It rained heavily that night. It was a torrential downpour, something so unusual in these parts. Perhaps it rained for a reason. Perhaps it rained for me. I walked through that narrow lane after fifteen years… will I still be able to recognize that house? Will she still stand over the balcony, looking forward to my visit?
Countless seasons have brushed by me…by us… it did change me… but her? Does she still smell like those lemon blossoms she hid in her sari? Does her wet hair still caress her face, hanging like limp tendrils?
I walked on for some time, reflecting on my past while the raindrops shot towards the street like bullets… my salty tears indiscernible from the drops that splashed my face. The empty street heightened my isolation, and somewhere I melted into nature herself. I was the rain…I was the storm…
The raindrops kept on pelting me- numbing me to their soft sharp blows…my muddy shoes whined perceptibly, the umbrella hung limply from my arm.
I wished it would rain harder- hard enough to drown me…keeping me cold and wet till sleep or death, the latter more preferred, overcame me.
I saw the end of her sari trailing behind her, following her languorous footsteps the way memories do… I heard her soft voice spell out dreams and felt her breath on my cheek… or was I imagining it?
Will she look forward to my return?
I saw her flushed face near a window, half opened to cool the air inside… or was I dreaming again?
A house loomed large in front of me like a giant rising from the abyss… I remembered the verandah…there it was… decrepit though. The windows were closed, the door securely locked. She locked me out even now. The house looked vacant- perhaps it had been so for a long time. Not another soul shared the silence amidst which I stood so lost.
The rain blurred my vision for a while.
I do not recall when I had reached my hotel. Or how. All I remember is a comfortable bed, solid oak chairs and a bulb that glowed dimly at all hours beside the mirror. I recall seeing a frail, pallid creature in the mirror…a vacant, listless look in his eyes… and I remember my nightmares. Or was it reality?
A twenty something Sheta… an affection that lasted a few months, something that happened fifteen years ago. I needed someone to share my story with. Almost feverish with passion and overcome with torrid emotions I began writing.
I met Sheta almost fifteen years ago. A fine young girl, with doe-like eyes… I called her my ‘dusky princess’… many a times have I visited that house that looked so forbidding and forlorn now. She lived with her grandparents there. Did we fall in love? She did. Did I? The question still reverberates in silence…even after so many years…
She was my muse awhile. I might have painted her portrait a thousand times, trying to capture every emotion that flitted by. I might have dedicated to her a hundred poems, and she wound them all up with a red ribbon. I might have gifted her many wild roses…so safely she pressed them in her diary… and I have kissed those red soft lips and run my fingers through her hair…
I returned to Calcutta after spending about six months in those hills. Without telling her. I was too afraid of facing her wrath… I never saw those silent tears fall, or her lips open to half utter a word…
I had quite forgotten her in all these years, but something changed it all. Last month I received a small envelope, enclosed within were some yellowed pages… and a red ribbon binding them all…
Within days I rushed back to this place, haunted by memories… haunted by guilt. And I walked through that lane again… the only difference being her absence.
‘I look and see it there, shrinking, shrinking,
I look back at it amid the rain
For the very last time; for my sand is sinking,
And I shall traverse old love’s domain
- ‘At Castle Boterel’