We are obsessed with making sense of everything. We feel an urge to find meaning in every situation, in every spoken word, every interaction, every relationship forged. And in our fast-paced, blink-and-you–miss-it lives, we strive to live every moment meaningfully, sensibly, perhaps trying too hard at times.
In my opinion, the bane of our modern lives is trying to be too sensible, practical and rigid. As such, we tend to trash the handful of people who do not live by such norms as ‘senseless’, ‘nonsense’ and ‘crazy’. Thankfully, I am one such person who can safely be labelled ‘crazy’ and I have realised that being ‘stupid’, ‘senseless’, even ‘childish can sometimes be a wonderful thing.
For one, it helps to alleviate stress and keep monotony at bay.
My grandfather was a grand, old man who lived till the ripe age of ninety-two. After the expiry of my grandmother and a few years later, my father, I could often see a desolation in his eyes. No matter how much we tried to keep him company, that did not ease. He must have sensed that in constantly trying to keep him company, we were doing somewhat of a duty to a family-member. Though we had both love and respect for him, he used to get jncreasingly uncomfortable of the fact that I was sitting with him for long hours, probably neglecting school work that I ought to finish.
On the contrary, when a few of his acquaintances and friends came over, his eyes would take on a sparkle. Despite the fact that many of these ‘friends’ were years younger than him, he loved their company. Many a time I have heard their stories and they brought on a smile to my face. Most of these were just silly tit-bits, utterly nonsensical stories. I heard the roars of laughter at times and wondered what these elderly men were feeling so wonderful about. The topics would be varied and some really far-fetched. After these men would leave for the day, a smile would linger on my grandpa’s lips and he would look completely refreshed, as if he had just come out of ‘therapy’. ‘Silly’ I called it back then… Now, I’d call that ‘brilliant’.
Then, it helps reconnect with our inner child
.My child and her father bought two goldfish from the pet shop. On our way home, they were deeply engrossed in conversation regarding not just how to take care of the new pets but also how to communicate with them. Much to my amusement, they had a naming ceremony of sorts where the less golden one was named ‘Goldie’ and the other was named ‘Heart stamp.’ (Don’t ask me why, I have no clue!)Once home, they set up everything religiously and the dad-daughter duo sat in front of the fish tank, ‘talking’ to the two fish, trying to wave to them and see which one responds better when their name is called.
I was observing them, fascinated. When my husband finally placed his palm on the outside of the tank, patiently whispering to them, I actually burst out laughing.
“Do u think its a pup? Are you expecting it to come n lick your hand?” I questioned, amused.
“It won’t, right?” His voice sounded a tad flat, vulnerable and child-like. In that lovely moment, I had a glimpse of the little boy who still lived somewhere deep inside my very sensible, wordly-wise and practical husband.It was one of those rare moments when you want to cry but you don’t know why and you don’t care.
It let’s you be yourself… completely, fiercely and unapologetically.
To me, nothing seems more boring than a person who is trying to pretend that he is sensible all the time. Fortunately, I have been blessed with a few friends who are as quirky as I am and we often rejoice in our collective craziness. It is rightly said that good friends know all of your stories, best friends (read quirky friends) have lived those stories with you:-)
Some years ago, I had gone for a picnic with a few other families. It was a fair ground and owing to the fact that that was a long weekend, the place was packed to the brim. As we were looking for a place to set up the barbecue, my friend and I came upon this carousel with the wooden horses that move up and down as if in a dance motion. The long queue for tickets did not deter us. The two of us ran towards it, much to the chagrin of our husbands. After a loooong wait, we climbed up the saddles of two.of those wooden steeds and grinned delightedly. We did notice the security person stationed there and a few other parents frown at us but we cared not We were not breaking any rules, instead laughing our heads off with the little kids who were shrieking with glee. They were not in the least bothered by the presence of two overgrown children in their late twenties.
Another valuable lesson I had learnt that day…. be yourself! In every damn way. Be your true self with your uniqueness and flaws! The right people will appreciate you for having the courage to so.
I could add on to this but it seems pretty long and I’m falling asleep. No idea if I made much sense in this… but even if I didn’t, that is okaý!
Being Indian, am a die-hard Bollywood junkie. These lines from a famous Bolly flick have resonated with me through the years. Originally in Hindi, it would read something like this….
