Story : Little Tamarinds

~Bikrant Koirala~Bikrant Koirala

I folded the sleeve of my shirt exposing the white skin beneath it. Hot air was constantly hitting my face, making its way through the open window of the vehicle. The road ahead was straight. Straight it seemed as if someone had drawn it with a ruler. Both sides of it were the open grassy fields, and on it were grazing small dots of cattle. The cigarette had burnt nearly up to the butt. I sucked it once and threw it out of the window. Jagdish had not spoken a word for sometimes. He was all busy with his clutch, gear and steering.

“How’s your son now?” I asked.

“Very much better than before, think the medicine’s working fine.”

“Typhoid it was, wasn’t it?”

“Yes sir, it made him bed ridded for a week.” He said as he waved his hand out, signaling a speeding car behind us to go ahead.

The place we were heading to was an eight hours long journey and hardly we had made half of it. The long frustrating road trips, they always reminded me of my childhood. Occasionally, my parents used to take me to see my grandmother. It was just three hours travel by bus. But to me, it seemed like an eternity. I used to sit quietly on my seat and stare out. The long transmission cables hanging on the poles swayed up and down as the bus moved. I used to look at them for sometimes but soon they would begin to irritate me making me feel dizzy and in no time I would fall asleep. It was back then when I was mere ten years. It had been long time since, past twenty years, that my grandmother died and I was no longer a kid. But the road was still there and me moving on it.

“Sir, isn’t it’s the same generator you repaired last month.” Jagdish asked.

“Yes, it is. I too wonder what’s the problem with it again. I even changed its fuel valve, in case… The thing is, they don’t follow the operating precautions and I doubt if they filter the fuel or not.”

Jagdish and I joined the company nearly at the same time. In almost every errand he had travelled with me. He would curiously assist me while working with generators and would each time learn new things which in turn helped him to take care of the vehicles he drove. My job demanded me to stay on the road more than at my office. And it was the sole reason that I knew Jagdish better than any other colleagues at work.

It was almost noon, and we were planning to stop for a while to refresh ourselves. At first it was just an inaudible clink, but it began to get worse as we drove more, and finally it forced Jagdish to stop the vehicle and give it a check. He opened up the bonnet and began to inspect. After a while he moved back to the trailer and took out a long screw-driver from the bulky, red-coloured tool box. During all those happenings I stayed inside the vehicle (heat was the only reason that I stayed in). A moment later Jagdish approached with a black rubber belt in his hand. A glance was enough for me to recognize it as the cooling-fan belt, and it was severely torn up.

He parked the vehicle a little ahead in front of a small hut. An old man wearing heavy thick glasses was in it, and it seemed to be his tea shop. Jagdish spoke to the man in Maithili. Being born and raised in the plains, I had no trouble understanding it, but it was a bit tricky when it came to speaking. As the old man said the nearest automobile store we could find was about twenty to twenty-five minutes drive from there, Jagdish took no time catching up a bus to fetch a fresh, new fan belt, leaving me and the vehicle in the care of the old man.
I sat on a narrow wooden bench leaning my back against the rugged mud wall and began to smoke.

“Isn’t it a tamarind tree?” I asked.

“Yes, it is” the old man replied. He pumped his kerosene stove, put a pot full of milk on it and said, “I used to climb up that tree when I was young, and could eat a lot of those.”

If ever life had a taste, it would have tasted like tamarind, both sweet and sour in a single bite, I thought. And with the thought, appeared his face, his prominent white teeth against his dark skin.

The first and the only time I visited his house, he was happy to see me but more happy to see my bicycle. He always wished for one. He drove me to a place near his house. A green open meadow it was. I dropped off the bicycle while he took a couple of delightful rounds on the meadow and finally joined me. We sat on the grass under the shade of a tree; yes, it was a tamarind tree with its big bulky trunk.

“You see that pond.” He pointed with his finger. There was pond, not so big, near the edge of the meadow. “They say there is some evil spirit in it.”

“Evil spirit?”

“A goat drowned just two days ago. And before that a cow was found dead beside the pond.” He said covering up his white front teeth with his lips.

“My father doesn’t let me come here. Once he saw me playing near the pond. He slapped me hard.” He pondered for a while, “But here is not here now.”

“Where is he?” I asked.

“In India.” He said, “He paints houses. There is a lot of work there he says.” We stayed there for a while, ate a few tamarinds and chatted as the pond reflected the orange of the setting sun.

“Here’s your tea, babu.” The old man said handing me a glass full of hot tea.

“Thinking about something.” He asked.

“No, just old memories.” I said.

“They come and go, isn’t it?” He said looking at me and began to fill an empty plastic bucket with used dishes.

“Yes” I nodded.

“But as you grow old, they don’t go away. They always stay with you.” He said as he moved towards the tubewell carrying the bucket with him.

