Bamboo Flower, a novel – Part 37
By Akendra Sana
“Bamboo Flower”, serialized here, is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to any actual person, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
Continued from last Sunday
After walking for a while, Rajen realized that Nini had taken a different route. As they walked together like honeymooners in a hill town, she was unusually quiet except for some observation on some herbs or plants as she picked them for her bag.
About half an hour later, they came to a small cluster of hill houses. Here the houses appeared clean and better tended. The huge rocks along the narrow path were covered with ageless moss. They must have been there for a very long time.
As he began to take a closer look, he noticed that the houses here were of more slanting roofs with two horn-like structures at the apex of the front-end of the roofs. The houses had roofs made of bamboo splits. It seemed that big bamboo poles were vertically split into two and the parts were arranged in alternate turns making them face up and down alternately for the roofs.
Nini was leading him to a house by the side of the path they were taking.
There was not separate gate to the house. All the houses appeared to be parts of a larger unit. Here the village was the unit. The village had a gate, which he had noticed a while ago when they took the slightly even path lined with stakes of firewood on both sides after the bigger rough hill path.
The courtyard of the house they entered was barren. The red mountain soil looked paved more by erosion than by any human hand and it had natural shallow drains at the sides. There was a small verandah in front. Frankly, he could not make out which direction the house faced. There was no apparent general direction the houses were facing. Convenience seemed to have taken the place of beliefs here.
Nobody was seen anywhere. It was still early in the day. Daybreak was only about an hour ago. Probably, everyone was busy attending to morning chores, he speculated.
Rajen slowed down as they went closer to the verandah. Nini threw a side-glance and raised herself to enter the house leaving him standing a little away from the verandah. He hesitated and did not follow her in.
Nini entered the inside of the house calling out a name he could not make out.
He was convinced, by now that there was something about this woman friend in these hills. She seemed so sure of herself and her familiarity in these hilly surroundings was something he could hardly comprehend given her apparent urban background. Did she originate from these hills? which was unlikely, he could not help wondering. On the other hand, had she made these hills a temporary home of sorts on some work? This was possible. Yet he knew it was best not to ask. He knew he would only get an evasive answer even if she were to reply. Intriguing, once again, was all he could tell himself.
Just as he was trying to find a place to sit down, a young attractive good-looking tall woman came out, smiled and said, please come inside.
‘I am Nini’s friend’, she announced coyly.
‘Nini has already made herself comfortable’, she continued.
Rajen collected himself; said hello and trying to sound friendly asked what her name was. The name sounded the one called out by Nini when they came in and yet, he could not still get it properly. It sounded very different from the names or words he was used to.
Knowing his difficulty, she said, ‘You can call me Bem. Nini calls me by this although she must have used my real name when she came in.’
‘So, it is Bem, then. Thank you. It is a lot easier.’ Rajen replied.
With this exchange of friendly words, she led him in. The room they entered was the kitchen. He saw Nini and an elderly woman already in the midst of preparation of a meal.
The elderly woman looked up and said, ‘You and Nini will have your morning meal before you leave.’
‘Why take the trouble? We are anyway, in a hurry.’ Rajen said smiling and as if he had overstepped his brief, he bit his lips and looked at Nini.
Nini did not say a word and froze him with her eyes.
Food was welcome. However, the delay, he spoke in his mind, would complicate his life further. Nevertheless, sensing that he could do nothing now, he told himself that Nini was wise to take care of everything.
‘You know, we don’t make any visitor go without food.’ This was the elderly woman.
‘We would be happy if you can stay longer,’ Bem joined.
Caught between spoken words of Bem and the elderly woman and eloquent unspoken words of Nini, he felt lost all over again.
As he adjusted his eyes in the dark interiors of the house, he noticed that a little towards the left of the cooking area there was a barren wooden platform. The timber had developed an interesting dark hue with age, regular use and the smoke from the kitchen fire. Without much effort, he was led to the platform and as he sat down on it, he heard the elderly woman, Bem and Nini, all saying almost simultaneously that the food would be ready soon.
There was no sign of any male member in the family.
As if the elderly woman had read his mind, she said that all the men had gone out for work.
He now remembered that he and Nini were in those parts where they, for decades, had been waging a war, according to them, for sovereignty.
He knew well that it was best not to ask what work the men folk were attending. There had to be some political correctness, he told himself.
If there was any anxiety the women had, caused by the regular absence of their men, they did not show. And having unannounced guests at that time of the day did not seem to be any botheration to them. In fact, all of them looked pleased to have Nini and whoever was with her, for company. What was it of Nini with these places and people, he questioned in his mind and he was, once again confused. Yet, he could not help admiring her for the contacts and the intimate knowledge of these interiors.
To be continued
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