So we are all ready to get started! A quick pointer from a well-wisher before you begin this journey–you might not be able to finish this chapter in one sitting. While I was in the middle of writing this, I realized I had no idea what I was getting myself into. What was this man thinking really, writing such humongous chapters! Fine, it’d be rather immature to blame him. It’s his book and he can write it however he wants to. Where do I stand to complain?
In all frivolousness, I did yell a few times while fumbling for appropriate words to use that wouldn’t mar the original idea but I am but a lowly human. If you spot any grammatical errors or any error for that matter, please be so generous as to let me know. You can also send me suggestions on Instagram @the_straying_shadow since I have decided to be a little more active again on social platforms. I have found myself recovering from my panic attacks, the mere thought of which traumatized me not so long ago. In fact, I think I haven’t had one in months which actually makes me feel quite good about myself.
For an introduction to this book, click on this link:
Also, I request you to give me at least a week to write the next chapter. By the time I had finished writing this, I was literally out of breath!
Thank you so much for your time. We may begin now. Oh wait, there’s another thing–do hang around till the end before you start judging it. That’s all for now. Thanks once again.
A trembling rainbow. The sly rays of the midday sun sneaked in through the crack of the half-open door, fell onto a certain piece of glass placed at one end of the room and painted its seven colors on the nearby wall, creating the flimsy painting of a trembling rainbow.
I had taken a half-day leave from office today. Tomorrow is a Sunday. I lay on my bed, indulging in the bliss of the mere thought of thirty sweet days of vacation in front of me. Thirty days of escape from my exhausting boss, the beady eyed P.A., the numbness of my back from that same creaky chair and the table with multi layers of dust and permanent piles of paperwork. With thirty days of freedom ahead, I felt like a happy man.
The soft spring breeze carried with it a happy melody from some Bihu troupe nearby. The pale blue curtains danced to the song, at times growing wild and carefree like some joyful youth; they attempted to spread their wings and set themselves free but alas were they destined to be shackled to those stubborn iron bars!
The rainbow trembled, the curtains trembled, the rays of the sun trembled and with them, my heart trembled with anticipation. I had taken a half-day leave from office today. Tomorrow is a Sunday. I lay on my bed, indulging in the bliss of the mere thought of thirty sweet days of vacation in front of me. Thirty days of escape from my exhausting boss, the beady eyed P.A., the numbness of my back from that same creaky chair and the table with multi layers of dust and permanent piles of paperwork. With thirty days of freedom ahead, I felt like a happy man.
The troupe must have moved on, making a peaceful silence engulf the warmth of noon. My home is on a hillock far from the noise and madness of the city. There is grassland in front of my lovely little home, full of bright and delightful flowers. On the other side there are protected woods, all the more beautiful to gaze at.
The sun would soon retire for the night. I’m sitting on the garden with my hands over my eyes. My four-year old daughter, Butterfly, has herself shut them deliberately by pulling my hands over my eyes with her own chubby ones. We have been playing for quite some time now. She looks just like a butterfly in her fluffy white dress. The black pigtails of her head are sprinkled with broken petals as she runs about the garden; her laughter is music to my ears.
Now and then she runs back to me. “Where am I?” she teases, as I wave my hands to catch her, with eyes strictly shut still.
“Here, in my palms,” I say.
“Wrong!” she chirps and runs off again. She flies in circles all over the grassy lawn but soon the bundle of joy finds a way into my lap again. “Where am I?” she says in her squeaky little voice.
“Here, inside daddy’s heart.”
For a moment, we sit there looking up at the bright blue sky—I, absorbing in the vastness and the child, well, I can’t really tell what she’s thinking. But a look of those eyes sparkling with life and restless excitement and a hint of innocent mischief tells me that it must be something delightful.
The music of Butter’s laugh jiggled along the bright rows of flowers as it made way to my wife Maya who sat upon the veranda steps knitting with leisurely absorption. Her long hair once tied up in a bun had long broken free and now cascaded down on her back. A few strands played with the wind; they couldn’t keep themselves from dancing to its music just as the curtains had.
