We ran for about 10 minutes, but we never seemed to find our way back. The bells were now silent and we were exhausted. She had a mysterious smile on her face. “I told you we’ll have to stay here if we don’t catch this boat.” I explained in panic. “So let’s stay here. We’ll get back tomorrow morning.” She said with ease. “Well we don’t have any arrangement for shelter and do you know how cold it is going to get in the night.” I was irritated with her attitude. I knew how cold it would be. This was an island and due to the water all around us the wind gets colder than the mainland.
Finally we got out of the forest and the temple stood in front of us. I ran towards the river but the boat was long gone. I was agitated. Now what stood in front of me was the sight of a distant village where smoke rose from various houses, most of them lit by a single light bulbs. These were the homes of the poor fishermen. The reflection of the village in the river created a magical scene. I stood there; it looked like a huge painting of a brilliant painter.
“How beautiful it is.” She said. She was climbing down the slope. The atmosphere was so calm and peaceful, that all my panic and anger was gone. The wind blew through my hair. It was truly divine. The fishermen were moving in and out of their houses on the other side. They were involved in their daily works. We, on the other side of the river stood secluded from the outer world. There was no light on the island so they could not see us, but we could see them. It made me feel that how far we have come from this world yet how close we are to it. I turned to her “thank you.” I said. I realised that if it would not have been her we would have gone back.
The river was calm and placid. It reminded me of her eyes. As I looked into them I fond them to be a bit more damp then the usual. The water in her eyes moved and a small tear rolled onto her cheek. She ran towards me; I hugged her. It was soothing; it felt very light. I felt like…. My brain went dead I had no thoughts. There were just she and I. We stayed there for a while.
“You asked me, ‘do I love you?’. I don’t know much about love but if this feeling that both of us share is love. Then yes I do love you.” I told her as we moved towards the temple complex. We decided to spend the night inside the temple near the altar. There were still some embers left in it, so it would provide some warmth. We lied on the temple floor and kept talking.
“You know when I was a kid, I was afraid to come to Bet after sunset. There were stories about ghosts roaming here.” We decided to restrain ourselves from any philosophical discussions. “Really? But we are in a temple now. I don’t think there is any reason to be afraid,” she said smiling. The naughtiness in her eyes was clearly visible. “When I was a kid my father used to tell me that we have a body and a soul but the ghosts have no bodies. So we are more powerful than them. This was enough of a reason for me for not getting afraid of ghosts.” I could easily make out from her face that she missed her childhood. “You love your father a lot, don’t you?” I asked though I was still not clear about love. “Yes, actually dad always teased mom that I love him more than I loved her.” Her eyes lit up as she said this. “What does he do?” I asked. “He runs a transport company.” She continued “he is my best friend.” She was in a different world now. “Do you know who my best friend is?” I asked. “I think I know. The trees at your farm aren’t they?” she guessed. Although they were among the best friends of mine, but there was some one else who was the best of them all. I took her outside and pointed towards the sky. She was puzzled. “Do you see that? Orion, he’s my best friend.” I said pointing to Orion, a constellation.
She was puzzled. “When I was a child I had very few friends. We had this big mansion in central Indore. There were lots of trees in our house. Many birds and animals dwelled on them; we even had a small pond full of fishes. The trees and plants, the birds and the squirrels, the fishes and the flowers were my friends. During the daytime I spent most of my time with them. But at night I was not allowed to go there. At night after I had my meals I used to go to the backyard and watch the stars. There were these three stars arranged in a line that I thought of as a stick. In class 5th or 6th I came to know it was the Orion’s belt. It was then when our friendship started. Few years from then, we left our house and moved into a flat. I lost all my friends. The trees were chopped down and eventually the creatures dwelling on them moved elsewhere. But the one friend that remained with me was Orion. The best part of our friendship is that he travels with me wherever I go. Apart from him I have the trees at the farm.” I went deep into my childhood, memories of leaving our home and separating from my friends came back to me.
“Each star in that constellation is so many light years away from each other.” She said with an explanatory tone. “Yes-yes, I know everything about Orion, even the mythological part of it. The Greek, Indian and the Chinese.” I said, after all we were the best pals. “In Chinese philosophy they believe in two principle forces of nature yin-yang.” She said. “Yes. Yin represents female force and yang represents the male.” I added. I had read about it somewhere I don’t remember. “There’s another explanation for it. Yin, which represents the feminine force, also represents the night. It is amazing the way you are fascinated by the night sky. Surely, you are attracted towards yin.” She was on to raillery me.
