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The Journey Home

The Journey Home

The view of the distant horizon, a promising one, devoid of drudgery is alluring from the dock. A loud cry, a siren, perhaps, disturbs my thoughts. I can feel a kind of rocky hardness on my back and then without warning, there is a sign of dampness that slowly spreads over my body.  I force myself awake and find the woollen blankets wet along with the mattress, sheets and my clothes.  It is Kusela, my fourth born. How is it possible for a six-year-old child to not realise that he has a full bladder while asleep. This cursed being! This just adds to my chores. It is probably the cold mountain air. I should stop blaming my four children for the rugged life bestowed upon me by the hills.

The constantly recurring dream of me in a ship sailing into an elegant sunset disrupts my thoughts, like a giant stone thrown into a calm pond after a rainy day.

I kick Kusela awake and drag him to the bath area that is close to the kitchen, after mindlessly draping my saree.  I pour a pot of hot water from the furnace over him and myself and send him back to bed.  I head to the common pipe in the village a few feet away to wash the sheets and blankets.

‘Where are you going? It is not dawn as yet,’ mumbles my husband from his room, the one adjacent to where I sleep with the boys. Though my first born is almost pre-adolescent, the four of them twine together while asleep and they need me around in the same room.

‘’The house will smell of urine if I store it for later,’ I dismiss him as I walk out of the house. The bruises on my hands from two days ago are still visible though the pain has starkly reduced. I brace myself for the next bout of this man’s rage which lashes sharply like winter storms. And like the accompanying hailstones, they are abrupt and unpredictable, but always cause mayhem.

The crickets are still active as I close the door behind me. With another sleepless night,  the day at work is likely to be a nightmare.

Setting the Path

After completing my duties at home, I begin the routine ascend to the Whittman household. Like the Johnsons, Winstons and a few other English families around, the Whittmans refuse to leave to their homeland, something that annoys Ganesh Anna, my co-worker at the Whittmans.

‘This is Ms.Gandhi’s second term in office. Like the Minister, Mr Whittman and co refuse to retread to their homes,’ he would often scoff. Lakshmi  Akka’s cold stare always controls many a wagging tongue including Ganesh Anna’s.

On reaching their quaint English cottage, the one that is isolated on a hill thick with rich canopies, I rush to the servant room and leave my shawl and sweater there.  The vessels have not piled up in the kitchen. I go to Mrs Whittman’s room and softly knock as I was trained a few years ago. No reply.

Mr Whittman, back from his morning rounds to the tea estate is out in the garden, sipping his morning coffee, while a familiar tune from the gramophone fills the house.  In the last few months, Mrs Whittman has been addicted to sleeping. When not dormant, she is out in the garden starring into the wilderness. On rare instances, there are extended monologues from behind the closed wooden doors.

She has set an eye on the path I think to myself.

The Preparation and Planning

Mr Whittman is at the table for breakfast, and Arasa is ready to serve him toast and eggs. He always emphasises on appropriate etiquette. Mrs Whittman is unorthodox and sometimes joins us for lunch in the backroom, without his knowledge. She teaches us English on lazy afternoons and always fixes her cup of tea. Like her, the brew is refreshing with divergent flavours (like citrus) combining to form an exclusive blend as unique as her.

I knock at the bedroom door again and hear a ‘yes.’

I walk in to find Mrs Whittman carefully pacing the room in her nightgown oblivious to the brightness outdoors.

‘What is wrong, Madam?’ This enquiry was long due.

‘Nothing. Why do you ask?’ she forces a frigid reply.

‘Madam, you have not been yourself lately.’

‘I am fine,’ her mysterious indifference is at times alarming. ‘Just that I have this recurring dream of me on a huge ship, and there is a sunrise in the distance.’ She is lost as soon as she blurts it out.

I am taken aback, but I leave her to her thoughts which I guess is conspiring to swallow her quickly in swift motions just the way her favourite garden lizard engulfs its timid prey.

Late afternoon as a distant woodpecker sets out to etch a home somewhere in the surrounding woods, she asks for her tea. She asks me to sit by her side on the lawn as I serve tea in her favourite bone china tea set. She watches with bewilderment in her mid-length dress, from the cane chair, as I carefully pour the thick milk from the pot stirring it into the strong decoction in the cup. The colour in the cup changes rapidly with every stroke of the silver spoon.

‘Run and fetch a glass for yourself,’ she asks.

I refuse and slip into a comfortable position by her side. She looks at me, puzzled. Her once big, brown and cheerful eyes are slowly losing its magnitude and sheen to the vagaries of advancing years. I say that out loud, and she smiles.

