by pradipta dutta
“Yes.” She said, as she turned back and smiled at me.
I never understood why she always said, things, sometimes, in the middle of the silence – looking at me – while I would be absorbed in some work or some thought. It was as if, she was reading my thoughts, or knew the poems and stories I was writing in my Brown Diary.
She always came suddenly – wiping both her hands on a small towel that would hang down her waist, where her wrinkled brown skin peeked out of her White cotton sari – the nine yard Indian spun cloth women wear in India.
She’d come and stand watching me, while I did my lessons.
“Come to the Garden when you’re finished. Today’s lesson will be about Caladiums.”
I would smile at her and she would smile back, her eyes shining bright.
Life was never anything with her – it was either her lessons and work or it was the vastness of a solitude held back by a contemplative form of silence – and then the other kinds of silence that my little mind was too little to fully comprehend.
As we sat in our garden, I watched her, helping me create my own garden, at the far corner of the space.
We lived in a village that was far away from the city and she ensured we had a hauntingly beautiful and large garden space, which was larger than the home where we lived.
Daadi had created and designed the whole of the Garden herself – it was her sacred space, a place of contemplation that also had ample space for children – our erstwhile friends – to play in.
Children were always more important to her, and me especially, she would always be fetching for me.
“Caladiums need ample watering. Oh and yes, little one! Careful during the Summer. If you do not give her enough water, she will die!”
I watched and listened as she gently pressed upon the soil where the fragile stem of the little caladium plant vanished into the Earth.
I don’t know why she did that.
“It’s comforting to her soul.” she said.
“I’d rather caress her leaves, Daadi. Gently. VERY.” I said.
I felt that Daadi was doing it wrong. That the soul of the plant should have been in her leaves and not inside the Earth.
“Oh. You are a natural.” she said, and became quiet.
I watched her face intently.
“But of course, you are vaguely foolish. It’s always the roots, little one. Always the roots.”
I wondered. What of the roots?
Is it because we cannot see the roots?
“Yes.” She said, reading my mind. “If you take the roots off the Earth, she dies. Like if I take the soul off a person, they die.”
“Daadi. But then you won’t have to comfort her soul. Roots are fine by themselves. Like the soul is.”
She laughed. Her laughter sounded like a melody playing or may be it was like a shooting star in the sky…
“Now. You really are evolved, my Dear. But look – if tomorrow, I left you ten miles away and never saw you again, what would happen to you?”
I became petrified.
Whenever I’d get petrified, my curly hair would stand up, my teeth would be clenched tight, and my eyeballs would roll up. It was an expression, my Brother always mocked on and incited it oftentimes.
I looked spooky, as a child.
“See? Your hair is up. So it goes without saying, all little children need caring for, and ample amounts of comforting. The soul is ok, but the awareness towards that soul is more important. If a child is left alone, his identification with the soul is disturbed.”
“Idendi – what?” I squealed.
“Identification.” She said. “Go run. Fetch your dictionary.”
And as Daadi watered her plants, I sat on the grass, reading from the Dictionary, as the Sun fell down on the nape of my neck – and she smiled looking up at me from her work, every now and then.
“Butterflies!” She screamed.
I got up, alarmed. Butterflies were always to be chased. I don’t know why.
“Chasing questions. But never catching them. Letting them answer themselves.” She would say.
She watched me, as I chased a green butterfly with black specks on her wings.
I squealed and laughed and she laughed back.
Sometimes, she’d close her eyes and stand in the middle of the garden, and her lips would hold a strange smile. It was like, she was in another world.
“Be where you are. No other world here.” She’d say quietly. And then she would dance, her eyes closed, without any music playing – she would dance gently, her arms raised, her hands rotating at her wrist joint, a gentle, swerving motion – that held within it no particular significance – only a silent joyousness which belonged only to her and what she held in her heart.
As she danced, children would cheer her, and clap.
Until Grandpa came back from his walk.
He’d say sarcastically. “If we could do something productive, with these little harrys and johns.”
“Oh.” She would say, mimicking him. “Old Daddy does not like merry-making. Something productive with little children.”
“They must do their homework or finish their science projects. It’s about to be 7.” He’d say, smiling sarcastically.
“6.15, it is.” I’d grin, like a little monster.
He’d looked at me gravely, muttering,
“Whoever taught that little rabbit reading that darned clock.”