“One more thing, this may sound foolish to you. Listen, my initials are KR and yours are RK. So in a way we both are opposite and complementary to each other. Just like yin and yang.” She was sounding childish. “And this suggests that we both are made for each other.” I said jesting and both of us broke into laughter.
We went inside the temple. Although the serene settings provided freshness to our minds, the bodies were experiencing fatigue. I fell asleep. A thought about everyone at home kept reoccurring to my mind. I realised how tensed they would be to find out that I was missing. And what about Mrs. Rajput? They might take a boatman and come looking for us here. I must go to they riverbank. As I opened my eyes to go to the bank I saw a face staring at me. It scared me; I was not able to recognize it. I thought of running but found that I could not get up. My body was paralysed, maybe due to fear. I felt the pumping of my heart in my ears. As I tried to gather all my energy to get up, the haziness due to the exhaustion was wiped away. My vision got cleared. I found that the face looking at me was none but hers. I breathed a sigh of relief. She was looking at me.
“What happened? You look terrified.” She asked me. I got up. The words were not coming out of my mouth. Her face was placid contrary to the excited one; her eyes were lit up contrary to the peaceful eyes, her hair…. Suddenly she started changing. Her face turned into that of a male. I knew to whom she turned into, it was me. I was scared to death. The chill in the air went through my spine. I ran, I ran into the woods. The leaves cracked beneath my feet. The branches bruised my arms. I was running; it was a moonlit night. After few minutes my body gave way and succumbed to the fatigue. I fell on the forest floor. I could not move. Blood was flowing through a dozens of holes, made by the thorns, all over my body.
What was it? Was it a ghost? Yes it was surely a ghost. It couldn’t be her. Suddenly a thought struck my mind; what about her? Where is she? I have to retreat for her. I laid there for a while trying to lift my ailing body and then I heard a cry. Somebody was calling my name; it was she. I ran towards the voice. It was coming from the bank. As I reached there I saw a silhouette standing there calling my name. I thought it was her, but when it turned I saw, it was not her. It was the other I. I was confused, terrified and devastated. I turned back to run. A cold sensation jabbed my left leg and then a sting.
It was black and long. The cobra venom kills in less than 12 seconds. Already I was on the ground. The other me came closer and the snake went into the bushes. He was crying; he sat besides me. And then I realised it wasn’t any ghost it was actually her who turned into me. Now I knew what she meant when she said ‘love is death’. Her words echoed in my mind.
It felt light, very light much like it did when she first hugged me. I could see my body lying on her lap. She was still crying. It took me some time to understand that I was dead. I was not feeling sad or mournful. For most of the people death of a loved one is a very painful experience, but what about the one who dies? If you ask me it is the most heavenly experience. It feels like a long lasting thirst is about to be quenched, an eternal quest is about to end. I will soon achieve my love. I felt fortunate, for who would be so fortunate to die in the hands of the one who loved you and to pass on to the one you love. If death is like this, I would like to die everyday.
She was still me and I was now nobody.
At the farm I showed her around the different places and at last we reached a place covered with trees; Teak, Tamarind and Rose Apple. The trees made the spot a little island of shadow where only little of the sunlight penetrated during the daytime. “In summers when I came to the farm, this was my favourite place. It was almost like a sanctuary to me. The harsh summer heat dared not to penetrate through this protective covering of nature. I sat here and thought for hours. When all the children sank into the safe refuge of their homes avoiding the scorching heat I used to come here.” As I said this I pulled her between the trees.
These were my friends, among the best I ever had. They always supported me. Just the sight of these trees standing there infused a confidence in me. They gave me a feeling that some things in life are best if kept unchanged.
“William Wordsworth once said ‘Nature never disappoints her lover hearts’.” When I said this she blushed. “Jealous?” I asked. The question annoyed her. “Why would I be?” she replied. I knew she was jealous.
We returned to the village. I promised her to take her to Bet tomorrow, but no later then 1 o’clock because one needs time to explore the place. I started experiencing a feeling of attachment towards her. I was confused what that was ‘do I love her?’ the question occupied my mind the whole night. I was confused.
Next day we reached the banks of river Narmada. From there we had to take a boat to reach Bet. “I have never taken a river boat ride.” She was stirred up as always “although I have been to Bhopal where I have taken boat rides in lake but this is first time in a river.” I tried to recall my first riverboat ride, but probably I was too young to remember the ride.
