In the early 1850s, when the world was still struggling to break through the norms of society, when the epitome of ingeniousness was England, when the British still ruled India treating the natives like slaves- in that world, two innocent souls dared to ignite a spark of love and compassion. In a world deprived of unity, these two had the courage to unite through their love and sacrifice for compassion.
A girl named Ariana lived in a far off village once. She was the only daughter of a farmer and she helped him with all the drudgery of the field. She had taught herself how to read and write the foreign language. With age and maturity, she became fluent in English and possessed the confidence to speak it eloquently. Her favourite stories to read were always from Greek literature. Despite being a girl, her father had an undying love for his child. She was all he had to live for. When not on the field, she was always either reading about new techniques in farming or trying to pen down an epic adventure about what her life would look like, what she would make of it.
Though her story always played out in a distant land where she’d make a better life for her parents and herself, she could never work out anything concrete. She had never seen a foreign land, but reading about the meadows and hills as a child, she had always possessed a great desire to venture out into the great unknown someday.
One peaceful evening, Ariana was sitting on her field machan (a platform erected around trees) writing a story under candlelight. She could faintly hear the sound of a horse galloping. She ignored it for a while but the sound grew stronger and stronger, till it stopped right in front of her machan. Suspicious from the sudden ceasing of the noise, she climbed down and saw a foreign soldier lying on his horse, bleeding. Despite him struggling, she quickly got the soldier off the horse and lay him down on a hay bed on the platform. After thinking for a while about the situation, Ariana decided to treat him. She made this decision because she knew that a war was going on, a war for independence, and on seeing this foreign soldier, their doctor would either try to kill him or deny him any form of treatment at all. She was well aware that if the village leaders got the smell of this situation, they might take extreme actions and boycott her family as well!
The determined Ariana took it upon herself to treat the wounded foreigner. He lay unconscious on the makeshift bed, bleeding out. Ariana, who was a little traditional with her methods, remembered reading something on how to treat stomach wounds. She did exactly what she could scrape together from her memory and was successful in stopping the bleeding. Still, the soldier remained unconscious. She stayed by his side all night. She tried to stay awake, nodding off a couple of times, in case he regained consciousness. Staring at this foreigner she couldn’t help but wonder who he was, where he’d come from…
Finally, as dawn was breaking, the soldier woke up moaning with pain and agony. He was troubled but then, he saw her. Her eyes were ablaze as they met his, as if forged from molten copper. There was something so brazen about them, he didn’t even hear himself ask, “Am I dead?”
“Not yet, soldier”, replied Ariana with a voice that was beginning to crack from the long night.
“Don’t fidget, soldier. You’ll be alright; I have stitched up your wounds. They will heal in a few days”, said Ariana, trying to reassure him as he tried to move and twitch.
He was absolutely wretched from the pain, but her words comforted the exhausted fibres of his being.
“Why do you keep calling me ‘soldier’?”, his vision was starting to go blurry, so he tried to focus all that he had on her.
“I am unaware of your name, soldier. What choice do I have?”, she replied.
“All you have to do is ask, my lady. My name is Jackson.”
“I am no lady, Sir. But I am pleased to know your name.”
“Be that as it may, you might very well use it.
What’s your name? After all, I need to know who I’m supposed to thank for saving my life.”
“The name is Ariana. Though you don’t have to thank me, Jackson. I would have done the same for anyone.”
Ariana was meticulous in her learning, so she insisted the wounded soldier to stay for a few more days until his wounds healed completely. In the meantime, she took care of him in secret.
Jackson knew he’d be killed if anyone found out about his presence, but he was in no condition to escape. He accepted the hospitality he could get that would aid him to recover behind the closed doors, and he thanked God every day that he could wake up to see the sunrise.
The two of them had conversations every day, spending every moment of it together. They enjoyed each other’s company very much and eventually couldn’t bear to spend more than a couple of hours apart. Ariana, though she had always strived to favour her mind over her heart, lost focus of all senses around Jackson. He told her stories of the valleys and mountains she’d always dreamed of. All the places he had seen, all the people he had met; it sounded to her like bearings she could finally map that adventure around. She fell in love with the stories he told and with the way his voice sounded in the dead of night. It was four in the morning when she woke up from a nightmare in cold sweat and realized suddenly that wasn’t all she had fallen for.
“Let’s elope today, Ariana”, said Jackson in a low voice, as they lay in each other’s arms under the moonless sky.
“I don’t need to say it, Jackson, you know I want to, but I can’t. My family would lose everything. No matter how deep my desire to run away might be, I simply can’t bring such disgrace upon them. For their sake, we must not. They will never accept this union and I could never go against their wishes.”
Jackson let out a deep sigh and they both lay in agonizing silence till morning.
“Ariana, I want you to come with me.”, Jackson said these words as he mounted his horse, preparing to leave behind someone who had healed him but sparked a blistering flame in his heart in the aftermath. Duty for him always came before his own self and he knew he had to leave her behind to serve his country. But he also knew that riding away from this girl who’d felt like home in a foreign land would not be easy.
“Maybe when the war is over, when compassion conquers over malice, when people can see humanity before borders; maybe then we will be together, my love.” With a heavy heart and tears gleaming in those eyes, Ariana bid him farewell.
Jackson went off to fight the battles, the battles against the division of borders, the battles of love and compassion. It was difficult but it had to be done. He couldn’t let the fire that she’d started die out, he wanted to return to Ariana.
Jackson had told the truth about everything except for his name and also that he was, apart from being a soldier, an important officer in the British army. He fought against the norms for years, but he was adamant not to go back to Ariana without fulfilling her desire for peace, love and compassion. He fought all those he needed to with only one desire in his heart and soul, the desire to be able to be with the one he’d left behind.
Almost a decade later when he was allowed by law to marry, when he had fought his dignity out; he returned to be reunited with his love, for eternity.
On reaching the end of the road where he had first met Ariana, he found an empty machan and remembered the time he had spent with her. He bolted into her house to embrace her after all these years and tell her that they could now be married. The law preventing so had been benched and he was here now. She could finally see all that she’d always dreamed of, they would see it all together.
On reaching the house, he found Ariana’s parents. He’d caught glances of them from afar in the time he’d spent here, and he could tell just by looking that the years had not been kind. They were startled by his presence but he didn’t have the patience for pleasantries. He simply asked where Ariana was and the next thing he knew, the world came crashing down on him.
The girl, he had spent all this time fighting for, was dead. She had fought with great ferocity and valour in the battle of Jhansi, for independence and the right of girls to education. She was wounded in the battle by Commander Richard. She never fully recovered from her injuries and died three days after the battle. She had been laid down in her favourite place, under the machan, permanently.
Jackson was devastated.
Three months later, he was sent back to England, as he had taken early retirement from the military to spend what was left of his life in peace and solitude.
Even though Jackson had been left without any post in the British counsel and he would never see Ariana again, he continued the struggle for Women’s Right to Education in India.
He kindled the smouldering ashes of her memory that remained and continued the fight, alone.
Written by: Prateekshya