Wednesday, July 28, 2010

She Said It All, When She Said Nothing At All

It is not everyday that someone walks into your life, changes the very way you view your own life and leaves a lasting impression when they eventually walk away. But when that does happen, you know that you have been truly blessed and that your life has been enriched and will never be the same again. Let this piece below be a tribute to one such person, for making all the difference in my life, albeit unwittingly.

Staring out into the darkness that loomed over the vast meadows before me, I waited eagerly for the break of dawn to bring with it a glimpse of what constituted my sole purpose for living. An orphan, born and raised on a farm as a farm-hand, I had not much in the way of a really meaningful existence. Each day was just another uneventful routine and signified nothing more than back-breaking work all day on the farm, in order to earn my keep. And all of this changed the day I first spotted her. The day that added new meaning to my otherwise dull and dreary life.
It started out as just another ordinary day, with me going about my usual chores around the farm. It was not until evening when my uncle, a distant relative to be precise, on whose farm I stayed and worked, came rushing up to me and told me that Jack, who usually took the sheep out grazing had hurt himself rather badly and thus while he was still indisposed, I had to take over the responsibility. Herding and tending to animals had somehow come naturally to me. Perhaps it was another thing that I had inherited from my parents, who had been farm-hands all their lives, until an epidemic outbreak of influenza took them both away from me. It was nothing short of a miracle that I survived, considering I was a weak and helpless toddler at the time. I suppose that was the first indication that something rather significant was ahead of me and that I had to survive to experience it all.
I set aside the buckets of water that I was carrying back to the farm from the brook and hurried to the pen to guide the sheep to the meadows, before it got too dark to take them out. We had just one sheep-dog on the farm to help with the twenty-odd sheep that we had. But thankfully, he was one sharp and efficient fellow, more than compensating for the lack of more. No sooner had we reached the usual grazing spot on the meadows, at the edge of the woods, all the sheep started dispersing in different directions, each finding its own individual patch of grass to chew on. I sat myself on a rock, not too far away from the scattered flock, from where I had a complete view of each and every sheep. Marshall, the sheep-dog, settled down at my feet, while keeping an alert eye open for the first signs of trouble, should there be any.
It must have been sometime after the first couple of minutes of my getting accustomed to sitting idle, a stark contrast to the other chores back on the farm, that I saw a dark form, at a distance, moving out from behind a clump of trees in the woods. As the form moved closer, and out of the dimly lit woods, it became apparent that it was a young lady, about the same age as me. There was something about the way she carried herself. Something ethereal about her every move, as she seemed to glide effortlessly across the meadow with a bundle of twigs tucked under her arm. I realized that I was gazing at her, oblivious to the bleating sheep around. My head felt light, as a strange feeling I had never experienced before, engulfed me and I simply stood there transfixed, till her beautiful, delicate frame gradually disappeared in the direction of the village.
The next morning I was back at the meadows, grazing sheep again. I fought hard not to fall asleep after having spent a rather restless night tossing around on my hay-bed in the barn that doubled as my lodgings. I was just beginning to nod off despite myself, when Marshall began to bark rather loudly. I sat bolt upright almost immediately, only to find that Marshall was already bolting after what looked like a wild dog, that was making a hasty retreat into the woods. Within a minute or two, I saw Marshall trotting back, looking satisfied with himself, having warded off a potential threat to the flock. Not far behind him emerged another figure, that of a woman. It was the same one that had me mesmerised the previous evening. Again the sight of her had me spellbound and rooted to the spot. At that point, the only sound I could hear was that of my pounding heart; the only sight that filled my eyes was that of her magnificent and graceful form.
The same trend continued for days on end. Each day at the break of dawn and then again at dusk she’d make her way to the woods to gather firewood. I knew not anything at all about her, but I yearned to get to know all there was to her. With each passing day, my fascination for the lass who came to gather firewood grew. Between the time when I took the sheep out to graze at dawn and then again in the evening just before sunset, it became quite hard for me to concentrate on much else and do justice to any other task at hand. I had never been so slack about my work on the farm, but this was something that was totally beyond my control, way beyond my comprehension even. Something had simply taken over the reins of my life and controlled my every thought and resulting action. I’d often find myself lost in my own sweet reveries of the mysterious beauty who had unwittingly added profound significance to my very existence. But most importantly, it was a warm and welcome feeling and for the first time in so many years I was experiencing the deepest sense of contentment and joy and I found myself thanking my stars for keeping me alive long enough to experience and savour such a magical period of my life. Thus, what had started out as just another duty assigned to me by my uncle and master, had now become the only one I ever wanted to do all life long, if it meant that I would get treated to a glimpse of her each day while I was at it. I was now secretly hoping that Jack would not return too soon to reclaim his job of grazing sheep. I now longed to be the shepherd boy I never thought I would one day be.
