The monk occupied the window seat as the train signalled. Sally and Jim stood at the platform, smiling at him. Having known Jim for several years, he had visited them on the occasion of a family get-together, concerning the naming ceremony of the former’s nephew. As the train crawled , they waved hands at each other until the train evanescent from sight.
“ He is so high-minded and the hail-fellow- well-met sort of a person. Why did he chose to be a monk? He would have proved to be a man of the family.” … As Sally rained a list of queries and suggestions, Jim said,
“Sally, Do you wish to hear a captivating story of this monk? If yes, then let’s sit on the seashore quietly for sometime before I begin the story…and yes, one more thing. Promise me that during my narration, you will not interrupt at any cost. If you agree, I proceed.”
Sally smiled , patted at his back and said, “I promise but you too should stay engrossed and should not pause to distract me.”
They laughed, enjoying each other’s poke before Jim commenced the story…
The entire household quaked as he mounted the porch steps with heavy boots. The lights went on and soon the inhabitants took their respective seats in the main hall. I trembled in fear as the sound of his boots- laiden feet approached the door. My granny, the oldest of us all, sitting squirmly with the ever blinking cataract-affected eyes sniffed, as if she held an expertise in detecting criminals of highest order and had been awarded various times for her unsung bravery. We all looked at her and she hushed us.
The thuds produced by the boots now neared the door and a hand knocked. We all looked at granny in awe as she limped her way to pick an iron rod that lay under the window of the hall. By now she had positioned herself as a soldier in front,ready to combat the raining bullets on his chest.And then…
Uncle Brittle prostrated before the large sofa that adorned the hall as a statue of solidarity. It so happened that he was about to knock heavily on the door when granny actually opened it and the force behind Uncle Brittle’s ages of military training conglomerated to push him in and fall before the sofa.
A submerged giggling by the members reddened the otherwise red, thick- moustached , vibrant, plumpy persona of Uncle Brittle. He left the floor with utmost dignity ever displayed by an army man on such occasions and closed the door behind his bedroom with a bang.
Everything about Uncle Brittle was charismatic; be it his clothes, his mannerisms or his age old large thumping boots. But the most important part of his charisma was his fantastic feminine voice which often confused people, who would be otherwise enthralled by his large countenance. It so happened once that his daughter’s friend called her over the phone and assuming the call to have been picked by her friend’s mom, said,
“ Hi Aunt Susie! How are you? I wanted to talk to Mesba.”
“No, no, no, actually I am Brittle here,” … hearing which the girl felt so embarrassed that she almost dropped the phone-receiver and pledged that from then on ,the idea of ever making a phone call to Brittle household would be abandoned.
From then on, Susie and Mesba would sit for hours together, gathering all sorts of awareness that one could get through advertisements, accentuating voice therapy. Uncle Brittle too advocated this task of hunting voice therapists who could help in complementing his voice with that of his amplitude. Meanwhile granny improved her health impromptu and now from time to time, practiced self-defense, to be precise in future, with her daring attacks on strangers at the door.
Winter was fast approaching in this part of the globe and Brittle household was preparing itself against the frequent weather alerts, alarming the community of a very dense snowfall. Amidst this wintry chaos and sound preparations to tackle it , Susie received a call from India. It was her childhood friend Frieda Senzel whose daughter Preggy had been detected with brain cancer. Unlike the Brittle household, Senzel household thrived on unruly scenes displayed dexterously by the Senzel brothers who possessed no sense of familial blending with one another.
A busy afternoon found all the four brothers gathered at the living room to discuss the medical condition of their only sister Preggy. Having conglomerated after a long time, the elder one wasted no time to declare that his fortunes were facing a very rough weather at the stock exchange, disturbing profusely, his otherwise well – balanced monetary strata. Therefore nothing significant could be expected from him.
The other brothers echoed him except the third one, Wendell, who felt it better to adopt the silent mode and observe. Unlike his brothers , he served in the Army and had been freshly inducted as a trainee. He knew that he had no voice in the family and was often victimised by the innuendoes either by his elders in the family or seniors at the training. No one ever seeked his opinion on any issue and expected him to maintain the so called ‘silence of a lamb.’