“It was me.” Daadi said. “Your wife. THE wife.”
And I’d watch him, as he’d frown and go inside the house, his shoes hanging down his long fingers – and as he would cross me, he’d look at me, rolling his eyeballs, and whisper,
At night would fall, I’d lie down on her lap, quietly and she would tell me stories from her travels as a young girl and with her Husband.
Outside the window, a cat would purr every now and then, background music to her stories.
“One day I was at Badrinath. I had just visited the Temple and had been sitting outside where Alaknanda just narrowed down to nothing. Suddenly I saw an explosion in the sky. Since it was still two hours to sundown, I was shocked. It could not have been a shooting star.”
“What was that? An Angel?”
“I don’t know. It was an explosion – like a blinding one. Orange light, filling up the sky. It was very sudden and it vanished just as soon. I turned around to see if anyone else saw it, but there was nobody around. I started feeling unsettled. And then someone came up. I looked around, it was a Baba.”
“He looked at me and said, do not be afraid. Keep your eyes closed and do not open them until you hear a sound three times. His eyes were piercing, his face was black and his hair were matted. He only wore a loincloth and in his hand was a trekking pole made out of a long tree branch. He walked away from me before I could ask him anything, and since I was so baffled – I just sat there wondering.”
“What happened after that?” I asked. Her stories would always fascinate me and I could imagine each and every verse, overtly magnified in my mind.
“I did as he said. I closed my eyes and sat down there, feeling chilly and jittery. A few moments later, a strange calm descended upon my body – my shivering had stopped and I felt a strange silence fill me from somewhere in my chest – where both sides of the ribs meet – that is the place I felt it the most, and it felt like it was filling me up. I could hear strange tinkling sounds in the distance – these sounds were probably from the Temple. But I suppose they had already closed the Temple by then. I do not know what those sounds were, but sometimes they would vanish and then the sound of the river became overtly magnified in my ears. And then, suddenly all noise stopped affecting me and I was overtaken by Silence – an overflowing calmness, an emptiness, you can say. That feeling cannot be described as a story. But then I heard a loud sound, it was like a huge stone being thrown in the water. It happened thrice. I slowly opened my eyes. I cannot rightly describe the feeling I had, the second I opened my eyes.”
She paused. I looked at her face – it was barely visible from the faint moonlight that shone behind her from the window, her grey hair sparkling. Her eyes were always a little bright.
“I felt one with the river flowing by. I felt like the pink sky. I felt like the man in the loincloth. I felt like the Earth upon which I sat. I felt like the wind that caressed my body. I felt like the birds that were flying back home. And like the setting sun in the distance. I felt one with all of my body parts.”
“I just sat silently. It was so intense that it did not occur for me to move or get up and fetch back my Brothers who were probably out there looking for me. I just sat there, not wanting to go anywhere. I just sat, like there was nothing else more important than just sitting, in my solitude, with that intensity that originated from my chest but now it could be felt in every other thing that was infront of me.”
She fell silent.
It was too hard for me to understand and for her to picture. It was very rare when she would be short of words.
“What happened after that?”
“Nothing, my Brothers came there a bit later, looking for me, scolding me for wandering around, without seeking their permission. In those days, it was not common for a girl to wander around. But I had six brothers and I went where they went – they loved me and pampered me. I was a spoiled brat, being the only sister.”
“You were allowed to do that?”
“Oh yes. My Father. I was his favourite, he let me do what I wished on. Everything… Except of course.”
“Marrying me away to distant lands.”
She was once again silent. I suppose she missed them. All of them were dead.
“Don’t you like Grandpa?” I asked, grinning. I always grinned a lot, like a mischievous elf – sometimes asking questions that shocked the people I knew.
“Your Grandpa is a good man. But he is very annoying and he does not believe my stories.”
“So, do you like him?” I grinned again.
She gently slapped my cheek.
“Of course. But I like you more. Now you, go to sleep.”
Daadi disliked it when people spoke while they had their Dinner – but conversations always flowed and so she would eat on the Kitchen floor, away from people.
Since I was her pet, it was natural for me to follow her and eat along with her.
She was a vegetarian and I’d watch her as she would serve me food, and smile and then we would eat our food – in silence – to each her own.
She would always close her eyes before she ate and offer gratitude to God for keeping her loved ones healthy and allowing food on the table – or the floor, rather.