‘I am in my late fifties now, Venni,’ she tries to justify. ‘I am planning to go,’ she continues, carefully pausing between each word.

‘’Where to, Madam? Visiting your sister in Bombay?’

‘No. Home.’ There is an old fervour in her voice.

‘But this is your home, Madam. It has been for the last thirty years.’ I realise that there is a change in my voice, and I try hard to swallow the hasty lump in my throat.

‘Not anymore. It stopped being one when I failed to conceive after five years of my marriage. I held on.’ She has her gaze fixed at the sparse view of the distant plains in between the folds of the mountains.

‘Madam… But? Sir?’ I search for the right words.

‘He is going to be fine here. I feel like a bird trapped in a glass cage, Venni. There is no hope of fresh air. I am going to join my friends and relatives, only a little more than two decades later.’

I find that an opportune moment to confess my dream and desire.

‘But, your children? Family? Think well, Venni. This, to me, is foreign soil. Your ancestors have been here ever since these mountains came into being. You belong here.’ She pleads.

‘Madam, you know where your home is. I am still looking for mine. This cursed land has imposed upon me a life of maltreatment, the one I accepted out of respect to my ancestors. I want a home where I can shed the identities that are glued into my being here’ I confess for the first time.

She holds my hands and succumbs to soft sobs, and we both stare at the plains peeking at us from behind the mountains.

The Journey

The date was fixed. I come home late afternoon from work on the day of departure and carry my bundle of clothes in a hurry before the kids are back from school. In my bundle,  I also carry some knick-knack from their collected treasure. I run uphill to the Whittman villa. As planned, Swaminathan Anna is there with his Fiat. Mr Whittman is nowhere in the vicinity.

Mrs Whittman steps outside with a medium sized aluminium trunk box and a small suitcase. As we step into the car which is to take us to the train station 30 kilometres away, she looks back at the house one last time, devoid of emotions.

Destination

The city of Madras radiates splendour, more than what my imagination could assume. The colour, the buzz, the heat is all new to the both of us.

‘My ship is in three weeks. We will find you a home before that’ she beams from her chair on the porch, in her Cousin Mendez’s house on a secluded street. ‘Hope nobody comes looking for you before that.’ She seems to be as anxious as I am.

The vibrant evenings in this place are spent outdoors. One evening as both of us try to catch the joyful waves; there are people of all colours around us. As hoards of them, more than ten times the people in my village, wet their feet in the welcoming waves, their clothes- sarees, gowns, salwar kameez soak in the acceptance, their identities dissolving with the foam.

Darelle Whittman looks around fondly, an uncanny illumination in her eyes.

‘Are we home, Venni?’ She smiles.

 

 

What is Truth?

What is Truth?

For any coastal town, the monsoon rains are manna from heaven. The first whiff of the moist wind brings in the life to our precious crops. It is not just the crops; those winds heal our bruised selves, both inside and out after the brutal summer heat.

Monsoon is also the time my wife rejoices the most with every spell of rainfall. In her view, her kitchen garden in the balcony of our apartment is more ‘alive.’  It is amazing what this woman could do with a 400sq.ft balcony space and a set of books on gardening. Monsoons are special to me because of the extensive kappa(tapioca) meals after the yield. And I must say, the magic of her hands are beyond narration.

Monsoon mornings are the time for prolonged reading and unlimited Kattan kappi (black coffee) in glass tumblers that my wife serves with much fuss. To get to that phase of my life, I have decades of drudgery left. If I could get over with these two decades, or maybe three; depends on my capability perhaps.

The world of words

 My life as a journalist came with a fair share of rewards, the biggest one being my life-partner.  It also gave me a sense of empowerment and social responsibility. The life that I have today is the one that I had dreamt of a decade ago.

As the only man in the midst of women in the family (mother, wife and two daughters), I have become more sensitive to their thoughts and needs. Now, all it takes is a change in their eyebrow pattern to understand what goes on in their minds. Each of them has inspired my way with the words, for which I am truly grateful.

My professional life is not as complicated as you think. Correction, my job was not complicated. I had a pleasant journey reporting from the fields- a satisfying one until the world decided to embrace the concept of post-truth. Ever since the growing sense of exasperation within my professional circle has become stronger.

At times I wish I could live in the world of my 6-year old where everything is either black or white. With the emergence of different hues of grey, I do not know what kind of grey portrayal my words disclose. As the lines blur, I find my steady oars slipping from my hands into the water darkened with disinformation and misrepresentation.

