She was here in this three roomed rented apartment in Khatiwara Colony for almost a year now. Having settled for this apartment after a week long enervating house hunting and thereafter a strong persuasion rendered to make the landlord relent to a reasonable rent a month. She had heaved a sigh of relief. Finally she had a home even if it was a rented one in this expensive capital town renowned for its high standard of living.
She was, in every respect, a modern woman- educated, career oriented and most importantly economically independent now. Though new to this place she had no inhibition to start on her own, alone. She, like many other aspiring educated youths of her hometown, had to migrate to this neighbouring state after her post-graduation entirely due to compulsion, as her own hometown which was in complete political and administrative chaos for a few decades now, had nothing to offer for elks like her.
After a tired day at office she would usually spend her evening marvelling at the spectacular view of the lush green landscape of Rumtek Valley that her bedroom window offered. On those moments her mind would naturally drift to the time when she and many of her classmates after their proud moment of success in University had come face to face with this unpleasant question which they had preferred to avoid- “What next?”
Go back with a degree to add to the already frustrated unemployed crowd?
Or resign to fate and allow yourself to be wooed by prospective suitors with Government jobs and with very attractive offers of letting you pursue your career after the solemnisation of this social contract? Or worse still, live off your superannuated parents and continue obtaining for yourself higher degrees, of course with no guarantee of job afterwards.
She had to make a choice. After much consideration she had made her choice. And now she is here. Though few eyebrows were raised when her decision of staying alone in a new place reached the greedy ears of those ever inquisitive neighbours back home. The disappointment of the prospective suitors led to resentment. They hurled a litany of criticisms on her for her foolish decisions. Foolish and idealistic it did seem to many then, when her own best friend Sujata, the sensible of the two, agreed to settle down with a college lecturer absolutely with no fuss.
“It was, no doubt, a good decision!” She remarked to Kamala, her maid.
“I can pursue my studies without being a burden to my retired parents and of course without having to carry an albatross around my neck.” She was economically independent now. Her present job, though a mere stop-gap at present, paid her well enough to follow her dreams.
Kamala, from Okhal Dunga Teen Number, had been working for her since last six months. Kamala too was in her mid twenties and used to stay with her brother Shyam, who worked as a porter in Daragoan, in a shanty hutment meant for porters like him. Kamala was a typical Aryan beauty with beautiful emerald eyes.
Kamala was more than just a mere housemaid for her. She was a companion and a sister in this new place. She would wait for Kamala every evening to bring joy and colour in her life. With a slight knock on the door Kamala, would enter her otherwise monotonous and extremely uneventful world, bringing a wealth of spicy stories from around the surroundings.
“Didi how did your day go today? I had a terrible day. You know the house where I work? Well, the aunty is quite tight fisted. Today while doing the dishes a glass slipped from my hand. Aunty remarked that she would deduct twenty rupees from my salary. Kasto chuchii chaa aunty!”
“Don’t spoil your mood Kamala. If you need some cash you can borrow from me anytime,” She would say.
Sometimes she came with the news of how the two women at Rangila Galli had got into open squabble over the issues concerning one of their husbands promiscuous behaviour. Sometimes she would rather coyly confide that the husband in one of the other two houses where she worked during the day time tried to touch her inappropriately.
She had found some common threads between Kamala and herself despite the glaring difference of education and social status. They both were women away from home, friends and family in this unknown place. Displaced in some sense. This commonness cemented their relationship the more. At times when homesickness would be unbearable she would ask Kamala about her native land. Kamala, in her typical Nepal lilt, would describe the rugged beauty of mountainous Okhal Dhunga and talk about her people in reminiscent voice.
Most evenings her apartment resounded with the songs of Meera Rana and Tara Devi, the singing legends of Nepali music. The interest in songs had brought them even closer. She would sing cooking her dinner and Kamala would accompany her while doing sundry household works.
It was one rainy evening. She was feeling rather lonely. The weather had had its effects. All of sudden she asked Kamala, “Kamala have you ever been in love?” The suddeness of her question caught Kamala off guard. For a while she looked at her didi incredulously and then retorted, “Chyau didi you ask queer question sometimes!” but was quick enough to cross question, “What about you didi?”
She hadn’t considered about romantic relationships. In fact there was no time for such indulgence. The female colleagues in her office had tried to link her up with some male colleagues but in vain. Some male overtures had been rejected by her flatly however politely. Since her entry into this side of the river Teesta she had often come across such enticing proposals like the prospective suitor is a COI holder with a good post in some government department and a promise of a government job here for her as well. Had she come for all these? She often wondered and chuckled at such strange matrimonial arrangements. Having got no response from her, thus she had been dismissed as being spiritless and frigid.
But lately an entry had been made in her otherwise uneventful world by someone quite special.
He used to visit her sometimes in the evening for a good cup of tea, soulful talks and meaningful discussions. Intelligence in man had always attracted her.
