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If Chitragandan took umbrage at my words or tone of delivery, he did not betray it. Instead he invited my poetry.

‘A father revels in the joy of his daughters, what of a king?

Decide, Pari, whether you are father or king

Decide, Pari, what your next steps will be

Decide, Pari, for you have yet no progeny.’

The court fell silent but recovered with outrage as the words’ import became clear. Men shouted and waved their fists. They demanded that I be put in chains.

‘You are a scholar, a teacher, and a poet, are you not?’ said the prime minister. ‘Why do you not display the gentle manners of your ilk?’

Poets and courtiers shouted questions and insults but I remained silent and stoic. The prime minister raised his hand to invite silence, so that Pari’s voice could travel unimpeded among the gathering.

‘Your question provokes, Sir Kabilar, and asks, what of a king?’ said Pari. ‘Please provide an answer befitting your question and please our desire to better savour your theme.’

‘Whatever answer you decide, King Pari, will be best and correct for you,’ I said. I wagged my finger at him, a rude gesture to anyone and all the more when directed at a king. ‘But beware, that ten years from now, there might be a better than the best.’

The literary fraternity did not judge me worthy to receive a reward. But the prime minister, himself an accomplished poet, prevailed and provided a full meal and room to rest for a night at the poets’ ashram. It was a comfortable lodge, sans mosquitoes, and I enjoyed a peaceful night’s sleep.

‘In private Chitragandan agreed with you, Kabi,’ said Pari. ‘He said, you broached a relevant subject. We talked in this room.’

We were in the ante room in the loft overlooking the Rajya Sabha. The room had lattice windows to let in breeze but it kept out unwanted eyes. The royal ladies used the loft to spy the unfolding events of state in the audience hall below.

After I became tutor to Pari’s daughters, I gained ready access to the ante room and would bring the girls and point out the personalities and politics that played out in their father’s court. Pari loved the room and spoke of the faint fragrance that had soaked into the wood and lingered in the air. Perhaps it reminded him of his late queen who sat on the divans we now occupied.

‘The prime minister cautioned that unless I have a male heir, Parambu will face dire consequences,’ said Pari. He fell silent. Then, as if having arrived at a decision, he said, ‘Why have you not taken a wife?’

‘I found no need for family life,’ I said.

‘But you visit harlots.’

‘Once upon a time I gave in to the temptations of flesh, yes, but not anymore. Not since I dedicated my life to your service,’ I said. And that was how close and candid our friendship had grown.

Copyright @ Eric Alagan, 2019

Continued on 16 September, 2019