Usha Rashmi Pandey
Sitting under the mango tree on a knitted bed, I was immersed in observing the changes in the surroundings. After ages, I had come to visit this place.
In my childhood, I used to visit this place with my grandma. Playing on the mustard farm, picking grams and beans from the field, was my favourite activity then. Despite my attempts to mingle with the village children, they used to negate to join me. Their demeanours used to emit a sense of hesitation. Later I learned they hesitated to join me as they deemed me a city girl and found me a bit different from them. Though I did not have any friends there in this area, it was fun for me to visit the place. Every year after my exams were over in November, my grandma used to bring me here.
I have a vivid memory of walking on the roads under the mild sun, clutching my grandma’s hand, and suckling a lollypop. I remembered how I used to leave my grandma’s hand and fly after colourful butterflies on the path. Whenever my grandma used to stop to talk with her acquaintances on the way, I used to feel happy for the time I was granted to play. Drawing one or two paper boats from my pocket, I would start floating them on the canal water. The canal that allied the road was among those factors that allured me to the trip. At that time, the water in the canal was very serene and clean. Now I realize that this village is not that far from our residence. Merely 30 minutes motorbike ride from our home, but then it felt like a day’s journey. It may be because we had to walk to this place, and that was too exhausting for a child of 10 -11 years.
Distracting me from my minute observation, a girl who appeared to be around ten came near and greeted me, bowing her head. Placing my hands on her dishevelled head, I passed my blessings to her. Following the eldest, two younger girls and two boys came to me. The boys, who looked like wins of two-three years age, leaped on my lap and started to play with my hair. I smelled urine and mud from their body. I asked them to sit on the bed and started shuffling my bag to find chocolates and biscuits for them. After getting the stuff, they went away happily. Later a lady in her mid-thirties came with a glass of whey. I greeted her and accepted the drink. I wanted to ask her, ‘Are you the new auntie” but I managed to ask her, “Where is uncle?”. She responded, “He works as a guard in a bank. As his duty starts in the evening, he left for work just before you reached.” I wanted to know about Aunt Pabitra but could not ask her whereabouts. She went away. I continued sitting there, but my eyes were moving here and there in search of Aunt Pabitra.
This house belongs to my grandma’s nephew. My grandma was born in the hill area, but her brothers and their sons shifted to this part of Tarai like my parents, who also originally belonged to Baitadi district. More than a decade ago, my grandma and I used to visit this house every winter to spend time with my grandma’s nephew Uncle Pawan and his wife Aunt Pabitra. Unlike now, at that time, the house was well-kept and clean. Whenever I had to draw a house, I used to visualize this house—a two-stair white house with a blue roof, flower vessels arranged on the balcony, and well-trimmed decorative bushes in the ground.
Being a retired army man, Uncle Pawan had a well-built body and was fond of keeping his home clean and his garden beautiful. Aunt Pabitra, a petite and smiling woman, seemed fond of cooking and crocheting. On the walls of the house, beautiful photos of Uncle Pawan and Aunt Pabitra were hung. Several times, I had tried to copy them in my drawings- a tall man in a shirt with a moustache and a beautiful woman clad in a sari with an enchanting smile. To me, they were a perfect couple, very well-matched.
I recalled waking up from sleep, startled by a dog’s bark on a wintry night. Frightened and anxious, I started to search for my grandma but did not find her around me. Hearing a whispering voice coming from the kitchen, I headed there. The kerosene lamp lit in the alley helped me to get there. I saw Aunt Pabitra crying and my grandma comforting her. My grandma was murmuring, “Pabi, please don’t cry. Not having children is not a big issue. You have such a loving husband. He loves you so much. Don’t give ear to what others say.” I have forgotten their reaction to my abrupt entry, but Aunt Pabitra must have stopped crying as my grandma’s words were so soothing. My grandma’s statement validated my perception of them being the best couple.
With time, my siblings grew to be my friends, I started to prefer staying with them on holidays to visiting my grandma’s nephew’s home. Later I went to Kathmandu for higher education. I lost touch with Uncle Pawan and Aunt Pabitra. During my home visits, I remained so immersed in my family, friends, and other stuff that I didn’t even talk with my grandma about them.
This time we had some rituals at our home. My grandma asked me to take some prasad[i] to Pawan Uncle. Seeing the quantity of the packed prasad, I told my mother, “They are just two people; what will they do with this much tika[ii]?” Then, she answered, “No, now they have a large family.” Elated, I said, “It means they have children now.” My mother added, “Your Pawan uncle has a new wife and five children now.” I shivered after hearing the word, a new wife.
As my grandma had grown fragile, she could not join me, and I came to this place alone.
The eldest girl of the house shouted from the veranda, “Didi, the snack is ready. Mummy is asking you to come to the kitchen.” I went there reluctantly. The interior part of the house is completely deteriorated. I started to compare the present state of the house with the previous one. My eyes looked for the pictures of Uncle Pawan and Aunt Pabitra. Their photos were removed. I saw a picture of Uncle Pawa with a new aunt instead. That looked like their wedding picture.
The new aunt asked me to sit on a mat. She served me rice pudding covered with flies. I did not feel like eating. I shared the food with her children. They were cheered by the offering.
My eyes were searching for Aunt Pabitra, whom I could not trace there. With a heavy heart and moistened eyes, I rode back home.
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