And today, after almost seven months since I first saw her coming out of the woods, I had my mind all made up to finally speak to her. In my mind, I had rehearsed over a thousand times, the exact words I would say to her. And so I waited, seated on the same rock in the meadows, well before the crack of dawn, alone and feeling all unsure and jittery.
She did not disappoint my keen anticipation of her arrival, for with the first rays of sunlight, she appeared over the horizon, making her way dutifully towards the woods. I rose from my perch, and wobbled for a bit as my legs felt like jelly. All of a sudden my throat had turned dry and my vision was all hazy. It was like I had become numb all over. All the same, I managed to trudge on, as fast as my wobbly legs could take me, in her direction.
I am not sure if she’d ever taken notice of me in all these months, although occasionally I had spotted her looking in my general direction. I wished with all I had, which was not very much to start with, that I would accomplish what I’d set out to do and that it would not all be in vain. A part of me was fighting the urge to turn around and retreat in sheer nervousness. For I had never, until then, interacted as such with any woman, other than with a select few on the farm only when work demanded that I converse with them and the very thought of approaching and talking to one as ravishing and exquisite as her, was simply mind-blowing.
I walked on and soon found myself barely a few feet away from her. I was not certain if she’d heard me approaching, but at that very moment, she stopped in her tracks and turned around. Our eyes met and at that very second, all else around was reduced to just a blur.
 I found myself at a desperate loss for words, as my mind drew a blank. I fumbled for words and ended up mumbling incoherently. As I struggled to recall the sentences I had rehearsed so many times over, I realized that my hopeless attempt at finding words, coupled with the very obvious, tell-all expression that I bore on my face, had made it all apparent to her. It was as if she had read me right then, like a book, without me having to help her with words. Almost instantly, there was a drastic change in her expression; I couldn’t quite comprehend what exactly that expression meant. She looked all shaken up in a way but at the same time it could just as well have been plain anguish that I saw on her face. I simply did not know what to make of it. But it did seem like her mind was trying to process a thousand conflicting thoughts, all at the same time. It was as if she wanted to say something and was looking for the right words to express whatever was in her mind, but at the same time she seemed to have opted to say it all through expressions. Sometimes, especially at times like this, a lot of emotions and sentiments can be exchanged between two people without having to say a thing. It’s hard to explain but it’s like you somehow feel and understand exactly what the other person is feeling and thinking. And that was precisely what happened between us, right then.  As I stood there motionless for the nth time in her presence, she seemed to hesitate, but only for a moment, before she took a step forward in my direction and took me right into her arms. I must say that it was the warmest, longest and the nicest embrace ever! Some experiences in life just seem to surpass all others and this was one such phenomenal experience of a lifetime for me. I wanted those precious few minutes that we held onto each other to last forever; I wanted us to be frozen in time at that very place and disposition.
But alas, hoping and wishing is all one can do and what ultimately happens is entirely up to that Greater Force that’s overseeing and orchestrating it all. For as abruptly as she had taken me into her arms, she let me go. She then took a gentle step back, looked imploringly into my eyes, again with the same incomprehensible expression on her face and then without uttering a single word, turned around and walked away into the dark woods beyond, leaving me in absolute silence and stillness, feeling dazed and lost in a world of my own, right where I stood.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Seasons of Change

On a cold winter’s evening, I sat beside the window, the blinds drawn out, gazing out at the falling snow, as it piled up high on my front drive. It was only the beginning of winter and I already felt numb all over. The blazing logs in the furnace did not do much to drive that sense of numbness away. Probably because this had a lot more to do with my state of mind at the moment, which matched the gloomy, bleak atmosphere around.  
Exactly a week before, I’d received a note from my friend, telling me that the festivities had taken off and concluded on an unsullied note (for which I was glad and relieved) and that he was back home to oversee the renovation of his store. The ‘festivities’ in question here was that of a wedding, one that I had consciously avoided. In hindsight, maybe I should have attended. Maybe, in a way, it would have helped put a closure to things. But fearing further complications in an already complicated matter, I shied away from it. And on a more personal and selfish level, the reality of it all was too harsh for me to confront. I could not bring myself to accept that it was finally happening; that my beloved … was now marrying another man, not so much by choice as by the pressures of circumstances, that were probably once in my hands to take control of and change. But now, the seasons had already changed.