Robin was his name, Robin Bhagat. He was short, so always the beginner of the assembly line. For one reason or the other; sometimes it would be his unpolished shoes, or his dirty nails, or the chewed end of his tie, he was frequently thrown out of the line and put to a long session of scolding which he seemed to be quite used to with. In the class also he was not much a charm. The teachers considered his performance below par than what a regular fifth grader should have. He used to sit beside me, his eyes staring straight at the board but his mind somewhere else, probably, running on a grassy field or riding with a pace towards some unknown place. But, there was never a hint of worry on his face, instead, a smile would always be there, the peculiar smile, those white teeth peeking through the curved black lips.

The old man was busy with his dishes so I moved towards the tamarind tree. I stood under its shade and examined it. Indeed the tree was old, with its bark tuff and thick and the little tamarinds hanging by the twigs were waiting to get mellowed. It was during those days at school that I visited him and we talked sitting under the big tamarind tree. A few weeks later a notice made all the class excited, the eagerly awaited summer vacation was soon to begin and it meant a month long blissful and absolute freedom. We all separated for a month and were busy in our own worlds, doing things and visiting relatives. Jumping over the walls, climbing up the tree tops and when there was nothing to do in particular, some iron pieces and a magnet would do a trick of fading off boredom. However hard we try all the good things come to an end and all those vacations were on the list, they all had their ends.

Jagdish arrived sooner than I had expected; the new fan belt in a plastic bag swinging down his hand and a smile accompanied by a touch of content on his face as if a mission was accomplished. He washed his hands and face and with a handkerchief wiped them dry and was ready to work with the vehicle. Fixing it up was not much a trouble, indeed, I enjoyed giving him a hand, after all it was my job: mending the troubled machines. We didn’t stay there for long, we had a place to reach and some more hours on the road remained to be travelled. Soon we were riding again leaving the tamarind tree and the old man far behind us.

The heat was receding slowly and cooler breeze swept past the vehicle. Jagdish was silent, probably he was tired.

“By this time we would’ve already been there.” I said.

“Yes sir.” He said. And then he looked at his wrist watch, adjusted the rare view mirror and said, “We will be there in just an hour or so.”

The sun was already on the ground, standing at the end of the empty field and its orange engulfing much of its periphery. There was the same assembly line after the vacation but there was no Robin at the very beginning of it. His body was found lifeless floating on the pond, the same pond opposite to the big tamarind tree. Jagdish remained silent and his eyes cautiously looking ahead, straight at the road.

Robin was his name, Robin Bhagat. He was short, so always the beginner of the assembly line. For one reason or the other; sometimes it would be his unpolished shoes, or his dirty nails, or the chewed end of his tie, he was frequently thrown out of the line and put to a long session of scolding which he seemed to be quite used to with. In the class also he was not much a charm. The teachers considered his performance below par than what a regular fifth grader should have. He used to sit beside me, his eyes staring straight at the board but his mind somewhere else, probably, running on a grassy field or riding with a pace towards some unknown place. But, there was never a hint of worry on his face, instead, a smile would always be there, the peculiar smile, those white teeth peeking through the curved black lips.

The old man was busy with his dishes so I moved towards the tamarind tree. I stood under its shade and examined it. Indeed the tree was old, with its bark tuff and thick and the little tamarinds hanging by the twigs were waiting to get mellowed. It was during those days at school that I visited him and we talked sitting under the big tamarind tree. A few weeks later a notice made all the class excited, the eagerly awaited summer vacation was soon to begin and it meant a month long blissful and absolute freedom. We all separated for a month and were busy in our own worlds, doing things and visiting relatives. Jumping over the walls, climbing up the tree tops and when there was nothing to do in particular, some iron pieces and a magnet would do a trick of fading off boredom. However hard we try all the good things come to an end and all those vacations were on the list, they all had their ends.

Jagdish arrived sooner than I had expected; the new fan belt in a plastic bag swinging down his hand and a smile accompanied by a touch of content on his face as if a mission was accomplished. He washed his hands and face and with a handkerchief wiped them dry and was ready to work with the vehicle. Fixing it up was not much a trouble, indeed, I enjoyed giving him a hand, after all it was my job: mending the troubled machines. We didn’t stay there for long, we had a place to reach and some more hours on the road remained to be travelled. Soon we were riding again leaving the tamarind tree and the old man far behind us.

The heat was receding slowly and cooler breeze swept past the vehicle. Jagdish was silent, probably he was tired.

“By this time we would’ve already been there.” I said.

“Yes sir.” He said. And then he looked at his wrist watch, adjusted the rare view mirror and said, “We will be there in just an hour or so.”

The sun was already on the ground, standing at the end of the empty field and its orange engulfing much of its periphery. There was the same assembly line after the vacation but there was no Robin at the very beginning of it. His body was found lifeless floating on the pond, the same pond opposite to the big tamarind tree. Jagdish remained silent and his eyes cautiously looking ahead, straight at the road.

(Source : Author sent it via ‘नयाँ रचना पठाउनुहोस्‘ functionality of this website. )

This entry was posted in Story and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *