Of all places, Amit chose to travel to the Shillong mountains. The reason was that people of his group never went there. The other motive – it was a site not flooded by parents laden with eligible daughters. The hunter with the arrow aimed at Amit’s heart frequented fashionable quarters. Of all the mountains in the country boasting ritzy retreats, Shillong was the one most constrained for his target practice. The sisters shook their heads and said, “You have to go, go alone. We are not coming along.”
Stylish short parasols in their left hands, tennis rackets in their right, attired in fake Parisian cloaks, the sisters went to Darjeeling. Bimi Bose had preceded them. When the sisters convened without the brother, she looked around and discovered that there were lots of people in Darjeeling but not a soul.
Amit had made it known to everyone that he was going to Shillong to enjoy the disarming solitude. It took just a couple of days to realise that without the normal army of people, the charm of disarming solitude vanished rather quickly. He does not have the passion for roaming amidst scenic sites, toting a camera. He says, “I am not a tourist. It is my nature to taste with my mind, not at all to gulp with my eyes.”
A few days were spent on the slopes of the mountains, reading under the Deodars. He did not touch fiction, since that is the archetypical holiday hobby of the commoner. He started reading Suniti Chatterjee’s “Theory of words in Bengali”, in the hope of a conflict of opinion with the author. In moments between the war with word-theory and lazy sluggishness, the hills, mountains, woods appear beautiful, but the beauty does not sink into the soul. As if the monotonic strain of overture, life-less, tuneless, toneless. In him there is an expanse, but not oneness, hence distributed trifles scatter within him, without accumulating. The lack of fixated harmony in his firmament, that disperses his soul in ferment, is as much a cause of woe for him in the mountains as in the city. However, in the city he is able to drain the disquiet in multiple manners, while here, the angst accumulates, much in the way a captured cascade transforms into a lake. Hence, he was contemplating “Escape down the slopes, on foot, Sylhet, Silchar wherever fancy takes me” when the monsoon arrived on every mountain and forest, spreading its shroud of moisture-laden overcast darkness. The news blew in that the ranges of Cherrapunji had stopped the attack of the combined clouds of new rain with its bosom, now dense heavy downpour would excite the mountain springs into rupturing their banks. He made up his mind to retire for some days to a bungalow in Cherrapunji – to recreate such a Meghduta whose invisible heroine from the land of Kubera would be like the lightening, flashing time and again on the soul-sky, leaving no trace of name or abode.
That day he put on highland socks of bulky blanket cloth, sturdy leather shoes with thick soles, Norfolk khakis, knee length short trousers and a sola hat. He did not look quite like the yaksha drawn by Abani Thakur, a closer resemblance being a district engineer out on road inspection. However, in his pockets he carried half a dozen slim editions – verses in several languages.
Twisting and turning tracks, green ravines on the right. The final destination upwards on this route was Amit’s lair. Wanderers being improbable, he drove silent, incautious. At that moment he was thinking of the suitability of the motor messenger for the modern day faraway beloved – an ideal union of the elements of smoke, light, water and wind, and a note carried by the chauffeur elucidating everything. His mind was made up. Next year he would greet the first showers by motoring down the path described by the cloud-bearer. Perhaps the wayfarer wife that destiny had kept hidden for him behind flower laden doors would materialise for some implausible reason, be she one of princesses Avantika or Malavika, or a deodar-wood dwelling Himalayan lass. It was then that he saw another car making for the top. No room to pass, he collided even as he braked. Slight dent, hardly qualifying as accident. The other vehicle rolled a while before coming to a stop against the mountainside.
A girl got down from the car. On the background painted by the recent brush with death, she unfolded like a prominent painting created by a streak of lightening – independent of all around her. It was like the goddess Lakshmi rising from the seas whisked to tumultuous froth by the Mandar Mountains, the bosom of the ocean still palpating in swells. Amit looked at her in that singular moment. This girl would not her reveal her innermost nature amongst others in a drawing room. In the world, we may come across worthy people, but very seldom in the worthy location.
