Kopal-Kundala/In the Past

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Part III.

Chapter I.

In the Past.

When Nobokumar started with Kopal-Kundala from the chuttee, Moti Bibi went by another road to Burdwan. While she is on her way, we will say something of her former history. Moti's character was very corrupt, but at the same time she had many good qualities. The reader will not object to a more detailed account of such a character.

When her father embraced the Mohammedan religion, her Hindoo name was changed into Lutufonissa; Moti Bibi was never her name, but she used to take it whenever she travelled incognita in different countries. Her father went to Dacca, and got an appointment under the emperor. But there were many of his own countrypeople there, and no one, after being outcasted, likes to remain in the same society. For this reason, he for some time gained favour in the eyes of the Subadar, and getting letters from many of his Minister friends, he came to Agra with his family. No one’s merits remained concealed from Akber Shah, who was not slow to appreciate his worth. Lutufonissa’s father was quickly promoted to a high post, and was reckoned as one of the principal nobles of Agra. In the meanwhile Lutufonissa was gradually growing up. On coming to Agra, she was well instructed in Persian, Sanskrit, dancing, singing, wit, and other accomplishments. She began to be reckoned among the countless beautiful and virtuous ladies of the capital; but, unfortunately, she had not been so well instructed in morals as in secular education. When Lutufonissa grew up, it became clear that the inclinations of her mind were quite unrestrainable; she had neither power nor wish to curb her passions. Her inclinations for good or evil were alike; she never used to consider before doing anything, that this action is a good one, and that a bad one; she used to do whatever pleased her. If a good action gave her pleasure, she would do it, and vice versâ. The sins which spring from the strength of youthful passions were produced in Lutufonissa. As her former husband was living, none of the nobles were willing to marry her; nor was she particularly desirous of marrying. Why, thought she, should she clip the wings of the bee that sports from flower to flower? At first things were whispered about her, and at last her corruption became a matter of common talk. Her father got angry, and turned her out of his house.

Among those on whom Lutufonissa used secretly to bestow her favours, was the young Prince Selim. The latter had not yet made Lutufonissa an inmate of his harem, through fear of incurring the wrath of his impartial sire by bringing dishonour on a noble's family. Now there was a good opportunity. The sister of the Rajput chief, Mán Singh, was the Prince's chief consort. The Prince made Lutufonissa her head companion. In the eyes of the world, Lutufonissa was the Begum's friend, but in secret the Prince's concubine.

It may easily be imagined that a clever woman like Lutufonissa would quickly captivate the Prince's heart; her ascendency over Selim was so unrivalled, that she determined, when a fitting opportunity presented itself, to become his queen. Nor was such resolve entirely confined to Lutufonissa, for all the inmates of the palace looked upon it as probable. In the dream of such a hope Lutufonissa was passing her life, when she was rudely awakened. Meheronissa, the daughter of Khaja Ayas, Akber Shah's treasurer, was the queen of Mussulman beauties. One day the Treasurer invited Selim and other men of note to his house. There Selim first met Meheronissa, and was captivated by her. What happened after that is known to all readers of history. The Treasurer's daughter had already been betrothed to one Sher Afghan by name, a very brave noble. Selim, blind with love, asked his father to cancel the betrothal, but he only received a rebuke from his just sire. Therefore Selim had to desist for the present; but though he desisted for the present, he did not give up all hope. Meheronissa was married to Sher Afghan. But Selim's desires were in the mirror of Lutufonissa's nails; she clearly saw that there was no escape for Sher Afghan, not if he had a thousand lives. When Akber Shah died, his life also would be put an end to, and Meheronissa would become Selim's queen. Lutufonissa gave up all hopes of the throne.

The life of Akber, the glory of Mohammedan emperors, came to an end. That brilliant sun, whose splendour had lighted up all countries from Turkey to the Brahmaputra,—that sun set. At this juncture, Lutufonissa resolved upon a desperate plan for maintaining her own ascendency.

The Rajput chief, Raja Mán Singh's sister, was Selim's chief queen. Khasru was her son. One day Lutufonissa was talking with her about Akber Shah's illness, and was congratulating the Rajput girl on soon becoming the Emperor's wife, to which Khasru's mother replied, "It is true one's birth is successful, if one becomes the Emperor's wife; but she who is the mother of the Emperor, she is higher than all." No sooner had Lutufonissa heard this reply than a plan, which she had never thought of before, occurred to her. She replied, "Why should it not be so? It is a matter entirely under your control." "How so?" asked the Begum. The cunning woman replied, "Let the prince give the throne to his son Khasru."

The Begum made no answer. That day neither of them reverted to this topic, but neither of them forgot it. The Begum was not unwilling that her son should ascend the throne in place of her husband. Selim's love for Meheronissa was as much a thorn in the Begum's side as it was in Lutufonissa's. How could Mán Singh's sister like to obey an upstart Turcoman girl? Lutufonissa, too, had a deep meaning in effecting this resolve. On a subsequent occasion they reverted to this topic, and both made up their minds.

Lutufonissa made the Begum see that there was nothing strange in placing Khasru on Akber's throne to the exclusion of Selim. She said, "The Mogul Empire has been established by the strong arm of the Rajputs. Mán Singh is the ornament of that Rajput race, and he is Khasru's uncle. Again, the chief of the Mussulmans is Khan Azim; he is the principal Minister, and he is Khasru's father-in-law. If they both give their aid, who will not follow them? By whose strength can the prince seize the throne? To get Mán Singh to help us in this matter will be your business; I will see that Khan Azim and other Mohammedan nobles join the conspiracy. With your blessing I shall be successful, but I have one anxiety, lest Khasru, on coming to the throne, may banish this wretched one from the palace."

The Begum understood her companion's wish. She laughed and said, "You can marry any noble in Agra you please, and I will make your husband a mausubdar of five thousand soldiers."

Lutufonissa was satisfied; this was her object. If she must be the wife of some ordinary man in the palace, then wherein lay the pleasure of clipping the wings of the bee that sports on every flower? If she must give up her independence, what pleasure was there in being the slave of the companion of her girlhood, Meheronissa? It was a far more honourable position to be the dearly-loved wife of some chief Minister.

Nor was it solely from this desire that Lutufonissa formed her projects. Selim had neglected her, and was absorbed in Meheronissa. For this she sought revenge.

Khan Azim and the other nobles of Agra and Delhi were to a great extent under Lutufonissa's control. It was not to be wondered at that Khan Azim should aid in accomplishing the wish of his son-in-law. He and other nobles agreed. Khan Azim said to Lutufonissa, "Consider that there is no escape for either of us, if, owing to some mishap, we are successful. Therefore it would be as well to leave some path for saving our lives."

Lutufonissa said, "What do you advise?"

Khan Azim said, "There is no refuge except Orissa; it is only in that country that the Mogul Government is not so firm. We must get the Orissa army under our control. Your brother is a mansubdar of Orissa; I will give it out to-morrow that he has been wounded in battle. Do you set out for Orissa to-morrow on the pretence of seeing him? There make all the necessary arrangements, and then return."

Lutufonissa agreed to this proposal. It was while she was on her journey back from Orissa that the reader has been introduced to her.