‘If someone claims to love you, let them love you as you are…exactly as you are.
If they need to change you to love you, then that’s business, that’s not love..
‘Cuz my friend, business has no business when it comes to love!’
Yes, you’ve guessed it! My favorite topic to write about is LOVE. Always has been. Always will be. An incurable romantic at heart, I feel that love is the very essence that makes the world go round, it’s that elixir that breathes life into our souls. Who isn’t aware of the many forms of love,, it’s delights and delusions? Do you remember the number of times you lay awake in bed and cried your heart out, your face buried in your pillow so it would not awaken your parents in the next room? Or your roommate sleeping on the other bed? The duvet soaking up your tears, your pillow listening to your unsaid thoughts…. we all have been through those times, at least most of us!
But that is exactly what my post is about. What do we do when we let love hurt us? Sounds wrong, right? Love should make us feel magical, beautiful, glorified. Instead, it does the opposite, so many times! People take their own lives because they cannot be with the one they desperately want to be with, or they have been betrayed by that one person they thought would never betray them. I still remember a friend told me once that she used to cut herself in desperation; she was in love with a narcissist who abused her emotions, made her feel worthless. And she wasn’t a teenager either, she was in her early thirties.
So much for love!
To this day, I remember thinking that it’s wrong! It’s all wrong! What can we do to change this? How do we help ourselves and others when love hurts? How do we morph love that hurts into love that heals?
Take Back Control
Your life is yours, no matter how difficult it might seem at times. Science confirms that the pain of heartbreak is akin to physical pain and we would do anything to get rid of that. But before you let hopelessness and depression encompass you, stop to think for a minute. Life is so much more than just one person walking out on you! There’s still so much beauty all around, in nature, in the smiles of children, in the embrace of a friend or even in a simple act of kindness of a stranger. There are so many who do not have a life promised to them anymore…. the sick, the dying! You’ve still got days, years, moments. Make the most of it. You were giving so much love to another, save some for yourself as well. As the saying goes, ‘If you’re going through hell, walk as if you own the place!’
Try Self-love .. Nothing Works Better.
Self-love does not mean wallowing in self-pity. However, do not be too hard on yourself. If you do not love yourself or do not see your own worth, you cannot expect others to value you either. Be happy with yourself. Remind yourself that there’s a reason you’re here, you have dreams, goals aspirations! No matter how simple they might be. Just because someone left you wreathing in pain on the ground, there’s no reason to remain there.Get up, give yourself a good shake and hold your head up high. Look into the mirror and try to bring on a smile, Even if red, puffy eyes are staring back at you, it’s alright. Even if you fall back on the bed and dissolve in a fit of tears, that is okay too. It’s only human to be vulnerable and feel pain. I know the tears seem endless now, let them flow. I have always felt that people who are not afraid of showing their vulnerability are the bravest onesand deal with hurt in the best possible way. And do cry. It has a cathartic effect, dissolves the heaviness in our hearts and clears our vision, literally and figuratively.
Listen to Friends and Well-wishers but Follow Your Heart
I do not undermine the value of family and well-meaning friends when you are trying to heal from invisible wounds. However, I’ve also realized that sometimes that can actually make you feel worse. The words of a friend who gives practical advice on how to move on and forget the past might not be bearable for some time. Therefore, if you feel that you’re not in a position to forget the past and you need more time, that’s perfectly okay. Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re weak or lack dignity. If your mind has to go through all that that led you to the present moment, so be it. Think it over, go through the process, feel the pain all over again. Just don’t berate yourself. Think of it as a story you’re reading, or a movie you’re watching and then leave the movie hall feeling refreshed. Sad yes, but refreshed.
We are humans and each of us deal differently with grief, we heal differently. Just because someone seemed to move on faster does not mean you’re not healing. You’re… at your own pace. And believe me when I say this, every moment and every little thing counts. Every single moment that you’re trudging on with life… you’re chanelling within yourself the amazing power of healing.
