The water maids place the washbasin and water jug on an ornate piece of cloth; the towel maids are lined up, each with a different towel for wiping the face, nose and feet. The king wakes up. Everyone offers her respect and wishes him a good day. He goes to the tasht chowki, performs ablutions, offers namaaz and recites some verses while counting beads.

In the meanwhile, the wardrobe maids come carrying a brocaded trunk. The king changes his clothes. Look! The jasolni, the female usher, standing with folded hands, is saying, “Your Majesty, the physician is in attendance.” The order comes, “Hmm,” which means, “Call him in.” So the curtains are drawn. The usher is followed by the physician with a handkerchief covering his face. He offers salutations, feels the king’s pulse and departs.

A sealed drink called tabreed is brought from the medicine house; it is preserved in an urn covered tight with a piece of brocade that has a seal on top. The medicine maid breaks the seal and offers a dose of the beverage to the king. The tobacco maids refresh the hookah, place an embroidered cloth on a foil of silver, and ready the hookah bowl. The king smokes the hookah and orders his royal carriage.

The royal carriage

Female palanquin-bearers bring a havaadaar, an open-top palanquin, and the king boards it. Look, Urdabegnis in male attire, with turbans on their heads, girdles around their waists, and silver-sheathed staffs in their hands, are in attendance! Abyssinian, Turkish and Qalmaaqni female soldiers, with silver-sheathed staffs, are also walking with the royal palanquin. Eunuchs walking alongside the palanquin are fanning the king with peacock-feather fans. Female ushers, also carrying silver-sheathed staffs, lead the caravan announcing “Attention! Beware!”

The carriage reaches the shrine. The king offers his salaam and performs the fatiha. The palanquin returns and is carried to the sitting room. The king sits on a round cushion and the current head queen on a quilted coverlet. All other wives sit on the right according to their ranks. All the princes, princesses and begmaat (other queens) also sit on the left.

Female ushers and eunuchs pass on appeals from those seeking justice to the king. Decrees and orders are being delivered. Applications are being signed. A little less than half the morning is already over. The food superintendent asks: “What is the order for me, Your Majesty?” The king nods. The female ushers call out to the kitchen maids: “Ladies, bring the royal repast and set up the flynet.”

Royal repast

Female water carriers and Kashmiri maids have sprung into action, carrying in row after row of small and large dishes on their heads. The kitchen maids have spread a 7 by 3-yard piece of leather, and on it a white tablecloth. On the tablecloth, they have placed a 2-yard-long, 1½-yard wide, and 6-girah high wooden table. On the table, they have again spread a leather sheet and a cotton tablecloth. Special sealed dishes are placed on the table for the king. The female kitchen superintendent watches over the whole arrangement.

Only the king will eat at the wooden table, others including ladies, princes and princesses will be served on a tablecloth. There! The food is now being served.

The king is sitting cross-legged and eating the royal food. The queens, princes and princesses are sitting respectfully with downcast eyes. All are eating silently. Anyone whom the king offers a morsel from his own plate, stands up and accepts it gratefully with a bow.

There! The king has finished eating. He expresses gratitude to god. First, he cleans his hands with the gram flour paste, and then with the sandalwood tablet. The maids wrap up the table spread and tablecloth. The bedroom maids dust the bed and place mattress, sheets, pillows and bolsters on it; a light quilt and blanket are put at the foot, and the bed is ready.

The king comes to the bedroom, sits on the bed, and smokes his hookah. After an hour, he asks for the royal water. The water superintendent takes out an earthen flask filled with water from the river Ganges, which has been cooled by immersing the flask in ice. He wraps the flask in a wet cloth, puts a seal on it, and hands it over to a eunuch. The eunuch breaks the seal in front of the king, pours the water into a silver glass, and gives it to the king. Look! Everyone stands while the king drinks.

When he finishes, all say, “Long live the king.” They offer salutations. Here! The noon has already approached. The king lies down on the bed, the curtains of the bedroom are drawn. The female foot masseuses begin their work. There is dead silence; no one dare even whisper.

Now, less than half the day remains. The king wakes up, performs ablutions, offers afternoon namaaz, and says his prayers counting the beads of his rosary. He listens to appeals and complaints of people and converses with the courtiers. The time for late afternoon namaaz has approached. He offers namaaz and recites the incantatory verses. A very small part of the day remains.

The female usher announces, “Your Majesty, the royal office staff are present.” The order comes, “Let’s go.” Then the king goes to the balcony. The female usher warns: “Attention, all!” The soldiers salute. The emirs and noblemen come and stand under the balcony.

The azaan for evening namaaz is called. The king gets up. He offers namaaz and says his prayers counting the beads of his rosary. Under the balcony and wherever there are soldiers, drums are beaten to announce the advent of evening. The drum house resonates with the sound of drums.

The Last Gathering

Excerpted with permission from The Last Gathering: A Vivid Portrait of Life in the Red Fort, Munshi Faizuddin, translated by Ather Farouqui, Roli Books.