#HerTales: Love Born & Lost In 1964, Reunites In 2016 Under The Strangest Circumstances
- IWB Post
- April 21, 2017
“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” Much on the lines of this famous quote by Virginia Woolf, we believe that every woman has a story to tell, given that the world doesn’t stifle her voice.
IWB’s #HerTales will provide a peek into the journey of people from different cities of India and will also chronicle the impact of various social issues and changes on their lives, all through the power of literature and fiction. From different perspectives, point of views, and narratives, #HerTales will bring forth the ordinary lives of people making you believe that each story is an extraordinary one. So, come, tread with us on the ‘write’ path!
Little specks of raindrops formed a cluster over his shoes as Naveen walked through the wet grass, towards the one-room apartment at the corner of the chapel, where Miss Elise lived with her pair of pet Pomeranians, Lisa and Hansel.
Small puddles of rainwater had drawn different patterns in the sprawling playground of the St. Xavier’s School in Jaipur. Naveen hurriedly trod over them, the muddy water leaving oval-shaped blotches on his pants.
After walking for two more minutes, Naveen knocked on the door.
He took a moment to reorganize his thoughts, once the door creaked open.
Instead of the ever-smiling and familiar face of his French teacher, the girl who was standing behind the door was not one with whom he was acquainted with.
She had short, straw-colored hair and eyes that gave him the impression of being very observant. She was staring at him too, resting her palm over the wooden hinge of the door and with an expression of curiosity and half-smile etched on her face.
The voice of Miss Elise along with her boisterous laughter had brought him back to the world before he saw his French teacher peering over the girl’s shoulder.
“This is my niece, Sophie.”
2016- Ali’s dilemma
Ali had always looked down upon the police with suspicion mixed with hatred. The numerous cops that he encountered every day as part of the daily routine of an autorickshaw driver had only strengthened this belief
“Abe ruk, gadi side me laga aur license nikal.”
It generally started with demands such as these, with Ali and his friends fully knowing that even after seeing their license, vehicle registration number or pollution certificate, the policemen wouldn’t get satisfied until a part of his daily earnings change hands and get inside their khaki pockets.
That’s why Ali wasn’t amused to see that his passengers had left behind a leather bag in the auto. His mood had further edged towards sullenness upon discovering a wallet full of 500 rupees notes in the bag, along with other items.
He knew it well that any other man would happily part with the wallet, but Ali was not one of them. Ali had started off as an orphan child laborer working in a tea-stall who had to struggle every moment of his life of twenty-five years to barely survive.
He was pious too. He never missed namaz and thanked Allah for his blessings every Friday. Ali knew that going to the police will result in more trouble for him.
“Bhai, what’s the point in going to the police? Even they would keep the money for themselves,” Zuber, the 16-year-old brother of his friend Wasim had said, looking at the money with a somewhat awed expression.
These words had made Ali stare sternly at Zuber, which had made the boy embarrassed.
Zuber left after uttering a loosely-strung “I was just saying,” at his direction.
Ali blamed the careless tourists for his dilemma. He never quite used to understand that what special these foreigners saw in Hawa Mahal or Badi Chaupar, places that he passed every day without even bothering to glance.
“Stop, stop,” the foreigner woman had said to him while the other person hurriedly gave him his fare, before the pair darted off towards Hawa Mahal, leaving their bag behind.
Now, he had a problem in his hand and Ali knew that there was only one person who could help him.
1964- Girl of the North Country
Sophie had come to visit her aunt in Jaipur all the way from Marseilles and apart from exploring India, a country about which she had only read about in books, she also wanted to persuade Miss Elise to come back.
“I will survive even if I don’t get to see the Eiffel Tower for the rest of my life but it’s impossible for me to make do without my daily dose of Darjeeling tea,” Miss Elise had joked, with a half-smile.
“Your lame excuses won’t help. This time I am taking you back with me,” Sophie had said with mock anger.
“We will see,” Naveen’s teacher had said with a chuckle.
In the course of the fortnight, fate had brought two souls closer, temporarily entwining their lives.
They had bonded over their shared love for literature and music, long conversations that passed away in the blink of an eye.
Sometimes the two of them would walk across the Mirza Ismail Road, lost in their musings as they passed the fortress-like buildings owned by jewelers, Sophie taking in carts driven by camels with her huge, blue eyes.
“I know that you will find it stupid and clichéd, but it still boggles my mind to see a camel on the road,” Sophie would say, gazing at the cart.
“I think that it’s the same way around for me as well. When I first read about the moors in Wuthering Heights, I couldn’t believe that such a place could exist, so mysterious and romantic. Now I must sound stupid and clichéd but somehow my idea about Europe revolves around the description of the moors that I read in the book.”
They had found a common love in the literary classic by Emily Bronte.
Sophie had grinned widely in response, the blue dots of her long skirt swirling in the evening breeze as she started humming the lines of a song that Naveen had heard at Miss Elise’s place couple of days back.
It was a song written and performed by Bob Dylan, a relatively unknown singer whose popularity didn’t quite match that of the bands part of the British invasion.
If you’re traveling to the north country fair/ Where the winds hit heavy on the borderline
Naveen’s voice joined her now.
Remember me to one who lives there/ For she once was a true love of mine.
Ali opened the rusty gate of Gupta Ji’s bungalow and walked past the column of once neatly-trimmed rose bushes.