It was only this spring that I first met her. Introduced by common friends while I was out to do my apprenticeship in the city, our acquaintanceship soon turned to friendship and before we knew it, we were deeply in love with each other.
By mid-summer, we were already seeing each other, at first in a more covert fashion and then more openly as we gained familiarity with the circle of mutual friends we’d made over the months. She was in the city attending finishing school while boarding at her uncle’s place and meeting her meant that we had to steer away from all those places that were frequented by members of her uncle’s family and without rousing any of their suspicions by the hours we kept. Despite the restrictions we had, we still managed to spend all our time in the company of each other, while we were otherwise not busy with our respective purpose for being in the city, to start with. All summer long we enjoyed countless hours just wandering around hand-in-hand in the park or on boat-trips to places nearby. Occasionally, we even got to meet late evening or at night when her uncle’s family was away for a day or two. Such rendezvous were extra special as we could rent a boat all to ourselves and then paddle out into the middle of the lake and spend the rest of the evening together, whispering endlessly to each other in the stillness all around, while gazing at the starlit sky or even ride out to the valley and spend time there, with my banjo and her enchanting voice in tow. And thus, by the time summer had come to an end, to say that we had become inseparable would have been an understatement.
With the onset of autumn came in a slew of fresh challenges. With her sojourn in the city coming to an end and my apprenticeship still on, it meant that she would return to her own home in the countryside while I would continue to stay on in the city, for a while. This is turn meant inevitable separation, a thought that neither of us could bear and a discussion that we’d mutually evaded thus far, for the mere thought of it was painful for the two of us. And when it did come upon us, neither of us was prepared. The first few days of her going away were the hardest. Our friends had to constantly hold me back each time I almost packed my bags and decided to call it quits in the city, leaving my apprenticeship unfinished. I finally had my mind all made up to approach her father and seek her hand in marriage when I received the heartbreaking news. A mutual friend, who happened to be visiting a relative close to her place, brought me a letter she had hastily penned before he returned to the city. My beloved’s father had now decided that it was time for his youngest daughter to marry and with the thought had even sought out a groom for her. Without giving much thought to what she had to say, her family had even set a date for the wedding at the end of autumn. To say that the news just shocked me would be underplaying it. I hadn’t expected things to take such a drastic turn, at such short notice. As my mind raced, desperately seeking a way out of the turn of events, a single line at the bottom of the note she had written me, caught my eye. It simply said ‘It’s still not too late, come get me and we will together seek out a new life someplace else’. That very sentence initiated a huge conflict in my mind. While on one hand I felt should leave right away and go get her, another part of me kept telling me that eloping was not the right thing to do. Eventually I decided to go speak to her family anyway and seek their consent to us getting married. To my mind, that was the only right thing to do! With the falling autumn leaves leaving a colourful trail behind me on my path, I set out to claim what I believed was rightfully mine; to claim a missing part of me that would make me complete again.
Arriving at her country home, I must say I wasn’t very welcome. To start with, I was introduced to the family as a friend of her’s from the city. Within the next couple of days I had gotten to know each member of her family and they all seemed to view my relationship with her, with considerable suspicion. And rightly so, for mere friends we certainly were not. Soon I had gathered enough wits about me to have ‘the conversation’ with her parents. No sooner had I broached the subject with them, was I strongly opposed with an almost immediate and vehement rejection. They wouldn’t hear any of what I had to say thereafter. If I was an unwelcome guest before, I had suddenly been further demoted to the status of a sworn enemy. As I found myself thrown out almost literally from their home, I suddenly realized that while I still loved her very much and would never be the same without her, I no longer had it in me to put up a fight and make my claim. With dejection written all over me, I retraced my footsteps.
And today as I sit on what has become my constant perch beside the window and look out at the falling snow yet again, I feel a vast emptiness inside of me. I had, despite myself, let the moment pass. I had, of my own accord, let my only chance at a meaningful life, just slip away. Perhaps I should’ve have heeded her words and eloped with her. And had I done that, right now I would not have found myself in this miserable, ‘shattered and numbed beyond recovery’ state.
The change of seasons had, with them, brought about a lifetime of change in me and in my life. I was no longer the same person I used to be a year ago. The seasons of change had finally caught up with me for good.