To the best of my belief, I am a born worry- wart. Yes, a slip of a woman in her early thirties endowed with a mind -vexing her every now and then…impelling her to ponder upon superficial matters.
That night also, my mind was nudging my dozing soul at close intervals. It was a matter worth it. Who was he? A secret admirer? No, it couldn’t be. Not even in a zillion of donkey’s years. Or a notorious Casanova? Yes, a lubricous womanizer beyond reason. My heart sank with these terms. God forbid that he should ever be so.
I pat my face, stood before the mirror and smirked a bit. Then clasping the gift - a bunch of beautiful red and pink carnations held them gently against my face … flushing amid stupor. Putting off the lights I started dreaming of a beautiful tomorrow.
Ah! Monday morning. A morning when I always had the weekend hangover bugging me. But this was indeed a special Monday morning, which my intuition could say, was a harbinger of merry moments to rejoice.
With graceful movements, I tightened up the pleats of my lavender sari with cute blooming violets. With a swift stroke, I pinned up the aanchal on the left. Then slipping into a pair of matching stiletto, I swayed a bit in front of the mirror. Turned clockwise and counter clockwise and observed myself from every angle. A ravishing beauty stood before me. A perfect dun dominated by a set of prominent ash- gray eyes, high nose and full lips. Ironically, all those years, all this had gone unnoticed. By men. By myself. And by women who never missed a single chance to poke fun at my seclusion.
Wearing a cloak of sheer narcissism, I set off for work. Every single man passing the way seemed to gawk at me. In utmost timidity I would whisper to myself - ‘ Was it him … my secret admirer? ‘
An anomalous excitement was egging my heart to pound like a galloping stallion, as my hands reached for the main entrance of the orphanage I worked for. Maili didi, the sweeper was busy dusting the doormats. Kala , her sister, was wiping the patio. The day had just begun. Even tiny warblers were ready to work in harness.
Gokul, the gardener, was watering the plants. Roses and daisies. And red and pink carnations - exactly like the ones that had been sent to me the previous evening. Was it Gokul ? Like other men, even he could not stay safely above my suspicion. I looked at him for awhile - barely 24 or 25, shabby, rustic and yet wit
h a merry soul that knew nothing better than staying cheerful. Beaming at me as usual, he recommenced working.
No, it couldn’t be him. Not even in a mere casual thought could he hold a candle against the King of my Dreams. I assured this to myself and moved ahead. The rustling of the leaves caught my attention. As I turned around, to my surprise, there he was - an inconspicuous young man with sun kissed skin. Like the hue of his skin, everything about him was warm. With almost flat nose, protruding lower lips, definite jaw lines and oblique black eyes, this man was famous as a workalcholic. A mere bag of bones, Gokul usually wore a threadbare khaki shirt and a pair of gray wrinkled pyjamas, which always reminded me of the Tharu people dwelling in the Terai. He stood glowing still as I shrugged my shoulders and walked in.
"Miss Pokhrel … this is for you." Little Drishya started in her singsong tone.
"Really! It is so lovely. Thankyou, Drishya. Now off you go and play. I have a lot of work to finish." Said I holding the gift gently against my face - again a solitary pink carnation. As she ran outside the toddler ‘s pigtails danced to and fro in perfect harmony with the pleats of the navy blue dress she wore. As she reached the see saw, Gokul, gave her a hug. His eyes gaped at me and brightened up for a whole minute. Now the truth was finally in its naked absurdity. I felt I could rant and rave at that very moment. I felt I could just rebuke him off his youthful wits. But then I could not even give a wide berth to the fact that the feeling I now was beginning to have for him wasn’t worth losing. No. I could not queer my own pitch of getting love anymore.
Another surprise was awaiting me in my cabin - another beautiful red carnation, this time placed on the windowsill. The window overlooked a rock garden. After a few yards walk that very chunk of earth ended well into a deep ravine.
The ‘sender of the gift ‘ was washing his feet in the water pump ayont the window. So engrossed was he humming a tune, that one wouldn’t be doing any justice to him if he was to be punctuated at that very moment of delight.
Sanu maya, the washerwoman had once limned me his moving life story. Orphaned at a very tender age, he was brought up by his maternal uncle who tilled other men’s lands for a living. At last exhausted by his drunkenness and ever-increasing brutality, Gokul left home and went to Biratnagar. While working in a flourmill in Biratnagar, he came to know Satyaa. In less than a year of staying together, she left him for a Lahure - her latest meal - ticket. But then this was a turning point in Gokul’s life as he was resolute to go to Kathmandu, find some job and make a man of himself. But here in its dog - eat - dog ambience, he learnt something more. Yes, how hard it really is to earn back and belly for oneself.
The clock struck one. Gokul had already cleared the place. I started working. After an hour or two, someone was at the door.
Scratching his head, Gokul said " Madam, Narvada Madam wants to see you. "
His eyes shifted from my eyes to the flower on the table and again back to my eyes. With quick strides, he vamoosed. It was only after reaching the end of the l - shaped building that he showed up again. Every other minute or so, he would turn back and look as if he thought something was seriously erroneous.
