It was meant to be a bright day; at least that was what Meenakshi thought. She hates it when all the intensity of the bright star and warmth tuck away within the fluff of the grey stratus. Or was it cumulus? Ah! Those degrading neurons! At least they have spared her memory.
It was that time of the year she nurtured fenugreek in her backyard, and she hates it when the daylight fades into the cirrus. Yes, cirrus it is! Probably her neurons haven’t withered. If there is one thing she has learnt in all these decades of her inhabitance, it is that you never know when the dark horizon would transform into hues of delightful red and tangerine.
She hoped she wouldn’t see another season of cankered tomatoes. Canker, rots… her mind eventually turns its focus on the man who lay on the bed at the corner of the room. She had walked miles to visit him today. ‘Gosh, You idiot! What kind of a demon took possession of you all these years?’ She mumbled. He smiled through his closed eyelids. The curve was kind of an involuntary response every time he heard her voice, even if it was an echo across the field with shoulder-high maize crops.
The colour of the man
For the longest period of her life, Meenakshi’s nightmare was the red rot. Slowly and unsuspectingly the germ would creep into a corner of her tea plantation. And then like wildfire, it would engulf the entire stretch of carefully tended shrubs in one wild stroke. That meant all those months of hard work would end up down the drain.
She wondered what kind of rot had engulfed this man who lay still in the bed. It was definitely a red one she was sure- the colour of his rage. As she sat there by his bedside, she forced herself to stroke the tuft of his soft grey curls every now and then. She reminded herself that back in the day when she knew him well… Knew him well? Was that all? She shook her head sluggishly. Back in the day, when she considered him an extension of her soul, his spirit had just one colour- pure white. Unblotted and perfect white- That was the Dhurya she knew.
This almost lifeless man was once a mighty being. A man with a demeanour as majestic as the mountains they both called home. A man whose spirits was as gentle as the afternoon mountain breeze. He was at times coy; mostly amiable, but always with a genuine smile- the curve that caused a hollow on the exteriors of his buccinators. A man with a spotless mind; driven by his aspirations. A man who could handle any precarious circumstance with his characteristic savoir-faire. A man of few words, her D was an epitome of benevolence.
She cannot recollect how and when she first met Dhurya. Seven decades is a long time. It seemed like another life, another world. What she remembered though was in those initial days, she always recognized him with his rhinorrhoea, a characteristic that stayed with him through all seasons.
Those germinal years of their relationship
Dhurya’s native hamlet is Meenakshi’s maternal home. In fact, it was the only place she called home as she grew up with her maternal grandparents. They both attended the local school, the best in the neighborhood and their friendship grew while competing with each other for the top spot in the class.
All through their days in the classroom, they helped each other grab the number one spot and the position of the topper always oscillated between the two. And in a jiffy, ten years had passed. Even throughout her adolescence, they had not sidestepped their friendship. The memory of the day she explained the changes her body had undergone and the pain that came with it was still vivid.
After ten years of life within the classroom walls, they were both confined to working with the rich laterite in the sloppy terrains that bordered their hamlet. In those days of tilling and sowing they had always longed to cross the hill on the eastern end of their village- for beyond that slope lay opportunities aplenty.
Dhurya’s father did not have the resources to put him through university. Though Meenakshi’s father had the resources, she carried with her the curse of the gender. As per her father’s dreadful fear, if she were to graduate, she would remain a lone woman all her life.
Desires – Some fulfilled, some abandoned
‘Now that my destiny is set, I know what I want’ said Dhurya one pleasant spring afternoon over their lunch, as they sat perched on the rock. ‘What is that?’ said Meenakshi as she split the millet ball into equal halves. ‘I know I cannot cross that hill and return as an executive or bureaucrat. But I can buy that hill and the one beyond and the one beyond.’
‘Say something’ he continued as she carefully poured black coffee from the tall yellow flask into the two steel mugs. ‘I sincerely hope and pray that you will,’ said Meenakshi. ‘Gosh! Too much jaggery; again!’ he quipped. She smiled and winked in response.
Years flew, and it was time for Meenakshi to return to her paternal home. Dhurya knew that he would miss her incessant chatter and her vivacious smile. He also knew that she would leave a void that could never be filled. What he didn’t realize though was that the vacuum would only get bigger by the passing day.
Soon Meenakshi’s big day arrived. She was set to marry an administrative official, just as she had hoped. ‘Not someone who depended on the soil, Dhurya,’ she would say quite often when asked about her intentions. She would also add, ‘The field is my territory, I cannot have a man there.’
On the day of the ceremony, as Dhurya saw Meenakshi glow from a distance, all he could think of was the contentment she bought into his life and the kind of prospects this woman could have had. As he walked back home, Dhurya realized he would never have a companion as valuable.
Seasons passed by. Their conversations were reduced to just exchange of pleasantries during common gatherings. On the rarest of occasions, they would settle for a chat that would eventually be wound-up hastily.
In years that followed, Dhurya saw some progress for the years of extreme drudgery. He was able to purchase a hectare of a fertile patch. Meenakshi hears of his progress and the occasional setbacks from family and friends as she could hardly venture outdoors with the kids; now two in number.
Another Wedding – countless emotions
It was an unusually warm afternoon, and the kids were asleep, and Meenakshi sat down to clean the harvested millets. Just then, she saw her cousin Rukmani head towards her home. ‘Did you know that Dhurya is engaged to marry Devi?’ she blurted, still gasping for her breath.
‘Who’s Devi?’ quizzed Meenakshi.
‘Don’t you know Devi? The beautiful daughter of the bigwig who owns the factory in the valley.’
‘Goodness Gracious! I am thrilled for him!’, exclaims Meenakshi.