I wish facts were as bare as the monsoon winds, as reliable as the assailing showers those winds bring, its impact visible even to the visionless, like the mornings after a heavy tropical thunderstorm.

The Assignment

  On one monsoon morning, when the very kind south-west winds enthralled our town with their gracious dance, I set out to complete my assignment. I was to meet Reshmi at a baker joint; who would later take me to the victim my story was about.

I first met Reshmi through a mutual friend. Reshmi always had a divine aura about her, the kind that made every passer-by look at her in awe. For the type of tribulations she had undergone, I always wonder how she maintained her spirits high, all day, every day.

Within her mesmerizing smile, there hid a hint of sadness that glimmered in her eyes, and only those close to her could read it. As we exchange pleasantries and settle down for coffee, she enquires about my work, and I tell her about the frustration in my mind.

‘Well it bothers me too,’ she trails with her radiant smile brightening up the entire room. ‘It is annoying when you spend hours immersed in your morning paper and when you close, you do not know if you have read the right content.’

I prod her to share more of her thoughts, and she begins her sermon, something that I enjoy and yet like to mock.

‘The other day, T, (She always addressed me with the first letter of my last name) we were driving and my 12-year-old despite repeated warnings flung an empty carton onto to the road. This behaviour in spite of me slowing down close to the bin and asking her to get out of the car to discard it.’

I was curious to know where she was arriving.

‘It was not a big crime by Indian standards,’ she continued. ‘But if someone were to question her, she would blame the wind.’

‘Sorry,’ I say.

‘It is a scenario in which she could say that she had taken care to dispose the carton with care and yet it landed on the road with a strong wind.’

‘So?’ I ask, a little perplexed.

‘We are a society of, well as my 12-year-old puts it, losers. We have failed at multiple levels and hence the blame game. Well, in my opinion, the truth is not a prism. You cannot have multitude angels and myriad hues.’

I couldn’t say I agreed with her, but let her continue.

‘Well, in yesterday’s incident, I failed as a parent to correct my daughter, and my daughter failed as a citizen to keep her streets clean. Yet, we both complain time and again about our inefficient municipal workers and curse them to hell when they go on a strike’.

‘It is a similar scenario everywhere, don’t you think,’ she continues without waiting for my response. ‘From the sweeper who does a shabby work to the ward representative who is immune to erroneous work, we have all failed.’

I couldn’t help but agree with what she was saying.

She continues between sips of her coffee. ‘From the employee who manipulates his medical bills to the corporate bigwigs who abuse natural water bodies to build structures that smear our beautiful skyline, we have all failed.’

‘From the greedy vendor who uses Feviryl as a substitute for milk and sells the chemical- laden tea to children,  to the governments that sells perennial rivers to the Cola companies, we are a society of collective failure headed towards collapse.’

‘Do you get me, T? The more complex our lies get, the more variation there is to reality and for that matter, even validity. To put it in your style, the more the vicious roots of dishonesty spreads, the more alternatives there are to the hues of grey.’

While I let that thought sink in, she wipes her mouth with a tissue. ‘Brace yourself, brother, the victim you are about to meet is in bad shape.’

As we step out, the storm clouds darken overhead, and the dense winds strangulate our respiratory tract. Praying for quick relief, we run to our cars.

The Unwritten Reply

The Unwritten Reply

It was a beautiful spring morning. Aditi was determined to clear the clutter in her study, despite the temptations from her garden that was now in full bloom. Like most other women she knew, she had an urge to declutter every time she had to clear her mind off the needless muddle.

She was also tempted to tend to the shrubs in the garden. The place reserved in her garden for the Matura tea tree has never been blessed. The bush always took life and just when there was a promise of a bloom, something killed the plant. She forgot the number of times she had to uproot the shrub. It killed her every time she did it. The place was large and the conditions favorable, but the plant probably was long dead internally, like her.

This time she had planted it in a small patch of soil right outside of her bedroom. ‘The place is too small, and there is no hope for nutrition there. That patch is polluted with concrete dust’, her father had warned. Nevertheless, her precious Avarampoo shrub gave the promise of blossom, and she felt it had found its home.  However, she had not seen it in the last week that she was away. When she had enquired her mother about the plant during one of their phone conversations, all she received was a blatant reply.

She put the garden out of her mind and entered her study. She started with the first rack of her bookshelf. Behind the books on the top shelf lay a beige paper box decorated with shells. She knew what lay inside and was tempted to open it. ‘Later,’ she thought; but soon gave in. She took the box with her and settled on the floor cushion, careful not to disturb the Ikkat patterns on its cover.