At last I couldn’t bear anymore. The prying side of me broke in ‘ Is anything wrong? Did she say anything? ‘
Carelessly plucking a pine needle from the nearest t
ree, he nodded his head in negation. Then in an almost sissified tone, he began ‘ We don’t get pine trees in our village. Sals we get… plenty of them everywhere “
"What about these?" I asked showing him the flowers sent to me the previous day.
The gleaming Gokul stood fingering the pretty charm hung around his neck. In a while I was with Mrs. Shah, the supervisor. Cut and thrust was an everyday affair between this pugnacious lady who had been the captain absolute all her life and me who wouldn’t give in that easily.
Fresh cut flowers blessed my mornings. The unkempt young man had started prettifying himself the best. He would scrub himself up so religiously that it left him squeaky-clean. He even started carrying a comb handy.
Finally rainy days were on the way. Drops of rain kissed the rough earth, the jagged peaks, the green grass, the pine needles and the sloppy roof- tops. It cleansed them all. Rejuvenated them, washing away all sufferings and grief of the past. I wished such luck for this hapless soul too.
On the farthest corner of the periphery, stood an old pine tree. It seemed only a stone’s throw away from the ravine. Under its shade stood Gokul - helplessly trying to take shelter from the thickening rain. The right shoulder of his shirt was badly sodden. He stood still under the thickening rain. I muttered curses having to stand and stare all this from the window.
As I carefully stepped out of my stiletto, my ankles showed. Then I imagined his ankles, toes and fingers - stubby, blistered by toil and drudgery. Without any second thoughts, I went out.
An intruding thunder threatened the sky and everything under it. Ergo, I tripped over a stone - my right foot plunging into a deep, grassy puddle. Gokul came running and helped me out. But I realized that my umbrella was not in my hand. It was near the pine tree. By the time it came back to my hands, both of us were badly drenched. That afternoon Gokul reached me home. He sung melodious Bhojpuri songs all the way. At last I was given a bunch of red and pink carnations once again … now with his own hands and with so much solemnity shining in his eyes. They now had more love and passion than awkwardness and fear of being rejected. I felt desperately going head over heels in love with him.
Months passed. Gokul had promised me a garden of carnations. Every afternoon, after work, he would visit my quarter. I would watch him for hours nurturing the tiny saplings as if they were his own progeny. His chivalrous nature and animal spirits were in a way decking my path with all goodness of real life. I was beginning to love life more than I ever did before.
Growing up in a prosaic society had never been easy. The bearing of its corny norms and values were even more to the submissive sex than it was for the obstinate sex. For a woman, choosing a man younger than herself or someone belonging to a different caste than herself and also someone less educated than herself was indeed something that would startle and then infuriate her folks - the multitude. Though there was ghost of a chance to stand up against all the odds, I knew nothing could stop the going.
It was a day before Ghatasthapana. Everyone was in a festive frame of mind. Children rejoiced in glee as they swung higher and higher in the Lingay Ping. Kamala was playing with her hand - me - down rag doll. I was talking to her when a series of swearing and loosing a volley of expletives caught my attention.
‘ Who else could have done it? I am sure he was the one. It was here in my drawer and I had locked it." Mrs. Shah was shouting at the top of her lung
s. The staff looked at her agape. Only Gokul wasn’t there. The whole sketch had got into my mind. My eyes dissolved into tears as I walked out towards my room.
There a small red velvet case and a bunch of red carnations heaved into my sight. To terminate the surprise at once, my trembling fingers reached for the case. A small tilahari glittered boldly amidst veins of red glass beads. No fool like an old fool - my quivering lips pronounced midst astonishment. To every Nepali woman, a tilahari given by her man at wedding has always stood as a token of love and security. Still my fingers could not take it out from its case for the place was still in a chaotic atmosphere.
"Lets call the police. He couldn’t have gone too far." exclaimed Krishna Dai, the cook.
"He looked so gullible and sincere. But I knew it from the beginning … now you see… such a large amount ‘ someone added fuel to the already flaming fire.
I smiled when this thought illuminated my dozing soul - Everything is fair in love and war. Maybe he didn’t want to lose love once again. Maybe it was the last straw for the moment. Yes, no fool like an old fool.
With bittersweet feelings, I took out the tilahari from its case. It seemed as if I was waiting for this moment for ages. A small chit was placed under the ornament. It read -
I am sure you’ve known everything by now. Please
wait for me. I shall come to get you in the evening.
As I read it, I felt myself going into paroxysms of joy and contentment.
That evening I dressed myself up the very best I could. Yes, I was the bride - swaying this way and that way in a red sari with silver embroidered herrings. As I opened the windows, red churis stroke one another like the tintinnabulation of temple bells. Slipping into a pair of embroidered velvet chattis, I strolled inside the room. An hour passed. My heart thumped in tenseness. Even the moon was taunting my woeful soul.
All of Gokul’s efforts seemed to bay at the moon. I raised a hand to wipe a tearful eye and asked it “ Will he come?” The other hand rested upon it and said “ Trust him “.
After a long time, a shadow appeared in the hillock near the pine tree. A lean figure with drooping shoulders yet with careful and confident pace was approaching me. It clasped something in its hand. Pink and red carnations - now I could predict with my eyes closed.