Read and Walk…. in any order
I am sure some of you will agree that being with our own selves at times, with our own thoughts can sometimes be beneficial. Don’t isolate yourself to the point where you feel lonely, but don’t be afraid to be alone in the lap of nature, if you can. On my walks in the early mornings, I’ve realized that being in the open, breathing the fresh air, staring at a grassy patch covered with white blossoms and seeing the world slowly awaken has therapeutic value. Find a bit of time, whenever you can. Morning, late night, evening… whenever. You’ll sense a calm that is difficult to come by in the hustle and bustle of our daily lives.And why not carry a paperback to read a few paragraphs from? Or a journal to write something? Or sketch? My current favorite is ‘Spirituality’ so am lapping everything up on that. Some I like, some I don’t. Not a reader? May be, just listen? Audio books. Days I don’t feel like reading, I just listen to something on audio book apps like ‘Story tel’. Somehow, I don’t really know how, but helps me stay grounded.
Even if you cannot Forget, Forgive..
Not that everyone deserves forgiveness, but you need peace. Although that someone who hurt you will perhaps never ask for it, give it anyway. You’ll feel a hundred times better because you’ve taken an unnecessary load off your mind and soul. In my interactions with people, I’ve noticed that people who nurse a grudge, fair or not, often feel a certain restlessness, like a poison that consumes their peace of mind. It deters them from enjoying things they love and the anger that they feel makes them stressed out, resentful and can even change their personalities completely. Forgiveness is for you, not them.
So, try and forgive the one who has betrayed your trust. It doesn’t make you weak, it sets you free:P
The darkest hour has come and gone… when I lost sight of you
May be, you removed me from your sight..
who knows which one is true
But when the dreams wake me at night, I lay awake and think
And even though its for the best, my mind gropes for the link
My link to you is now severed, the cords of care have snapped
Like the wind now you are free, my arms no longer wrapped
Despite the tears that must well up, despite the hollow sigh
I say my prayers with you in mind, to you they gladly fly.
We weren’t meant to be, I know, I merely fooled my mind
Your love would always hold me close, your love would always bind.
Now that our ways must part so soon, the pain of loss is more
How can I forget your scorching words that shook me to the core!
Your hand I could not hold for long, my greatest regret be
The memories, those thoughts and smiles are now a part of me.
Yes, I eat and yes I sleep and yes life trudges on
I wait for you like the dead of night that awaits the morn.
Somewhere you’ve just woken up, my day drags to an end
Gazing at the sunset hues I ask for strength to mend
Heal my heart from the wounds it braved because its love is true
Let my tears now gently fall, they write an ode to you.
Although I know the dreaded day to say goodbye is here Hope whispers its not goodbye… somehow you’ll still be near
‘I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion’
The line stared at me from the pages of a square journal with powder-blue pages. Thanks to Anton’s addiction to great poetry, I knew what the line is about. The line is a popular refrain from a Latin Masterpiece : ‘Non Sum Qualis eram bonae sub regno Cynarae’ translated to English. The poet Dowson claims that his passion for Cynara does not fade away even though he is with other women. Momentarily, my breath hitched in my throat but I controlled myself quickly. It was merely a line… a diary entry.
The penmanship was beautiful and there were little, neat doodles at the four corners of the page, lending it an ornate look. At first, I thought they were doodles, like a neat pattern an artist would draw absent-minded, perhaps. Upon a closer look, I realized there were letters in that pattern, very minuscule. The letters formed a name I know so well… and love! ‘ANTON’
I could not help but smile. This woman was so ardently passionate about the man she thought her own. Even after he had walked out on her, breaking all the bonds that she must have believed were unbreakable, her devotion to him remained constant. Foolish? Perhaps. Yet, amazing and adorable.
“I wish I had known her…”
I hadn’t realized I had spoken the words out loud. The other two had stopped whatever they were discussing, their eyes focusing on me now. I saw Anton’s blue ones, grave, somber. And Maya’s friend’s charcoal-black, beautiful eyes, eyes which spoke of a compassion so deep. They were still red and puffy, an ode to the friendship that had withered away before its time.
I felt my cheeks burn slightly. Trying to conceal my embarrassment, I blurted out, “I love this tea!”
Anton and Nafisa were seated around a small coffee table in Nafisa’s living room which was attached to a little balcony filled with potted plants. It looked a little cramped with the earthen pots lining the walls and hanging from the ceiling. But I was fascinated by the hues and the myriad of fragrances that wafted in the nippy breeze. Winter was still making its presence felt in these parts of the country. There was a cane swing-chair in the middle of the already overcrowded space where I had seated myself. Feeling my body swing forward and backward in a gentle rocking motion, I was almost lulled to sleep with Maya’s diary on my lap. There was an odd sense of calm and comfort in Nafisa’s one-bedroom apartment, it made you feel at-home.
