Fiction Park

Timeless love

- Yogesh Gautam

Jun 9, 2019-

The real estate agent handed me a large suitcase. “Half of your money is in the suitcase. Please count. I’ll give you the remaining amount once the revenue officer approves the transaction,” he said. I signalled my son to count the money. I was almost done with all the necessary paperwork to sell a plot of my land in Baneshwor, Kathmandu. The money from the sale will be used to pay for my grandchildren’s education and for my son to lead a life without financial hardships.

My son, Ramesh, started counting the money using a note counting machine.

“Son, you shouldn’t trust the machine. Make sure you count them with your hand as well,” I tell him. As the sound of fresh currency notes flapping against each other on the machine filled the room, my mind drifted to the events of my childhood that started everything.

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It was 2005 BS. After seven days of walking my grandfather finally said, “We are now in Kathmandu.” He was in his late sixties, but he didn’t look his age. There were only a very few wrinkles on his face, and even after days of walking, he wasn’t exhausted at all.  In Kathmandu, he took me to his friend’s house and handed me a daura suruwal for me and took me to a Rana palace.

There was a car at the gate. Having never seen a car before, I was awestruck. It looked like a giant metallic frog. From the gate, we could see a beautiful pond that reflected the front façade of the palace. We could also see the palace’s beautiful garden with its colourful flowers and trimmed hedges.  

As we tried to enter the palace, a young man, probably in his mid-thirties, stopped us. “Trespassers will be shot,” he said.

My grandfather pulled out a letter from his bag and handed it to the man and said, “I am here to meet the maharaja. He has asked me to come here.” He scanned the letter and said, “Maharaja is very busy. He has cancelled all his meetings. Come back after a month.” Having said this, the man ordered us to leave, and he headed towards the palace.

“We are maharaja’s important people. He has called us for a secret mission,” shouted my grandfather. After hearing this, the man turned to us and said, “I can recognise important people. Get out of the property, and don’t waste my time. Don’t make me call the guards.”

My grandpa called the man, and hastily pulled out a gold necklace from his pocket and gave it to the man. “Wait here for a minute,” the man said, and walked inside the palace. He returned after 10 minutes and opened the gate for us. “Don’t stare at anyone inside, don’t make direct eye contact with anybody and don’t speak in a loud voice,” he said.

As we reached near the pond, my grandfather poured some water into his hand arranged his hair and mine. The door of the palace was as tall as our village house, and it had wooden carvings of gods and

deities.

The palace’s main hall smelled of alcohol and there was a dense fog of cigar smoke. My grandfather coldly warned, “Don’t you dare cough.” The room was filled with Westerners. I had never seen people with such white skin tone, and they looked funny to me. Pedant lights embellished with shiny gems hung from the ceiling; vase filled with beautiful flowers were placed on every table; exquisitely crafted furniture filled every corner of the room. It was also the first time I saw an electric light—to my eyes, they looked like small bright smokeless fireballs. Nobody in the room noticed us. Everybody were lost in their conversations. My grandfather led me upstairs. Even the size and grandeur of the staircase left me in awe. The stairs were large enough to fit two rooms.

The stairs led to a large hall. It was filled with the scent of jasmine flower though I could not see any flowers in the room. At the end of the hall seated on a large sofa was the maharaja. He was wearing his silver crown. He was talking to an English woman. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. The maharaja must have been in his early 40s. He was a very handsome man with a chiseled face and a strong jaw line.

The only facial hair he had was his thick moustache. As he turned to us, I quickly moved my gaze to his shoes, which had shiny stones encrusted on them.

His gentle voice metamorphosed into a hoarse one. “What have you brought?”

“Maharaja, we have completed building your statue in the village. Villagers are elated about it,” my grandfather said. I had never seen my strong grandfather become so nervous, weak and vulnerable. Upon hearing my grandfather’s words, the maharaja smiled.

My grandfather introduced me to the maharaja. “He’s my grandson. He was educated in Banaras, and he can speak English.” I had never been to Banaras, but I could speak English fluently. My uncle, a staff at the palace, had taught me English.

“How old are you?” the maharaja asked, staring directly into my eyes.

“I am sixteen, maharaja,” I whimpered.

An officer who stood behind the maharaja took me to a separate room and asked me what I knew about the Rana rulers. Since my uncle always praised them, my answers were filled with praises and love for them.

To my relief he didn’t ask anything about Banaras and he seemed happy with my answers.

The officer and I returned to the hall. He whispered something in maharaja’s ears. The officer left the room and returned with a girl wearing a saree and her dupatta covered her face. Maharaja ordered my grandfather to marry me to the girl when we reached our village. “I won’t be able to come. I am very busy with state affairs,” he said. Maharaja then handed my grandfather a thick bundle of papers and two bags. “Keep my daughter happy. I will visit later,” he said.

