. Lost in the sight of her.
Another girl began to speak and they all looked at her, including the girl. But her eyes did not stay there for long. Feeling his gaze, she slowly looked up and saw him high above her.
And for the first time, their eyes met.
"The chapter on 1857 reflects so accurately the depth of despair of Indian masses and the nerves the revolutionaries held through the extreme torture. The description looked so real and so painful that I had to take breaks. The language has an amazing simplicity in making deep emotions come alive. Its natural flow keeps you bound. In utter darkness, the way it portrays the protagonist's thought process, how he bears all that torture with the sparks of memory of his wife, and at times his countrymen, is absorbing. I have read very few novels and those too in my mother tongue Hindustani (mix of Urdu and Hindi). This is the first one in English. Ammar made me feel as if I am reading something in my mother tongue. He is so young yet he reveals a genius of portraying the mind of people in the middle of a tough struggle." -Dr. Vipin Tripathi