“I’ll make you some more,” Nafisa stood up, trying to squeeze out of the narrow gap in between her chair and Anton’s. I followed her to the tiny kitchen that was barely enough to fit her rather large frame. I stood at the door and she smiled at me. I did notice that even though she stubbornly refused to look at Anton whenever he spoke, with me she was quite different. Her smile was sad but sincere and reached her eyes. Her tone warm and affectionate, as if I was an expected guest she was looking forward to meet. Despite Maya’s looming, invisible presence in the apartment which made me quite uncomfortable in the beginning. I admitted that I liked Nafisa.
After the initial shock of seeing her and Anton walk out of the narrow road that led to the old cottage, I had recovered quite a bit. Although I didn’t know who she was, I could easily guess she was someone well-known to Anton…and, judging by her tear-stricken face, to Maya as well. Like a rope bridge, tottering between two worlds… that of the ‘dearly departed’ and her long-absconding lover who had finally returned to seek a closure. Perhaps Nafisa felt obligated to take care of us, no matter how much she despised Anton and held him responsible for her friend’s cruel fate. Perhaps, she knew Maya would want her to.
It was an awkward introduction. Anton introduced me as his fiancé and there was a sudden fire in those black eyes which was gone the next second. She asked where we were staying. On learning that we hadn’t arranged for lodging, she insisted that we stay at her place for the day. Anton began to protest but I interrupted. Somehow, I felt curious about the world Anton inhabited with Maya and Maya’s best friend was definitely the doorway to get there.
“She’s Nafisa, my colleague at the University and…” Anton had gulped when he introduced her to me a few hours ago on that dusty road. Almost imperceptibly, I touched his arm, letting him know that I had his back. I had already somehow guessed Nafisa’s connection to Maya.
“….and Maya’s close friend.” Anton had finished. I nodded my head and held out my hand as Nafisa’s eyes bore into me. But that was this morning and Nafisa’s warmth towards me was so natural and effortless, it helped me get rid of my awkwardness. After a sumptuous brunch rustled up by Nafisa, she was preparing to go to her Department for a couple of hours.
“Catch up on some sleep,” she told me, pointing to her bedroom. “I’ll be back soon…” As she turned to leave, I asked her if I could keep Maya’s diary for a few days.
“She seemed to have a natural flair for writing,” I uttered. Nafisa nodded her head, trying to shove her feet into her sandals. Pausing to glance at the page I had open, she walked back to me. I watched her expression change from amused to poignant and back to amused in a matter of seconds as she studied the line. She plucked the journal out of my hand gently and turned to Anton.
“Do you know this line?” Nafisa queried, her eyebrows arched ever so slightly. The colour rose to her cheeks and her voice was a bit hesitant, “Maya often asked… actually it was like a burning question within her…. is … I mean, was she Cynara? Why else would you quote this line for her?”
Anton began to chuckle and all of a sudden, Nafisa was smiling too. I assumed it was a joke both of them intuitively shared without letting me in on it. I struggled to smile.
“Oh Maya! Yes, she fell in love with this poem after I read it out for her one day.” Anton said, his eyes smiling now as he recalled that time spent with Maya.
“After you quoted this line?”
Anton nodded. “It’s one of my favorites.”
“She was…. Cynara?” Nafisa persevered.
Did she feel the urgent need to find the answer to the question that was so important to her deceased friend? I waited with bated breath as Nafisa stared expectantly at him. The air in the room had suddenly become heavy, it was as though Maya was breathing the air in the room.
Anton continued to smile. Then, with that impish grin plastered across his face, he replied, “May be!” At that moment, he looked so endearing that I wanted to rush over and hug him. But I restrained myself and looked at Nafisa, She too was grinning.
“Does that mean yes?” She pestered him. Without wasting a second, Anton piped again, “May be!” He snorted with laughter as she shrieked in mock fury, “Anton!!!” and started hitting him on the head with the journal. After a few hits, he dodged her and started running around the furniture, Nafisa trying to chase him futilely. Soon, she collapsed in a plastic chair that sunk under her weight and broke into fits of giggles.
