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Message From The garden- by Naval Langa

by nrlanga 

Posted: 24 December 2005
Word Count: 5067
Summary: My first novel ‘Message From The Garden’ is story of a woman, a child of a failed marriage, who hates men en masse and lives a fenced life. It narrates how the power of love changes lives, and how the relationship grows like a flower plant.

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THOUGH the meeting wasn’t a premeditated or diarised one, it ended with a difference. The difference I was never prepared for.
August was in its youthful days. Thrashing rain. I drove through the downpour that was acting as a sword, dividing city dwellers into two sets. Half of the dwellers ran into their houses; and another half ran out of their houses. Reason: they held restricted amount of faith on their walls, the sliding walls, weak by age and neglect.
Covered with water, the land slept unpredictable beneath. My casual object was a building on the opposite edge: a shopping complex, lighted up with neon tubes in one side; and on another, blue with power-cuts. The multi-storey composition of shops and offices stood on an uncertain ground floor involving a crude parking, ancient potholes, and garbage of a folded past. The entire city wasn’t a different bucket.
Rajpore, the city of tallest temples and lowest roofs, was nowhere on the map of India before an army camp of British soldiers decided to extend its tenure. Easy water and tobacco farms provided running and fuming reasons. Thereafter the fair climate, its central location, and an all-weather racecourse played a populating role. The officers, advanced in age, wearing remarkable weight of medals—heavier than the heads they had rolled—on their uniforms, started to like the place.
They, the officers of advanced age, lived to pass their December days in playing golf and clapping for fours, sixes and falling wickets. The game was their mantra of relief between two wars. They all clapped triumphantly when the great second war ended. They walked out, leaving all the catches dropped, when the newborn nations washed their undefined borders with blood.
I looked through the reluctant recess of rain and stationed my car on a frontal space. Just below a ‘No Parking’ sign. I would be back in minutes, and nobody would mind it on such a day, I thought. First step in water, second on stony land, and I jumped on the curved steps. Then Tick Tack Tick: my high heels speeded up.
I went into Kanan’s shop.
Kanan: an authorized owner of ten-by-thirty feet of hard soil in middle of the market. In addition, he owned rich layers of fat around all of his bones, a pair of pail eyes like a fasting cat, and a height just above the poverty line. Whatever amount of other features, properties he carried on his not-so-bad face, half of it would be an ample stock for a grocery trader. And yes, I liked him. Not for his saccharine words or the balances he had jailed in bank accounts, but for he was my friend’s husband. My dead friend’s husband.
Kanan looked at me and stopped counting of his rain-thinned trade. Though I wiped out the drops of water running on my face, while entering, I cared little about my Golf Club jacket, red shirt, and blue jeans, which were still spotted with ashes of the rain. The dust and droplets.
“Would you tell me the date?”
“Oh Sweta. I really need you today.” Kanan tried to pre-empt a strike, which meant he hadn’t packed my provisions as I had phoned. “But you asked me… some date…”
“The date from which your mind has stopped working.” I tapped my fingertips on a wooden counter and scrolled my eyes on a shelf.
“I was just thinking of you.” He screwed a cold drink and put it before me. Meekly. “I met one very special man today. Intelligent like you. The gentleman is recently appointed on a high post at city civic office.”
“Everyone is special and gentle for traders like you. Greedy stock of creatures.” That was how I could respect his clan.
Standing in a corner I ran glances over a loft where the stuffs like bakery, tinned butter, and pickles were piled up. Random looks at all the kith and kin of human food, and I fished out a chocolate box and one single-woman-sized butter-tin. Canned food was not my branch of interest. A jam-bottle, sitting on an upper loft and Punjabi pickles of my taste from a lorry-fresh box ended the weekly circuit.
“He is really a nice man: a charming face, pleasant nature, and the man of action.”
“Great. Then what is he doing here? He should be in Hollywood.”
“If you wait, he will be here.” He failed to find a better rejoinder to his petition. Kanan passed his palm on head, where middle-aged hair-army was retreating with a cleaning speed. “You will find him interesting.”
