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An Ordinariness of the Day

By Indra Bahadur Rai

“You’ve scattered the radish seeds a little too thin, Maya,” I said, picking at the mud stuck on the small hoe with a dry bamboo splinter, “Though they’ve all sprouted since the last shower.”

I was sitting on a clump of twisted grass at the edge of the terrace. I had just finished planting the beans; she had spread the empty seed bag and was sitting on it. We were taking a breather. The radish had sprouted in patches on the long terraces immediately below, already showing pairs and trios of leaves in the freshly turned earth.

“Some of the seeds have been washed away by the rain but our hens haven’t spared them either,” said Maya, “That mother of nine chicks persists in coming down here.”

“Yes, she does.”

“Just relax for a minute, she’ll scratch the place down.”

“Hot day, isn’t it? A corn-drying sun.”

“We’ll recover the cost of the seed,” Maya was still talking about the radish.

“What was I telling you just now?” I feigned anger.

“What else?  You said it’s sunny, the maize will dry,” Maya smiled wanly.

“Just let the sun shine like this for another week and all the corn will be dry. The cucumber will fill out and the colour will rise in the tamarillos hanging all over the branches.”

“Both my hens will have hatched. I would have dug the potatoes. The beans you planted today would’ve sprouted,” she joined in.

“Dasain would be only six weeks away by then, the childrens’ clothes would have been bought; I would’ve got my pay and would’ve already bought some Kanjivaram saris for your Majesty.”  Maya laughed, “There, the seedlings have already been planted.”

On the mound of the far terraces, Sanbir-ko-babu was resting, rolling himself a smoke.  He must have finished planting the seedlings.

“Every man must have his own little cows, or firewood for one’s hearth, but because neighbours may ask and one needs to give; there may be theft, one needs to carp. That’s what life is all about. The snake-corn will grow there – let our children see them and be frightened. Berries will grow, bristling with thorns – let the children from all around flock there.” “It’s been two days since the sun shone like this,” Maya said.

The sunshine was really good, warming every nook and cranny. The moment you dropped to the lower terrace, the heat began to stifle you. Perhaps the wind was blowing uphill through the ravines today, the way the leaves of the broom, cardamom and arum were bobbing up and down. On the near side, the maize, each carrying two ears of corn, stood like a windbreak.

“The corn’s been good this year,” I said, “Even the mice and crows are feeding on it.”  My gaze travelled along the lower reaches of the terraces.

“Our grandmother used to say that the way of the householder is the best. Even the hermit has to beg to feed himself. Only the householder feeds everyone – from man to God to bird to mouse.”

This little piece of dharma made me contemplative.

“Perhaps,” I said, “But to follow such a path, one must guard against thieves: one must strike the thief with a stone.”

“Poor Saila across there is guarding the maize fields all day – even on a Sunday,” Maya said, “If the monkeys sneak in even for a while, they’ll devastate the crop.”  She tried to discern Saila Newar’s fields, hidden by our own.

“His fields are at the threshold; the monkeys will reach our fields only after decimating his.” I felt secure.

“Sanbir-ko-babu has actually finished planting. Our kids have arrived there too.”  Maya had spotted them. I also saw glimpses of green and white.

“He’s without a shirt!”

“We’ve planted the saplings but you’ve gone and got far too many magnolias,” Maya said.

“There’s also the non-flowering type. Its leaves are good for fodder,” I replied.

“This is the season when you should propagate and transplant tusarey columns; they’ll take toot, won’t they?”

“What’s the use, it’s no good for fodder in winter, all the leaves fall early. It’s green in the monsoons but then grass is in plenty then. Gagun is better for fodder.”

“Gagun is better, indeed.”

“Gagun makes the fields look more pleasing.”

Just above us, a gagun tree stood listening to us. It was dense, blotting out the bright blue sky.

“Tell me, where does the beauty of the gagun lie?”  I asked, looking at the tree.

“The foliage is amazingly dense, isn’t that it’s beauty?” I asked again, “The red streak in the petiole has risen to the base of the leaves. See, indeed in all the leaves. That’s what I like about it.” A few moments elapsed. “Look at that,” I pointed across towards Sikkim.  “Denzong lies just beyond that peak. Look at those clouds circling there, how beautiful!”

Leaning her frailness against me, Maya also looked that way.

“Were I to write that in a story, tell me how would I do it?”

“I don’t know.”

“The mountain had gathered the cloud’s children to its lap.  Doesn’t work, does it?”

“No,” smiled Maya.

“The cloud (wounded desire) enters the stone and wants to live there.”

“As in a painting by Dali?” she asked.

I abandoned the enterprise. We surveyed the others’ fields, far away. The terraces of mud and grass were like waves on water.

“How many clumps of bamboo do we have?” I asked out of the blue.

“Twenty.”

“Twenty eight clumps of pareng – twenty nine, including those there with the little fluttering leaves.”

“Have those taken root?”

“And why shouldn’t they?”

“I liked those bamboos in the Botanical Gardens, the ones with four stripes alternating with green and yellow. That’s what I liked.”

“The ones by the pond?” Maya laughed.

“I’ll get some of those for you.”

