Bidur was a jolly lad during the school days. In the circle of friends he was the most carefree, open and audacious. It would be a surprise to find him in gloom.
We rarely met during the college days and later. We had taken different routes.
I went to see him a couple of days after his discharge from a hospital where he had had a second operation to cure a gastric ulcer. This was when I found him entirely different—lost in thoughts, unable to cast a real smile. Initially, anyone would ascribe this change to his recent ailment and surgery.
But there was something more than the ulcer.
The surgery seemed rather to have intensified a more serious problem. I could sense that, isolated by the family, except for their usual inquiries at certain intervals, he had taken time to brood over things that haunted him to the extent of bitterness and anguish.
It was all silence in the house except for the clutter of utensils downstairs, where his grandmother was preparing afternoon meal for him. His parents and siblings had gone out to work.
When I asked what it was that weighed heavy on him, his face began to reveal a sort of melancholia. He said he still thought it was not worth telling. He said even an understanding friend like me would laugh at it, and rebuke him for the folly it involved. And there was no point in sharing it with his parents and siblings.
But I understood now he had to rid himself of the pressure he was carrying, whatever it was. I insisted that none could be as good an audience as I could for him.
So, he began his tale in a soft, solemn tone. It was a love story, the affair he had never been able to share with anyone.
“I beseech you, don’t mock me, Sir. I have actually gone through an ordeal even before this cutting off of the rotten intestine. My relation with Dalli, and the subsequent events, had kept me away from being normal. Though the affair ended, and for the good of both, or all of us, I have not been able to forget the damned whole thing.”
I did not make a comment, to let him go on…
“You know that I have remained idle after my return from Kathmandu where I had had the first cutting. All I could do was go to the jungle with the cattle and spend idle hours with other cowherds. I never enjoyed it at the beginning. You know it was not what I wanted to do. But things changed over time, not because cattle-grazing was of any special interest to me, but it had become a compulsion. I was allowed to be free from any physical work in the farm, and was bound to be free. Why trail after oxen or lift a spade, with an impaired intestine?
“It so happened that Dalli became my only companion to the jungle. I did not mind it. You know, she is very simple and you can never expect anybody to become any more than a friend with her. Our families are close and her people must have felt it safe to send her along with me. They think I am honest and a sort of guardian. Though if she had been of my caste, people would mind sending us together.
“We would meet near the Miklu River and take our cattle together to the forest. First we tried to be formal due to the oddness of being close. But it is just unlikely that you remain cold with a beautiful girl, passing about six hours together in the dark forest, every day. Not only does the fact of being young and of opposite sexes bring two human beings together, but that they are naturally gregarious, and they hardly become friends more to cattle than to themselves. This must be why we liked being together. It was only chance that we did not have anybody around. Even if other people brought their cattle to join ours, ours took a different course. You know this fact about cattle.
“Days passed and I began to have feelings for her. I mean I began to love being with her. I was not ready to take it as love at the beginning, thinking it was human to have such feeling. Time passed and the liking was not confined to cattle-grazing. The feeling came home, and to my hours without her. Do you think I would let her know it? No. Never did I confess this to her. Did she have similar feelings? Yes. I could sense it. And I am sure she also reasoned the way I did. But continued that way for days and months. You might suspect that we went any further than being cowherds. It never occurred to me, man. I only adored her, and if you adore a girl, you only love her. The matter does not go any further. I bet, you said that once.”
Bidur was verifying his feelings with my own story.
“Yes, I felt this myself, long ago. And, interestingly, we seem to carry similar nerves. But I don’t think it goes the same way with everybody, every time. Perhaps it doesn’t go with me now,” I tried to explain.
He kept on.
“Time passed. I remained fully stuck to cattle-grazing. Nevertheless, I craved for a life out of the jungle. There was this urge for going to college for a B.A. But it seemed almost impossible because my parents could not support me. Leaving the house penniless, just with an intermediate level certificate, was nothing more than bringing sorrow to life. Those days with the carpet loom in Kathmandu were some of the unhappiest of my life. This time I would not jump into any adventure without surety of landing in a secure place.”