The balls of yarn on her lap kept tumbling down the steps while in all obliviousness she kept knitting away intently. Now and then she would look up to gaze at me and Butter, as if making sure we are not getting ourselves into trouble. She has but little faith in my maturity and Butter’s impishness makes her wary. She would work herself up with worry if we’re out of sight—as if we aren’t a grown man and a child but instead two naïve kids who can’t be trusted on their own.
Every now and then Butter would throw a giggle or two at her mother, as if to assure her that she hasn’t been left out of the team. Maya smiles back—that same easy smile that plays in her eyes every single day and yet, the same smile that looks a little different every time I see it; perhaps it glows a little brighter than yesterday.
Maya’s smile brings back old memories. She was a complete stranger at that time. In those days, I was hardly at home. I had always been a nomad, living in an assortment of study dorms and hostels from High School right up to being a working man. I had no extra responsibilities and no cares of ever starting a family of my own. I was a free man and I thought I was happy enough to go on living as I always had. Useless questions like—‘what is the purpose of my existence?’ were not for me. Having a family was a tedious affair and I was better off by my own. I was like a pitcher of water that has been poured down a sandy road—I let myself flow however and to wherever life took me. I had no high hopes and no lofty dreams.
But one can only play along for so long. Every time I came to visit my parents, I was greeted by my mother’s brimming eyes, threatening to break across and flow down in hazardous torrents whenever the subject of my marriage came up. She was getting old and she wanted to see the face of her grandchild before she died. My old friends were of no help either. Instead of having my back as I pleaded for the sake of my freedom, they sided with my mother. What did I expect; most of them had themselves tied the knot long ago. They had probably been conspiring with my mother all along.
Their persistence soon got the better of me and I surrendered on the hands of fate. In painful disappointment, I said to them, ‘Fine, whatever.’ The frustration came from deep within, building on the realization that I would soon lose my freedom and my happiness—those being the two things that any sane human would hold most dear.
The two simple words of approval turned my life upside down. It wasn’t even two months before a bride was chosen for me (I was too grumpy to take any interest in the tedious affair). The water from the pitcher of freedom seemed to be flowing away from the warm sands into some dark and unfamiliar road from where there was no return. I got married.
For days I didn’t even so much as to glance at Maya. I was wading in the pool of grudge and presumption. I deserved to be angry at her. She had ruined my life. My mind was a dark and gloomy place and I was certain that it would only be a matter of time before the facade of this shy bride wears off to reveal a malicious woman who would be hell bent on making my life miserable. I had seen and heard enough about the lives of poor married men who are driven to the edge of insanity to know that. At some point, I found my bitterness towards her morphing into fear. I kept running away from her, for no rational reason whatsoever. I recall the evening that changed it all.
It was on the fourth day. I was in my room moping over the same tiresome things. All of a sudden, I could sense someone coming into the room. The soft and measured gait was unfamiliar to me. I understood who the intruder must be. I did not turn back to look at my wife. Instead, I opened a book on my lap and started turning its pages slowly. The extent to which I had deliberately ignored her over the past few days couldn’t have gone out of her notice. I was embarrassed and somewhat disappointed—at whom, I couldn’t tell.
Time moved painfully slow. My back was aching from hunching in the same position for so long. Maya didn’t leave but in fact, after a moment, walked closer in small hesitant steps. She stood at the back of the chair I was sitting on, formally making me aware of her presence. I couldn’t keep on sitting for much longer for it would look bad if I failed to acknowledge her now. I should probably stand up.
I was still deciding upon the best course of action when she placed the small silver tray containing fennel seeds on my table. I was torn between what would be the better move—to accept the fennel seeds that she greeted me with or to look at her first.
She silently took the keys from my hands. I noticed that her fingers never once did quiver.
So instead, I opened a drawer that contained the house keys and took them out. I still couldn’t look at her as I handed them over and said in a businessman-like manner, ‘I don’t have a clue as to whether the rudder that drives the boat of the amicable partnership that marriage is—ought to be held at the ends or in the middle for its smooth sailing and neither do I intend to find out. From my minimal knowledge about my own home, I can gather that there aren’t hidden treasures of gold or silver locked in anywhere but it isn’t a barren desert either. I myself could never find the leisure to memorize every nook and cranny nor the trunks and closets. The keys to those closets kept traveling with me but I hardly ever use them.