Rukmani’s perturbed face conveyed untold emotions that Meenakshi decided to ignore.
The day of the wedding soon arrived. The celebrations were an intimate affair with just the closest family members. The bride with all her beauteous radiance was nothing short of an impeccable sculpture. As Meenakshi exchanged smiles with Dhurya from across the huddled room, least did she know that this would be their last heartfelt interaction.
Many winters passed-by. Some monsoons were kind, and others were not. The rich laterite blessed the small population of the village on some occasions and failed on the others. Yet, days moved on. But they lived with the hope that there was always another summer and who knows what bounty the clouds could bring at the end of the hot season.
Winters were a laid-back affair in their world. Days started late and ended soon. It was also the season they all longed for. Despite the bitter fog and brutal northern winds, their wearied muscles had the luxury of staying idle.
On one intensely frosty winter morning, Meenakshi heard a knock on her door, which grew fierce in a matter of seconds. It was Rukmani, again. With eyes barely open, Meenakshi yells ‘Oh Woman! What is the need….. ?’
‘Devi is no more.’ Rukmani blurts; her cry completely devoid of empathy.
As they spread the mat on the floor, adjacent to the fire oven, with the aroma of black coffee spreading to the others asleep in the house, Meenakshi finally speaks up, ‘How?’
‘In her sleep. Nobody knows the reason.’
‘We will leave once the kids are off to school.’
Into the Abyss
‘You would never know the value of companionship until you reap the benefits, Meen, just the way you wouldn’t understand the quality of manure until harvest,’ she still remembered that conversation with Dhurya from many winters ago when they walked back to their homes up the sturdy path. He was a man with a deep sense of attachment. How would she face him now?
She did not get a glimpse of his grief-stricken face at the funeral. It took hours to flounder past the sea of people to pay her final respects. The scene remained the same even during the post-funeral formalities.
It was the most extreme form of torment to see the once majestic man bow his head to the ground, almost crumbled like the depleted muck beneath his sturdy feet. After the formalities and rituals on that misty morning, with a fuzzy vision of what lay ahead, Meenakshi walked back home.
Her innumerable attempts to meet Dhurya and talk to him had gone in vain.
The Herald From Across the four hills
At the onset of summer, the villages on the hills first prepare their herd for the heat. The rituals last about six hours, and it involves bathing the cattle in the pristine waters of the stream that borders their village. On that particular day and the days that followed, the burble of the silver waters muttered Dhurya’s tales of isolation and self-devastation
‘He does not speak to a soul.’
‘He is extremely stern with the kids. They cry all day and night of fear.’
‘He is enraged all the time, for no apparent reason.’
The whispers never stopped. They echoed across the temple walls and the walls of the community hall.
The winds that accompanied nightfall conveyed stories of his arrogance. The defaming sough never did stop.
‘Last week he lashed at poor Aunt Shantha for dropping by his house. He does not entertain visitors.’
‘Devi’s relatives received an earful when they went to visit the kids.’
‘ Just the other day, Arjun was accursed for greeting him in the morning.’
‘He must be possessed!’
On some rare occasions, the sound of the hooves of the palfreys belonging to the colonial masters communicated the stories of his accomplishments which bought Meenakshi some solace.
‘ Heard? Last week, Dhurya registered close to 8 hectares of the fertile patch by the stream.’
‘The entire slope of Brook’s hill, close to 16 hectares of cultivable land is now his.’
‘He works for more than 12 hours’.
‘The first in town to cross the 50-hectare mark. What greed!’
‘He is also in talks for another 30 acres around the forest. Will he ever stop?’
Meenakshi now learnt of all of Dhurya’s milestones and his lowering integrity from across the three hills that separated them, almost every other week. Those tarnishing remarks in the form of verbal scourge meant to hit Dhurya always bruised her internally, but she always pleaded for his well-being with the Gods and believed that that the malignant spirit would soon leave his body.
One autumn morning, when the crowds had assembled in the village at a funeral of a respected septuagenarian, Meenakshi saw a man seated away from the group, in solitude, looking in the direction of her house. His toiled physique may have bulked-up over the years, but from the poise, she knew who he was.
She had walked up to him, thrilled yet reluctant while he sat his back faced to her. He turned around to the very familiar sound of her tread and at once leapt to his feet.
No matter how her memories fail her; Meenakshi would never forget that day. As they held each other’s gaze for a brief moment, the grey clouds threatened overhead, and she had swallowed a soft sob. His moist eyes had conveyed a billion emotions that his stoic expressions couldn’t.
After minutes of staring into each other’s face, Dhurya finally spoke: ‘I went far and wide in search of light, Meen. But all the while I had failed to realize that I had found it ages ago within your shadow’.
Their brief meeting had only lasted as long as a few gushes of the wind that announced rainstorm, but for Meenakshi, it was a moment she had waited for all eternity.
The Colours of Farewell
Words! If only the right ones were spoken at the right moment.
As she leaned on the chill wall, recollecting all these years that passed by in a flash, she smiles at the familiar being, now motionless by her side, and strokes his curls, one last time.
As the intervals between his breaths widen, Meenakshi bends down to his ears to utter what she had meant to.
‘You were and still are the voice of my conscience, D. You will always be– telling me right from wrong and pushing me to aspire for more.’
As she walks out, she stands at his gate enthralled at the sight of the colours of twilight. She was right; you may never know when the grey clouds would clear up to reveal the myriad shades of the bewitching evening skies.
As for Dhurya, the name that instantly and involuntarily sets a curve on her lips; he will always be the first realm of sunlight on a frosty winter morning, bringing along light, warmth, and hope, most of all- Hope.