After a little digression, Bidur came to the point again. His face displayed the pang of being unable to carry on his plans due to poverty. I could instantly begin to counsel him but the sense that he needed an outlet first prevented me from uttering precepts. What he needed was to talk and rid himself of the emotion. Moreover, I was curious to know the end of his story.
“When your family left that place, I did not have friends around. We were also planning to move to this place somehow. But as long as we were there, the cattle were with me, and Dalli. Fortunately, after a while, we were able to sell the house and buy this piece of land here. That followed the preparation to move. Meanwhile, Dalli’s family were preparing for her marriage, and the time she reported it to me, it was fixed. Then came the ordeal to both of us. She was all set to reject the arranged marriage and run away with me if I was ready for it! If not, she would end her life, or refuse to marry ever. What do you think I felt at that time? What would I do if she had somehow got it known to our families?
I actually could not think of a way out for a few days. It was the most confounding moment of my life. I could not seek counsel of anybody as it was too odd to share. Perhaps you would be reliable at that time, but you were away. So, I kept the matter to myself and began to ponder over possible solutions. This time I realized the extent of complications underlying the caste system and the sense of obligations toward your family and the society.
“Dalli’s wedding day was approaching. One day her mother came to me pleading that I convince her to get married with the guy they had arranged for her. She believed, unaware of the reasons for her daughter’s refusal, that only I could convince her. What an irony! I was to talk to her both for my own and her family’s sake. I had to do it anyhow. Where and when could I do it? After the wedding day was fixed, she had stopped going along with the cattle. I told her mother to send her with the cattle so that I would be able to talk to her in person and with ample time. Talking to her at home was risky; she could burst into a loud cry. And once a cry begins, it brings your heart out. I chose the jungle as a safe place to talk to her.
“The day was not normal. It did not begin and end as before. She had a volcano inside her and it was preventing her from making even small talks. Silence prevailed while walking and I tried to break it with my talks to the cattle. Talking about a serious matter while walking loses some of its seriousness. I was waiting to reach a safer place in the jungle while the cattle would start grazing and we would get a time to break the ice properly. When the time came I called out: “Dalli, come on. I have an important thing to talk about. I had asked your mother to send you with the cattle so that we could be together.”
“‘Does it make any difference being together…?’ She retorted in a perturbed tone, breaking off at the end.
“‘Yes, it does. I called you to make a difference in what we both are thinking about. And it should be the way it should be.’”
“‘Why don’t you say that you can make a difference in what’s going to happen? I want you to go to that part of the matter.’
“‘How can I say that you are wrong? But let us talk sensibly. Well, can you make yourself a good daughter-in-law to my parents and grandmother? Can you become a good member of my family?’
“Dalli did not have any answer. I continued:
“‘This counts a lot. Just the fact that we love each other is not enough. Becoming husband and wife breaking the barriers of the tradition is not easy. You need courage to withstand the society as it will bring other barriers minute by minute. As for myself and you, I may fight. But with my parents at my side, because I am the elder son to bear them along, I will always find myself losing. See, Dalli, will you sacrifice your life in my name? So, I believe now is the time we thought reasonably.’
“Dalli remained quiet. I went on:
“‘About your earlier plan to end your life or not to marry, I should say, you must rethink about the folly. You will be fighting a losing battle. And you will not be the only loser. Suppose you don’t marry now, your family will lose their self-respect because they have already given their words. No doubt, they should have considered your wishes, but you know it is natural for them to find a man for you; they even consider it their responsibility. Yes, I will lose my faith upon your being reasonable and my confidence that I was worthy enough to show you the right path. And that poor man will lose a good girl like you. In all these cases you will have lost a lot. You can only guess what it is to be blamed for doing injustice to yourself and the good people around you. Please believe that the world is not plotting against you. Do speak, Dalli.’
“‘I know that is the practical side of the matter. But I can’t just accept the fact that….’
“‘Take the whole thing as a good dream. There was nothing bad about it. We were only a bit more carried away. Cherish the moments as lessons for life. We will both learn what it is to love and sacrifice. I am going to take it for my life. Let us prove that it is possible to adore our loves even when we are away from each other forever.’
“Dalli was silent. I thought there was nothing more to tell from my side. I waited for her to speak but she kept bowing her head, speechless. I knew what she was in for. I gently lifted her head and looked at her eyes, acting more like a guardian than a lover. Her expression was pathetic. Her eyes were filled. The sight rent my heart. I took her in my arms. She burst into a loud cry.’”