The ice was broken. I could imagine Maya standing in a corner of the room and laughing as she watched the two people she loved dearly behave like silly, over-grown children engaged in harmless banter. Nafisa’s face glowed and her eyes sparkled as her chest rose and fell from the exertion. Despite everything, she was happy that Anton had come back to all that she held dear… to this old University town, to their collective memories, to Maya!
The man strode down the winding stairs
And raised his eyes to glance but once
Caressing me with his careless glimpse
His feet impatient, but I saw my chance!
I brushed past him, my skirt a-twirl.
My heart a-flutter, I’m his fangirl.
Alas! My show was all a waste
His eyes were glued to the bluish screen
My eyes scanned for a hint of a smile
When startling me, his phone went ringgg!
Soon she arrived, with a plumage of curls
And who stood watching? This silly fangirl
I heaved a sigh , the two then hugged Closing my eyes, I wished time halts
How long who knows.. i just stood there
As a loud bell rang, I awoke with a jolt
Rushed up the stairs, clutching the wall
Sad and forlorn, this sweet fangirl!
Plopping down, I buried my face
“He has someone!” My insides broke
My head was a brick, eyes pools of tears
“Its gonna be alright,” my bestie spoke
Then she squealed, I thought ‘what a churl!’
While wallowing in pity, a distraught fangirl.
But then I looked up, I let out a gasp
My bestie and I, our hands were a clasp
For who had walked in through that door
It was he! The new Math Professor!
Our eyes met, my mind was a whirl
Rejuvenated to life was the dead fangirl.
“Wait! That hat won’t protect you from the sun! It’s more suitable for the summers in your land. But it looks good on you!” The young girl beamed her friendly smile at me. My pale skin had already started to burn from the blazing rays of the unrelenting Indian sun but I was not one to give up easily. I ignored her, continuing on my day’s adventure with a big thermos of ice-cold water slung from my shoulder, sunscreen lotion and mosquito-repellent slathered on every inch of exposed skin, a dozen small bottles of the best brand of mineral water and my expensive DSLR camera. Hat and dark shades perfectly in place, I was annoyed by her over-friendly demeanour. Turning around, I tried to fix her with an unfriendly gaze but her smile did not falter.
“Look at your face! It’s as red as my bangles.” Giggling, she held up her slender wrists adorned with inexpensive glass bangles, four in each hand. Their ruby red shimmered and dazzled in the sunlight. “Here.” She extended her hand with an earthen cup clutched in her fingers which was full of some watery liquid. “Have some ‘lassi’. Home-made. Very good in the heat.”
I noticed that her blouse hung loose on her ill-nourished body and her teeth were rather large when she smiled. Her dark brown skin seemed to have a lustre to it though, may be the unpolluted air all around helped. Her long skirt, which was worn out and patched in some places billowed in the warm breeze and she wrapped it tightly around her as she kept smiling that happy, friendly smile and stared at me with hopeful eyes, willing me to take the cup from her. In this remote village in Southern India, I was surprised this girl could even converse in English.
“No, thank you. I have my own,” I replied unsmiling but she continued to hold it out to me. I thought she had not understood.
“I said I don’t need that!” I said, pointing to the tiny earthen tumbler, a little too loudly and perhaps a little more curtly than I had intended. This time, she did seem to understand and nodded nervously, her eyes sad, and it seemed for a moment that a cloud had obscured her countenance. But the next moment, she was smiling at me again as she took a few steps forward which brought her closer. Instinctively, I drew back and slipped my hand inside my pocket to make sure my wallet was safe. What did this girl want?
When I had left my home in Kent, London, to come on this expedition with a group of photographers like me who worked for prestigious newspapers and internationally acclaimed television channels, I had been repeatedly warned by my wife and friends.
“India!” My wife exclaimed woefully. “Haven’t you been following the news? Come on, Brett! You work alongside journalists every day! How can you not know! ”
I really did know and I could not blame her. I knew about the problems…… the safety issues that had risen almost to the point of threat, especially for foreigners like us, who were often thought of as extremely rich, with thick wads of pound and dollar bills stacked in their wallets. My journalist friend Tim and his female companion were assaulted on his work-cum-holiday expedition in the mangrove forests and marshy lands situated in the India-Bangladesh border. They were there to film some exotic wild life seen in that region, especially the majestic Bengal tiger and were staying at a forest bungalow. A few of the hooligans targeted his girlfriend and Tim was lucky to have been carrying his licensed fire arm which ultimately saved their lives. Tim had recounted this tale of horror many times in gatherings and parties and I had heard many more about duping, frauds and also using children as decoys before the actual gang looted the unwitting tourists. All those horror stories flooded my mind as I tried to calm myself down mentally. What were the odds of this teenager robbing me? Not much, I assured myself.