“I’d already shown them to you the year before last.”

Stifling her hope, she pretended to be disappointed.

“One shouldn’t plant fig trees. A slightly strong breeze and both the trunk and branches give way. Only the two in the ravine there are in good shape.”

“After yesterday, Renuka’s mother is no more,” I spoke again, “When it is time to take the body out of the house, how horribly the children scream and wail. I am terrified of that crying.” I brooded and paused.

“Of course, the children cry,” Maya said.

“On that day, the children really cry hard. The husband bears everything as though unperturbed. But the children begin to forget the very next day and grow more cheerful with each passing day. Later they even forget to cry because life, bearing all its bundles of expectation and desire, has gone on ahead and awaits them. But that husband, who did not cry yesterday, remembers his wife tonight when some strange hand serves him rice; when he prepares to sleep, he remembers her. In the morning it comes to him suddenly that she in not there; he remembers her as he works outside; he remembers her after he goes into the house and sits down. Like this, he goes on starting suddenly again and again, until he dies.”

Then I added, “He is alive now only because of life’s compulsions.”

In the tea estate across, the sunlight sprawled, the greenery brightening.  The lines of narrow tracks and paths descended from the cluster of houses; a path doodled around, swung a big loop and vanished into a clump of trees – must be a village spring in there.

The white shards of the stream have fallen downhill and from below the boom of a big river shakes the foundations of the peaks. This particular place in the forest drops here like one cataract inside another. Year after year in the monsoons, I look for it here.

“If one looks hard there, one can even see the water falling.” She also pointed that way.

If one waited as though in sleep, the water twisted and tumbled down slowly.  Happiness welled up.

Drawing nearer, I said, “This year, the soybean has come up fine, the corn is better than anyone else’s; there’s no marigold and the potato has etiolated.”

“You are a big man, and I, an invalid.” Maya said. I glanced at her face, slightly flushed with perspiration. Tired of taking life seriously, she was a in a mood for frivolity.

“I could invoke a fever with this stalk of thotney and a fistful of clover, I could get wet outdoors for half-a-minute, and easily die.”

“Chame’s wife, Gauthali, was extremely talkative. Even during a straightforward conversation, she would twist the words and try to pick a quarrel…” I quoted.

Maya laughed. My accusation was exaggerated and unable to confront that very exaggeration, she smiled. Weakness. I felt sorry for her. Even as we watched, the huge rag of a fog, tattered in places, flew upwards and unfurled itself.

“Don’t stay in the cold for too long,” I said.

“I’m feeling warm, though.” She replied.

I got up and she did too, pulling at my arm.

“There’s your acidanthera – it’s flowering there, too.”

Below on the bank, a sharp fragrance wafted up on the breeze from the four-layered white blossoms drooping and swaying on the long and green of sepals.

“I’ve transplanted some lovely firs,” I said, looking around at the fields.

“The pear trees have grown out there. That wild pear too will fruit next year and there, that’s a variety of the large mulberry. Don’t let anyone cut it down.”

We had begun to return slowly, terrace by terrace. We started back clearing a way through the lowering broom, losing ourselves in the rows of maize taller than us.

“Hold on, I’ll take some maize.” Maya paused to choose the corn, inspecting their dry whiskers. I reached up and broke off a couple, too.

A little way up, I said, “I grant thee a boon:

If thou wish to keep me ever pleased,

give me a little pickle of these.”

The tender timur plant stood stitched all over with red thorns.

“Let this grow.”

“These whims of yours…”

What’s the curry tonight?”

“Cabbage. I’ll send Despath later, he’ll pick some.”

“No chicken?”

“Which one?”

“The spotted cock, the speckled one.”

“Cut it.”

As she walked ahead, carrying the maize in her shawl, I turned her around and said, “The two of us, Emperor and Empress, had come to ascertain the state and wellbeing of Our subjects. We had come in order to feel these things for Ourselves. For twelve years, We remained incognito until We came to know everything. We can bear it no more, let us to Our palace hence!” Maya laughed softly, “I’d retort,” she said, “But then I won’t…”

When we came to the yard, Madhu from the house above, Alpana and everyone else was there, playing hopscotch. I grabbed my little daughter’s turn and hopped along the squares.

“Am I right?”

Author:
I B Rai is one of the greats of Nepali prose writings and probably the most influential Nepali writers living today. He has to his credit a novel, and a number of collection of short stories. He wrote in natural prose in the beginning and started drawing from abstract art which reflects the philosophy of Tesro Ayam. His latest collection of short stories in 1989 is accompanied by a postscript on his notion of Leela Lekhani. Rai is an established critic, rare in Nepali letters in the sophistication he brings to the question of cultural identity. He was the first Nepali writer to receive the Indian Literature Academy award in Nepali Literature. 

Translator:
Anmol Prasad, 
a designated senior advocate by High Court, is a multi talented person. He is a musician, poet, writer and a painter. He edited an English magazine, Flat file, for almost ten years. He has translated many Nepali poems and short stories into English. He is on the verge of completing a translation of a Nepali novel, Mauli, by Badri Narayan Pradhan into English.

***

For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.

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