She hurriedly let her hands search through the neat stack of letters inside the box. She found the one she was looking for. It was a simple light yellow envelope, now stained and battered from the decades of preservation. She opened it to read the letter for the umpteenth time.

The letter read:

Date: April 2003.

My most beloved Child,

    I hope this letter finds you in the best of health and good spirits. It is increasingly difficult to believe you will be graduating college next year. I do not know though if I would live to see that. My hand shivers constantly and I am writing this letter with the utmost difficulty.

  If there is no further correspondence from my end, know that Nana loves you with all his heart and soul. You gave me a reason to live when I was approaching my twilight years. Yes, there were other grand-children before you, but you were you. You were the only one who sat through when I opened to read a book to you all. You were the only one who was never bored of Mahabharata. You were constantly amazed by the tale.

 I do not know what life has in store for you. I see in you a luminous spark. I wish you find contentment in living, and strength and determination to cross the hurdles that obstruct your path. Always remember my child, no matter what comes in life hold on to your dignity and self-esteem. You have to know that conceit is not a harmful term.  If you face a situation when you have to put your self-respect above everything else, never have second thoughts.

May you find everything your heart wishes for, dear one. You are in my prayers today and forever.

                                                                                  Love and Prayers,                                                                                                                                                      Nanna.  

This was the only letter that Aditi had not replied to. But she read it every time she had to be sure of herself.  She pulled the letter pad from her desk and began to scribble the reply that was long due.

Dearmost Nanna,

   A decade and a half is a very long time to reply to a letter. I write because it is summer and I miss you the most this time of the year.  I miss balancing on your shoulder while trying to pick mangoes in our backyard. I miss falling asleep on your shoulders, and I miss our dinner table conversations.

 I also write because nobody is ready to listen. There is not a single human who is willing to see me as I am. They either sympathize or dismiss me as impulsive and bullheaded.

 All along, I knew marriage was not my cup of tea. I was a fiercely self-reliant soul, and I did not see myself living in harmony with a stranger that I had never met until a year before we were destined to live our lives together. Yet, I obliged.

 I thought I could sail through the storms that were aplenty. As I tackled one high-tide, the other one emerged, stronger and fiercer. Yet, I swam with the tide.

 It was idiotic of my family to believe that a lovebird could come out of a vulture’s stick nest or crevice. My life might have been destined with an Agapornis; nevertheless, the loving bird was groomed by a deadly vulture. How can a lovebird be any different when it is nursed by a vulture? I lived in a dark, unkempt cave of those birds that feasted on the living and sometimes took me for a prey. Yet I made room while offering myself.

The birth of the twins brought-in all the light I needed within the dark cave. Least did I know, my light would kindle the worst kinds of resent in the Dowager (A demon of a woman). Through most of my postpartum days, I went to bed while the acids in my stomach consumed me. Yet, I rolled with it.

I stood up to defend myself on several occasions, only to be accursed and tagged as hot-blooded and hasty. Yet, I put myself out.

True, my ex-spouse was not an alcoholic, nor a smoker. I was never assaulted physically, ever. But the wounds my mind endured are deep and intolerable. I am still healing, and I have a long way to go. Yet, I tolerated.

My palatial mansion was rather a den that longed for some light. My luxury car only wanted a companion and nothing else. My glittery jewellery longed for some honest smiles. The more I enthralled in opulence, the more lonesome I became. Yet, I fit-in.

As the girls grew, I knew I did not want them to become desolate beings. I wanted them to be the woman that Nanni was- confident, independent, strong-willed, resilient and joyful. I knew that a den is the last place to look for joy and optimism.

 Together we walked out, one beautiful morning tackling the attacks from the beast. Yes, we have scars for life. But, they are the lessons we will carry onto eternity.

  As you would say ‘Conceit is the quicksand of success.’ I do not know in the future, but it helped me overcome an enormous demon.                                                     

                                                                                   Yours (no more in distress),                                                                                                                                                     Aditi.

As she opened the window of the study, the bright, glowing buds of the Matura tea tree spread their radiance as the grey clouds converged.

Also published here (  https://www.womensweb.in/2018/11/marriage-was-not-my-cup-of-tea-nov18wk5sr/)

Her Contradictory Confidante

Her Contradictory Confidante

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.

Dhurya

    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.

Wedding Bells

   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.

Seasons Change

   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?’

The Meeting

    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.