“Did you cry, too?” I asked him, myself being nostalgic.
“‘I tried hard to control myself. I had a sudden wisdom that I should let her cry while I acted like a soother all the time. I hoped that she would come to senses when she had cried her first tears. It worked, but took longer than expected.’”
“How did things come to normal?”
“‘I’m coming to that. Yes, she cried for about ten minutes. I simply let her cry without a word. You know, I was very practical at that time. I would do nothing that would make things worse. I was determined to bring her round to practicality. I thought allowing her a chance to unburden herself from those thoughts was the wisest way out. So, when she came down to sobs, I asked her to follow the cattle as they were out of sight and hearing. Movement was essential and would be contributory to the process to comforting her. When we began to walk, she spoke, now with an understanding. ‘All right, then. I’ll do what I should. But you have to come to the wedding. You were talking about going to the town. Don’t go before that day. If you don’t come, I will be the unhappiest person in the world.’
“I promised. The fact that she became reasonable not only relieved me but also made me adore her more than before. You know, things do not happen the way we find in films and novels. People are more sensible in real life, actually. That day, we returned with our cattle, relieved for a logical end to that crisis.”
“I don’t think you could make it to the wedding. You were rushed to hospital during that time. Did you know how she reacted?” I asked.
“There lies the actual problem. I was rushed to hospital. Your brother says he reported the case to her somehow. He says she cried throughout the rituals and left the place crying. I think she attributed my illness to that affair and felt more dejected despite the decision to act sensibly. I am unhappy not only because I had to have the surgery but also because the whole affair, the promises to part reasonably, failed. The worst part is that she misunderstood the cause of my illness.”
“I don’t think she was wholly wrong. Your people say that you had avoided eating for two days before you fell ill. This must have aggravated your ever-troubling stomach; you had your ulcer worsened by keeping yourself tense and hungry.”
“I suppose so myself. But why should I have fallen ill at that time itself?’
“If things were in our control…, man. It is futile to reason in this way.”
“Yes, it is. But you can’t help in such cases. Tell me, what would you do if you were in my place?”
“You should first ask me what I did regarding my own affair in the city. I also did nearly the same thing—a practical thing. The girl was not a dalit, but still a caste my family would not easily accept. Besides, it was too early for a teenager to loiter after a teenager, a high school kid, whose body had outgrown the brain! I tried and forgot we had ever lived in neighboring houses and shared some intimate moments together, and came ahead with life’s best possibilities.”
“But you told me it was difficult.”
“Of course, it was, and it always is. But I was aware of my realities, my responsibilities. And did I ever tell you the sad and the funny parts of my story? Her family moved a few kilometers away, and I was pressed with the college examinations. I never tried to find her. She never came to see me. That was probably the saddest part. A couple of years later, I ran into her with a baby in a vegetable market. That was perhaps the funniest part. She had quit school and eloped with a truck driver. Imagine we had followed each other for at least a year ahead!”
“You never told me that,” he said with a smile. “So, you never went to intersect her on her way to and from school like the crazy college Romeo shown in movies? Anyway, what would you do if you were in my place?”
“Nothing different. Same as you did. I am not so radicalized as to sacrifice things in order to marry a dalit girl. See, progressivism is in one place, but you cannot forfeit many good things in the name of one good change.
“Maybe, you could initiate it, but would that make a difference in that age-old mentality? You would be a loser. And if I were to do it, I would lose myself. I think changes occur only when the mass look towards a more liberated future, for which gradual change in mentality is required. One or two attempts just get lost in the desert sand. And in the case like yours, there was no need of fighting as there was an alternative solution. Why should you plunge into hurdles if there is an option? You found a safe landing, and it was the best thing the wise should and will ever opt for. And as far as attending or not attending the wedding is concerned, who can avoid calamities?”
He looked grave suddenly, and stared at me as if he had a hard time believing me. Why? Wasn’t I right? Isn’t that how a rational man acts?
“You are selfish,” he said slowly. And, as if he had had a revelation, he smiled.
[Originally published in: redstanza.com; included in Midlife Montage]