I can’t seem to have a particular fascination for hoarding wealth as these humble premises must imply. It would be better if you keep them—perhaps you would take much less time than I did to familiarize yourself with everything that I own. I trust you to take care of my small world. I would rather not have the burden of these keys return back to me.’ Ending my blabber of a monologue, I drew a conclusion to the interview.
She silently took the keys from my hands. I noticed that her fingers never once did quiver. I looked up at her face, probably startling her with my abruptness. She had a soft face that was cool and serene in the normal way that doves are. Her eyes stared right through my soul, with none the shyness of a new bride that I had expected to find. The woman before me was refreshingly confident and yet composed with not a hint of excitement flickering anywhere in her eyes.
In the safety of my own mind I admitted that she must have a superior strength of mind. She wouldn’t flee from uncomfortable situations or emotions like I have been doing all this time. And quite possibly, it seemed like no amount of peril would scare her away. It was difficult to read her—she was like a puzzle that I just couldn’t get my finger on. She could face the inevitable head-on because after all, if you are supposed to share the rest of your life with someone, it doesn’t make sense to keep on avoiding them. I suddenly felt foolish and embarrassed at my own childishness.
Maya was swiftly drifting away from my reach and the garden with my child in it started crumbling before my very eyes. I tried to hold them close—desperately trying to reach out, I shouted, “Maya! Maya!”
She had to be feeling angry and insulted at my indifference but her eyes didn’t betray any sign of irritability. ‘I admit to my flaws. If only you can take me as I am..,’ I said, surprising myself.
‘Okay,’ she said simply.
I couldn’t tell what she must be thinking about me but I was pretty sure I’m not being raised up on a pedestal inside her head. I held her back as she was starting to walk away. ‘Listen to me Maya—I—I hope you wouldn’t judge me by my behavior of the past few days. My emotional shortcomings might outweigh my virtues by many folds but I’m not such a bad person, even if I say so myself. It’s just that I don’t really appreciate changes all that much.’
She gave me the slightest hint of a smile as if to reassure me and said, ‘I know’
‘It’s all good if you know. I won’t give you too much trouble. My needs are few,’ I said, ‘Just one last thing—I request you not to expect me to take care of the grocery list. I tend to get lost hunting for salt and turmeric’
The laughter came out loud and clear. ‘Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it just fine’
Saying thus, Maya walked out of the room, leaving me in a confused state of solitude that made me wonder what I had gotten myself into.
It was that ethereal melody of her laughter that changed my life for the better. She made me into a new person. She turned me into a dreamer. The years rolled by and I found myself experiencing the kind of bliss that I had never imagined I could possibly have. I allowed myself to drown in her love, in her sweet care, in the nonchalant ease with which she efficiently organized my life.
I remember the time she went to visit her parents just four months after our wedding. She was supposed to be staying over for a month. Before even a week had passed, she was forced to return. You don’t need to know the reason. As much as she would love to contradict, I still maintain that I wasn’t being a brat and I didn’t throw any tantrums.
For whatever reason, when she returned to ruined state of our house and to an equally disheveled husband, she taunted, ‘I wonder if this is the same man who didn’t even glimpse at me during the first four days after the wedding.’
Relieved to find her beside me again, I almost shamelessly said, ‘Guilty as accused. Promise you won’t leave me again?’
Maya hasn’t left since.
I lay Butter on the soft grass and walked towards my wife. I sat down on the steps beside her and said, ‘Wouldn’t you be curious to know what I think about when I see you smile?’
‘Yes, indeed I am,’ she said after a while, not looking up from her work.
‘When I look at your smile, Maya,’ I said, ‘I can’t help feeling like you don’t have a trace of worry and not a single care in your life. You always seem to be in perfect happiness, as if there is not a one beetle gnawing at you, as if you have everything you always ever wanted’
The ends of her mouth curved up in a slight smile. ‘Why, do I worry you by being so carefree?’
‘It’s not like I worry needlessly—sometimes it gets disconcerting to see your friends living with the kind of luxuries that I can never afford to give you—you should have been married to someone who’s rich and powerful, not some beggar like me—’
She cut me off by saying, ‘Is that it? Is wealth everything there is to life?’