 Even the poorest people in our village bade their daughters farewell when they get married. But the Maharaja said nothing. I looked around the room for the girl’s mother, but there was nobody. The maharaja headed to another room. My grandfather told me to hold the girl’s hand. We left the room and walked down the stairs. I didn’t understand what had just happened. I didn’t know that I was to get married. I had thousands of questions to ask my grandfather, but I couldn’t.

Outside the palace there were four men waiting with a royal litter. The girl, my wife-to-be, was carried on it. After five days of walking when we reached near our village, my grandfather sent the porters back to the palace.

As soon as the porters were out of sight, I asked the girl, “What’s your name? Why did you not cry when you left your home?”

“Call her Rupa. She can’t speak,” my grandfather replied coldly. I didn’t speak for the rest of the journey. I carried the two bags the maharaja had given. They were heavy, but I couldn’t dare to ask him what were in them.

After reaching our village, I opened the bags. They were filled with gold coins. There were several papers that mentioned that my grandfather had been rewarded 70 ropanis of land. My grandfather told me, “You are already married. But we will not have any function in the village.” I replied, “Maharaja gave you all those gold coins for the marriage. I want a ceremony.”

“I will marry you to another woman. We’ll have a grand ceremony then,” he said.

I didn’t reply then. I looked at Rupa, and her facial expression didn’t show any distress over what my grandfather had just said.

Rupa was probably 10 years old then. After moving into our family, Rupa was not asked or permitted to do anything in the house. Nobody talked to her except me. I brought her food after everyone had eaten, and I always added extra ghee for her.

This always brought a blissful smile on her small round face. I never knew I would go on to treasure that smile my whole life. In my absence, she wouldn’t even go to the kitchen, and no one would bring her food. No one in my fanily cared for her. They despised her for no reason, and my empathy for her irritated them. As days passed, my empathy for the little girl started transforming into love.

After a year of my ‘marriage’ to Rupa, a marriage proposal came for me, and my grandfather accepted it. I vehemently denied marrying again. I couldn’t do that to Rupa.

It wasn’t right. That night, my grandfather and I had a terrible fight. He was the head of the family, and nobody dared to go against his orders.

That night, as I entered the room, and handed Rupa her food, she spoke for the first time. She said, “I won’t mind even if you remarried.” She had a very hoarse voice.

But it didn’t matter to me. My eyes welled up with tears.

“So, you can speak. But why did you choose not to speak for all these years?” I asked.

She didn’t reply. However, from that day I insisted her to talk to everyone in the family. Since I was the only one who dared to go against my grandfather, my family members started fearing me. The fear suppressed their malice towards Rupa, and after a few years everyone opened up to her.

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After my grandfather’s demise in 2020 BS, the land of my dowry got divided between us seven brothers.

Rupa suggested that we leave our village and move to Kathmandu. Our son was of school-going age. She wanted our son to go to a good school in Kathmandu. We moved to Kathmandu, and my son started attending a reputed school in the city. As we started running out of money, I decided to sell my lands. It was she who protested that I look for alternatives to earn money.

Rupa suggested she and I visit her father. But I hated the man for treating Rupa the way he did all those years ago. But I had never said no to Rupa’s suggestions, and we went to see him.

The gatekeeper let us in without much interrogation. The once crystal-clear pond was now filled with algae. The garden was unkempt. The palace looked rundown. The paints were worn out, and the corners in the rooms were filled with cobwebs. There was a  maid who led our way to the living room.

The maharaja no longer looked like one. No crown. No bejewelled shoes. I looked directly into his eyes, fearless and confident. But to my sheer amazement, he denied knowing us. Rupa asked me to take a walk around the palace, as she wanted to speak to her father in private.

I left and returned after half an hour. The old man was weeping like a child.

Within a week I got a job as an officer in a government office.

........................

It was 2050 BS. Rupa was diagnosed with cancer. After spending a lot of money on her treatment, I was able to extend her life and my happiness by over 10 years. Every morning and evening, we would go for walks in Tudikhel. We would hold each other’s hands, share jokes, gossip and talk about our good old days. We also went for pilgrimage across Nepal and India. I loved her deeply, and it saddened me very much knowing she was getting weaker with each day, and her days on earth were numbered.

I had so many questions to ask. Why didn’t she cry when she left her house? Who was her mother? What did she say that made her father cry? Why did she pretend that she couldn’t speak until a year into our marriage? It wasn’t that I never asked her those questions. But she always outsmarted me and never gave me concrete answers.

Until the day she died, I served her extra ghee with her food and cherished the smile that lit up her face.  

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“Baba, the count is correct. You can sign the papers,” said Ramesh, jolting me out of my reverie. My high blood pressure causes my hands to tremble, making it impossible to write my signature like I used to. So, I used my thumbprints as my signature. The dealers got up, asked me to take care, and walk edaway. Ramesh handed me my pressure medicine and a glass of water. “Okay, dad.

I’ll now go to the bank to deposit the money,” he said. I nod in approval.

After Ramesh left the room, I remained there in the room alone for a long time, rejoicing 70 years of memories I had with my beloved Rupa, whose photo now hang the wall of the room.

Published: 09-06-2019 08:33

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