I was standing at the foot of a small hillock in a deserted stretch of land and there were not many people around. She, on her own was no match for a six feet two burly man like me but what if her gang was hiding in the bushes, waiting to pounce at the first signal from her? What if the drink that she was trying so hard to get me to drink was drugged! I thought fast. May be offering her some money would help me get rid of her…..
“Here, take this…” I held out two hundred rupee notes to her, “You can keep this for… err…. for offering me the drink.” I tried to smile.
Instantly, she started shaking her head and her smile vanished too. “Not selling. Just… just wanted to….,” she seemed to be struggling to find the correct word, “Help! Yes, help.” She smiled again, and her eyes lit up. “Amma says we must try to do a good deed every day to wash away the dirt from our souls. I don’t know what a soul is but when our hut become too hot to stay inside, I make this drink and distribute among all, makes me very happy! I made this myself….,” she labored on.
I noticed that she had placed her precious possession, the earthen cup right next to her and was looking at it anxiously from time to time, as if it would jump up and spill all its contents on the dry earth.
“I always wash my hands and use boiled and cooled water….with yogurt,” she uttered like a parrot and I could not help but smile. I was worried she would ask me to take her drink again but she did not. Humanity poked me in the ribs and I was thinking that maybe I could have one tiny sip, (after all, I was carrying all the necessary medication with me) but the bottled water hiding in my backpack chaffed me and I gave up on the idea. Instead, I asked her what her name was.
“Rumani.” She smiled her toothy grin again. “What’s yours?” I was amazed by her lack of inhibition towards me which was very uncommon in this part of the world. “Brett,” I told her.
“What do you do?” Her questions came quickly and her eyes sparkled in her frank, brown face, as if I was her gateway to a magical world that she had never glimpsed before. I pointed to my camera. “I take pictures.”
“Of what?” I could see curiosity bubbling in her and she gazed, in turn, at my face and at my camera in wondrous amazement.
“Of people, places, animals, nature… anything that is interesting.” I glanced at my watch. It was getting late and I still had to cover a few kilometers to meet up with another photographer buddy who had been covering an Indian temple. The midday sun was blazing like a ball of fire and I noticed the little rivulets of sweat meandering down my face and back. The heat was roasting my skin, penetrating slowly but surely through my cotton shirt. It was too much to bear. She watched with keen eyes as I guzzled the cold water from my thermos. It was time to eat some lunch but the heat made me oblivious to hunger. Looking around frantically, I tried to find a means of transport; bus, cab, anything that could take me to my destination but none were in sight. Cursing under my breath in frustration, I glanced at my watch again.
“Are you getting late?” she piped in her slightly shrill voice. I nodded, barely having the energy to talk. She stared at me for a minute or two. “You need to come with me, to my hut. Its close by. I think you’re going to be sick.”
“No!” That’s the last thing I wanted to do but she was right. I was distinctly starting to feel sick and nauseated. There was no tall tree in sight, just a few shrubs scattered here and there which provided no solace from the oppressive heat. Feeling giddy, I stumbled and was about to fall, face-first on the dry, reddish-brown soil but the girl rushed forward and placing her thin arms under my shoulders, succeeded somehow, in breaking my fall. As I knelt on the ground, holding my head in my hands, I saw her unfasten my backpack from my shoulders and rummage through it.
‘Ahh! There she goes, the little thief!’ I thought, alarmed and angry. ‘All that pretence and now stealing my stuff, taking advantage of my situation!’ Thankfully, there was nothing of much value in the backpack except a spare t-shirt, a small towel, bottled water and my box of sandwiches. She could keep those if she wanted to. Even on the verge of losing consciousness, I could forgive her for stealing my stuff. She was needy, I could see that. If only I had the strength to sit up and call my friend for help! Out of the corner of my eye, I could see her still ransacking my backpack at lightning speed….. I had expected her to run with it! What was she looking for?