‘I admit that’s what I had assumed about what the fairer race dreams of—before I married you, that is’
‘Well that only goes to affirm that you have absolutely no knowledge about us women whatsoever. Nor do you seem to have understood me any better.’ For a moment she turned silent before continuing, ‘I am a person of this soil, of this earth. From the time I understood the reality of life, I have never hoped about living in a fairy tale nor have I ever dreamed of finding heavenly bliss—even if I do admit to often having wondered what the heavens might look like. But while we are still in this world, we can only hope for so much; we may dream, but only within the limits set for us. And that’s perfectly fine too, as long as we learn to be happy with what we have.
I don’t have unrealistic expectations out of life. That’s how I can be sincerely happy when good things come my way,’ she said, ‘and for the record, I have been blessed with more happiness than I ever thought possible. So you don’t have to work yourself up by comparing our lives with that of others.’
Having concluded her speech, she threw me another glance with her pretty face and those glittering eyes that never fail to overwhelm me. I held her hand as we sat on the same position for quite some time, swimming in the purity of the moment.
‘What?’ she asked softly after a while. It was one of those questions that are fated to dissolve without an answer. Maya didn’t expect a reply. So she placed her other hand on top of mine. She knew that some things can be heard better when not said but consciously felt.
All of a sudden, I felt her hands trembling inside mine. My heart started throbbing wildly. I found myself violently shaking as if from the impact of an earthquake. My world was falling apart. Maya was swiftly drifting away from my reach and the garden with my child in it started crumbling before my very eyes. I tried to hold them close—desperately trying to reach out, I shouted, “Maya! Maya!”
“Oh hang your Maya!” said a wicked voice from somewhere in the darkness of my broken world.
I had been painting the most beautiful dream with the sunny blue colors of the sky. I had been living in a paradise, so what if inside my own head, so what if only for a short while. I blinked my eyes open to discover that its transition to a nightmare had been caused by the persistent pest that I call my friend who was having the time of his life slapping me out of my dream and bringing me back into the dark womb of grim reality.
I can almost see her pretty face glowing with leisurely joy, her bare feet resting in the cool water, her lips moving in tune with the cowherd’s song
The illusion soon faded away completely and I found myself in the same congested room, sleeping on the same rickety bed. The curtains were for real, but they weren’t a happy blue but a thick sooty color that would require a genius to identify. Multi layers of cobwebs covered the ceiling, gift-wrapping the lone bulb that hung from it. But at least I had half a dozen spiders under my care that were experiencing the perfect familial bliss overhead. There was no rainbow on the wall but a half-torn calendar. The few pairs of shapeless and worn-out shoes that I owned were lined up in a broken array at a grey corner of the room. The few particularly tortured pairs were sticking their tongues out and baring their iron teeth at me, gaping in an unsettling way. A table-cloth of old newspapers covered the top of the small table on my side upon which rested a tea-stained mug half-filled with leftover liquor. I didn’t feel like looking around anymore. Comparing the house of my dreams to this wreck wouldn’t make me any less miserable.
A sharp nudge brought me out of my reverie. I fell back, just somehow managing to keep my balance by grabbing the bedpost. Phukan picked me up and sat me on the bed again. I blinked twice, wiping the sleep away from my eyes and saw four familiar young men staring at me with an amused interest.
They were my friends from childhood—Ajit, Pajir, Dilip and Phukan. We had grown up together—we used to sit together in school, stuck together in college and finished our education to get scattered into the real world by the despotic hands of fate. Between the five of us, we were a Professor, a poet, a doctor and two clerks—Phukan and me. For a moment I simply stared at them. It was oddly confusing to meet them after such a long time. I wondered if this was just another dream mocking me by showing me the ones closest to me.
My doctor friend ran his eyes around the room, crinkled his nose and said, “Disgraceful, B.M…!”
I was instinctively convinced now that this wasn’t a dream. A chuckle escaped from my throat. “What’s disgraceful, Doc—me or my bedroom? Or is it the sheer beauty of my world?”
“Everything—now get up,” he said.