She wore a thin bordered white saree and a jacket of the same woollen material, feet adorned by white shoes of local make and model. Dusky glow in her complexion, she stood tall. Under the shade of dense, long eyelashes, the deep doe eyes were serene; the broad expanse of her forehead was revealed by the tresses tied tightly at the back; the shapely mould of the face around the chin delightful as a semi ripe fruit, pretty as a peach. The sleeves of the jacket reached the wrists adorned by plain, dainty bangles. Free of fastening by a brooch, the drape on the shoulder reached her head, pinned to the chignon by a Cuttack patterned silver clip.
Amit left his hat in the car and quietly walked out to stand in front of her – as if waiting for his due chastening. The sight probably evoked pity in the girl, and some amusement. Amit softly said, “I have sinned.”
The girl laughed, “Not a sin but a blemish, with its source in me.”
The inflections carried the flawless swell sparkle of spring water. Like the voice of a young boy, it was smooth and unrestrained. That day, on his return, Amit had thought for long how to describe the unique taste and touch of the tenor. Opening his notebook he wrote, as if the light fumes of amburi tobacco, without the sting of nicotine, filled with the soft aroma of rose water.
The girl explained her own lapse, “Hearing of a friend's arrival, I set out on a search. Just a while after climbing up this road, the chauffeur declared it could not be this one. There was no way back but to retrace from the end. So we kept climbing higher, and collided with his highness.”
Amit said, “There are authorities higher than his highness – a very ugly, crooked planet of fate. This is its devious deed.”
The chauffeur informed, “Not much damage, but it will take time to repair.”
Amit said, “If you can forgive my vehicle’s villainy, I can take you wherever you permit me to.”
“It is not necessary to hitch hike. I am used to hiking the hills.”
“The necessity is mine. The proof of pardon.”
The girl remained quiet in slight demurral. Amit said, “There is something more to say on my behalf. I drive – not really a noble deed, there is no way to drive this thing to posterity. But, that is my only identity revealed to you for a start. And even into that, fate has twisted a flaw. In conclusion, I would like to prove that in this world I am at least as eligible as your chauffeur.”
On the first acquaintance with a stranger, the portent of unknown peril keeps damsels from dismissing diffidence. But with the brush of crisis at commencement, a large expanse of the barricades of beginning was blown away with the first breath. Some divine intervention on the deserted mountain roads tied the knot of familiarity. Did not dither. In the chance lightning streak, what struck the eye would be glimpsed at again and again against the background of darkness when awakened at nights. It was impressed in the midst of sensibility, like the burning mark of the sun and stars on the azure firmament during the big bang.
Without speaking, the girl got into the car. Following her directions the vehicle reached her destination. She got off the car and said, “If you have time tomorrow, do come here. I’d like to introduce you to the lady of our house.”
Amit wanted to say, “Time lies heavy on my hands, I can come right now.” He was checked by inhibition.
On returning, he pulled out his notebook and wrote, “O path, what madness did you indulge in today? Tearing two souls from separate locales, you probably hurtled them on a concurrent course. The astronomer is wrong. From unknown skies, the moon came into the orbit of the earth – their cars collided, and guided by that deadly deed, for ages and aeons are they journeying side by side. The light of one shines on the other. The ties of the journey are not sundered. The depths of my mind say we have together embarked on an endless expedition, on the thread of our path will we string a garland with glittering moments picked up every instant. No longer can I afford to remain at the doors of fate, with fixed salary and fixed ration. Our transactions will always be impetuous, sudden.
It was raining outside. Pacing restlessly and often in the veranda, Amit voiced in his mind, “Where are you, Nibaran Chakraborty? Possess me, bring forth words.”
Out came the long thin exercise book. Nibaran Chakraborty expressed –
The path entwines in a bond untied
On wafting wind do we two ride.
Dust-born coloured moments of day
Soul with powdered hues do spray,
Monsoon clouds do wave the veil
Dance of horizon fair,
Lightning struck spirits regale
With a sparkle rare.
No bunches of champak gold,
No flowers strewn beneath - behold.
Anon at some eventide hour
Whiff of a nameless flower,
Lazily the cloud is belittled
By the sun breaking day,
Atop arrogant peaks are settled
No treasures amassed, silver or gold,
Nor nurturing care does us enfold.
Wayside birds dance to beat,
Chain not we their loving tweet,
Two of us content with the song
Of wings that love flight.
With the sudden we go along
Shine in fleeting light.
Here we need to look backwards. Once we are done with the tale of the past, the story can move forward unfettered.