Joined: 13 February 2007
The morning sun filtered through the half open wooden shutters and cast its warm on the sleeping form on the low wooden bed, the sheets and blankets had long been discarded on the floor, along with the kurta…the room had been stifling hot at night…as the night breeze had not appeared with the rising moon.
Deven Verma stirred and opened his eyes and for a moment shifted his eyes in the unfamiliar room, and then sat up remembering, he had arrived late last night to visit this remote place to take study the environment and take some samples back for his research. His research head was supposed to come with him but had fallen sick at last minute and so it had been him doing the long trek in his old jeep to get here. Thank God his contact here, the village head had kept a lookout for him. After his long journey, he had been glad to be shown the room and left to rest. But sleep had not come that easily. The hot summer sun had baked the room hot and like the city there was no AC or fan to turn on. He had stood at the open window hoping for some cool night breeze to flow in but no such luck.
Now as he sat on the bed enjoying the cool morning air and contemplated whether he should put his old clothes on and just go for a run. He got up and opened the shutters and peered out. All he could see was wide expanse of dried out dirt fields, the summer heat had been brutal on the earth. As he moved his eyes to the side, his eyes came to rest on a slight figure shrouded in a pale sari. She was stood facing the sun offering her prayers. He couldn't see her face clearly as it was half hidden by her pallu, but she stood perfectly still, eyes closed and engrossed in her ritual.
It was a shock to him when she suddenly turned and stared in his direction, even from the distance he could feel her cool dark eyes on him. He was taken back by the girl's face…the innocence, softness and serenity. Just as suddenly she turned away and walked into the house. Deven too turned back into the room and put on his discarded clothes and his running shoes and stepped down. No one was about in the room downstairs. He walked out of the house and followed the dirt road and then set off running at a steady pace. Not a soul was around, just him, the dirt track and the open sky.
An hour later he returned, sweat dripping down his face, his tshirt soaked, clung to his body. He sat down on the stone ledge and loosened the ties on his shoes and checked his pulse. Shukantbabu approached him with a glass of water, "Namaste sir."
He took the offered glass gratefully and downed it one shot. "Namaste Shukantji. Paani milega nahahne ki liye." Shukant nodded his head, "Haan saab taiyaar hai peche, ayeye." And he started walking into the house. Deven followed, stripping off his tshirt and using it to wipe the sweat. At the back Shukant pointed to a rickety wooden structure, "paani aur sabon andar hai sir. Aur tauliya upaar rakha hai."
He took off his shoes and socks and dumped his shirt and walked into the rustic bathroom. Two buckets of water stood with a bar of soap. He sat down on the stone slab and poured lukewarm water, savouring the feel as the sweat washed off. When he finished bathing, he wiped the water off with the towel hung on the top and tied it around him and stepped out.
As he walked into the house, he stopped as the owner of the cool pair of dark eyes met his. A soft smile lit her face as she took in his state and then just as quickly she disappeared into the room at the back.
Upstairs in his room, he pulled out fresh pair of cotton pants and shirt and put them on, combed his still damp hair back and then picking up a small bag on the floor went downstairs. This time in the room, Shukant sat waiting for him. Shukant pointed to the wooden stool and said, "Baithiye Sir, naasta kijeye." Deven sat down and picked up the small cup of steaming tea and sipped it gratefully. The smell of the food made his stomach rumble and he remembered he had hardly ate anything on his journey yesterday. Soon after two cups of tea and demolishing off the plate of rotis and sabzi, he sat back. The girl came and quietly removed the empty dishes. Curiosity getting better off him, he turned towards his host, Shukant and asked, "Yeh ap ki beti?
A smile brimming with affection showed on Shukant's face, "Haan sir, ek hi beti hai. Hum do he hai iss ghar mei. Mere patni ki mrityu hona abhi dus saal ho gaye. Ghar ka kaam yehi sambhalti hai."
He looked at his watch and then stood up, "Chaliye Shukantji, aur deri karenge toh garmi meh kaam karma mushkil hoga. "Ji sir. Mei abhi aya." Saying he slipped into the back and came out couple of minutes later with a matki and small parcel covered in cloth. Setting it in the back of the jeep, Shukant climbed in. They set off down the dirt track, Shukant directing him to the place where they needed to go. An hour later, the jeep stood on the dried riverbed. The sun already high in the sky burned the skin and baked the parched riverbed even drier.
Shukant watched him work. Prodding, digging, turning stones over, he watched him bag stuff, take photos and examine sparse vegetation struggling to survive without water and under the hot sun. Couple of hours later, satisfied with his work, he came over and shook sleeping Shukant. Deven set his stuff in back of the jeep and poured himself a glass of water and gulped it down. He splashed a little bit on his face, relishing the instant relief he felt briefly from the heat.
