In Kaziranga

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Lonely in the hills of Assam, Sanchari years for a life long lost.

Submitted: April 24, 2015

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Submitted: April 24, 2015

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September 19, 1990

Dear Sushant,

You must wonder why I write to you now. After all, had we not exhausted all our conversations, everything that was ever to be said between you and me? I ask myself this too as I remember the silence that came to fill our lives.

Remember that time, that final time, when you came to drop me off at Jorhat? It was a wintry night. I was next to the window, struggling to pull down the glass shutter. You were on the other side, reading a book. I looked at you then and hoped you would look up. And you did. You saw me struggling. You rose, pulled down the window hard and shut it tight. The flow of cold air stopped. I also hoped you would say something, but you didn’t say a word. You went back to your book.

Silence.

We used to play that game when we were small. It was Baba’s way of putting us to sleep. “Silence,” he would say, “that’s the game. Whoever stays silent longer wins.”

You always won.

Hidden beneath the bed sheet, you could keep looking at the light as it filtered through the white sheet while the sheet wavered with every little gust from the ceiling fan, and not say a word. I could never resist a giggle. I was the boisterous one. Perhaps it was in fitness of things, then, that when silence arrived to prevail, I was the last to be taken.

Baba, of course, was the first to go.

That night, Baba was at the station to receive us. Wearing his monkey cap, he waited outside the Station Master’s office as our train came to a gradual halt. Our train was six hours late, but Baba had stood there waiting in the winter chill.

He wore his monkey cap, but behind it, his face had shrunk. He had become weak. He had become old in four short years. His eyes had lost their luster. The eyes, now, of an old man. My father had become an old man. Rama di said that the process had begun the day we had left.

The house was in disarray – parts of it were now visited only by darkness. The backyard was full of weeds. The dispensary had been closed. Ants lined up to reach for what remained of the tiny globules of milk sugar in those dark homeopathic medicine bottles. There were no patients anymore. Baba was too weak for them.

Just four years, Sushant, and everything had changed.

In the mornings we would go out for walks. Baba and I. We would walk around the hills and go to the banks of Bramhaputra. Sitting by the river, Baba would sometimes ask me about our life in Calcutta. Then, as I would begin to tell him, he would stop listening and stare into the sky. It was a winter sky – cold, blue and barren. I knew then that I was beginning to lose him.

Baba had forgiven me. And he had forgiven you. That night, at the station, you had touched his feet but you had not spoken. He did not speak either. You stayed at the station to take the train back. On our way to home, Baba held my hands tight like a child. His hands were cold and shaky.

He did not live through the winter.

I have moved on Sushant. I now work for an NGO in Kaziranga. It is an orphanage run by some American missionaries.

It is beautiful here. The hills around are lush and green. When the night falls, I look at the stars and hear the sounds from the forest – sometimes a furtive whisper, sometimes a violent howl. The forest is alive and vibrant. And yet, I travel as a mute passenger of life. This spectacular scenery around only reminds me of my loneliness in this world.

Yet, Sushant, when I see the children here, I remember you. And then, I wish that life would be the same again. I wish I could redeem our memories and rebuild with them that life. But then those memories become dark and bitter and inaccessible and return only to haunt me in my dreams.

Yesterday, one of our workers here got married. When I looked at her, dressed as a bride, her face adorned with red and white dots, her palms painted red with aalta, I wondered what happened to my marriage. Why, Sushant, did I not ever dress as a bride? Why was my marriage solemnized with the stroke of a pen and not with seven circles around a fire? Why, on our first night, as I lay next to the man I wanted the most in my life, I thought of another man?

I know it is unfair of me to ask you these questions. I know you never wanted it this way either.

Sometimes I wish I could take you back to the time when you were Baba’s favorite and give him back the son he loved so much.

I still remember the first time you came. I was hiding behind Baba as he kneeled down, patted you on your head and said to your mother, “Janaki, your son is my responsibility. I will take care of his education.” I was as angry as a six year old could be. I had to share my toys and books. And then, two years later, when your mother died, I had to share even my house and my father with you.

My words, Sushant, they elude me. There is much I wish to tell you, but I don’t know where to begin and where to end.

Perhaps I just yearn for you.

It is beginning to rain outside. I can hear the raindrops on the roof. Rama di says that when the rains arrive in this season, it augurs well for the valley. This is the time, she says, when paddy seeds begin to sprout. She is sitting here with me and making a lamp with bamboo sticks. She says that the lamp, tied to a pole outside, will keep the evil spirits away.

Sometimes I wonder if we too could have built one such lamp and saved what mattered to us. Then, I wonder why I must bother. The fresh rains have arrived and they will wash away the old soil from the mountains. There is nothing that can be protected. There is nothing to protect.

Perhaps, I should just let this sheet of paper float away with water. But, I also know that the ink I write with is stubborn, and even as the paper will dissolve itself in the water, it will carry with it faint marks that refused to wither away.

Sanchari


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