Offer me a red roseThe clock tower rings seven bells. Aama must be waiting at the dining table for me, I think. I pack up, put a few files into my bag and leave the office. The guard jots down the time in the register. I walk to Ringroad, and wait for the bus to Koteshwor.
The clock tower rings seven bells. Aama must be waiting at the dining table for me, I think. I pack up, put a few files into my bag and leave the office. The guard jots down the time in the register. I walk to Ringroad, and wait for the bus to Koteshwor. After a few minutes, a bus comes by—it does not even have space to stand comfortably. Once I get inside, I say, “Koteshwor hai bhai” as I squeeze my way inside. It’s already been three years since I came back from Germany, yet I am still amused by the number of people that can fit into a local bus here. The bus suddenly screeches to a halt. “Flat tire,” I hear the driver shout.
It’s going to be another long day.
As usual, Aama is waiting for me when I reach home at eight. She doesn’t complain as she serves me daal bhaat tarkari. She fills me in of what I missed today—we need to go grocery shopping; neighbour’s daughter eloped with their driver; water is scarce nowadays. I listen patiently. There is nothing better to do. I know there is something amiss in my life, and yet I cannot lay a finger upon it.
Tuesday. I have to take a half day off. After almost six months, we are having a roomie reunion. I reach the restaurant at four. Dhiraj is already there. Together, we chat about old college days, his family, and my plans of settling down. After two rounds of drinks, Aayush arrives with Ankit. We order starters, and Ankit informs us of his much awaited wedding. We toast to his happy married life. At around seven, Aayush gets up to leave—his daughter is alone at home. Ankit and Dhiraj too excuse themselves citing family reasons. We part ways promising to meet at Ankit’s wedding.
Later that night, I tell Aama about Ankit’s wedding. She says it’s high time I get married too. I think of my friends. With Ankit marrying soon, it’s only me who isn’t committed yet. I tell myself, maybe this is what I have been missing.
Marriage. I don’t believe in marrying in haste and divorcing in leisure. The idea of spending my whole life with some woman I don’t know doesn’t suit me at all; and I am not seeing anyone right now. Back in Germany, there were a few but I knew that I wouldn’t end up with any of them. Those were casual flings and both involved knew of the consequences.
There is only one woman, in this whole wide universe, with whom I feel comfortable with. She stays in my village, in the lap of Himalayas, in an uncharted corner of Lamjung.
Her name is Kamla. She used to live with her Aunt back then. We grew up together, playing dandibiyo and gharghar where she would be my wife and I would be her husband. Girls weren’t sent to schools back then. I would teach her what we learnt in school. Years went by; we became adolescents together. I remember her transition from a small cute girl to a pretty young woman. I used to tease her back then, “Kamla, timilai kunai din doli chadhayera laijainchu hai.” Someday, I’ll marry you. And she would respond, “Raato gulab pani lyaunu hai.” Please bring a red rose along.
A few years later, I came to the Valley to get higher education. Baba died a little later and his funeral was the last time I went back to my village. I saw Kamla at the funeral; she had become even more beautiful. We exchanged a few words. After a few months, I went to Germany for my masters. Upon my return, I landed an office job in the capital and invited Aama to stay with me. I had no need to go to the village since our house had been sold for my education and Aama stayed here with me. Until now, that is.
Thursday. I apply for my fifteen days annual leave. I reach home earlier than usual, listen to Aama—the next door neighbour’s daughter came back; water is still scarce; everybody is getting married; when will I marry? That night, I pack two pair of clothing along with necessary commodities. I book a ticket to Besisahar, and try to sleep, comforting myself that it is very natural to try to woo a woman I have not met in the last ten years.
Friday. I wake up earlier than usual. Aama is making breakfast. I tell her about my plans to visit our village mentioning a plethora of reasons from vacation to nostalgia, leaving out just Kamla. I will tell her later. Aama is surprised—I hadn’t mentioned this trip to her earlier. She gives me her blessings and feeds me dahi. I take leave.
The bus is just about to leave when I reach the stand. I take a window seat and doze off as the bus speeds. When I woke up, we had reached Baireni. I look out of the window, reminiscing about the memories associated with the places we pass. At around noon, we arrive at Besisahar. I slowly alight bagpack on my shoulder, and start the trek to my village.
Every blade of grass, every flower here reminds me of the happy days I once spent. The mud darkens my trainers but I ignore it. I promised myself when baba died that I wouldn’t return to the village since it brings back memories we once made together. I was wrong then, I tell myself. The more you run, the more it chases you.
I stop at a small thatched house. A rose plant has flowered on the garden, with the reddest roses I have ever seen. They transport me back to the time when I used to tease Kamla, “Kamla, timilai kunai din doli chadhayera laijainchu hai.” And she would respond, “Raato gulab pani lyaunu hai.”
I call out, “Anyone home?” There is a voice from inside, “Coming.” A little while later, an old lady comes out. I ask her, “Aama, can I take a few roses?” She says, “I planted them for my married daughter. She loves red roses—she won’t let me pick a few for puja either. When she comes by, she always smiles at them as if they have some secrets no one knows about.” I smile, and ask her leave. She says, “Babu, you seem to have come from far. Drink some chiya, at least.” I nod my consent. She invites me inside.
There is a small girl playing on the floor. “My granddaughter,” the old woman says. I nod. She goes into the kitchen. I attempt to make small talk with the girl. I ask her name. She says, all shy, “Karuna.” It feels like I know her. I ask her what her father’s name is. She replies, “Birkhaman Pun. He is an Indian army.” The name sounds oddly familiar. I nod. I rummage around my bag and find a few toffees. I give them to the child, she smiles.
I look at my watch—three pm. I should be going. I go to the kitchen to tell the old woman not to bother but she has already started the fire. She asks me how I take sugar. I ask her to put a spoonful. She stirs the kettle slowly.
“Aama, malai chiya banaideu na chitto,” a woman’s voice is heard—Aama, I want a quick cup of tea. The old lady smiles, “That is my daughter—so impatient.” She filters the tea masala and pours it into three cups. I help her carry the cups out.
As I step outside, Kamla stares back at me. She squints her eyes, “Kedar, hoina?”—Aren’t you Kedar? I nod. I see the sindur on her forehead, and I just smile. I am late. “I heard you’re working at a big office in rajdhani,” she says. I nod. I sip my tea slowly. She introduces me to her Aama and Karuna. I look at my watch. She says, “How long are you staying?” I tell her that I am returning now, there’s work at the office. She nods. I take leave.
She accompanies me up to the rose plant, picks one and gives it to me, “You were five years late, Kedar.” She smiles wistfully. I snap a picture of Kamla with the roses, and without any words I trek back the same way. I promise myself again that I will never return to my village again.
I stop at a cheap lodge. That night, as I lay in bed waiting for sleep, I finally remember, Birkhaman used to be our son back when we played gharghar.