Before I could getup, the Professor or Pro as we called him said, “So who the heck is this Maya? You were screaming like crazy, man”
I answered in a slow, solemn voice, “Nobody. I had a dream where I discovered the greatest truth of life. I intended to let the heavenly beings and the mere mortals on earth know about my discovery and so I screamed. Everything in this world is ‘maya’, an illusion made to fool and trap innocent guys like us. The world is a facade like sand-castles. The only real thing in it is my old hard bed and my lowly existence—”
“Can somebody please shut him up? Just get up, lad,” Pro said, cutting my revelation. He helped me get up on my feet and said again—“We’re all ready. We are leaving tomorrow for the voyage. Did you get a leave from work or not?”
“I did. But I’m pretty sure my boss didn’t give me holidays to get lost wandering inside the thick jungles of Dihing and catch malaria or maybe even die—but to have a few peaceful weeks of good sleep and to relax”
“Hang your boss! Did you seriously think we’d let that old vulture ruin this for us? Can’t you see, idiot, that we’re here together after ages—to do what, sleep away for thirty days?” Doc said, clicking his tongue, “You’re still that same old lazy cow you always were”
“Of course, how else would I be your friend?” I said, “Well then, is this another one of your big floppy plans or have you made any preparations at all?”
“Did you even listen to what we just said? Everything is arranged—we have a good sturdy boat with a good boatman, netted tents and sleeping bags; the food supply is taken care of, and there are also a couple of guns in case we need them. We have a camera as well as a collection of films and first-aids. There is even Pro’s violin, Doc’s Dugidaina, the Bard’s thunderclaps, my world-famous dancing and your songs. What could possibly go wrong?”
“That’s great. Why did you stop, come on, keep saying—Pro’s violin, Doc’s Dugidaina, Bard’s thunderclaps, your, ‘world-famous’ dancing, my songs—friendly growling tigers, trumpeting elephants, giggling bears—sorry, but I’ll pass”
“But why, what more could you want?”
“A lot. There’s no poetry, no romance and nothing comforting in this delusional plan of yours. Listen, if I have to leave my soft bed, then there has to be a quaint houseboat waiting for me in clear sparkling waters; its sails must be the color of the wings of storks leisurely sunbathing in bright green marshes. The boat has to be filled with at least a few gallant baskets of plump juicy fruits and a bunch of aromatic and exotic flowers. And of course, it has to be a sunny time of day with the clear blue sky stretching far and wide. I will gladly stray away from my little hole to be in such a paradise—the mystic waters of Dihing will have me in an enchantment. There will be rows of wildflowers on one side, calling out to me with their slender vines while on the other side, there will be stunning open pastures. I can almost hear the sound of some lone cowherd’s flute…and in the backdrop, there would be a lovely damsel letting down her long, lustrous hair to dry in silvery sunbeams. I can almost see her pretty face glowing with leisurely joy, her bare feet resting in the cool water, her lips moving in tune with the cowherd’s song—”
“Bravo bravo, B.M.—I see we can get along just fine without the films, given the fact that you see your dreams in vivid Technicolor. By the way, I’m curious—is this that same Maya girl whose name you were screaming as if hanging onto for dear life just a few minutes ago? Damn we’d love to meet her man!”
“Sweet brother of mine, since you wouldn’t understand anyway, just leave me be. Everything is an illusion! An illusion!”
“Then whose face was it?”
Phukan promptly said, “Probably the old jute-seller’s brat of a daughter—who else can it be? But B.M. you must remember that your brothers are yet to settle. Do this for us, won’t you?”
“Who the heck agreed to bring her along? What if the magical touch of your fairy princess brings us doom in broad daylight! Tch-tch, I see the equation has gone hopelessly wrong. Even if we arrange for five separate boats, the jute-seller doesn’t have five daughters to offer their generous companionship. What do you think, Phukan?” the Bard said, “Guys, it would be better to just be temporary recluses this time round. Save the romance for later, eh, B.M.?” He continued, “Now Phukan, bundle up my bedding; Pro, pack my suitcase. I’ll do a trial of sleeping in the boat tonight. Now only if there was some hot spicy tea to perk us up…”
I huffed before walking out of the room shouting for the mess cook.
To be continued