Meanwhile the conversation came to an end with a strong declaration by the elder brother that Preggy would be admitted in a hospital under the care of the medical fraternity and Wendell would bear the medical expenses as he wasn’t married and bore zero responsibility in the house. When Wendell heard this, his heart sank. He was very close to Preggy and could do anything on earth to save her life but it was the attitude of the brothers that ached his heart.They all earned well yet whenever it came to shoulder a consequential responsibility, they stood apart, united.
Preggy looked at Wendell from behind a book on self -motivation, as the latter entered her room. For the first time in all these years, Wendell had found time to hold a long intimate conversation with his lovely sister. Now that she counted her days, desperately trying to keep herself aloof from those terrible mood swings, Wendell wanted to know her desires so that they could be fulfilled before she departed from the globe. On asking,she said,
“Wendell, I want to see everyone happy. I know that they all are perturbed by my fatal sickness and thus isolating me but I want to live with them till my last breath. If you can, please tell them to speak to me earnestly.”
How could I explain to Preggy that it wasn’t the illness that shooed them away from her but the fear of parting with their ever-preserved moola was their bone of contention!
However I convinced her with a promise that I would do anything to please her. Preggy kept waiting for the brothers but none responded to her repeated requests. Her mother, Frieda was unwell and Wendell too had joined the training but he regularly communicated with her through mails.
The winter had set its feet firmly on this land and amidst the slothful ambience, an e-mail from Russell brought a wide smile on Preggy’s face. He was visiting her, her love for a long time and had made an elaborate plan during his visit to India. He told her over the phone that he would take her to almost all holiday destinations and together they would quench their thirst for adventure.
Since then Preggy spent each day counting the number of hours that they would be spending with each other. He was her first and perhaps last love and she would propose to him or would it be other way round? She mused day and night over her plans until the day of Russell’s arrival dawned.
Russell was Uncle Brittle’s son but unlike his father he had no military ambitions and those heavy boots of her father never charmed him towards one of the finest services to the nation. Instead he chose to run a business by selling musical instruments all over Europe. When Uncle Brittle heard about it, he named him, ‘ Guitarist on the run’ at which Russell retorted ,’ music runs in my father’s tongue.’
Their verbal duel often escalated to greater heights until Susie intervened and warned that such unruly scenes would be severely dealt with, by the supremo of the household- the granny. The duel would then cease instantly and Susie would be seen leaving the duo facetiously.
The day dawned and Preggy eagerly awaited to satiate her eyes with the first look of Russell. She screamed with joy as Russell stood at the door with a bouquet containing beautiful flowers of her choice to be presented to the lovely lady. He hugged Preggy and handed over the bouquet with a kiss on her cheeks as her tears rolled down. He could feel the pain that Preggy had carved in her heart. He knew he would lose her soon and there was no question of planting false sentiments in his heart.
“Preggy, I know you were eagerly awaiting my arrival. We shall start our adventure and we are visiting a wild life sanctuary tomorrow followed by numerous trekking expeditions and visits to the famous monuments here.” Russell chalked out his plan as he sat beside her.
“That’s fine. You take rest and I will pack my bags.” She smiled and once again hugged Russell.
The next few days were a dream come true to Preggy. She had never enjoyed so much before and looked forward to more bountiful moments as they returned after visiting the sanctuary and trekking for a number of days. Russell finely observed each movement of hers and often enquired about her interests in visiting more places. She nodded with a big ‘YES’ and Russell decided to divulge his unrevealed self where he safeguarded his undefined love for so long.
As they sat on a park bench with Preggy resting her head on his shoulder, Russell said,
“Dear, you know you are the best person in my life and I wish to tell you that I am in love. I wanted to introduce my girlfriend as a surprise to you. Therefore, when I visit you after a month, I will do so…It’s getting dark now…let’s go home.”