For me, ‘men’ were never ‘interesting’. Especially the men sitting on high positions remained my distaste. Reasons were generic. I had read lurking lust in their eyes at all the places: schools, colleges, offices, and company parties. Whatever they sought from me, I gave them only one thing: hate, the consolidated hate. The whole tribe of ‘you men’ was just like a swarm of skin-germs; and germs deserved hate and repellents.
I placed a cheque on cashbox and unheeded what he said. I was in hurry, and I held a controlled amount of faith on Kanan’s narratives. Swiftly packing my articles, without looking at him, I crossed the floor.
“Sweta, please.” He had unbroken hope of an insurance agent.
I stopped defiantly and turned my head. “I am not interested in seeing your ‘very, special, man’. Okay? I’m going.”

Had I gone to Golf Club there wouldn’t have been such a reorder in my life. But I looked at the oceanic outfield and decided against the Club. Golf people were good people. No one ever asked me why, where, when again et cetera. They avoided trivial issues; they talked only about the sticks they used, the clothes they wore, and the cars they imported last.
As I descended few steps, there emerged an athletic figure of about six feet. Ascending with ease. I paused for a moment to gauge the contours of the interesting emergence: a man with harmoniously arranged face, his simply tailored and quiet clothes, and eyes looking at signboards upside. The eyes, not as black as his curly hair, looked like a pair of birds flying in search of a secure place for building a nest. After analysing the pensive design of his face, I sensed much more than what Kanan had reported.
When he was at striking distance, I lashed out a considered question. “Are you the ‘very special man’, a bald man in the shop is waiting for?”
It seemed the aggressive query baffled him and it took some moments to get his wonder subsided. When recovered, he looked to have filtered the connotation of word-bullets shot at him.
“Ma’am, I like the storm in your words and it will be nice if you join me.”
The effortlessly smiling lips had a sweet tongue behind. But euphony in his syllables mismatched the reputation of the place he reportedly belonged to: city civic office. Its officers had no match for their rudeness in behaviour. I liked his free-from-the-infection approach. I joined.
“You must be Kanan’s close friend.”
“I’m his only enemy.” The door passed.
“Oh, welcome sir. It’s very nice of you to take trouble on this rainy day.”
Kanan had two strange skills. He used greasy words needlessly; and he shook hands for a fairly long time like the Chinese people would shake in front of press cameras. He applied both the skills. But I forgot to be angry upon him for his vain word-spray.
“Sweta, Mr. Ajay. Officer at civic office.” Kanan introduced him as he would introduce a profitable brand of chocolate to a shopper. He couldn’t do otherwise. His trade barriers. “And sir, here is Sweta. Only Sweta. I will not say she is my friend; otherwise she will throw stones upon me.”
“No, she may not. Because she has thrown enough on the steps.” He slanted his head with an unreserved smile and addressed a brief-stop-look at my diamond-studded earrings.
“Mr. Kanan let me say I have a name, Ajay; and please, avoid calling me sir. I’m just a friend at your floor.”
I kept my eyes rolling over the outlooks of ‘just a friend’ while Kanan dismounted three chairs. Ajay’s voice reminded me grapes and olive oil. Though Kanan’s description—his officer-ship—didn’t look impressive, as the man in spotless clothes took his chair himself without waiting for a peon or something similar.
A simple wristwatch sparkled on his arm and our eyes met once again. Managerial egomania, the stink that I disliked most, wasn’t traceable. He took out a handkerchief, white as wing of a dove, wiped out the remains of rain from his forehead, and sat attentive as a first bencher.
“So, where do you stay, Ajay?”
“Behind the riverside guesthouse, near City Garden, I reside. I had stayed at that guesthouse for initial weeks.”
“Oh, you were Madame’s guest. Then you’re guest of the town.” Kanan wasn’t anywhere near to any of the branches of faith. But he had reserved his faith-corner for Madame Lataji: an autocrat by nature and a social servant by deeds. She lived on the opposite side of river. People loved her, obeyed her words, and revered her as a photocopy of a divine power.
“It is not so. Only my grandma told me to contact her.”
