I Walked Alone
I have a very faded memory of my birth—my mother and my father. They say I opened my eyes on the stairs of a temple—Ardhnarishwar temple, abode of Shiva and Parvati. My first cries were answered by Swamiji, the chief priest of the temple, and since then I became his son—an adopted son. But I prefer to be called as his disciple—a truly devoted disciple, who could die on the commands of his Guru. I looked up to him like Arjun to Drona. I followed him like Aruni to Dhaumya. I trusted him like Chandragupta to Chanakya. He was everything to me—my mother, my father, my mentor, and my protector.
The seasons were changing with the rolling wheel of time but unlike other disciples in gurukul, my experiences with the world were unusual. My likings were different from those of other students. I was delicate. I felt fragile. I participated in the weapon learnings but didn’t have keen interest. I was more interested in music and loved singing the bhajans in the temple. My body had strange features. When my friends were developing stubble on their faces, I had no sign of hair on my body. I tried to change and behave like the world expected but couldn’t. There was something not right—just difficult to tell. Aloof. Isolated. I devoted myself in the bhakti of lord of the temple – the Ardhnarishwar. The only image I could relate to.
That was the time when Dilli had recently seen the power shift. Sultan Jalaluddin was killed by his own nephew Alauddin who took over the throne. The dynamics of power was changing gears. The power tussle was demonstrated by new Sultan with fast expansion of dominion while in a secluded temple I was struggling with my own life.
Sultan’s lust for power brought him to the realm of Gurjars, the place where I was trying to find my identity.
The commanders of Sultan reached our land. Brick by brick, stone by stone, they showed the hounding views of devastation. They plundered wealth, they looted the dignity, and soon the entire village turned into the landfill of flesh and bones. Their army wasn’t far from the temple and Swamiji wasn’t ready to leave the place. The abode of the lord had been his home for entire life, and he didn’t want to run away to save his life. He decided to stay… stay and fight. And so, did I.
Hundreds of men, sloganeering, to kill and loot, to destroy and plunder on the name of their supreme power, shrouded the temple, blocking every possible route to escape. They were in hundreds, armed, vicious, and fatal. I shouted for help, but the cries surrendered before the demonic laughter and neighing of hundreds of horses. I prayed, I cried, but pleadings were ridiculed, and my presence mocked. The fourteen-year-old me stood there exposed, and gullible.
Days later, I opened my eyes, only to realize that I was not dead, but entered the hell. I was lying in a dungeon, chained, and in pain. “How many days?”, I muttered. “Fifteen…” came the reply. I didn’t know whose voice it was, but the sneering tone continued, “You are now ready to brighten the harem of Sultan…”
“Wait… ready for what…” I asked in crumbling tone. Guffawingly, he went away. Soon you will know, I heard his last words before I realized the pain struck my lower body. I heaved heavily, mustered strength to unchain myself but the destiny had planned many dark nights for me.
I was standing before the most powerful man of the land in his inner apartment lit with hundreds of lamps. A pungent smell of soured grapes mixed with smoke of powerful incense was penetrating through my nostrils. Feast was being served when he signalled me to lift the tumbler full of wine and fill his silver pitcher. His crown decked with precious gems was shining bright in the reflection of hundreds of lamps. Tens of young girls were sitting around, few singing, few playing instruments and remaining serving food in a gigantic plate kept in front of him.
I walked closer to him with my trembling fingers holding the tumbler. “Pour…” he roared. I shrunk. Seemed the earth below me slipped. He gulped the red liquid in one breath and asked to fill his pitcher again. I stood there and continued following his commands numbly.
He was done drinking and asked to dim the lights. A lot of lamps were doused, and smoke filled the room. He asked me to sit next to him. I sat. He put his hand on my shoulder and started rubbing my back gently. Affrighted, I had no clue how to react. Like a lamb, I was cowed in the paws of a giant tiger, and he continue scratching my back layer by layer.
He yanked the ties on my gown, revealing my skin in front of him. He looked at me, his stare piercing each pore of my open skin as he ran his fingers over it. His rough fingers grasped my body, penetrating it like a dagger. He moved his hands all over—all over my destroyed boyhood—as he got closer to my waist. My eyes roused and melted the agony I had been experiencing for days. He drew me in, unfastened his dress, and pressed his body against my small frame. I sobbed in agony, and he relished every moment of it. He licked my tears and nipped my cheeks with his tongue poking into my face. I couldn’t do anything but bear the brutality silently.
