Tuesday, June 29, 2010
The Guest House
We reached the guest house at around eight in the morning. It was an out of station official trip of my husband, on which I decided to accompany him as a short vacation. The guest house was located on the outskirts of Chandigarh
When we alighted from the auto rickshaw at the guesthouse, a piercing cold wind, laden with the fragrance of blossomed flowers crossed us. The fragrance turned my attention to its source. A sprawling lawn was bordered by the L-shaped double-storied bungalow. Around the corner of the lawn, a wooden armchair was kept. Tranquility reigned, except for the chirping of birds on the high branches. Even my walk through the lawn to take a short cut to our room created a rustle on the strewn leaves. My eyes were glued to the exquisite armchair as it was providing a perfect setting of the Victorian era in other wise Indian countryside.
Something undecipherable but surely mystifying was in the air. For a while it seemed we are being viewed by two inquisitive eyes behind our back. But I had no time to find that out as my daughter held in my arms was running a fever.
Tired, but out of urgency my husband had to leave for work. After putting the luggage in our room, he reluctantly left for his inspection work promising to return in shortest-possible time. The room décor was as classic as the exteriors outside, with a dash of dark shaded furniture and wood work all over. A wooden double bed in the center faced the windows opening to the lawn. Studying the interiors, I put the baby on the bed. Although the maintenance was good, architecturally, the bungalow seemed quite old. The spacious room and décor too seemed antique. I opened the window. Again, the same fragrance with tender sun rays crossed the room. For the moment I watched the rows of trees with their brown, heavy-girthed body. I glanced back at my sleeping child; she was murmuring something in her sleep, probably out of restlessness. When I touched her body, it felt warmer than before. My anxious mind turned tenser in the piercing solitude. Fatigued due to the overnight travel, I started feeling hopelessly alone. For that moment I regretted joining my husband on the tour. I desperately began wishing for my husband to arrive.
“Whom to call, how and where I should to go to find a doctor?” I became frenetically disturbed. I clasped my little one’s palm, unable to decide anything on my own. Lost in indecisiveness and out of fatigue, I too slipped into a slumber.
After a while, a soft tapping on the door broke my sleep. The room attendant stood there, with water and towels in his hand. I inquired about the doctor but the nearest clinic was 7 kms away from there.
Every passing moment made me tenser than before. As my baby’s fever got higher, her face grew pink." Better to see a doctor", I decided. I moved towards the door with her in my arms. That was when I saw her for the first time, Mrs. Sharma. She introduced herself to me. A middle aged woman with few silver linings on her head, she smiled gently when my eyes met hers. She was sitting on the armchair kept in the corridor gazing out at the garden. I walked to her. She got up and touched my child’s forehead. “Is she running a fever”? She inquired. Out of nervousness I poured out my heart to her. It seemed to be a god gifted relief to find someone so comforting in those taxing hours. “Wait for a moment” she said as she briskly walked back to her room. She returned with a few tablets in her hand. Her simplicity seemed genuine and her motherly touch instantly won my heart. “These tablets will certainly bring her fever down”, she said and handed me the tablets. “There is no clinic nearby; it will take more than an hour or so to reach the nearest one even by an auto”. I controlled myself somehow and took the tablets from her hands. Her hand was ice cold.
“The weather is too cold today” I remarked. A painful smile stirred on her face. She did not reply.
Accepting my invitation she followed us to our room. After crushing the tablets, I gave it to my daughter and her fever subsided in an hour or so. She stayed with me throughout those tense hours, chatting and soothing me. Her gentle smile, soft demeanor and soothing familiarity were hard to match in the busy world. Even the wrinkles on her face seemed protective, although mystifying.
Before leaving she told me her room number and invited me there. During the conversation it became known that her husband was off to Bangalore for two days. She reassured me, asking me not to worry further as she was alone and could come to me anytime. Her timely help and kindly gestures filled me with gratitude. Over whelmed by her compassion I tenderly touched her fist. They were still ice cold. I realized my touched made her somewhat uneasy. A silence fell between us. Her eyes seemed glued to my middle finger ring. Following her attention I asked her if there was anything wrong with wearing a horse-shoe iron ring. The painful smile re-appeared on her face. In a detached voice she answered, “No, it will keep ghosts away from you”.
When my husband returned from his work, I narrated the entire events of the day. The next few days passed simply in sightseeing and window shopping. Almost every day of my stay, I thought of her, but didn't see her. Whenever I went to her room, I found it closed. I guessed that her husband had probably returned from Bangalore and she was busy with her family.
Finally the day of our departure dawned. After depositing our room keys at the manager’s desk, my feet mechanically moved towards Mrs. Sharma’s room. I tapped the room’s door gently wanting to have a glimpse of that compassionate face once again. The door was slightly ajar; a little sparrow was chirping on the window sill. It flew out at the lawn. But there was no sign of Mrs. Sharma.
“Do you want anything Ma’am?” A voice came from behind me. It was the room-attendant.
My explanation left the boy in disbelief. He countered, “But Ma’am, this room has been vacant since last year. This room was allotted to our General Manager. After his wife’s death due to heart failure last December, no one has been allotted this room”.
Seeing me in total disbelief, he explained further, “She was a gentle lady with a good heart. She had been in bad health for sometime but Mr. Sharma never cared for her. Even during her death he was not with the poor lady”.
I was unable to react. The entire incident simply started reeling in my thoughts, I felt the perspiration on my forehead. I slipped my fingers into my hand bag to pull out a handkerchief. Something crisp and familiar touched my finger tips. I pulled it out. On my open palm were the left over tablets given by her. I saw my husband coming towards me, dragging the luggage. Still puzzled, I accompanied him towards the exit, clutching my little one closer to my heart. Now her withdrawn expression after my touch, the ice cold hands, her painfully deserted expression after glancing at my horse-shoe ring, all came flashing at me in one go.