Kanan couldn’t hold his idol worshiping for long, and sprayed a full tank of words in all the directions praising Madame. The guest stood by his simplicity. He used effortless vocabulary to reveal that he had neither seen Madame till the date, nor heard her name before stepping in the city.
My deconstruction-tool had an engagement. His words. Sitting tranquil, I applied compass of my senses to scale the ‘guest of the town’. A man with some material in his skull, I sensed.
His sportsman frame didn’t look more in age than mine: twenty-seven. But from where did he get the flair, the controlled flow of syllables? It could get a woman clicked at her substance.
Kanan involved him in futile talks of trade; he would do it with anyone. I recalled the men I had seen: the men, holding bearable virtues, gifted with appealing looks, boasting of their athletic physiques, or having a crude combination of such things. By inheritance or acquisition.
Here was a man, looking intermittently at me as if he had never seen an oval face and whitish skin. Strangely enough he seemed to have an unusual interest in my earrings. Looking at frequently. But he kept emitting the innocence by default.
As the talk progressed, he seemed standing diametrically opposite to the tribes of men I knew: such were his pronunciations, the rhythm, the mode of moving hands and head, and the thoughts he aired. His looking so differently at me, his restraint on speaking for himself, stamped him as a man standing at a pole’s distance from the creatures I had seen in bulk at parties, social gatherings, and isolated backside of the woods.
The trader employed himself in closing the shop, as he had completed his non-stop oratory on me: I was his fast friend; I was an event manager in an advertising company; I owned a separate office, with a bold-letter nameplate on it, before which my assistants feared to stand. The man in whites remained a patient attention.
“Ajay, we shall have dinner together. Please.”
Kanan perhaps wanted to stretch his company up to a hotel, serving economy class of dishes. He would talk his trade worries: rising prises, falling profits, the new government, and how severely the city civic people taxed his goods. Earlier in his bearable youth, Kanan had an experimental run behind certain pursuits, which involved body and brain. Failing which he and his madness purchased a ticket for the trade route and settled on bank balances. Thereafter he developed no habit that engaged his mind.
“Ajay will go with me. He is my guest, today.” I broke silence. Kanan looked baffled. There was no history of inviting ‘a man’ at my home. But he remained non-committal. Perhaps my imposing accent played a role.
“Ms. Sweta, but I…” Ajay switched over to me, exclusively.
“Have I given you any option?” I pointed my finger at his nose tip. My way of functioning: the method that had pleased my bosses at head office and dwarfed my local manager.
Ajay raised his hand in submission and smiled a yield, a gentleman’s yield. His yielding gesture amused me. With a sign of pleasure and resolve, I showed him the door by turning of my eyes.

I put my weight in back seat. Drove homeward. The cloudy sky went on changing its aggressive colour into a harmless hue; and the radiant mercury-bulb lights, standing on a track-dividing ridge, initiated writing bright lines on rain-washed roads.
Going was silent until a woman, carrying a load of cardboards on her head, strolled in middle of the road. I blew a suave horn for the lady who walked with a panicky face and weight of the past.
Again I had to stop at a crossroad. A motorcade cut the tranquillity of air into pieces. Perhaps a VIP was in hurry to reach at a lecture ground to befool the people. It was a thriving profession. Duty-bound policemen in dark blue dresses dammed the traffic. Everything sorted out at sides. Normal people were shunted on footpaths to wait for their ordinary life. The whole atmosphere recovered an endurable look when the ministerial caravan disappeared in full.
Ajay sat with pleasant face, tacit as a good hope. I had never ventured on imaging that I would invite a man at my home, that too at night. Or I would feel free with a man. The man, who sat by my side, and the clarity in his eyes, mentally associated me with a face of the man who sowed seeds of hate in my being.
It was fag end of my school days, the days of bordering womanhood. Seventeen. Studying in high school, I respected a man who taught me niceties of language. My English teacher. He owned a lot of things: good repute among neighbours, his own house, and a brand new two-wheeler. That was a luxury in the town we lived.
He gave me books to read all the times and sometimes paid my school fees. I kept my educational certificates at his home. I even kept my mother’s thin golden chain there, to keep it away from my drunkard father. If the age were considered to be a parameter, he was like my father. I revered him. Though I never had such reverence for my father.
