The damsel looked mesmerizing in the traditional green silk ‘dawani’ she was draped in. Her large eyes thickly clad in ‘black kajal’ seemed to penetrate deep through. Her open thick black hair that waved with the wind spread the aroma of rich coconut oil . The tiny bells on the silver anklets that adorned her feet tinkled that soothed his ears a lovely tune. The ‘Golden Shower’ tree, the traditional ‘Kani Konna’, showered her with golden yellow flowers and the whole picture was breathtaking. He gazed at her for a moment before she gradually faded away. Arjun opened his eyes and for a moment he felt that it was real. For the last few months the same dream recurred once in every month.
Arjun looked through the railed wooden bedroom window as he lay on the bed. Few dragonflies flew around in the light rain showers outside. The drizzle brought out the amateur poet in him. He recited the few verses of an old poem he had penned in his diary. The early morning rain filled his heart with a warmth that felt heavy after the dream. He asked himself the meaning of the repeated morning dream.
Arjun had moved to the renovated ancestral house few months back. The house was situated in hectares of land amidst fruit trees and ‘ayurvedic’ trees (that had value in the traditional medical system). The huge house which was a century old was built in a traditional style with teak wood, wild jack and black stones. There were many rooms in the house and without lighting each room was dark like the night. The wood carvings on the walls of the rooms depicted female dancers and gods. The house had an internal courtyard that brought in sunlight and the rains. The house was inherited by Arjun from his forefathers.
Arjun walked to the pond adjacent the house. The pond was a part of the ancestral house. He remembered how he had relished baths along with his cousins in the pond during his childhood. Now the pond was dirty with lots of leaves and dirt with no one bathing in it. There was a small family temple adjacent to the pond which remained closed for long.
Arjun remembered how he had shifted to the city for his education and his parents’ career. He had pursued his career as a doctor. Then he had made Meghana his life partner. All went well for some time until at one point of time the differences in their life led to a divorce petition in the city court two months back. Arjun’s eyes welled up with tears.
The walk through the narrow muddy lanes in the village brought a lot of memories into Arjun. He remembered how he had walked with his friends along the lanes to the village school, how they had splashed the dirty water in the muddy potholes at each other, how he had reached the school late with his uniform dirty and how he had stood the whole day in the school corridor.
Arjun could see the village temple at a distance. He sat under the banyan tree in the temple premises and looked at the few people walking to and fro from the temple. The Goddess of the temple was said to possess high divine powers and lots of people from near and far visited the temple each year. Arjun had forgotten the last time he had prayed in the temple with his mother.
“Arjun Etta….” The call seemed to come from behind. Arjun turned to face a young woman who seemed to be in her mid twenties. He looked at her a little confused. The girl resembled the damsel in his dream. She looked beautiful but she was draped in a yellow ‘dawani’ and there were no flower showers on her. Her eyes looked swollen with black circles under them. Her hair was tied in a neat plait. The tiny bells on her anklet jingled in a chorus as she walked towards him. For once he felt he was sleeping and not awake.
“Why are you staring at me? I am Gauri…. Nalani Ammayi’s daughter.”The girl smiled at Arjun. Gaurilakshmi didn’t resemble the ‘Gaurilakshmi he once knew’. Little Gauri had average looks and he had never noticed her more than a friend.
“Gauri you have grown up… I didn’t recognize you.”Arjun seemed still not out of his dream. Gauri was his childhood mate and also his distant cousin. They used to be close friends but after he had shifted to the city there remained no contacts.
“I heard from Naren uncle that you have reached the village some months back. And today I saw you walking through the lanes. I called you a lot but you seemed lost in thoughts.”Gauri replied in a husky voice.
“You sound like a man…” Arjun laughed at his joke.
“You haven’t forgotten anything.”Gauri laughed with him. During their school days Arjun used to ‘tease her to tears’ her loud husky voice that resembled a man.
“For how long you will be in the village?” Gauri added.
“Hmm.. For quite some days..” Arjun was a little hesitant to reply as he hadn’t made up his mind on how long he did stay.
“Arjun you are invited to our house on ThiruvOnam… I remember how you used to enjoy the Onam Sadya. ”
Onam ‘the ten day harvest festival of Kerala’ from Atham to Thiruvonam (according to the traditional calendar) was that time of the year when the families used to meet up and enjoy the rituals of the festival. Each day of the Onam was celebrated grandly in welcoming legendary ‘King Mahabali’ according to the myths. The ten day celebration constituted games, dances and feasts. The girls and women in the family dressed themselves in traditional costumes and performed the traditional dance Thiruvathira. The children prepared floral carpets known as Pookalam. There used to be some traditional festival games in the village like Pulikali (where the participants dress like tigers/leopards and dance to the beat of the accompanying instruments Udukku and Thakil) ; Thumbi Thulal (the dance form in which the women folk of the village dance to the rhythmic song); Oonjalattam (where youngsters and women swing in ‘flower adorned swings’ singing melodious songs) and many many more games. Last but not least was the Onam Sadya when the whole family would sit together for the grand feast of rice served on plantain leaves along with curries like Sambar, Aviyal, Pulissery,Olan,Kalan, etc…..(The list seemed endless then) to conclude with the sweet dish Payasam which used to be Arjun’s favorite part of the meal.
