Bamboo Flower, a novel – Part 33
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.
contd.. from last Sunday
‘We will return only after you say so, even if it means days’, he added without thinking. He knew he was exaggerating. Nevertheless, he also told himself that it could not be much longer before they turned back.
‘You know’, Nini began, ‘you are in these hills for a couple of hours and you think you are lost to civilization. I am not preaching but I sincerely think that you need to get your priorities right.’
Rajen was quiet for a while and a little later only said, ‘I guess you are right. Nature and man are inseparable.’
What was happening to him, he wondered. He could not believe his ears. What was he speaking out? Was he so impressionable, he again wondered?
‘By the way, how do you think these boys make these hills their homes?’ she asked.
“Life in the hills” was a loaded statement in those days of heightened militancy and when insurgency was everywhere. Young men joining underground organizations meant life in the hills and jungles. This was a territory, Rajen did not want to enter, however private, the conversation was. He, therefore, thought he managed to keep quiet for a while.
As they climbed higher, the thinness of the air was palpable. Falling light of dusk was already playing tricks. Once he thought Nini was not visible. Next moment he felt she was too close.
It was, however, obvious who was leading. Strange, it was but he could now only follow. However, was he not doing that from the very moment he met her, he could not help reminding himself.
Now they could hardly see each other. Nevertheless, a little away where the vegetation was a little less and was really a flat land some early moonlight was apparent. She did not say anything but she was heading towards it.
When they reached the flat land in the faint moonlight, she only said, ‘We should collect sufficient fuel wood to last the whole night’, as if it was the most obvious statement to make.
Rajen was speechless.
Then, as if suddenly emboldened, he said, ‘Let us do that as soon as possible.’
So the flat land on that hilltop in the moonlight was going to be the place they were going to spend the night.
He just did not know what was coming next.
Nini went about picking dry twigs keeping them together in one place. He also noticed her using a battery torch and trying to get bigger twigs and dry roots, which were found, scattered around.
The place she chose to keep them gathered was cleaner and more flat than the surrounding areas.
Rajen contributed his bit picking up everything he thought could serve as fuel. He added dry leaves to the collection. He only wondered why Nini had not bothered to pick dry leaves along with the twigs because he silently reasoned that there had to be waste paper or some such more inflammable substance like dry leaves to start a fire in the open. He now only smiled thinking that perhaps she was leaving that for him.
He also could not help thinking that the colour of the dry leaves and twigs also looked like dead rats he found in the mornings in his backyard when the pesticides were effective. However, how would he know that he had to come that far to be reminded of dead rats, he suppressed a smile.
It was one of those joint efforts with each partner knowing exactly what to do and how. Bigger twigs and dry roots by Nini and smaller twigs and dry leaves by him were put side by side. Soon the load of fuel was an impressive heap. No words were exchanged. Only Rajen realized that he was very thirsty. He waited for her to finish the chore. And just as she started the fire, he asked her for some water. He was now sure that she was carrying a water bottle in her bag. Her bag, by now, seemed to be carrying everything one would need to begin a new civilization.
Nini did not respond immediately about the water. She was engrossed with the fire. She bent to get the fire right at one moment and she was using her palms to protect a small flame from blowing over at another. It was not easy in the wind, however mild. She was trying to get a bigger twig catch deep fire so that the wind did not put if off like the leaves and smaller twigs.
Rajen thought that it was about the time he and his cousins usually returned home. His cousins must have told Leima and his mother that he did not come to office although he had told them that he would join them in the afternoon.
In fact, he had not told them anything else. There already must have been telephone calls to his friends and uncle Prakash. Leima and his mother must have already suggested informing the police, since it was uncharacteristic of him not to have told them, that he would be late, and where he was going. Yet he knew he could depend on uncle Prakash to calm them down and advise restraint probably telling them to wait to hear from him.
Many probably stayed away from home without informing for days for whatever reason, he was telling himself. Here he was going to be away for one night and his family must have panicked. They had good reason.
Of course, they were not normal days. There definitely was reason for worry. It was only about a week back that Romesh, a government official, a relative of Leima was kidnapped only to be released after many secret parleys by a number of friends and well-wishers. Nobody knew the reason of the kidnap and how he was released. Yet there were strong rumours doing the rounds that he was set free for a huge price. It was also generally believed that he was released after he revealed sensitive information and after a huge sum of money was exchanged. Rajen told himself that he was no government official and nor did he think himself to be of any use to anybody. However, would Leima and his mother reason the same way, he could not say. They were strong in their own ways. Nevertheless, this would be something they were not prepared for. If it were either of his cousins, they would have said, tomorrow we would know.
The hills silence entered him with stories he heard as a boy of spending nights in the open. A wild animal was a possibility, supernatural things like ghosts were not for adults, he told himself.
The small piece (a one-inch square, may be less) in his wallet of the phanek (sarong) used by his mother at the time of his birth, would protect him from evil spirits and the evil eye, his mother had said eons ago. This was what he would not discuss with Nini.
‘Fire at night will keep away wild animals and evil spirits, if you please.’ She had read him
‘It is therefore important that the fire continues nonstop,’ she continued.
A night like that in the open appeared to be the most natural thing for her, he thought. Well, for him, he was not sure how it was going to be even if he had the most attractive woman for company.
Now that he had come this far, he only had to wait and see what was coming next. A hungry stomach to contend, not to remind the thirst for water building up was all that was in mind. Nini had not yet responded to his request for water.
She had now tidied up the loose leaves around quietly. The smaller twigs were kept in a neat bundle within easy reach. Whenever the early flames began to go off she put some dry leaves and some small dry twigs to maintain the flames. Rajen felt good inside noticing that she was putting the leaves he had collected to good use. She seemed to have perfected the art of having a very live fire in the windy open hills.
The fire was now in full glory. He wanted to compliment her but something stopped him.
To be contd...
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