She was a devout and pious woman, who would spend a lot of her hours, in silence.
“There goes, my Monk wife.” My Grandpa would tease her.
“Such blasphemy is not good for you.” She would mutter quietly.
“I can see the silent meditation sessions are not helping you with the anger.”
“Grandpa!” I would say in hushed voices. “Don’t say that!”
“Oh no, let him say that.” Daadi would say. “He likes to mock me. I am not affected at all.”
“Oh no, my dear. I am not mocking you – it’s just that people of religion, I really do not understand y’all. And I am not an atheist, I like the idea of God. I pray silently too.”
I did not understand if he was actually telling us a fact or mocking her more.
“God, be with you.” Daadi would say and go back to her Temple.
She having left, Grandpa would wink at me and say. “That keeps her alive.”
“You keep her alive?” I’d grin.
“The banter keeps her alive. Without it, she would really be bored.”
Midst guffaws he would continue. “That woman, is a hell of a woman. But her ending will be sad.”
I think my petrified look surfaced with my hair up because Grandpa immediately corrected himself. Old people would usually utter such things in front of me, and then later regret what they said when they’d suddenly remember that I was only a child.
I liked being with old people, my grandparents especially – the wisdom always baffled my young mind – and underlying all of those words, I easily understood the undercurrents that swayed – I had known such feelings of disaster and shock, early on in life and the emptiness that came with it.
I do not know, for certain, if these things happened because of my Daadi or some other influences unknown to mankind, but I was born with the curse to understand people and what they meant – and to thereby see underneath their faces.
“Forget what I said.” Grandpa said, breathing heavily. “Your Daadi needs to learn to stop letting the world affect her the way it does. But she is 77 and we have been together for over sixty years…and nothing has changed, seemingly. She is still the same – idealistic and dreamy – with too many open perceptions that get wounded every now and then.”
“Perce – what?” I squealed.
“Oh, you village rabbit. Go fetch your dictionary. The word’s P-E-R-C-E-P-T-I-O-N.”
Daadi was like a firestorm – igniting in my soul a million different lights when I was only a little child – with nothing to hold onto – but her love.
She was firestorm and she was also the calmest of all oceans – the one where I’d lay on my back, floating freely – and nothing from the wounds of childhood remained when she was there holding my back – letting me float on her.
She was like an evening sunset that gave me hope, when nothing did – and life would be gloomy, if it was not for her gleam that polished it – which made it feel like life – which made it feel like a purpose and not mere drudgery.
Daadi always held a strange light in her eyes – and a strength of purpose and she never defied from her own values and convictions – which she kept for herself and for the people she had known in her life.
Grandpa was right. She was one hell of a woman – but one that had a very sad and lonely death – merely because she was always so affected by the ones she chose to love – and at every moment – it was a choice she could have made – to leave and transport herself some place else which would be a little more to her convenience and little more feasible – somewhat gentle upon her lovely soul – but which she chose not to do – because it was her purpose more important than anything else in the world.
I really have never again encountered a woman like her – of her caliber – what I instead see is, snippets of her – in various people I come across and it is then that I am reminded of all those valuable lessons she gave me…
“You must always fetch water to thirsty travelers, my little ones.
They are the ones who are on a journey, the ones that have left their comforts to proceed towards self- realisation.
The ones who go far and wide, in search of their dreams.
These are the artists and the misfits – lion-hearted people – people who think differently – who somehow wish to go beyond the mundane, and beyond all the things that always hold them down.
These are the ones who wish on creating something larger than their lives – something extraordinary with their time and hence thrill the world with the gems that their souls are – the gems that they hold in their hearts.
These people are alone and sometimes they have nobody on the road to rely on, walking only with the will that keeps them thriving in their minds – and then they cry silently.
The only thing they have is hope, and a voice that calls out to them, and all they do, is listen to that voice – the voice of their own – the voice that they never betray.
Such Musafers invariably go thirsty – and when that happens, and if you ever happen to see them in that state, do fetch them water.
You never know, if you’d seem them again – and if it were their last day on the planet -for they are fearless warriors and even Death, is only a fact for them and not something that they fear.
Smile at them, for you own a beautiful smile – a smile that has within it healing properties – and sometimes even that will be enough to heal them, and to help them, in ways unknown to you.