Soon, she found the towel and without wasting a minute, she soaked it in the cold water from my flask. She patted my face with the cold towel, gently wiping my eyes with it. At first, I held her hand when she proceeded to take my shades off, but she clicked her tongue impatiently and scolded me for being childish. I noticed that she folded the sunglasses and tucked it carefully in the side pocket of my backpack.
“Careful, now! Don’t sprain your neck! Lower your head slowly!” I did as directed and she hauled my backpack which was lying abandoned on one side, placing it under my head gently. She continued washing my face and neck with the cold towel and splashed some of the ice-cold water on my head. She ran her fingers through my hair repeatedly to spread the wetness all over and then bent over me to look into my eyes, worry and concern writ large on her sun-tanned face. I tried to smile encouragingly.
“You feel better? Hmm? Drink some water.” The girl knelt beside me and lifted my head on her lap. She poured the water gently down my throat, combing my hair with her bony fingers and sprinkling some cold water in my hair as she had done before. It was a little embarrassing but I was already feeling better. I felt strong enough to sit up.
“Don’t!” She scolded and though I knew I was definitely feeling better, I decided to give in to the mother-like authority in her voice and the fierce look on her face. Abandoning my efforts of sitting up, I smiled at her from my prostrate position on the hard, sun-baked earth.
“Thank you for taking such good care of me,” I croaked. “I feel so much better. How old are you?”
“Twenty-two,” she answered carelessly and I was genuinely surprised. I looked at her malnourished body and her face with the slightly high cheek bones.
“You’ve to come home with me. I need my mother to make sure you’ll be alright. You need a cool bath and…. do you have a phone?” she inquired, after a pause.
“Look, I am alright. I really am! I can be on my way now.” I tried to assure her. My conscience kept chiding me for the thoughts I had about her being a thief but now I didn’t want to burden her and her family with looking after me.
A hot breeze had started blowing and she seemed to get more restless. She dismissed my claims with a wave of her hand. “Give me your phone!” I fished it out of my pocket and handed it to her.
“Amma works at the local health clinic here. The only one that takes care of the sick from three near-by villages including ours. None of us have a phone… no one in our village. But this health clinic has a phone so I will try to get her to help….” She waved her hand again when I started to protest, as if swatting an invisible fly and I sighed at her obstinacy. Meanwhile, she kept talking as she took off my canvas shoes and started sponging my feet with the towel, much to my displeasure.
“That is the only phone here… for miles. Oh, one more… the police station… .”
“Is your mother a nurse?” I asked, tentatively. My voice sounded better than before.
“She is a doctor. Actually, the only doctor here for miles. She used to study in a college for doctors, she told me… in a very big city… in Bangalore! I’ve been there once…” she hesitated. “To meet my grandparents…my mother’s parents…” She was staring at the ground, and poking it with a stick absent-mindedly. Her countenance, though partially hidden, was clouded by pain.
She continued, as if compelled by some obligation. “They didn’t behave with us nicely. My grandfather didn’t speak a word to any of us… neither me, nor my parents… and my grandmother hugged me and cried a lot. My mother cried too. She was the only one who gave me sweets… lots of sweets and bangles and a lovely dress. My father sat quietly in one corner, looking guilty as a thief.”
She hesitated. “You see, Appa is a farmer. Not much educated. He has a small piece of land here but…. farming isn’t easy in these dry regions.” I nodded.
“Amma and Appa fell in love when Amma went to see her father’s village. Then Appa followed her back to the city. They wanted to get married but my grandfather wouldn’t hear of it. So, they eloped.”
She started to giggle and made me smile.
“In true Bollywood fashion, eh?” I countered. She nodded, happily.
The positivism and innocence of this young woman whom destiny had deceived in so many ways struck me as extraordinary.
“We are poor but Amma and Appa says that the most important thing is we are happy.”
She glanced at the phone in my hand and slapped her forehead with her palm, berating herself for her distraction.
“Yes, the number. ” she closed her eyes and thought for a minute, then started to dial but the complex touchscreen eluded her and she handed it back to me. She gazed attentively as I dialed the number and signaled for her to speak. Her face glowed with wonder and amazement as she saw the lights flicker, like a child who had just been given a magic wand!
“You want one like it?” I had to find a way to repay this unexpected kindness. For a moment, her eyes glowed like embers. Then she smiled and shook her head in a no.
“Too expensive!” She was holding the phone as if it was something sacred. “Not good for us!”
