Tamarind Tree II
wrote on the whiteboard, “affinity between Frost and Hopkins
in their emphasis on supreme human effort”. A girl stood
Madam you finished Frost last week. We are supposed to begin
Emily Dickinson. This had slipped out of her mind completely!
She whispered through the microphone -- Emily Dickinson
-- is it?
The soul selects her own society
Then shuts the door
On her divine majority obtrude no more
the class was reeling under the impact of those unforgettable
lines, electricity went off and Roxana's voice died on the
microphone. A student raised his hand. “Can we go back to
what you wrote on the board? Is it emphasis or fascination?”
Roxana, enthused by the interest smiled and answered, “It
is more fascination with Frost and emphasis with Hopkins,
She was drenched with perspiration. The load-shedding continued.
After lingering in the class for another fifteen minutes
she dismissed the students, regretting the lack of a generator.
The wind had dropped. A storm was raging. A torrential downpour
was obviously due. She found a couple of cows cud nonchalantly
near Modhu's bronze-bust mounted on a column. Two deformed
beggars plagued everyone who passed by. The caretaker and
the guards of the Arts Building were not to be seen anywhere.
A gypsy woman was blackmailing a chauffeur with a live snake
-- to make him give her a good tip, frightening the life
out of him. But it was inside this chaotic campus that Roxana
had found her vocation. She was grateful and also anxious
to improve things. Luckily her flat was in the latest complex
known as the 'Tower' which could boast of an elevator. But
during load-shedding it was the staircase which had to be
used. Roxana would have to have a second bath and change
all her clothes. But the pleasure of freshly washed and
dried cotton fabric was something she had missed in Boston
where she mostly wore western clothes. She tried to remember
Feroze's favourite dishes. Hilsa with mustard, lentils with
orange. Folded rice-cakes with cloves stuck on them. 'Lobongololita'
was the poetic name meaning 'creeping clove'. This was a
delicacy seldom made these days. She rang Jamil to find
out if he could bring his brother from the airport Roxana
had a class at the time of his arrival. Jamil was only too
pleased to oblige, endearingly calling her 'Bhabi'. He had
not done so when he came to deliver Munir's gifts.
Two weeks rolled by with Munir more and more excited --
as a result of which he could not concentrate on anything.
His grades during that fortnight were poorer but he did
not care. He cajoled Roxana. “I'll make up later. You'll
see." Roxana was nervous about people knowing about
the divorce and then to find the separated couple coming
together. But most people like the Alams greeted the news
with open joy.
The May morning was damp and hot when Roxana walked back
from class to find Feroze drinking water from a bottle as
if he had lived there for ages. He said simply, “I love
your blue and green tapestry fabric. You look great. Jamil
could not wait.”
Roxana stretched her arms to embrace him as she was determined
that everything should go normally. Feroze held her in a
tight embrace, tears rolling down his face. Roxana kissed
away his tears saying, “You are forgiven. Your bones must
be aching from that long flight. Come, stretch on the sofa,
put your feet up.”
From nowhere Munir jumped into the space between them on
the sofa holding their heads with his two hands. The three
of them had a good cry. They took hold of themselves when
Lily brought in a trayful of coffee and snacks.
After lunch Munir lay regally between his parents vigorously
munching some barley-sugar Feroze had brought with him.
He could not close his eyes. His brain was in a ferment.
He could hardly believe that on both sides lay his exhausted
parents. Feroze worn out by the tiring flight, Roxana depleted
by the long emotional stress. Munir passed his hand over
the soft down of his father's arm, which rested across the
fat bolster Roxana was so fond of. He combed his father's
fingers with his own and then opened Feroze's shirt buttons,
placing his face against his father's hairy chest. Lily
peeped through the open door whispering, “I am going shopping.”
“SHHH,” Munir scolded. Across the open window the lily pot
Munir had broken having been replaced by a new one, a cluster
of red lilies trembled gently in the rain-soaked breeze.
A wet crow sat on the windowsill looking lonely and homeless.
Munir heard his father's heart pounding away. An abrupt
blizzard dislodged a wall-hanging in the verandah. It fell
across the floor with a bang waking up Roxana, who, like
Munir, was incredulous of her husband's proximity. His sunken
eyes, the deep furrows on his brow made her ache for him.
She shut the window, confessing to herself, “It's good to
have him back!”
Roxana looked at Munir resting on his father's chest. Feroze's
lips had a sad droop as if he was sobbing in his sleep.
He looked totally broken. Rozana's defences melted away.
She rushed to the two of them when Feroze murmured, half-awake,
“I am so dry.” Roxana handed him a glass of water, which
he drank avidly and then stretched his arm to include her
into a deep embrace, while the child lay motionless, glued
to his chest Lily, back from shopping, found them locked
together, giving vent to their pent up grief. She said softly,
“Mr. Jamil is here. I have given him tea. He has brought
fruits and flowers.”
The three of them did not move. Lily went back to cut some
of the fruits Jamil had brought; a look of deep compassion
on her face. Jamil sipped his tea placidly, giving his brother
time to recuperate The mauve and white gladioli that he
had brought made a striking contrast to Roxana's steel-blue
curtains and blue and green sofa fabrics. He was shorter
than Feroze, with a prominent mole on his right cheek, giving
him a kindly look.
In Roxana's bedroom, the three still clung together slowly
overcoming the intensity of emotions which shook them. The
storm had receded. The soft afternoon sunlight turned the
water in the jug into molten gold. On the bedside table
the daily paper showed an Iraqi mother and child squatting
on the sand, their haunted eyes staring at them. Blood streamed
down their faces. War had ended but the homeless and the
wounded had only a very vague promise of better days. Roxana
disengaged herself from Feroze's embrace to turn the front
page of the newspaper upside-down. She did not want Munir
to see it. But the very next instant she wondered whether
she was right in hiding the reality from him to withhold
the knowledge that the protected nook which they called
home might break into pieces, without a moments notice that
this threesome entity which was so comforting might snap
asunder at any time.
Roxana combed her hair and walked towards the living room
to welcome Jamil and to tell him that his brother would
join him directly. When Feroze did enter, Roxana realised
with a shock that he was skin and bones. His emaciation
was more apparent because he had taken off his suit and
was wearing kurta pyjama. She must preserve him and nurse
him back to health. Jamil invited them to dinner at his
place next week. Munir entered and apologised to Jamil,
“I'm sorry uncle. Are you going to tell mom?”
“There is nothing to tell.”
“I was rude. Please forgive me.”
Jamil shook his hand and said, “All is forgotten and forgiven.”