I never felt so weak before. I begged for mercy, but he had no ears. He continued his act of fulfilling his carnal desires and I was his prey for the night. I don’t remember for how long the struggle lasted before I surrendered to his lasciviousness.
I woke up naked next to a naked man. I saw his sword lying next to him. I felt like killing the demon who had destroyed my life. I lifted my body and careered to grasp the sword. But before I could reach the sharp metal, he turned and kicked me away. I rolled on the floor gasping for air. In a blink of an eye, he roused lifted the sword and kept it on my neck. A snip and my head would have been rolling on the floor. Wasting no second, I shouted, “Sultan… I am your slave. Mercy… please don’t kill me.”
He guffawed. The whole apartment was filled with his demonic laughter. He walked two steps back, keeping his sword in the leather sheath and spoke mildly, “Kafur… O my dear Kafur…. It needs a lot of courage to hold that sword. You wouldn’t have been lying next to me if you’d known……”
I joined my hands with my head still down. “Kafur….” I mumbled. So that was my new name. I never knew when they decided to convert me. before they robbed my dignity, they robbed me of my faith. I had nothing left. The life seemed burdened, but I remembered the words of Swamiji, “He who refuses to rule is liable to be ruled by one who is worse than himself.”
And I decided to live.
Time wheel started rolling once again. I started learning swords handling, arrow fighting, and other war strategies. During day, I was fighting to become soldier. And during night, I was a puppet in the hands of Sultan. Soon, his nightly affair with me started turning his dependency on me. He never wanted me to be away from his sight. I was involved in all his secret meetings and then the day came when he decided to take me to Chittor expedition. The stories of beauty of Rani of Chittor had stolen his sleep and he was adamant to take her away without realizing the strengths of Rajput men and especially Rawal Ratan Singh.
I still remember the day when Rawal Ratan was about to take Sultan’s life but before he could act, I killed Rawal. Sultan was indebted and he rewarded me by making the commander of his army.
Kafur… became Malik Kafur… the commander of the most powerful army of Bharat.
I started my expeditions. After winning Devagiri, when Sultan aspired to win Telangana, I took the charge and made the ruler of Telangana to bow before me. I brought the brightest diamond from the temple of Telangana which glittered the eyes of every courtier sitting in the fort of Dilli. [That diamond was later called as Koh-I-Noor, in Hindu scriptures it is called as Syamantaka Mani]
I didn’t stop there and opened the gate for Sultan’s dream of winning southern land by breaching Dwarasamudra and reached Ma’bar. I was ruthless, my wrath had no limits. I plundered, I looted, and I destroyed, and I spat over whoever came in my way—my way of reaching the most powerful throne.
Step by step, I became the closest and trusted ally of Sultan. Trusted enough that I was confident to hold the reins of Sultan. I was ready to pull the strings in my direction. The perseverance of over a decade was paying and he made me responsible for taking key decisions of his kingdom. The treasury was overflowing, there was enough stock of grains for years, there was no voice who could stand against me, and I was floating over the clouds of my dreams.
When one desires, the universe conspires. And I designed my stars to follow the path I set for them. After 2 decades of wait, the right time came, the right time to pull the strings. And I made him send his son behind the prison. I killed all his trusted allies and one fine day I stood before him with the same dagger he put on my neck and forced me to surrender.
Now was his time to cry for help but I was no ears. He shouted, “Spare me on the name of God… that supreme power who blessed you with all this power.”
“God… whose God? Yours or mine. Because here in this room, I am your God. I walked on through the wind. I walked through the rain. My dreams tossed. My life shattered. But each day I collected my broken soul to live again. I knew the storm would end, I knew the darkness will die and I was waiting for that spark all my life. Today, this sword in my hand is the same spark. I can snip off your head in one nick. Look where you are now, the great Sultan who thundered this earth, whose mere presence shivered the spine of living souls, is now kneeling before me. so, tell me who is the LORD.”
“Every single day, with hope in my heart, I walked on… I walked alone…”
I turned towards the exit with blood-soaked sword cusped in my hand.