There was a time when guests visiting the picturesque one-storey house at Vaishali Nagar wouldn’t enter it before taking some minutes to look at the flowers, their perfect harmony.
But the scene was different now, with barely any roses being visible. Lack of attention and care had made them look tangled and crumpled.
With a jolt of shock, he realized that their state was same as the owner of the house.
Ali was 17 when Gupta Ji had seen him get thrashed by the owner while working at a roadside tea-stall that he used to visit every day after a morning walk.
When Gupta Ji’s bureaucratic friends who were his morning walk companions had seen him put an arm around the boy who served them tea every day and had asked him to come along, they had smirked.
“Kya, social work karne kab se lag gaye,” they had said with a leer.
But, Gupta Ji had never paid any heed to them. Ali had become a member of their family of two, almost a son to the childless man and his wife Asha.
Ali sighed as he rang the doorbell. Ever since madam (Ali had always addressed Gupta Ji and his wife as Saab and Madam, much to their annoyance) had passed away two years ago, Gupta Ji had become a recluse, cutting himself off from every line of communication or social channel.
The person who opened the door looked almost expressionless for a moment, before his wrinkled face creased to a smile, asking Ali to come in.
“Aj bahut dino bad aya tu.”
“Aya to tha, char din pehle. Aap bhul gaye,” Ali had said incredulously.
Ali settled down on the couch of the drawing room. He could feel a thick layer of dust that was visible over the furniture, making them look even older than they were.
“Laxmi kaam par nahi aa rahi kya?’
“I don’t remember. She didn’t come yesterday or the day before,” Gupta Ji tried to remember, looking much older than his age of seventy-three.
It pained Ali to see Gupta Ji like this, barely a shadow of his former self when the man was known for his honesty and meticulousness.
The death of his wife had caught him unaware, sending his life into complete disarray.
Ali was quick to tell him about the incident and the dilemma he was facing as he didn’t know what to do with the bag.
“You should go to the police,” the old man had opened. When Ali had told him about his inhibitions, he had thought for some time.
“Let me see the bag. Maybe there’s something that can tell us about the identity of your passengers.”
“I already checked. There’s only the wallet, some medicines, a map and a book. No identity card or passport,” Ali had said as he handed over the bag.
“Let me check. Otherwise, I will go with you to the police.”
For some unknown reason, Ali was glad that his passengers had left their bag behind. Gupta Ji seemed interested enough to help him, giving a peek of his former self, not the elderly man who at the twilight of his life had lost the person closest to him.
Ali watched as Gupta Ji, took out the items one by one. First the wallet, then maps, medicines with words in a language other than English written on its foil and the old withered book.
Gupta Ji, picked up the book and absent-mindedly flipped through its pages.
“Saab, aap thik to hai na?” Ali asked with sudden concern.
The other man was staring at the book in disbelief. Ali was worried that he was not feeling well.
He had never seen the man who had raised him and to whom he owed his life like this, vulnerable and clueless at the same time.
Were those tears, he just saw glistening at the corner Gupta Ji’s eyes?
2016 Epilogue- The Pair
They had returned from the police station before she had declared that she would be staying in Jaipur for a few more days, just in case it is found.
Brad had looked confused.
“You still have your credit card, and I will be happy to lend you some money if the need arises.”
“No, it’s just that the bag was dear to me,” she had sighed.
Brad had murmured something inaudible in response which gave the impression that he was still confused, before not arguing anymore.
He had left for Delhi today morning. Although she had met him just a week ago, she knew that he was a good travel companion.
They had exchanged email ids and he had insisted that she lets him know when her book on India is published.
From the window of her hotel, she could see the tall buildings and heavy commotion outside. She tried to find something familiar and but lost inside the deep rumble of truck horns and the sound coming from the LCD television in her room, she couldn’t recognize Jaipur.
The intercom in her room rang three times before she picked up the phone. It was from the reception and she couldn’t believe what the man just said.
The auto driver had come to return her bag! It wasn’t lost. She hurriedly told the receptionist to send the man to her room.
Ali tilted his head slightly to acknowledge the lady as she opened the door.
Before he could say anything else, she was vigorously shaking his hands and saying thank you.
After the pleasantries, he had urged her to check the contents of the bag.
Straight away, her hands frantically searched for the book inside the bag.
Yes, it was there. She didn’t know how to thank the man for returning it to her. She didn’t even bother to check the wallet or the money. She clutched the book in her hand tightly, saying another round of thank you to the person who had brought the bag.
Then she realized. This was not her book. Yet, it was completely identical to it, right to the color of the cover where the words Wuthering Heights were written in fading blue font.
She flipped the cover of the book. For a moment, she was breathless.
A few words were scribbled with a blue fountain pen inside the first page of the book.
It was her handwriting.
A sudden hint of memory flickered to life, bringing with it the fragrance of rose petals, fresh from a forgotten evening half a century ago. Sophie read the lines, her favorite ones from Wuthering Heights.
“He’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.”
This was her gift to Naveen, the day she had left Jaipur, some fifty-one years ago.
Coincidentally, his return gift was also the same book, bearing another line written in his clear cursive writing –
“I have to remind myself to breathe- almost to remind my heart to beat!”
Ali recognized the expression as he looked at the shocked face of the woman.
He had seen it just a few hours ago, in the wrinkled face of retired bureaucrat Naveen Gupta, as he was staring at an identical copy of the book with disbelief and moist eyes.
The cover image is just for representational purpose. Source