I felt a tremble as I recalled the day.
On that day I completed my last lesson on ‘Feminine Gender’. As the teacher’s family was away, I offered him some help in kitchen.
“Let us cook and dine together,” he said. I did so.
I couldn’t believe how the man I trusted most had put on a skin of an animal. So instantaneously. I was unaware of the waiting volcano within his skull. Interior of the kitchen, utter loneliness, and a powerless female, prompted the devil.
He suddenly bolted the room door. It sent the whole world, all the books of ethics, and notions of sanity outside. Double in body-power and weight, as he was, he threw me first on the floor and then dragged on bed. I could not protest; I could not fight back; I could not shout. I suffered from all the helplessness on the earth.
The beast pulled out all of my clothes. Once he pressed my knickers tightly into my mouth, I was sure I would die. The bed was mute and the walls didn’t come to my rescue. He was mad. He licked all over my belly and chest like a hungry dog. The naked beast ruptured my body, my soul, everything, again and again until froth appeared on his lips.
The stroke of two o’clock at night, and I was running on the naked road. Madly. With blooded clothes and lost virginity. The darkest day, the weakest day of my life had impregnated me with hate.
That dark night ended on the abortion.
I didn’t see his face again. But I sent a chit. ‘Don’t show bravery to be seen before my eyes, you coward. Otherwise I will slaughter you.’ He didn’t. I didn’t go to the police. They were unreliable, unreliable for a young girl, for a poor young girl.
Days passed; the body-wound healed. But I was not the same person after the darkest day. The cycles of time went on with swelling hate. I left the city; I completed study in a college; mother passed away; incidences and the years flickered as scenes on a theatre screen.

Apparently silent spell ended at four-storey building. I drove into parking slot and didn’t insist for lift to reach at second floor. The steps were comfortable. Marble flooring. Ajay helped the bags when I opened my skinny purse to explore its interior for keys.
“Are you settling here?” I asked.
“I like the land and people here.”
“Grandma. Only surviving connection on the earth.”
At that point of time his face flashed out a colour of gloom, as if feeling hangover of a painful incidence. His words sailed out like the wind passing through a wounded land. Soon he managed the balance.
“Your family?”
I screwed a key and kicked the door. I followed a ritual in three stages while entering my home. I would kick the door first, throw my leather bag away on a table below the bookcase, and finally would stand in middle of the drawing room tossing my sandals in a corner. With a flair of a Russian ballet dancer. I went through the two stages and put my sandals quietly in a corner.
“You have options to read, nap or do nothing during next twenty odd minutes,” I said. He responded by a smile.
I took out a recent issue of WOMAN from belly of a table, placed it on the glass-top tripod of a smart outline. Normally after seeing posts I would kick the door, go into bath, and get myself out of the clothes. I did so.
While in bath I don’t tolerate the wet murmur of shower dribbling out more powerfully than my singing lessons. Though I allowed the hot shower to crush my breasts and the belly. My whole body submerged in a jumbo-sized porcelain tub. The tub: a pleasure spot for me. I preferred to read novels, magazines while feeling weightless in water.
The bath-door got a rustic kick after the mandatory minutes, and I was within my topless dress that was made of silk and transparency. The lone cloth-cover clung on my chest while I bent a bit to tie up a string. I stood before a full sized mirror. Looking at mirror wasn’t my taste, but I went for it. It always gave me a feeling that I was not alone in my house.
”Would you like some juice?” A bathed glance at him. “If yes, then go into kitchen and get it.”
“No. Not at this time.”
I made it clear that he might not get dishes in time; and I was not an artist at kitchen either. He seemed not feeling the curtain of convention hanging, too. His response was a pleasing turn of lips only, as his eyes were blocked on bookcase.
“I must thank Kanan.”
“For what? For inviting at his store, or for not offering a cup of tea?”
“Oh, no. He is a nice man. I must thank him for introducing me to a person, who holds choices like mine. You live in company of the wizards.” His eyes were still submitted to the rows of writers.