"Bhook lagi Sir?" Shukant asked grabbing the basket and uncovering the cloth. He took out small containers and set out making two plates for them. Handing one to him, Shukant sat down, eating hungrily. Both of them ate and talked about his work. Shukant though had no schooling understood what Deven was talking about. You did not need schooling to talk about the land, the plants and the life managed to survive in summer with sparse water and food. After putting the basket away, they lay down in the sparse shade cast by the jeep and dozed off. An hour later Deven woke up and left sleeping Shukant and set off little further away to survey the land. After an hour he came back. Shukant was already up and they sat off for home.
He parked his jeep and grabbed his bags and walked in, shouting on the way to Shukant, he would like to bathe. In his room he noticed his clothes washed, dried and folded left on the bed. He closed the open shutter to shut out the still strong sunrays from baking his room. Grabbing his towel he made his way to the bathroom. Pouring water over himself, he washed the sweat and the dust off. Few minutes later, dressed in clean clothes he felt refreshed. He sat on the bed and pulled out his laptop to see if he could get Internet connection using the mobile satellite system. After some fiddling around he managed to connect to his company and checked his mail and sent an email to his colleague. He also sent an email to his parents to let them know he had reached his destination safely. A knock on the door interrupted his work and he looked up to see Rutvi. She had brought tea and some food. He asked her to come in and set it down on the small wooden stool. He smiled as she looked at him hesitantly and said, "Thank you." Rutvi gave a shy smile back and left the room. He thought back home where his sister who was similar age would be going to school, going out with friends in the evening, shopping, restaurants and parties. He wondered how Rutvi lived such a lonely life with her father, far removed from people. The nearest village was several kilometres away. He knew Shukant would trek when necessary to the village to purchase the necessities and visit some of his family. He drank the tea, enjoying the taste of spices. At home he hardly drank tea, preferring coffee instead.
The darkness fell quickly, but the setting sun did not cool the inside of the house. He joined Shukant outside, sitting in the open air, outside at least it was a slightly cool and not as stuffy as inside the house. "Shukantji ek baath poochu. Rutvi ne padhai ki ya nahi. Yahaan akelapan nahi lagta usko."
Shukant dragged on the hand rolled beedi he was smoking. "Thodi padhai ki, Meerut mei uski masi ki ghar reh kar. Par chod deni padi jab unki maa bhimar pari tab. Phir uski maa ka marjane baad..."
"Shadi hojayegi toh phir aap akele yahaan rehenge ke phir gaon mei chale jayenge?" he asked. Shukant laughed, "Waqt ane do, phir sochunga. Abhi meine uski shadi ke baare me bhi nahi socha, abhi sirf saatra saal hua uske."
Shukant looked amusedly at him, "Aapne shaadi kyun nahi ki?"
Deven was surprised, wondered how Shukant knew he wasn't married, "Aapko kaise maloom meri shaadi abhi nahi hui?"
Shukant shrugged, "Bas samajh lo maloom par jata hai..." They sat chatting late into the night. Both of them compared notes on their life. It seemed Shukant had stayed a year in Meerut at his chacha's house, even worked in a factory but his father's sudden demise forced him back to the village, and he never ventured back to the city.
When Deven retired to his room, he lay on the bed awake. He wasn't sleepy, the room felt hot and stuffy. Yesterday tiredness had made him fall asleep in the same stifling room. After a while he got up, picked up his bedding and went downstairs. He dropped his bedding on the rough porch and lay down. The hard ground did not bother him, he was used to sleeping on rough ground as part of his extensive travels into remote regions. A slight rustle made him look at Shukant lying on the bed out in the open. But it was Rutvi who caught his attention. She sat on the floor near the bed and was singing very softly, he could hardly make out the words. Her face was barely visible in the darkness, after few minutes he heard them conversing softly. Now and then her soft laughter rang out in the darkness. He stayed still watching them. Soon his eyes closed and fell asleep. Deven did not stir or felt Rutvi staring at him sprawled on floor.
Two days later, early morning Deven bade goodbye to Shukant his work done. He promised to come back and see them again if he ever came this way again. As he drove out slowly he turned to search for Rutvi. He had not seen since last night when she had served him dinner. He had stayed awake lying on the floor, hoping he would catch a glimpse of her, but like other night she did not come out to spend time with her father. Disappointed he turned his attention to the road and drove off, unaware of the face staring at him from the room upstairs.
Joined: 16 December 2006
Joined: 29 November 2006
Joined: 17 November 2006
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