Life in the city had snatched away these little celebrations of life from him………….
“It’s long since I saw you in this dress.” Gauri complimented Arjun on Thiruvonam day as she opened the door to welcome him. Arjun was dressed in a traditional Mundu with a silk shirt to complement it.
“You look stunning too in this traditional costume.”Arjun complimented her back. Gauri was draped in a traditional Set Mundu well ornamented with traditional gold jewelry. Her large eyes thickly clad with the ‘Black Kajal’. Her open hair waved in the gentle breeze that flowed in through the open doors. The tiny bells on her anklets jingled in a chorus as she led the way in. Arjun smiled to himself as he thought ‘Wasn’t Gauri the damsel in my dream?’
As they enjoyed the Sadya they talked about their childhood, his family and her parents’ early death.
“Gauri why aren’t you married?”The question seemed unexpected at the moment and Gauri struggled hard to hold back her tears as she replied “There were problems with my horoscope and ……….”
”And what??…………..”Arjun asked.
“Nothing……… Hmm its nothing.. You finish the Sadya…”Arjun saw through the corner of his eyes Gauri wipe her tears as she served the Payasam on the plantain leaf.
Back home Arjun thought about what they had spoken in Gauri’s house. He thought about the childhood days which they had spent together . He had felt like a hero when she laughed at the silly jokes he cracked. Gauri looked all the same joyful and radiant but her eyes seemed to be filled with grief….. Arjun thought about the dream which recurred ever since he had moved into the ancestral house. Everything seemed to conclude the same……………
He looked at the sparrow pair that sat on the mango tree in the garden.
“Why I never thought about it even once… how we loved each other…….?” Arjun was again lost in thoughts recollecting the memories of an untold love ……………
The days that passed in after brought new hopes for Arjun and Gauri. Each pre-planned meeting looked coincidental……..
“Arjun what happened? It’s been days since I heard from you…” Gauri complained as she walked into the bedroom a week later. Arjun looked at her from his bed where he lay sick for the past few days. Gauri’s gestures seemed to grieve a complaint of his ‘uninformed disappearance’.
“You call yourself a doctor. What kind of a doctor…….?” She put her hand on his forehead to check the degree of the fever and gently placed the wet cloth pieces that she had brought in from the kitchen on his sick forehead. She served him hot steaming rice soup Kanji along with some traditional ayurvedic medicines (which she had learnt from her ancestors) that relieved the high fever. Gauri waited till he slept off.
“ Thanks to your medicine ‘Lady Doctor’…..” Arjun teased Gauri a week later as he sat in the garden waiting for her. Gauri had supported all through the week with her medicines, food and with her love and care…..
“Hmm.. You have to pay my fees….” Gauri joined with him.
“ This time I am going to pay a huge fee for that……” Arjun gently pulled Gauri towards him. He had mind up his mind that Gauri was going to be a part of him forever. Arjun looked deeply into her kajal clad eyes and she reciprocated his gaze.
“ I…..” Arjun stammered.
“I…. What…?” Gauri shyly pushed Arjun back but he seemed to hold her tighter.
“I………..” They were disturbed by the loud horns of a car at the gate of the house. Gauri gently moved away from him.
An old Ambassador car drove in through the tarred path to the entrance garden. A lady and an elderly man got out of the car. Arjun walked to the car and greeted the duo.
“Arjun congrats my son… Meghana is carrying for the past 3 months. You are going to be a father…” The elderly man informed Arjun.
For a moment Arjun seemed overjoyed and jumped like a child. He hugged the lady tightly and whispered “ I love you Megha for this…… I am going to pay you a high fees……”. Suddenly he moved back and looked at Gauri. She stood smiling at them.
“Dad this is Gaurilakshmi…. Nalini Ammayi’s daughter…” The man smiled at Gauri as he lightly patted her head.
“Gauri this is Meghana my wife….” Arjun added.
Gauri gently pulled Meghana into the house. “ Come in uncle ..come in Megha…”
Arjun stared at Gauri’s smiling face that happily giggled, chattered and welcomed the family. Her large beautiful ‘kajal’ clad eyes looked so radiant and attractive. But deep within them he could perceive the ‘tears of a wounded sparrow’ that had forgotten how to shed…………. She walked in harmony to the jingle of the anklet bells to gradually fade away……