She ran. I watched. It was a different kind of run – you run but there is no continuity – not like a flash, more like a flicker. You run, pause, run again. I let her run to the point where the horizon submerged into the green, mossy pond.
“Aaah…yes, right here”, she broke into a smile. Before I could say anything she sat on the banks of the pond – her left leg dunked into the moss green waters of the pond and her right leg just slightly the trough of a ripple.
“Nack, nack, nack, nack” , she imitated the cackling of a group of busy ducks trying to wade into the pond.
Her white chemise with dull orange flower motifs was gathering as much clayey dirt as could be possible.
“ We took bath in the pond for about an hour that day. Whoop, whoop and dunk….We went on and on, till my Maasi and mother came out screaming. My eyes were bloodshot. But that day I had the best afternoon nap. Wet hair, masoor daal and red coloured chicken curry – I guess, all these did the magic!”
She suddenly became restless. She turned her head to the left and then to the right.
“Are you looking for something?”, I asked her.
“Yeah, the tamarind tree. The huge, h-u-g-e tamarind tree”, she tried to give an estimate of the hugeness with the width of her open arms.
I too looked around. There wasn’t a single tamarind tree around.
“That summer it was here – right here. My Maasi had spread out a mat under the tamarind tree. ‘See how cool it is under the tree’, she had told. I sat on the mat with a story book. Within minutes I was covered with leaves – tiny, tiny leaves from the tamarind tree. The leaves fell like hushed snowflakes – silently. ‘Taste the leaves – they are tasty’, a young married woman carrying a pot full of water told me. I put some in my mouth. They had tangy taste indeed. I don’t know if my aunt had sprinkled water on the mat but coupled with the incessant shower of the tamarind leaves, it lent a somewhat cooling effect to an otherwise hot summer. And then suddenly it hit hard – just like an injection. Wild ants…..I ran, ran, ran as fast as I could. By evening, my lips and thigh had become red and swollen. I almost had a fever.”, recalling the incident she laughed out loud.
“You so vividly remember your holidays, don’t you?”
“Not all of them…some.”. her voice trailed off.
There was silence – one whole minute of silence. And then she spoke again – her voice, somewhat distant.
“Like I remember the time I went to my eldest Maasi’s house. Compared to others, she used to stay a bit off route – probably a bit distant from the others. So we hardly went there. But that holiday, all of us went there – all my aunts, cousins.”
“Oh that must be fun – with so many of you together”
“Must be….I don’t remember much.”
“ But just now you said…..”
“Yeah, yeah I know what you mean. I remember, but not really much about the fun we had, except the fact that my uncle had bought two huge fishes to be cooked for us. My uncle brought them home swinging them by a little rope tied around their nostril.”
“But what I remember is the evening we spent at the banks of the river –Hooghly river. My aunt’s house was very close by , so all of us walked to the river bank in the evening. Splash, splash, splash – little steady waves hit the bank every time a boat passed by. And with every little wave, the remains of a clay deity showed itself and submerged again – in turns. Someone would have probably immersed it after the Poojas were over. The water had almost washed away the colors to lend it a beyond recognition look. The color streaks around a single eye however remained intact. I don’t know why but I felt there was so much sorrow in that one eye. That look haunted me for many nights after that. There was a small island in between the river. Not really an island but a small stretch of land just in the middle of the river. A handful of Kans grass swayed there. Two boatmen had tied their boat there and were sitting and smoking in that tiny stretch.”
“You are kind of strange; you remember strange things”, I laughed.
“That I am..”, she smiled. “I like to remember things by their smell. Like the smell of the rails of the train windows. They have a special smell – rust, paint, memories, people – all put together – it is a difficult kind of smell. We used to travel long distance every now and then. And long distances meant days of travel. I used to be restless at times. Pressing my face against the windows I used to watch the kingfishers make a touch and go and the green expanse of farm fields outside. The smell used to pacify me. ‘Don’t stick out your head too much’, mother used to warn me. But I wouldn’t hear. Many a times it was the flying droplets of water from the next window – most probably due to washing of hands by a careless co-passenger- which would make me move back my face from the window rails”.
“What else?”, I was curious. “Smell of rain? Wet grounds? Flowers ?”
“Flowers yes….may be…Night-jasmine, Mahaneem….but not really rains. Rains make me sad.”
“The smell of fenugreek seeds sputtering in hot oil. Most of the time, while studying, I would doze off. And then mother would wake me and put in little balls of rice and curry. Half-sleepy I would put my head on mother’s shoulder and chew on . The hint of fenugreek would give a certain sense of calmness.”
“Do you miss those days?”
She fell silent. Then she spoke again – this time softer than ever.
“Do you know what I feel like right now? To catch hold of a grasshopper, hold it’s wings softly…..Do you know how to hold a grass-hopper’s wings?”, she suddenly asked.
I shook my head. “Naah, not really”.
“ You must fold the wings behind – just softly.”, she explained with a sense of importance in her voice. “You must be careful not to fold it too harshly and then just let it crawl on your palms….just feel the fun”, she giggled.
“But then won’t they get hurt Mumu?”
She shook her head violently.
“Offo, don’t call me that…We Bengalis have a fascination for such bisyllable pet names – Pupu, Khuku, Tutu, Mumu….When I was born they named me Popita. My parents had their pet names beginning with ‘P’ as well. Most of the family members had begun to call to call me that till one of my Hindi speaking uncles pointed out that it was too close to Papita which meant Papaya in Hindi. Neither I looked like Papaya, nor I had a complexion of one – so the name was ultimately replaced with a hurriedly thought of Mumu. But Papaya or not , I still love Popita – it has the sound of candy and toffees”.
I laughed out loud, “Ohh ok, but what about the grasshopper”
“Want to see?”, she asked. Then like magic she drew out a grasshopper from the fold of her chemise. “Show me your palm”, she commanded.
I put forward my palm.
The grasshopper crawled gently on my palm. It tickled at first and then vibrated violently.
And then there was this piercing sound – loud enough to tear into my senses.
It was tough opening my gummy eyelids.
5:30 am – the mobile displayed – accompanied by loud, shrill alarm and unending vibrations.
Disappointed, I ducked my head back into my pillow….
“Popitaaaaa….”, I cried out loud. I still had so many things to ask her….The pond appeared for a brief second but she was nowhere. Nack, nack, nack……the cackle of the ducks faded away. The grass-hopper trudged along it’s tired feet into the oblivion.
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