We reached Bet in ten minutes. The island was covered with heavy vegetations. The wild grasses with blue and red flowers greeted every passing person. There were stairs to climb up the slope of the island and a large temple of lord Shiva at hilltop. Ghat was situated on the other side of the island.
“It’s so peaceful out here.” She said looking at the butterflies flying around the wild grass. The settings of that place isolated you from the sounds of the outer world, as if a curtain has been pulled over. Ever word spoken carried a different tone. The place had different sounds, the buzzing of dragonflies, the chirping of birds, the chirring of insects and a distant trill of a peacock. We climbed up the stairs and the temple complex stood in front of us. We entered the complex and went across every temple situated inside. Then we went to the ghat and sat along the river. The small waves in the river moved up and down and the sunrays falling on them created an illusion of twinkling stars in bright daylight.
“I am so bad. I have engaged you for two whole days. By the way if you were not with me what would you generally do?” She asked. The question surprised me. I was not expecting such a self-accusing act from her. It was also surprising to find out that, despite of the time we spent together and the amount of discussions between us, the two of us knew very little of our daily lives.
“Well If I was in Indore I would spend half of my day in college and rest half is unplanned. If I come here I visit Naageshwer, Bet and my farm, which we have been doing since yesterday. So there is no question of my routine been disturbed. Apart form this I have only missed soccer, which I play whenever I come here.” I finished explaining her my routine. The part of my routine at Dharampuri was unchanged since very long time. “What would you do, if you were not here?” I asked. “I would attend the classes. Then at home I spend some time with Jimmy. Actually a lot of time. If I have any time left, I study. Then I have my dinner and sleep. It’s as simple as that.” She answered in one breath. “OK so who is Jimmy?” I asked the very instant she finished explaining. There was a hint of anxiousness in my voice. For a second I thought, it would be better if I don’t know who is Jimmy. “Why are you jealous?” she asked with a mischievous smile “don’t worry. He’s my pet dog.” I was embarrassed. I kept looking at the river. “What did you thought, who he was?” now she started to take on me. I didn’t answer her.
“Hey look at that.” She was pointing towards a peacock. It had come to the river to quench its thirst. It was quite far from us. “Don’t move or it will run away.” I told her. “It’s so beautiful. Is it going to dance?” she asked it with innocence as of a child. “Do you want to see more of them?” I asked her. She nodded in reply. “Stay low and let it drink. When it goes back we’ll follow it.” I instructed. This was one thing I had mastered. Since my childhood I had spent a lot of my time following peacocks to their musters, here in Bet. It is a tedious job and takes patience. I was not quiet sure she would be able to do this. “Look you need to be very patient and no noise at all.” I told her. “OK” she said.
We waited till it started back for the jungle. Its legs made clear and deep impressions on the sand. It was quiet easy here but the tricky part was when it goes into the jungle. Dry leaves and splinters of wood spread all over the ground crack with a noise when you move on them. Also the bird turns its head randomly to check whether a predator is following it. If you move at that time, the bird will fly away. Although, peacocks are not the best flyers, but in a forest a jump of 20 feet comes in very handy. Once the bird knows about your presence it’s unchasable.
“If you make any noise the bird will fly away.” I warned her once again. “But peacocks don’t fly.” She came in with a trivia that irritated me. “Yeah, I know that. But when they flap their wings, they can make it as high as 20 feet. Once they are on the tree top, you can’t chase the damn creature.” I explained.
Next half an hour went by as we reached the muster of the peacocks. There were 2 or 3 peacocks and peahen twice of that. They flocked quiet deep into the jungle. We were very cautious in moving. It took us very long to reach there because we had to maintain a distance from the birds. We crept slowly towards them. “Is it going to dance now?” she asked. “No that’s mostly in the rainy season. You know why do they dance?” I asked. “Yes, they want to impress the females for mating.” She answered as if she was going to do a mischief. “Let’s get a closer look.” I said. I waved my hand signalling her to follow me. As she moved a dry splinter cracked underneath her body. The sound was enough to alarm the muster. The birds flew away blowing a gust of dust all around.
The Sun was now declining towards the west and the shadows started stretching. It usually sets early in winters. It was then when I realised that as the sun sets temperature will drop and we have no arrangement of winter. “I think we should leave.” I suggested. “As the Sun sets it would get cooler and also the last boat leaves after the evening Aarti.” There was a panic in my voice.