I was used to hear phoney things from men. In parties and meetings. I wondered how can they manage all the things: greedily praising anything I put on, standing just beside me with enticing utterances, and rubbing their eye-energy over my skin. They were liars—trained liars. For them I was an object, not more than the female flesh. They were ‘defectives’. No one had showed interest in the ‘person’ I was. I sensed that the man from grassland, as he said so, was much more than an athletic physique and intruding accents. I envisaged a real communiqué.
“A good collection.”
“I suppose you like the subjects sitting in my bookcase.”
“Yes, I love classics and philosophy.”
He stood up and approached the case; keeping eyes on sides of the books’, he spoke there were reasons to opt for the post graduation in business management, but his desire to travel on literary land was intact.
”I wish to have a collection like yours.”
He didn’t look stranger to the women and men breathing in pages of the books. He completed tour of a fairly long line of authors, ranging from Shakespeare to Tagore, supporting his one leg on a stool and fingertips on sides. I thanked Kanan in my mind. Though I needed Kanan for certain other purposes, too. I had contemplated sometimes that for me, in case of my sudden death, Kanan would be doing things: cremating my body, or putting it on a pyre, or throwing it into a flowing river, or whatever the procedure for a quick disposal of such a stuff.
But here was a man who had, with all his sincerity, showed interest in a woman, beyond her looks and limbs.
It was a virgin knock at my doors, at my real self.
As he stirred the book-connection, a trace of unease passed over my face. I stood beside a window. The curved line of city lights glimmering at distance seemed as tightening a noose around the lake. A whiff of gloom, condensed gloom, and I raised my hands pointing at the case.
“Believe me, these books are my real friends, my life-supporting system. It’s hard luck to be alone like me, alone at every inch of life.” The words faltered a bit. “But it is perilous to be alone and unhappy.”
I felt I was in a state of mind when people made confessions. Neither spoke until I opened side windows. One of the two tightly closed windows opened to the reality: the uncertain roads, panting chimneys, toiling human bodies and their sorrows… Another opened on the greenery of a garden. As I shuffled the curtains aside, a spate of wind with unseen speed broke in and toppled a plastic toy sitting on a table.
“Well Mr. Handsome, don’t you think, this heap of books is quite sufficient to bury my thin body?” A faint smile ran out of my lips.
“No, no. The women and men perspiring in your shelf are generous, non-violent, and loving at their hearts. I know all of them. And I hereby request them to kindly take care of my beautiful friend.”
He folded his hands and bowed head towards the case, as if praying before an idol in a temple. His jovial utterances, cheery gestures, and my springing on the floor: these were the factors that preceded my running into kitchen. The word-wind swept away the dust. That despair. I switched on a juicer that churned pleasure and fruits. The stirring ended and settled in two mugs and a transparent jug between. Transparent like my topless.
“Ajay, we’ve met by accident. So cheers for the nice accident, man.”
“Cheers, my friend.” He flashed a dependable smile.
I showed him some of new purchases. “You may take these books.”
“I’ve read this one.” He shuffled several pages of a hardbound. “I’ve a good friend at the library, near my office. She cares for my literary needs.” He took one Bertrand Russell with him.

I talked and talked and didn’t spare any event: the events, which gave me repute or disrepute, pleasure or pain. It was like peeling off the self and showing all that was within.
Voicing feelings, revisiting travels and readings, we almost underwent a rerun of our life. I swam in hilarious air while narrating in detail how I had won a good amount at a casino, once, and where the money was spent. Ajay echoed by recalling his life at colleges. He was not happy, as he looked or behaved. Something like a live thorn was inside that was pinching.
“I was nearly crushed after failures at my two earlier jobs. Thank God I am appointed here,” he said.
I inserted my favourite sitar player and flute master in music system. It was a tune for which there were few takers. Listening of the instruments was my second cave to be hidden in: first being the warm water. During the process, weight of a biscuit box stood reduced to nought and the butter-tin sparked its bottom. Slices of fresh bread vanished under whispered jokes. Food and music lighted hearts, light as feathers; it took off the adamant lids, which prevented flavours.
I spoke out what I had suffered in childhood. My cruel father. And how he was a beast to my mother. Beating at every end of the day. I sucked a length of breath. “You won’t believe man, but I was glad when…when my mother left home.”
