by Atreyee Sikdar
As he prepared to part ways from me, the client carefully unhooked from the rack his ornate robe that embodied the likes of nothing but medieval musings, dusted the same, and vehemently shut the door on his way out with a sense that could be best observed as a pastiche of satisfaction, salience and exhilaration. At first, what walked through the room was close to a cadaver — a royal cadaver, I must add. He was troubled as his ambitions were speckled and burdened with an overarching magnitude of responsibility. After all, it seemed that he took every possible duty and tribulation on his shoulders. I talked with him for months hoping for something close to a resolve.
I searched for my glasses before I could scribble legibly the concluding observations and remarks about him. This was a habit I upheld wherein I would make supplementary notes for each of my clients after my alliance with them dissolved. It helped me comprehend the far-reaching impact of analysis.
Every fortnight our sessions would commence. He would perch on my ruddy couch that would starkly contrast his resplendent nature. Often, his feet would bridge the gap between the couch and the ottoman. That was some sight, watching a regal mannered man stretching out and taking a rather plebeian posture. Even though every bodily movement he orchestrated and word he uttered was done with flair and certainty, yet reluctance shadowed his confidence whenever I asked him about how far along was the construction of his nascent city.
Yes, he was a crowned architect for his mind housed myriad of radical blueprints, which I believe if executed and came to fruition would not only sustain the ravages of time and space but also acquire the awe of generations to come. These designs were farsighted, shrewd and contemporary. I would say at times his visions encapsulated the true compromise between practicality and imagination that very few could achieve. He would go on boldly describing how he would give a Saracenic influence to the Parisian boulevards and Roman arcades but then he would stop. This catatonic halt was sudden but routine during which he would resemble a vegetative being.
My approach to understand the reasons behind his ritualistic stupor, impeded flow of thought and eclipsed confidence was novel. I urged him to enunciate. Enunciate everything that crossed the paths of his consciousness: quotidian activities to clandestine deeds. Of course, whatever he wished to downpour was within the limits of his comfort, volition, and due to the strength of rapport we formed as weeks went by, for I could not force words out of him, as I would keep interventions (verbal or otherwise) at bare minimum. However, the very nature of this analytical process invited several pitfalls. It was time prohibitive and often plateaued progress. It was affirmative for this case, as well.
Oddly enough, he made an unscheduled appearance one day. Obviously, he was bothered to the brim but his blunted affection and appraisal left me with nothing concrete but a lot of guesswork. Erstwhile, he mentioned how building structures and armatures were instrumental means of channeling his turbulent yet worrying thoughts and then productively sublimating them. This course of sublimation was not plausible, as his ongoing architectural project transmuted in deliberate, unfathomable anxiety. Although, he never struck me as a pious figure, yet I had to ask him, as I was running out of ways and he needed some sort of relief.
Unabashed and barefaced, he spoke of his, now tenuous, affiliation with the preachers of asceticism. Before I could assume his confession as another newfound dead end and resigned myself to frustration, I glanced over seeing his attenuated fingers support his tensed forehead and rheumy eyes. Following an abysmal pause he narrated in a rather fragmented manner to unveil what thinned his religiosity. He explained how his grandfather was said to have created a zeitgeist where the monarch maintained close ties with the ascetic evangelists. This relation symbolised the cosmic unison of polity and spirituality. It was confided that he intended to only strengthen the relation that his grandfather formed.
His seriously conflicted tone of expression culminated to a heartfelt whine. Soon enough, I was made known that his beloved daughter was ailing and matters were made worse when he lost consecutive military campaigns. Confessing ardently, he enunciated that he failed to hold on to his faith, for his prayers for health and stability, in his opinion, went unanswered. I understood that his perceived forbearing losses perhaps depressed his will, confidence, and interests. My assumption was confirmed shortly when he concluded that he offered alms and prayers to the several hospices with the object to seek blessings for not only his daughter and campaigns but also the unconstrained completion of his new city: Shahjahanabad. I could only imagine that his crippling fear to come to nothing coupled with diminishing faith made him question whether he should pursue his architectural endeavour anymore or not.
Well, to abort or to carry on with the project was completely up to him but I had to clarify his position here. He had to be cognisant of the fact that he was indeed a maestro of an architect but that didn’t rule out the possibility of failure or him missing the mark. Him attaining an insight lay in the foundations of accepting that possibility. The only way he could unburden himself of his fears and tensions was to give credence to the fact that regardless of the consequences he needs to tend to his daughter and family, plan out his future campaigns, and materialise his blueprints to the best of his potentiality and wherewithal.
Months later I received a brittle but embellished piece of parchment from him. It contained every form of validation that pointed in the direction that the monarch had reached a resolve. His daughter was recovering from her injuries and the climate of his empire imbibed peace and prosperity. But the most satisfying part of the message was the painting of the now complete Shahjahanabad. The painting of the gargantuan metropolis reminded me of the sovereign’s coat that once hung on my meagre rack. The bold structure of the clothing that protected him from any foreseeable adversity, inadvertently, reflected in the strength and solidarity of the walls and fortification. The careful ornamentation on his robe with intricate embroidery and iridescent jewels corresponded to the meticulous yet baroque town planning that provided space for the busiest of markets and grandiose gardens.
Even after I set the parchment aside I could only think about the magnificence of this imposing city and how it would look in material. It could only be more than what was described to me. It consumed my consciousness. Such was the result of understanding the mind of a genius, I thought while reclining on the couch with a bunch of other letters that came today. Anna wrote one of them. I barely managed to open it with one hand for my other one held a bowl of homemade vanilla ice cream.
Atreyee Sikdar is studying Psychology at the Indraprastha College for Women, University of Delhi. A final-year student and an avid reader, she has a deep fascination for Psychology (duh), History and Philosophy. You can find her reading or creating art somewhere under a tree with her headphones blaring chill-pop and indie all the time, as a way of staying out of social situations (read: obligations).
Featured Image: Shah Jahan holding a durbar in the public audience hall of his palace. A miniature painting by an unknown Mughal artist, around 1650. Source.