Preggy heard it all in silence. So this is how she had expected her dream home to crumble. Everything seemed lost to her. A darkness fell before her eyes but she managed to balance her body from collapsing.
When darkness falls, it suppresses the existence of all beneath its fangs.
On their way back, none spoke a word but Russell casted a smile at self for having succeeded in retaining the secret of his girlfriend who was actually none other than Preggy. He thought, “How happy Preggy would be to find that she is my girl and she would then fight for having hidden this fact from her for so long!”
Soon the day of Russell’s departure arrived and he left with a promise to Preggy that next time he was sure to bring along his girlfriend of high repute. After he left the house, Preggy locked herself in her room and thrusting a piece of cloth into her mouth , she cried bitterly.No one heard her, not even her own self for she wanted to sever herself from all ties.
The crying ceased after an hour or so and her head pounded with severe ache. She pushed herself to bed and slept as the pounding reverberated and slowly calmed her soul.
When the soul cries, the world seems to end,
ending all affections on earth and in sky,
Yonder lies that crimson misfortune , dumping the self,
trying to mitigate thus emitting the compassion wry.
Wendell sat on a hillock while reposing, after a hectic training schedule. He had not heard from Preggy since a month. At times his heart would beat faster with an unease. Why was Preggy shying away from him? Was she distancing herself as her days of minimal breaths approached nearer?
As he sat thinking of her, his co-trainee beckoned him and said,
“Wendell you have a mail. Your sister is hospitalized. She is in the ICU and desperately awaiting your return.”
He shook with fear. So the day had finally halted. The day that he detested the most. He ran towards the wig-wam and packed the belongings containing a few letters addressed to Preggy but never posted. His leave had been arranged by his fellow trainees. He came out, weepingly smiled at all gathered outside and left.
During the journey, which would take a minimum of two days, he thought,
When you were born, Dear Sis!
The heart jumped and the soul danced,
A bird in the bush recited a song,
the mankind amused at the fairie so white,
none could harm her-the anger of the fright,
lies she today in the arms of mortality,
counting her breaths , resting in tranquility,
O Dear God! Have mercy on your child,
Take her to your shrine so gentle so warm,
bestow her peace and an everlasting calm…
The station arrived. Wendell looked out to see if someone had come to receive him which would silence his otherwise turbulent mind that all was well with Preggy. Finding no one at the station, his face seemed bloodless and feeble. Would he be able to see Preggy again? How would he face her dead anatomy? Lost amidst all these awful calculations of his mind, he reached the bus station from where he boarded a bus to the hospital.
Preggy breathed nonchalantly as the doctors stood near the ventilator, examining her breath counts, every second. Her eyes were closed and outside the room, Wendell could locate the weeping domestic help,Mariam, standing at a corner and praying to Almighty. Wendell stood near her but she did not notice him.
“How’s she now? Where are the brothers and their wives?” Wendell was astounded but firm in his tone, noticing clearly that none of the family members had visited Preggy after having admitted her.
“I am sorry to say, Wendell, that you belong to the most ruthless family in the town. I am ashamed to see such an ill treatment of a girl at the hands of her own family members. Good that you came. You are her only solace. Give her some happy breaths if you can…”Having said this, she burst into tears and sank on the wooden bench.
Finally the door opened and Dr. Mevon disembarked. His downcast face escalated Wendell’s fear.
“ She is no more…She died a few seconds ago…May God rest her in peace…!”
Wendell sank besides Mariam. Stupified by destiny’s blow, he sat there for sometime and then, as if a mysterious agency pulled him up from the bench, he silently walked away, leaving behind his beloved in an eternal sleep and abandoning a truthful mortal bonding for ever.
Russell descended from the plane. It had reached the destination at the right time. Having checked out , he picked his luggage and boarded a taxi,. On the way he thought,
The power, the body and my love,
to you all I owe this day,
Will I meet my life today,
her face -an innocence of a dove,
join me you all , feast on my mirth,
bestow thine blessings galore upon my love’s ablazed hearth…
As the Senzel household neared, his heart thumped with excitement. He imagined how Preggy would express her surprised shock to know that only she was his true love and the only love! The taxi honked as it entered the portico. Finding no response at the door, he knocked and after a wait of nearly five minutes, a voice answered.
