Hari Singh rolled the die and mechanically moved the checkers on the backgammon board. But for the sudden rain, he would have been at Dachigam before sunrise – the cold air fragrant with the aroma of pine, his pulse quickening as they made their way through the forest in search of the hangul. It was the rutting season, the best time to catch the magnificent Kashmir stag, which was notoriously shy. A sixteen-pointer would make an excellent wall mount in the recreation room –

“Father,” Tiger grinned, “you aren’t going to last long if you play without focusing on the consequences!”

Hari Singh grunted, eyed the board, the raindrops bouncing off the paved walkway, before exhaling wearily and sitting back in the chair. India and Pakistan had become independent, yet Pakistan’s citizens were pouring into Kashmir. What was the point of this freedom?

“Jammu on your mind?” Tiger’s voice broke into his thoughts.

“Hmmm … Jammu’s becoming a refugee thoroughfare as Panjabis flee both sides, carrying their stories of violence … infecting us with their communal virus.”

Tiger who felt a familiar urge to scratch his leg, damn that cast, clenched his fist and tried to distract himself. Intelligence reports arriving from the frontier areas of Poonch and Mirpur, as well as the Sialkot sector, were speaking of massacre, loot and rape of their villagers by aggressive hordes from across the border. Father worried that they were losing control of the outer areas as Mother hovered about wanting to know more. Yesterday, Father had handed a report to him and asked him to explain it in Dogri to the Maharani. Tiger felt the back of his neck growing warm at the recollection: He was trying to find an acceptable equivalent for “rape” when Mother had enquired why he had turned the colour of ripe shahtoot!

Meanwhile, at a flick of the Maharaja’s hand, a bearer had surfaced with a silver case from which Hari Singh had withdrawn a cheroot which he puffed desultorily.

“But the Valley continues to be peaceful, right, Father?” Tiger attempted to buoy up his father’s mood. “And Gandhiji himself said that in the darkness engulfing India, the only ray of light seems to come from Kashmir.”

Father grunted. The smell of tobacco and wet earth wafted over them. Tiger angled his chair to stretch out the leg in plaster. He recalled Bapu’s visit on August 1 at 5 pm. Mother, Father and he had met Bapu under a tree in the garden. In a low, lisping voice, Bapu had urged Father to ascertain the wishes of his people, take the people into his confidence and to align himself with rather than against them. It was a monologue, and after about 90 minutes, Gandhiji had got up to go. Mother had pressed him to partake of some milk and fruit, but he declined because it was not his eating time –

“So he did,” Father said, thrusting his cheroot in the air as he made his point. “‘The Maharaja must take the will of his people into account’ – so the departing British and the arriving Indian government have decreed. Did the British consult the people of Kashmir when they sold the state to my ancestor Gulab Singh for 7.5 million Nanakshahi rupees? Hmmm? Because kings and queens and maharajas rule by diktat! What’s this newfangled nonsense!”

Tiger was 16, his hip cast in plaster, education disrupted on account of ill health and yet … yet Tiger felt that Father was not grasping what had begun to be evident to him, clear as the crystal waters of the Lidder, that contemporary reality was shifting. But it was not something he could voice, so he attempted afresh to bolster his father. ‘We have signed Standstill Agreements with both India and Pakistan.’

Hari Singh blew a ring of smoke and returned his gaze to his son. “With Pakistan, yes. But Jinnah is not satisfied, clearly. He’s begun squeezing essential supplies to force my hand … An economic blockade. And India wants me to send a representative for further discussions. Talk, talk, talk!” He snorted.

A rustle and Thakur Nachint Chand entered the room with a summon. The only person who could summon the Maharaja was the Rajguru, of course, and the Thakur’s prime responsibility of late had been as the intermediary between the Rajguru and the King. The Thakur was the Maharani’s brother – Maharani Tara Devi was deeply religious, and Hari Singh had watched with some dismay as the brother’s influence had mounted. It was now at the point where Rajguru Swami Sant Dev, whom Hari Singh had banished when he ascended the throne, had staged a mysterious comeback and was now installed in Chashmashahi Guest House in Srinagar.

Backgammon having been abandoned already, the cheroot having burnt to a glowing stub, Hari Singh stood up. His brother-in-law grabbed the handles of his nephew’s wheelchair and began to steer it down the hallway, following at a discreet distance behind the Maharaja.

Excerpted with permission from Kashmir: Book III of The Partition Trilogy, Manreet Sodhi Someshwar, HarperCollins India.