“Oh. Then what happened to mother?”
“After two years, I found out her. Bed ridden in a hospital. My bad luck. She survived only to see my two salaries.”
“It happens. But you’re a brave lady,” he patted on my shoulder. Ajay sketched how taxing was his job, how lazy was his staff. But the reference of office prompted me to get up on sofa and clean my throat.
“Let… let me introduce my staff.”
My miming of entire office ranged from slightly erotic to heavily funny. The most terrible was my local manager’s character, Mr Nathan. He was a thin primitive ape, coloured specs, and travelling in his turbulent forties. I copied all the functions of Mr. Nathan’s eyes touring over his personal secretary’s breasts. He had married twice. First wife eloped with his neighbour; second was wealthy, seven years older than him and she, the second wife, called him ‘puppy’.
Ajay burst out in laughter. “O my God. Have an interval, please. Now I will recognise anyone of your colleagues at first sight.”
The juice was racing to bottom. Drenched with joy, I caught his hand, dragged him into kitchen, and ordered to sit on the platform.
“Sit here. Just before my eyes.”
I fried a crowd of vegetable pakoras and drove the train of talks from my brain-crushing school days to a station of hospital bed: the bed upon which I underwent a body-tearing pain. I recalled how the nurses behaved with me, as if I was an outcast girl; and the doctors extorted my entire hard-earned savings.
It was my abortion.
“I felt my whole body would be cut into pieces. Flames inside.” I effortlessly passed my palm on the territory, well south of my navel. “But after two hours I was on my bicycle, man.”
“A bold woman.”
“Not enough. I do fear when I’m naked in my bed,” I winked.
Rain had retired, leaving the water-pregnant air behind. The city lights, twinkling at a distance, drew a pristine line of faith. I was in the city since half a decade, but I found the ground under my feet a habitable one for the first time.
“Should I go home now?” Stroke of midnight alerted him. I nodded with reluctance. Descending the steps, I wore a funny silence. I knew there would be no taxi on the road.
“So, Mr. Assistant Administrator, you will have to go on your feet.”
“I am a good walker. But how far my home is from here?”
He was still a novice to the distances, city distances. The big cities possessed their own capacities to distance a man from the man. And his home was on the opposite end of city from where I resided.
“I appreciate your sporting habits, Mr. Good Walker.” I first clapped and then patted on his back. “But it will end as a morning walk. So be a good boy, grab my bike, and ride on it, man.” I wrote a preface for next meeting.
He took my bike and went away, blowing up the silent lanes.

After Ajay left, unexplainable silence took hold of the spaces within my walls. I had fairly thick data in store about the men on posts. My Ad Company job was fertile for such a crop. Once they, the men in striking suits, found a woman alone, they would start praising her: her beauty, her get up, her sandals, and et cetera. I had no man in my memory-store who could be Ajay’s replica.
My initial spell at Rajpore was easy, as easy as walking on a sword. I was the only woman employee in those days, and hence no one expected any sensible output from me. After two months my colleagues asked each other: ‘How a woman can work so hard without seeing a watch?’
They kept looking at my limbs, though fearfully, but I moulded my anger-stock into hard work, and dug out my stepping-stones. It took no more time to defeat the concept of ladder-based promotions. I raised myself to the post of an event manager: the post that was ‘number two’ at the branch level. People around me started seeing me as their desired future. The staff stopped looking at me, as they were used to; but they couldn’t stop feeling fearful while standing beside me.
It wasn’t the case that I was unpopular among my colleagues. I was popular. My popularity at office swelled in stages: initially it was based on colour of my skin and the breasts, then on my ability to achieve the ‘given targets of work’, and lately on my instant decisions of slapping.
I failed to fill the piece of time I was left with, and passed through a never-before-type unease. A mute loitering in the open space didn’t help much. Before going to bed my fingers volunteered to phone.
“Yes, I’m Ajay…”
“I know, man. But I forgot one thing…”
“My God. What’s the matter?”
“Which is your favourite colour?”
“Oh. Wait till tomorrow. You’ll get it. And now go to sleep. Good night.”

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