Her mother arrived soon, together with her husband and they insisted I spend some time resting in their house. The husband nodded and smiled and I guessed he wasn’t conversant in English. Her mother, simple, yet graceful, spoke to me and explained that I had suffered a heat-stroke, so it was best I stayed indoors to avoid more damage from the insufferable heat. As there were no motels or lodges within miles, they insisted that I accompany them.
“We can’t offer you much,” she smiled, as I appreciated her graceful bearings, “but we just want to make sure you don’t suffer another heat-stroke. It’s only going to get worse if you try to keep walking in this heat.”
I didn’t want that so I did as told. The young woman turned on the only small, run-down table fan that produced more noise than cool air and stood on a wobbly table. Struggling, she dragged a heavy, wooden
chair in front of it and in spite of my protests, forced me to sit on it. A few of their neighbors arrived to behold the sight… elderly women offering words of advice, at least that’s what I guessed from their tone… school-age boys with bare torsos and shorts which they had to keep hitching up to avoid a wardrobe malfunction and young women who peeked from behind the door and windows, giggling and
shoving each other. I waved at one of them and she blushed furiously, then burst into a fit of giggles and disappeared behind the door.
My young hostess returned with an earthen tumbler in her hand. “Oh dear!” I thought. “Not that again!”
She smiled as she handed it to me.
Distracted by the giggling girls behind the door, she shooed them away with a few angry words.
“Don’t mind them…” she pointed to the door and shook her head in mock anger, “they have never seen a foreigner before!”
I took a tiny sip from the tumbler and liked it immediately. It was nothing like I had ever tasted…. very different from the soda and the
lemonade we buy from the stores. The cool earthen tumbler had lent the drink a distinct aroma and flavor.
I drank the rest in two quick gulps and looked up to see her smiling with satisfaction.
“Like it?” She beamed. “Appa wanted to get some rice pudding for you but Amma wasn’t sure the milk would suit you…..” She took the tumbler from my hand. “I will make some more for you.”
Without a moment’s hesitation, she pulled another bottle out of my backpack and ran to the tiny kitchen.
As dusk set in, more people arrived with plates laden with food. The mother and daughter got busy serving me. They set the plates down on the floor around me and with their palms joined together, urged me to eat. It was an overwhelming moment. For the first time, I shed my inhibitions and worries aside and shared in their joy of being able to help me. It was like a glimpse to a different world, the happy faces, the toothless smiles, the kind words uttered in an alien language which Rumani tried her best to translate somehow left me speechless.
I started taking pictures of them, the young and old alike. Rumani posed and giggled ceaselessly and I kept clicking her photos. I promised I would print her pictures and send them to her and she provided me with the address of her mother’s clinic.
My friend, who I could finally contact, arrived soon after, looking worried and flustered. But I had never felt so serene and peaceful before. As I stepped outside their hut, the crowd followed me to the car. I joined my palms in greeting and then turned to my hosts. Fishing out a couple of large bills from my wallet, I gestured
to her father to accept them.
He shook his head vehemently and uttered, “Atithi deva bhava.” Puzzled, I looked to Rumani for help and found her looking slightly affronted.
“The guest is the divine Himself,” she explained, “we don’t charge the guest for food and shelter!” All I could do was sigh and walk to the car. She walked with me.
Once I was seated inside, I looked at her face one last time. Her smile was beautiful.
“Come with me!” I blurted, even before realizing that I had spoken the words. Beside me, I could hear my friend gasp as a blush crept up her cheeks. Rumani looked bewildered. Slowly, she turned around and walked back to where her people stood waving, as I stared silently at her retreating form.
After a few days, I mailed the photographs to her. Behind one of her photos, I scribbled a quick note that I would be leaving India the following week and she should contact me if she needed any help in future. I included my address and was sure I would hear from her soon.
I did not.
Years passed and Rumani remained an obscure presence in my mind. One day, I received a letter from her.
“I am getting married next month.” she had written, “We, in our little village, often relive the happy memories we made with you and cherish the photos you sent us. Thank you.”
I scanned the letter eagerly. She had signed her name with a heart to dot the -i- but my eyes were searching for more. Then, I caught a few words at the bottom of the page that had been scribbled out hastily, yet could still be deciphered. I smiled as I read.
The words were: “And please remember to wear a good hat.”