Those evenings when he excused himself from their ritual tea drinking session Kamala would ask her with impish grin, “Didi today Sir won’t come? What a gentleman he is! He addresses me as “tapai” (an honorific address)
Tejesh was indeed a gentleman. She was attracted to him by his vast knowledge and humility. Now the fact that even Kamala liked him doubled her joy. Her joy was shared by Kamala too. She would show remarkable spirit and insist on making tea for them when Tejesh was around. The joy which she didn’t want to take away from Kamala.
That evening as usual after having insisted that she would make tea Kamla kept the tea kettle on the stove but soon got busy with her other household work. This was quite common a habit with her, multitasking, to save time perhaps!
However, she was good at multitasking. Quick but clever.
But almost an hour passed when the promised cups of tea didn’t arrive she hesitatingly got up and went to the kitchen cutting short their extremely delightful tete-a-tete right in the middle much to her dislike.
To her utmost horror there she found in the kitchen the small but dainty stainless steel kettle, the one that had won her heart over at the very first sight at Hariram Store, burning red. Its content long dried up. There she stood perplexed for a moment and when the possibility of an imminent accident dawned on her she flunked open all the windows, switched off the stove at once almost in a reflex action. By this time Tejesh and Kamala had both reached the kitchen. But Kamala in the most lackadaisical manner without even a tinge of fear – fear of the deadly accident that has just been averted, looking first at her and then coyly to Tejesh spoke, “Ahh birsechu po!” ( oh, i simply forgot!)
“My God, How could she say so? What if.. Just look at her attitude!” Her head reeled with anger and disgust. And there for the first time she scolded Kamala. Scolded right in front of Tejesh.
Its been almost a week after that incident. Today Kamala came a little late than usual. And She was busy working on her project she had to present the next day in office. After completing her chores Kamala came to her quietly and said meekly, “Didi from tomorrow I wont be coming for work.”
“What! Err… but why?” that was all she could ask. Kamala with tiredness on her voice informed her that she would be going back, leaving Gangtok for good. The reason being the illness of her mother.
What could she say! The reason was a genuine. She felt very sorry as she gauged the sadness on Kamala’s face. All the more sad as she was never to see Kamala again.
The world is governed by love and the pain of separation is inescapable
She handed Kamala her dues adding on it extra thousand. Kamala need on her journey back home. She reluctantly accepted and with dismal expression quietly left the room.
With Kamala gone the warmth and liveliness of the house was gone too. It also left behind no time for her. Her schedule became very hectic. She now realised how Kamala had made her dependent on her. To come back to a messy room after a tired day’s work in office began to show effects on her temperament. She often became irritable. Her leisure evening tea session was replaced by grueling brooming-mopping sessions which left her completely exhausted. She thought she must look for another maid.
The next morning on her way to office she inquired the wife of Maila bhai, the grocer at Rangilla galli, if any maid was available. She even stressed that the work would be for two hours a day with good salary.
“What happened to Kamala, madam? Has she stopped coming to you?” came an inquisitive inquiry.
“She left for Gangtok two weeks back” is what she could say.
The grocer’s wife looked rather puzzled.
” But..but she came to my shop just yesterday,” spoke looking still very puzzled and continued carelessly, “She said she is working at Mrs. Singh’s house.”
She couldn’t believe what she was hearing.
As she was in hurry she rushed to office but her mind wrecked with all sorts of questions, ” How could she lie to me? But she looked grave talking about her ill mother. Why on earth would she lie to me? Mrs. Singh, hmmm!”
Maybe Maila’s wife is trying to taunt me or she wants some raunchy story to entertain her semi literate womenfolk during lazy afternoon! “Yes Maila’s wife is a prying woman” Kamala had told her once.”
It was a late evening and the sudden afternoon drizzle had turned into a heavy downpour. There she was- like many others stranded due to this erractic Gangtok weather. People ran helter skelter. Some taking hurried steps to a nearby shade. Amidst thus hustle she spotted Kamala near Hawa Ghar at Tadong. Yes it was Kamala. She, too half drenched, standing along with a confuse crowd at Hawa ghar. She rubbed her eyes. Yes indeed it was Kamala.
“So what maila’s wife said was true then! Why this hide and seek? ” sudden surge of rage blinded her. She felt cheated, betrayed and taken in for a ride. Trembling she waded through the stream of dirty drainage water that had flooded the street and stood in front of Kamala. On finding her suddenly in front of her, Kamala was taken a back but before Kamala could say anything she demanded to know what was she doing in Gangtok? Why had she lied to her- to her who never mistreated her and loved her like her own sister!
Kamala who was at first a little petrified but gained her composure quickly and replied stoically and in fact in a very matter of fact manner, “Didi, I’ve come here to earn and not to make a relationship. I left your place because I got a better offer at some other place,” and with a pause she continued, “You did scold me. Scold me right in front of Tejesh Sir, didn’t you?” Saying this Kamala left her standing alone completely drenched in that heavy rain.
She stood there stupefied.
“The ways of the world” which no university education could impart her, she learnt this way.
This bitter way.