Tuntuni, as the winds danced in her hair
Syed Badrul Ahsan
It was a November morning when I first met Tuntuni. There was something of the Greek about her; and as she smiled, flashes of Roman charm seemed to drape her being. The sari she wore was white. A crimson teep shone on her forehead and brilliance shot forth from her eyes. I stole a look at the way she wore that sari. She sensed the wickedness and quickly pulled the edge of it, her anchal, all across her belly. But that November wind? It was kind to me. It let that anchal scatter. Forbidden delight was what I savoured.
That was aeons ago. It was a time when Tuntuni and I discovered each other, explored the worlds that lay beyond us. On a rain-driven Asharh evening, we pushed the world aside, got on to a rickshaw and went travelling, to nowhere in particular and yet everywhere we could think of. Rainwater seeped through the torn canvas that served as a hood for the rickshaw. The winds blew into her hair and, as lightning threw its beams across her chiseled, dew-bedecked cheeks, I broke into song. She loved music. And she loved it when I held her close as I sang. Then we sang together, in that rain, even as vehicles of varied dimensions and colours swished past us in the rain. Duniya badal gayi, meri duniya badal gayi was what we sang. It was a sad song. We gave it a cheerful texture. The roads we travelled on those wet evenings were our journey through space.
We moved through time and space. It was a cosmic reality we built in our lives as we went browsing through tomes in the bookshops. On foreign streets, as darkness descended on what had been a luminous day, I led her by the hand, a warm, passionate hand, into a coffee shop. As she sipped the coffee, I watched her, examining all the contours of her swan-like neck. She winked, to tell me she knew what I was thinking about. As she passed the book of Donne's poetry we had come by earlier in the day into my hands, I held on to her long fingers and did not let go. What happens if one day all these days come to an end? She asked, looking sharply and deeply into my eyes. I waved the thought away. No, tell me, she insisted. I moved from her fingers to her hand, before beginning to caress her forearm. Tuntuni, my lovely Mongoose, it will be Tagore I will go to for a song to remember you by. She waited for me to finish. And I obliged her. I sang a few lines of the song 'amar praaner pore chole galo ke / boshonter batash tukur moto . . .' On the way back to the flat we shared in bohemia, she wept. The wind whistled through the autumnal trees and rushed into her graying hair. My arms held her by her shoulder and her waist. She was a rose I did not want the winds to scatter through the universe.
Tuntuni passed into the region beyond time on a beautiful dawn in spring. The night before she went away, she read out passages to me from a book I had given her. It was called Literary Seductions. It spoke of high profile romance linking men and women who write. She laughed loudly as she read some of the lines. And then she stopped laughing, put the book aside as she curled up in my arms. We too write, don't we? I nodded, as my hand went all over her cheeks, felt her nose and my fingers rummaged through her hair. Her lips tasted like grapes ripe enough to transcend into wine. A fine rain made soft noises against the window pane and a faint stirring of leaves could be heard. It was in such melody that Tuntuni dropped off to sleep. She did not wake up in the morning. Sometime before the birds began chirping at break of dawn, the heart in her went out, the blood stopped flowing and the soul flew free into the skies. She lay there, like the baby she always had been in sleep. The breeze danced in her salt-and-pepper hair. Her cheeks were cold as my lips grazed them.
Tuntuni has lain in the shade of a cypress for ages. When it rains on her grave, I listen to the music it makes. I think I see her spirit arise from its resting place, to pirouette and gyrate in the way she used to every time it poured. All my dreams sleep in that grave with her.
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