Before - contd
by Puja Chakraborty
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He looked at her in bewilderment as if he wasn’t aware of the golden shrine standing prominently in the background. She explained that their watchman had shared with her a possible route via the nearest jetty.
He yawned. Why go there? What is in that pagoda?
Peace. She thought. It’s a meditation center of some kind. She retorted.
He didn’t inquire further but asked if he could accompany her. She agreed reluctantly.
It was late afternoon by the time Jita and Yug started off on their day trip. Fortunately, it was a twenty-minute drive to the jetty. As soon as they reached the jetty, Jita rushed out of the driver’s seat to get the tickets while Yug, still somewhat sleepy, took the wheel and searched for a parking spot. It was in the ticket counter that Jita learned about a roadway to the pagoda.
To get to the pagoda from this side, the shortest route is to take the ferry. The man behind the counter assured her.
She paid for the tickets and waited by a shaded area near the ticket counter for Yug. She watched a group of tourists in overly decorative hats make their way to the counter. The adults in the group collected the tickets while the children waited impatiently to get to the ferry. Jita was relishing the usual touristy confusion and chaos when her eyes fell on a small sign at the ticket counter which she had previously missed. The sign stated in bold letters that tickets to water parks could be availed there.
Heikarone eman manuh! That explains the crowd. She concluded.
In the meantime, Yug joined her and they made their way to where the rest of the crowd was waiting for the ferry to arrive. It was a motley assortment of people. Jita traced through the mix while her companion checked notifications on his phone. He seemed to be completely unaffected by his surroundings. She was repulsed by his indifference to things. Even if she wanted, she couldn’t be like that. How could she not look up to investigate as a strong smell of jasmine crept in between them? Nonetheless, she was unable to find the source.
The sudden gaiety of the tourists signaled the arrival of the ferry. Everyone waited as two wooden planks were laid down by the jetty crew as a passageway. The arriving passengers got down one and the departing passengers got up the other. There was no pushing or shouting. It was a well thought of and followed system. After a while everyone was onboard the white and blue ferry with rusted iron bars and muddy floor. There were blue iron benches on the ferry. Jita managed to grab a seat on the side by the fencing while Yug decided to stand by it. A young woman in a yellow saree with jasmine in her hair sat in front of Jita. The smell hit Jita again. She felt nauseated by the intensity of it. To divert her mind she turned her attention to the seagulls. One caught a fish and flew away while a few others sat casually on the waters. As strangely satisfying it was to watch them, her mind wandered off to familiar waters. She recalled her first boat ride back home in Assam when she was a child. It was a small, slim, elongated vessel barely keeping the waters of the Brahmaputra from coming on board. It was not a joy ride but a necessity since the bridge connecting their village to the town was washed away by floods. The boat was packed with people like sardines in a can and Jita held on tightly to her mother's Mekhela chador terrified of the river. She was certain that they were going to drown. Jita squirmed in her seat at the memory.
The ferry ride to the pagoda lasted around six minutes.
We’re here already? They should just build a bridge. Yug remarked with a laugh.
As they got down from the ferry, the bright hoardings of the water parks welcomed them without much charm. For a moment, Jita thought that they had come to the wrong place. When Yug spotted a tiny sign pointing towards the pagoda, she was thoroughly relieved. The majority of the passengers accompanying them made their way to the fun fair of the water parks. Only five of them including the woman with jasmine in her hair made their way to the Pagoda. They walked up a muddy passage and then a concrete passage and finally arrived at the magnificent golden structure. The main gate was still a few meters away. Jita’s body was fidgeting with a nervousness she didn't understand. She took a deep breath and tried to contain her excitement as they arrived at the main gate.
Arrey…! Yug exclaimed at the sight.
A swarm of tourists and locals were inside the Pagoda taking
selfies and walking around in total contrast to what the place stood for. Jita’s heart sank. She reluctantly made her way up the numerous stairs inside, hoping that the main sanctum will be the way she had imagined - peaceful and without inhibitions. But everywhere she looked she only saw people polluting the landscape. This was in no way the place she would turn to from a distance seeking peace. It was adulterated just like everything else. It was almost like knowing a person. They were always different from what they were as strangers with their secrets and limitations waiting to be discovered.
Jita sat on one of the stairs sulking in the evening sun. She watched Yug shoot a video of the place in all its crowdedness. She found it maddening only to realize that this was the reason she fell in love with him: his excitement in oddity. He turned to her and started filming her. He asked her about enlightenment and how she felt to be there. They burst out laughing.
Yug embraced her, consoled her and with her fingers between his, he walked her down to the jetty. Jita was surprised. She had forgotten what it felt like to laugh at things beyond their control and to not blame each other for their unhappiness. She beamed at him with admiration and when the ferry arrived, he said - Maybe that’s all we need… A couple of bad trips and a few good laughs.
The storm inside her subsided. She cozied on his arms and they went back home with the smell of dried sea fish hitting them occasionally. The calmness that she felt inside was unusual and the love that suddenly resurfaced seemed almost impossible to comprehend. Perhaps, her decision to leave him could wait for a while.
Maybe we can live together, after all. Maybe this new year will change things for us. She considered.
That evening the pagoda no longer had her attention when they were on the balcony savoring the evening breeze. Yug opened a bottle of wine and made a toast to the pagoda. It was gleaming despite the hovering darkness that enveloped the rest of the scenery. The floodlights shooting on it now from it’s base turned the sky around it golden. It was spectacular. Yug turned on a song and ensconced himself on his favorite piece of furniture - a woven seagrass bench. Jita sat back, sipped her wine and watched Yug check his phone as he hummed along to the song. She chuckled as she reflected on her absurdness. She was so invested in a far off object to find peace that she had failed to see the peace that had always existed with her but got rusted with time. Yug looked at her puzzled when she spoke about it after finishing her glass of wine.
Where is it then? He asked.
She placed her hand on her chest. Yat. It's all right here and in all the little things we do to keep it from rusting.
Like right now. Yug smiled and raised his glass.
She admired as well as envied the fact that Yug almost never dwelled on things deeper than they were meant to, no matter where he was or with whom. He embraced moments without ever thinking of what came before or followed after. Jita felt a certain longing for this quality in him. However, a strange sadness flooded in. Her mind drifted away to the morning. Anjum was leaving. Maybe this time Yug would replace her as a friend.
Yug looked up from his phone and asked her if she had said anything. She shook her head in denial. He stretched his arms and stood up. The music had stopped. Jita was urged by the moment to tell him about Anjum.
Anjum is leaving. She shared her grief.
Who is Anjum? He asked peering into his phone.
Jita didn’t answer.
Yug started talking about a news article. The virus in China is getting worse…
Jita sighed. He had lost her attention. Perhaps, she was starting to see that there is no replacement but only acceptance in the impermanence of things. She turned her eyes to the golden beauty standing majestically bringing the much needed luster to a starless sky. She poured herself another glass of wine as Yug blabbered about a virus. She wondered where the egrets had gone to rest for the night. Had they nested close by or many kilometers away? The birds made her think of home, again. Her heart swelled with a homesickness she had never felt before. She closed her eyes as she inhaled the disappointment in the air. She saw a Bogoli.
Come away with me. The Bogoli whispered to her.
Her lips curved. She breathed in again. The air smelled familiar. There wasn't a word for it. It was the mingling of a million aromas. The smell was that of Home.***