“OK, we have more than an hour for getting back. So meanwhile show me around.” She was very casual about this entire affair. “But, there is nothing except this jungle and the temple …”I tried to convince her. “So let’s explore the jungle.” she moved deeper into the woods as she said this. I was very annoyed by this attitude of hers. I didn’t understand why she was that reluctant in going back. “You don’t want to get back, do you?” I asked her angrily. “If we get back you’ll go to your place and I to mine. I want to spend more time with you.” I went speechless at this reply of hers.
We were deep into the woods. “Why is it that always male has to persuade female into a relationship?” She asked me. We were talking about the male female relationship existing in nature. Our encounter with the peacock led to this discussion. “No it’s not always true. Yes but in case of birds and most of the mammals it is true. I suppose it is because of the fact that the female knows that if male wants his gene pool to survive, which is the primary motive of any species, he needs her. Also that the female makes the choice of the best father for her children which gives her the upper hand in choosing the partner.” She had very cleverly shifted my focus from the problem of going back to the village to the male female relationship. I was now into explanatory mode. This was my biggest weakness. If you ask me to explain something, I’ll leave everything aside to make you understand that. She knew this.
“If we look at human society the converse is also true. I mean if you look at the scenario fifty or so years back mostly the male was the one who made the choice, especially in Indian society.” She questioned. Her question drew me deeper into it. “If you see initially at some early stage of evolution, say in case of big cats and apes, the social structure emerged with the dominance of male. What led to it was the fact that when a male is not allowed to mate with the partner of his choice, he goes violent. This led to insecurity of females. Then females started looking for a stronger companion, the one who can protect them from most of the other males. This was when the ball came to the male’s court. If the female needs protection it has to abide by the male’s charter. Now the stronger males started picking up the females for them. You can see that in most of the apes like chimps have leader who is male and has a harem of females. Same is true with the lions and the tigers.” I thought it was enough to appease her query. “The basis of your explanation is that female is weaker of the two. Is it true? Your are being biased in your opinion.” She opined. The Sun was setting and the light started to get dim.
“What I feel makes the female weaker is her responsibility towards the offspring. On the other hand males are hardly bothered about the children. Or you are right I might be biased.” I was a bit submissive in front of her, had it been another person I would have never admitted my biased opinion.
“According to you what is the thing that drives a males towards a female?” she asked another question. And during the conversation I had lost my sense of direction and now she was leading the way, through the woods. “The thing that drives a male to a female is the need to reproduce. Every species wants to bring a new generation to survive in this world. This is why and how we have reached to this stage of evolution. This has led to our evolution. If this tendency was not there the only creatures on this planet would have been microbes.” I was a bit arrogant in answering to her. “So according to you the basis of relationship between a male and a female is sex, right? So what about humans? Where do our emotions stand?” she was agitated by my answer.
“As far as I think, the emotions which we carry are the representations or rather manifestations of our instincts developed during our course of evolution.” I was now stepping into an uncomfortable territory of thoughts. Emotions have always distraughted me. “So what about your emotions?” she was questioning me and I to myself. “For you love is just a manifestation of your sexual desire?” she was kind of furious to know my opinion on emotions. All this shook me. Before I could answer her previous questions she fired another one. “Do you love me?” she asked. It didn’t surprise me because I knew at some point this was coming our way.
It was this question that has unsettled me the most throughout my life. I was never able to figure out what exactly is love or any emotion. The best answer that occurred to me was the one explaining emotion as manifestations of our instincts. Fear, for example is due to our instinct to avoid any fights with the one who is stronger. It saves our life. “I don’t know. I’m confused. What do you think about love?” rather than answering I asked a question. I thought the best way to avoid the answer is to ask another question. “For me love or any other emotion is what makes us connect to each other. Love connects us to God. It is giving all that you have, even your existence. For me love is death.” Her face shined and sparkled as she said this. Then she looked down at me. Her expressions suggested that she was disappointed with me. I was not able to comprehend what she said. “Love conquers all; let us too yield to love.” I tried to lighten the mood by saying this. She smiled.
“Look its dark already we should start back.” As soon as I finished saying this the temple bells started ringing. They made such a great sound that you can hear it from a mile. This meant that the Aarti was about to end and soon the last boat will leave. I grabbed her hand and pulled her with me. We started running towards the sound of the bells.