Bamboo Flower, a novel – Part 38
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
They did not enquire of him anything of consequence even as an act of courtesy. Nor was there any evidence of any undue curiosity that would have been normal given the circumstances. Women, anywhere, for instance, in these places, would have been very eager to know what his relationship with Nini was. For him too, in fact, he could not even guess what kind of a relationship Nini had with them. It was clear that Nini and they belonged to different linguistic groups and there could not have been any blood relationship between them.
Nini did not bother to introduce him to them. He could not say what the done thing in these places was. He thought, perhaps, it was expected that identities of visitors were not to be revealed in the normal course and as a matter of habit. If it was essential to identify may be, he thought, it was done not in the presence of the visitors themselves.
‘So, here we are. After food, let us continue the journey.’ Nini was stating the obvious.
He had already told her more than once that he wanted to reach home soonest. Now, this elaborate meal! He spoke in his mind and did not respond to what Nini had said.
‘Here is the warm water to wash.’ Bem called out from behind.
‘Thank you’, he replied trying to sound pleased. Warm water round the year was a habit in these hills.
‘Rice and boiled vegetables are ready. Meat will take a little longer. So, by the time you finish washing, everything will be ready.’ This was the elder woman who joined in.
He did not have a choice. Wash and then a welcome meal.
Nini would then decide what next, he knew. He was in some situation. He would have to bear until they reached the place to fetch the car. However, it was only that he could not guess how long they would still take to reach the Chief’s house. She had explained that there were several ways from the hilltop to the place, where they had left the car.
There was no mention of the rats by Nini all this while. Rajen knew that she was carrying that piece of drifting bamboo stick, which she had said, would provide some respite from the rats menace.
The food was good. What hospitality!
He began to use some words of thankfulness when the hosts cut him short by saying that they were only doing what they were used to doing whenever they had visitors and nothing more. Then they added that Nini and her companion, in fact, deserved much more. Rajen could only say thanks twice or was it more he could not remember.
When they were still at the low dining table after the meals, Nini began explaining that they were in those places to find the antidote to Rajen’s rats’ problem.
Rajen could not see any reason why she had to bring up the subject then. Everything was going fine except for the delay. Now this would take some more time and there would be some response from either of the two women, he reasoned. He could not react immediately. Perhaps, it was not expected of him, he thought. Nevertheless, he wanted to say something so that no further discussion took place because that would mean more delay. However, he knew that the matter was now out in the open and he had little control.
‘Rats are everywhere. Our garden was spoilt for years. It’s a little better this year. And yes probably we are not alone in this,’ with these words Bem stood up and went into the adjoining room.
When Bem came out, a short while later, she brought out an old newspaper and spread out on the table. It was the June seven of year two thousand issue of “The Times of India”. She pointed to a news item whose heading was ‘When the phones don’t ring smell a rat’.
It was obvious that she wanted him to read the news story. Sensing that Nini seemed to have ignored his desire to hurry and ignoring this offer of Bem would mean being rude, he read on.
It said that wild rodents were nibbling away at the underground optical fibre affecting telecom links between cities. It went on to say that in May 2000, wild mice ate up the underground lines between Delhi and Patna twice, in the Agra and Varanasi sectors respectively. The reporter also said that telecom engineers were dragged out of their beds at midnight by system managers who detected disappearing fibre in specific sectors and that when the affected areas were dug up hordes of rodents jumped out.
Rajen smiled feeling vindicated. So this was real problem, he wanted to declare.
‘How often does “The Times of India” come here?’ Rajen could not resist asking Bem because he found it a little odd that newspapers like “The Times of India” were to find their way to these remote areas.
‘Weekly bundles are brought by the local newspapers agent’, replied Bem. She was implying that someone here made the newspaper into bundles at the Imphal newspaper distributor’s and brought every week as business. Obviously someone was particular of what newspapers carry. Rajen knew that it was not expected of him to enquire who read those papers. Rather when those newspapers were read should be more confidential and secrecy must be the most treasured thing here, he told himself.
Friendliness and hospitality also meant what was not to be referred to and discussed in these hills. He had learnt from his experiences in the hills of Manipur and elsewhere when his curiosity had to stop unless he was prepared for discourses that are complicated.
With these thoughts, he rose up as he noticed Bem walked past him with a certain swing. By rising, he was indicating that he wanted to leave.
To be continued
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