Chapter 1 – Entombed For Eternity

Ustad Ahmad Lahauri opened his eyes to a bottomless well of utter darkness. Where am I? What happened? His head felt funny and the back of his neck hurt like hell! This must be a nightmare, he thought. I need to wake up. He closed his eyes, prayed fervently through cracked lips, ‘Ya Allah” and opened them up again.
But nothing! Not a speck of light came back to reassure him…
Have I been blinded? Where am I?
The acidic taste of the sherbet still rankled in his throat and last night’s festivities came back in a painful, psychedelic flash.
It had been a long and tiring day. It all began when he had a terrible argument with Ismail Khan the chief dome designer of the Taj Mahal. It wasn’t easy keeping the finicky Shah Jahan happy and the feisty Ismail Khan Rumi refused to understand why the Emperor was insisting on the unusual amrud (guava shaped) dome. It was impossible to reveal that the Emperor actually planned to adorn it with diamonds. Ustad Lahauri shook his head. I haven’t got grey for nothing! God knows how hard I’ve worked at keeping these Emperors happy when building their fancy monuments. Also, it was time to set things straight with the rest of the Royal team. Amanat Khan Shirazi the Chief Calligrapher had slyly got the Emperor to let him sign his name at the base of the gate! And then there was Mir Abdul Karim a fellow architect in charge of the finances who kept disrupting everything. I need to make it clear once and for all to everyone that I am the Chief Architect of the Taj not them! But of late, he had the uneasy feeling of being spied upon and last night he had secretly stashed away the drawings of the Taj. Ustad had somehow managed to get through the rest of the day. By sundown, he desperately craved a plate of Mubarak Khan’s succulent chello kebabs and a nice soothing hookah to calm him down. He headed for the Shahi Durbar restaurant in Mumtazabad, a bustling township created specially for the Taj makers.
‘May ve sit with you Ustad?’ two foreigners stood at his table. ‘My friend Veroneo is a great admirer of your beautiful architectural work’
It was flattering to meet someone from across the seven seas who had heard of him. Bordeaux’s magnificent Peacock Throne had inspired Geronimo Veroneo to travel to Shah Jahan’s court in search of fame. Veroneo quizzed Lahauri keenly on his work, hanging onto every word, making him feel like a king. He even showed the Ustad his model version of the Taj Mahal, begging him to give his honest opinion. The night flew by in a haze of wine and food; soon it was time to head home. The queen’s death anniversary celebrations were just a week away and tomorrow was a very big day. They would begin work on the new dome in time for the Empresses’ Urs –her annual death anniversary celebration.
‘Does the esteemed Ustad need a lift home?’ a familiar voice called from across the street. Surprised, he turned and began crossing the dark street towards the carriage that stood waiting in the shadows when a sharp blow to his head sent him crashing to the ground…
Ahmad Lahauri frantically scrambled to his feet, scraping the flesh off his hands and hit his head on a solid wall of rock. He was trapped! He tried to push past the growing fear that was gnawing away at him. The Taj was in trouble! He lost his nerve and began screaming in terror.
But the walls just echoed back his helpless cries,entombing him…