It was Aunt Frieda. She was very sick as her arthritis had bore no positive results even after a long medication. The pain had severely grown due to winter, adding fuel to fire. She looked at Russell and said,
“Preggy is in ICU. Doctors confirmed that final stage of her brain cancer was almost coming to an end. I am afraid. What would befall my sweet angel !”
His heart sank as he heard this and without wasting a second, he rushed to the hospital, hiring a taxi again. On the way, he tried overcoming his fear and suppressing his tears, by praying to God,
O Dear God! Don’t steal my love,
she’s all that I possess,
My breaths are only hers,
give her mine,if that’s my love’s success…
At the hospital entrance, he met Wendell who was hastily rushing elsewhere.
“Hey Wendy! How’s Preggy?” Wendell did not wait to answer his query and went away. Russell checked into the hospital and found Mariam sitting on the wooden bench, crying.By now Russell knew that the worst had befallen.
Preggy’s entire body had been covered as she was being taken out of the ICU. Russell pulled the sheet off her face and for the last time, his heart wept aloud at the last glimpse of his love.
The entire Senzel household sat mourning Preggy but Wendell was nowhere to be seen. All attempts to trace him fell in vain. At last one of the Senzels’ neighbours disclosed that Wendell’s close friend had lost his mother the same day and Wendell was seen helping him with all rituals. This angered the elder brother ,
“I am ashamed to call him my brother. How arrogant and coward is he to have renounced his own sister’s sorrow to join a friend’s mother’s funeral! May God dump his soul forever!”
Wendell’s unusual behaviour had inflicted a deep pain into the hearts of Senzels. But no one knew the cause behind this emotional brutality. Who would know that he had no courage to see his loveliest sister’s dead anatomy!…
“ Today is a very special day and as you all know, we are hosting a community lunch for the poor. Let’s all get ready with the duties assigned to each one and supervise the activities carefully. No one should leave the monastery empty stomach.” The head of the monastery addressed a group of senior monks at the prayer hall.
“Wendell, you can join me in observing the overall activity after two hours. Just see that everything is perfect as it is also a task for you before you occupy the post of the head as my successor.” Wendell nodded and dispersed to accomplish the task.
Eight years had passed seeing Wendell in the guise of a monk, who had decided to dedicate his life in the service of mankind. He worked dexterously and during his leisure hours , he wrote his autobiography, leaving enough space for others to contemplate on the amount of spiritual calibre that he had mastered all the while.
He loved all and everyone loved him. If anybody asked, “ who are your enemies ?”, he would smilingly say, “Is there any word called enemy? I haven’t found any in my dictionary of life.”He would further say,
My life isn’t life of my own,
nor is there something to disown,
for my Lord doesn’t possess the universe that He created,
He loved them all whom we detested…
People thronged him day and night in pursuit of knowledge and he would ever be courteous to make them understand that Knowledge could not be obtained from others. It was a self styled process unlike information which could be passed on to others. He would say,
“Dear Friends! What you obtain in your educational institutions is mere loads of informations on various subjects but how you apply those bits of informations in your lives is KNOWLEDGE.”
And thus life went on…
Sally looked at Jim as the latter paused with a deep sigh. She came closer to him, held his hand and said,
“ Darling! I was an ignorant till this strange tale of love, humour, bonding, sacrifice, celibacy and contentment hadn’t touched my soul. Last week, Dad had asked my opinion on my wedding and I had said that I was still very young to get into the worldly responsibilities and he had remained quiet. I could feel that concern on his face to see me settle down before he left this world. But it had no serious impact on me.”
By now, Jim could see tears rolling down her fair cheeks. Suddenly she held his face in her palms, kissed on his forehead and said,
“ When shall we marry?”