Threads of hopeRukmini was going through a rough patch until, one day, a stocky man stepped onto her pavement, searching for a job to keep his life going in the city of riches.
Rukmini, who had stopped frequenting temples shortly after her husband’s death, now found herself going to them more often. She alternated between Bindhyabasini and Kedareshwor and sometimes rowed a boat to reach Tal Barahi Temple, situated in the middle of Phewa Lake. If she had to name her favourite temple, she wouldn't think twice—Tal Barahi had her heart. However, rowing the boat each time to reach the temple surrounded by water was exhausting. Once she set foot on the ground of Tal Barahi, her lungs seemed to draw in more air than she had in days; she liked to tell herself that she was the daughter of the Goddess, and every daughter felt euphoric upon meeting her mother.
Rukmini was not like this a couple of months earlier. Soon after her husband’s death, she felt depleted, questioning the value of her existence in this world. She would wake at the crack of dawn, and strings of questions sprang up in her mind. Who did she live for? Why should she go to the temple and pray? Who would feel sad if she were to die the next day? A life without a companion—be it a partner, children, or siblings—can be unbearable for anyone. Rukmini was going through that rough patch until one day, a stocky man with his hair slicked back stepped onto her pavement, searching for a job to keep his life going in the city of riches.
It was not like she hadn’t been approached by men before. Men from different social backgrounds texted her on Facebook, who, she thought, were not worth talking to. She knew exactly what they wanted from her, and she reminded herself time and again that she was a classy woman, and she would never give a hint that she was interested in men despite being a widow.
If the day of her husband’s death was her unluckiest day, the day when Raju arrived at her home was a hopeful one—the day when she felt like she still had something to survive for. She loved that she still had feelings and the power to love despite the disaster that had befallen her life. As cringeworthy as it might sound, Rukmini strongly experienced a sense of calmness just in a few days of Raju staying at her grand house.
Whenever Rukmini instructed him, he insisted on nodding his head rather than speaking at length. His clipped and shaky tone assured Rukmini that he was a timid guy who would never dare to raise his voice, let alone ball his fist to pummel a woman. The limited conversation they had between them mostly revolved around household chores, and she wished she could make him describe his village.
As an employer, she wasn’t supposed to ask personal questions, but she knew it was bound to happen. At some point, she would ask him everything—whether he had a wife or not, whether he had loved someone if he hadn’t married yet. Do the village people love the same way as city people, or do they have a completely different definition of love? Rukmini loved the innocence in Raju’s face, but she knew the face didn’t say all about a human, so she was adamant about reaching the corners of his heart to see how he functioned.
One thing that took Rukmini by surprise was Raju’s cooking abilities. Her husband was a crummy cook, so she had assumed all males were the same. Not only did Raju cook delicious foods, but the ease with which he moved around the kitchen made Rukmini feel like he had handled this kitchen for many years. When the tantalising aroma of mutton wafted through the air and invaded her nostrils, Rukmini wished she could do more to show her gratefulness.
Once the meal was ready, Raju would stride up the stairs and knock on the bedroom door. “Madam, the food is ready.” The words were always the same, and Rukmini always found herself smiling at this. Hurriedly, she would put on fresh clothes and come out to find Raju standing by the door. While he set the plate, Rukmini studied Raju’s features and assured herself that she needn’t feel insecure with this man around.
A woman living with a male servant was a matter of gossip for everyone in the neighbourhood. She was oblivious to the stories made by neighbours, and even if she had heard what they said about her and Raju, it wouldn’t move her an inch. However, she hadn’t informed her in-laws about the servant and wished they would never visit her.
Would they ever approve of a male servant? Perhaps her mother-in-law would suggest, “Beta, what’s the need for hiring a male servant? There are so many female workers in the city, and you can hire them. These men are not trustworthy.” Or she might vent out some wrath and label her “characterless.” Rukmini dreaded the confrontation, but she had to come out strong because the hard days had just begun.
It had been a while since Rukmini took a sighting around from her moving car, so she planned on visiting Pame, the tail end of Phewa Lake. “Raju, you don’t have to cook today. I want to take a look around Pame, so I expect you to drive me there. I’m sure you can drive. No?” Rukmini said as she plopped down on the sofa. Raju was operating the vacuum cleaner, so he turned it off to nod his head. “Please pull out the car on the street while I get myself ready,” she said and disappeared upstairs.
Raju had been living a dream life for the past three weeks or so. He recalled how the restaurant’s owner reprimanded him for a minor fault. And here she was—always good with words. The contrast between his current employer and the former one was insane.
After a while of driving, Raju took a left turn as they reached the mouth of the alley. Ratna Chowk was overflowing with students, and he had to blare the horn to remind the students that the road belonged to all. Raju always managed a sideways glance, and the way she was looking out the window guaranteed him that she was in a lovely mood. However, the sunglasses she had put on barred him from studying her eyes.
In his mind, Raju liked to acclaim himself for helping Rukmini revive her deteriorating health. This was the first outing in her car since her husband’s death. While Raju drove her down the slope of Baidam, she realised she no longer dwelled on her husband’s memory. This realisation made her confused—she had no idea whether it was ideally correct or not. Should one be living on the memory of the dead or enjoy the presence of someone else in the present? Rukmini would figure it out later, but at the moment, she was busy relishing this short trip to Pame. While Rukmini had some knowledge of the tracks ahead, Raju was privy to the slightest hint that this short trip was only the beginning of a lifelong journey of pain and pleasure.
This is a sequel to ‘The servant’s entry’, published earlier in the post.