I HAD NEVER EXPECTED the revival of my life, in such a full swing. I never expected that I would start learning to live so differently. Till that day the signature my past had put on my life had not faded.
Until that day I had fiercely guarded my heart from letting it out. But on that day I was on a journey, the journey that changed everything that was I. The journey worked like a bridge that has separated my past and what I am today. The train headed on a plain land, after leaving the rocks and the thorns behind. I opened a side window. It opened like a book that I had read and loved—the green leaves, the green plains. I took the fresh breath and enclosed the green expanse within my eyelids.
The nightlong journey ended with slight fatigue inside and heavy brushing of shoulders outside, on the platform. Ticket collector stood with notable negligence, polishing a brass buckle of his belt. When I smiled at him, at the buckle, and at his blue coat, oily at the collar, he responded with professional apathy. Collection of tickets was a mandatory work, and to smile an optional. He only did his mandatory one. Then the blue coat turned his red-wet lips to spray some remnants of his chewed stuff in a give-me-the-waste box.
For going out of the station safely one would have to avoid looking at station ground that would be emptied and refilled by the whistles of trains, ignore the boiling sea of the people, unlike each other in caste, colour and creed, and sizes of their heads. Then there would emerge some faces, too, standing discretely at periphery, seemingly wearing an aged dilemma over their tense foreheads that should they move left or right. Thereafter one would come out, reaching at the main gate. [Image Courtesy Wikimedia Commons]
I was at the main gate.
Unlike his habit, Anand was not late. I saw him at the main gate. I did not know who found whom. But one thing happened—he took my all the luggage. Anand: my friend, a reluctant visitor at my home, a casual smoker, and a professor in the college of languages. He used his entire speaking skill and language prowess at the college only, maintaining a sober posture at home.
The longest conversation till the day was like this, that too, after three months we met. The talk was like this:
“Anand, when I was thrown out of home I don’t feel it like a loss. We don’t feel at loss if the thing we loose has no further value in our eyes. But now I fear for Tina, her future.”
“You’re a dress designer. So you need a new design to be feared.”
“Yes. I’ve found a newest one, too.”
“May I know the name of that design?”
“No, because it is you. I fear you…”
“No.” He put his finger on my lips. “You will never loose your value in my eyes. Sheila, I can’t say how much I regard you.”
After that day, whenever I tried taking more than usual, he would start smoking a cigarette. That was all that I could tell about him in those days.
I was going at his home. His home, the village was far and it needed a horse cart ride for five miles. Anand arranged my entire luggage in the horse cart: a bag, an umbrella, water bottle and the big rug. The stock of fear and gloom I had left at home.
“I would have taken a bike. But I think you will enjoy the horse-cart”
“I enjoy your calling me here,” I said.
“Papa and Mummy wanted you to be here for some days.”
Papa had been telling Anand to get Tina and me at the village, during Tina’s leave period. His parents liked me for how I behaved with them and served Papa when he was admitted in city hospital. Anand always told me about his parents desire to see me at their village home.
“I WAS MARRIED WHEN Anand was only of two years. His mother died due to snakebite. Working in our field.” Sujata, Anand’s mother, in fact his stepmother, told me all about the family. Mummy, as Anand called her, was dry skin and white hair, satin while. She was barely able to do the necessary work at home. She told me about Anand’s wife and how she died during first childbirth, after five years of marriage.
“Mammy, why Anand didn’t remarry? It’s seven years she died.”
“We’ve dried out tongue by telling him. He tells us not to talk about remarriage.”
“I can’t bear the seat of tractor.” Papa told me, when Anand was away. I knew his feebleness to talk with Anand. Despite having a fair chance of earning from agriculture, Papa had failed to cultivate the land properly. That made them dependant on Anand.
“Papa, can you seat beside a driver?”
“Yes, but Anand never liked our farms.”
“I will drive. You sit beside me and guide. Okay?”
“You? Will you till the land?”
“Why? Papa, women fly planes now a day. I will ply a tractor only.”
ANAND HAD THE WONDER of his life. My desired to till the barren land baffled him. He did not comment. The farm, twenty-acre land was ploughed within three days. It became my routine to fetch Mummy and Papa daily to the farm, get Mummy sit under the cool shadow of the trees near well, and then start driving the tractor, to and fro.
The land was not as hard as I had supposed, and the tilling was not a difficult lesson.
IT WAS ONE WEEK at the village: Anand’s leave period ended.
“We shall go tomorrow, by morning train. “
“I will be here for some days, with Papa and Mummy.” I declared my decision. Anand had a surprise of his life, perhaps.
“Sheila, you have your job.”
“You know what my job is. It’s okay. I have it. But here, in this village and with Mummy and Papa I have a life. Let me live my life for some more days. Please. You may go.”
It was the astonishment for Papa and mummy, too.
Anand left for the city.
THE ROUTINE DID NOT change much. I would awake early and help mummy in kitchen. Churning of curd and collecting fresh butter in an earthen pot would take its time and impart me education and gladness. Then there would start the preparation to go to the farm that was two miles away from home.
Mummy baked chapattis, boiled vegetable and watched us, Papa and me, mounted on the tractor. At noon we would rest under a thick tree, talking about how the others farmers do their work. Lunch would be under the same tree. Papa would not forget to serve me fresh butter and honey. As the rain hadn’t started yet, I initiated the work of levelling the uneven portion of the farm.
The sowing season was yet to start, after the first rain. The old pairs of eyes eagerly waited for the rain. They felt themselves energetic and hopeful in my presence. I sent a telegram to Anand. ‘I am to live here until the sowing is over. We are farmers, Mr. Professor.’ I sent a detailed letter to Tina, too.
“Mummy, are there snakes still in the farm?”
“No. Now it’s rats, spoiling the crops.” I had only fear left in my life perhaps: the fear of a snake coming out suddenly and biting me. Our farm was triangle shaped and uneven. Yes it was now our farm. I had cultivated such an intimacy with every piece of the land there.
“Next year I will come earlier.” I said.
It resulted into tears in the eyes of the old couple. They failed to conceive that a city woman—a ‘Ma’am’ as they used to call me in initial days—could work like a farmer. The first rain was adequate for a proper sowing. I lost no time to start early showing with the help of one lame labourer and his wife who had eloped twice with a seller of bangles. She had planned to elope again, as she told me, in case her husband would fail to buy one pair of silver bangles for her before end of the rainy season.
SOWING WAS OVER and the first rain had stopped. But the rain of tears didn’t stop in the old eyes when I was leaving. Mummy made Bengali sweets, took a big can, and packed it for Tina. It was Godsend happiness for me. I remembered everything in sequence: I bathed in the flowing river daily; I ran on the fields, which were fertile like untouched wombs; I was honoured and loved.
“Don’t jump from the height.” Papa would warn me every time about the sand whenever I would hurry to jump and bathe in flowing river. Had I had got seclusion; I would have bathed naked in the river.
“Where do your parents live, Sheila?” Papa had never asked me about my family. But at the parting time, sitting beside in the horse cart, it was the air of intimacy. Instead of my denial, they had come up to the railway station.
“Papa, my daughter is my entire family.”
“No, my daughter. We’re you family.” Mummy could not deliver more words. But my raining eyes revealed everything under the chest.
I boarded the train with heavy heart.
THE REST IS NEARLY less important: my marriage, the remarriage for both of us, Tina being sent for higher study in UK, and my living most of the time at the village, especially during monsoon seasons. Otherwise Mummy and Papa lived with me, yes with me and my husband—Anand.
END OF THE STORY