On the occasion of International Woman's Day, I couldn't keep myself from typing a story for them anyway. Here is wishing all the wonderful women of Bhutan and the world over A Very Successful and Satisfying Woman's Day. I adore and respect you all - your tenacity, your perseverance, your struggles and sacrifices make you truly the Champions that you are.
Aaiya in the House amidst the Apple Orchard:
Aiya (granny) is lying peacefully behind the makeshift curtain, with a white sheet of cloth covering her whole body. People, relatives and neighbours keep coming to pay their last respect. The flow hasn't stopped since the news spread out at the break of dawn a couple of days ago. I look around at all those faces of the grown-ups acting like a child. The fat woman, who once railed at aaiya like pots and pans calling her names when our Dawa, finding her kitchen unguarded, whirled in and dashed out with a big chunk of the pork kept for drying, has her arm around ama's shoulder. Putting her head down on ama's chest, she breaks into a sob. Silly people, all these grown-ups are. They cry when crying is a sin and laugh at others' misfortune! What do they know of aaiya?
Aaiya hadn't been keeping well for the last so many months. Otherwise, she, I mean, my granny would be the first one to feed the pigeons in the refreshingly early hours of the morning. Frail, not weighing more than, I wouldn't even say 45 kgs, with not even a single black hair left on her small head, she was ageless to me. Oh, I forgot to tell you the most important thing about granny. Inspite of having the kindest face that I have seen on any two-legged creature, the furrows on her face and the depth of her eyes told another story and made her one of a kind.
Everyday, on coming back home I'd find her sitting near our doorstep, legs outstretched, with a stick in hand as alert as alert can be, trying to protect the buckwheat seeds flung over the bamboo mat, from all our chickens and the stray intruders.
Aaiya had been eating very less lately and it was a struggle for ama to try to get her out of the bed. At around 6.30, ama asked me to take the thukpa she had made for Aaiya and warned me not to disturb her in case she was asleep. As I tiptoed my way into her room, she coughed up. Her eyes were half shut. In the dim light of the room, she looked smaller than she really was. Slowly she turned her face due to the creaking sound of the door. Her face lit up as she laboriously beckoned me to get closer to her bed.
"Pema," she mumbled in a low voice," Come closer. I've a parting gift .....for you. I've guarded it ....from the evil eye of the world for you...alone. Keep it with you..to remind you...of me. Let it be...a...a secret between the two of...us."
Finding the trouble she'd speaking, I requested her to stop. But stop she did not and with a shaking hand she brought out an ancient diary. Having handed it to me with much of an effort, she fell asleep the very next moment - her food untouched and unheeded.
I hid the diary in a carton and forgot about it. It was on the 49th day after her demise, when our mud house with the albester roof in the middle of the apple orchard had quietened down again, that I thought of It. It was around 8 at night. Most of the people were gone. Outside, the moon was a silver ball covering the entire sky. A gentle breeze blew in the small branch of the apple tree through the wooden window, touching my cheek like someone close to me, was caressing me. I remembered the diary then. I trotted to my rack the next moment and hurried through the books. The diary was hidden at the bottom. I picked it up and held it close to my chest for a long while. Then I turned over the cover to the first page. In bold letters were written in black: 'The Story of One Determined Woman'. It was written in English! I couldn't believe my eyes! Aaiya's educated just like ama! On the next page was the faded picture of a ravishing beauty in a fashionable kira. It took me a while to realize the picture was that of aaiya. Aaiya - someone I'd taken for granted as one of those uneducated rustics. I skimmed through the rest of the diary at a go and came to know her real story. As I put the diary down, the first thought that came to me was whether aaiya ever shared her story with ama. Most probably she didn't. She had learnt her lessons by the time she was settled in Bumthang, in her late thirties. She must have realised that worldwidely wisdom was far more important than theoretical knowledge and education. That's why, after she was dumped and duped by the man who sired my ama, she came all the way from Trashigang to Bumthang with her toddler daughter.
I giggled and ran back to her room to the empty bed with the diary firmly held in hand when I's flipping through the pages to learn about how she sent her husband back from the door of her rented house. He'd come all the way, deeply remorseful and repenting his action of falling to the guiles of a wily charmer. Aiya didn't make a scene. She's way above the ordinary ladies in that respect, brought up as she was by her educated parents when modern education was slowly finding a footing in our country. Aiya, without a word, simply handed back the envelope in which he'd sent her some money earlier to atone for the greatest blunder of his life. She hadn't touched a chetrum, true to her character.
It was only after he had retraced his reluctant feet that aaiya decided to move up to Bumthang. She made up her mind long time back after she'd been ditched knowing full well that her heart didn't sing to his tune anymore. She's lucky to have found shelter under the care of an ailing widow, who treated her as an adopted daughter. Aaiya though raised ama all by herself. Aaiya ran into wealth when her kind adopted mom was gone and made sure that ama, just like her, had the best education possible. I's in for a shock when I found the photo of a handsome man standing next to ama. I'd heard it from them that my father had passed away soon after my birth. I knew then that they'd lied about my father. He's a very respectable member of the society, remarried but childless. It didn't take me long to put two and two together to get at the truth. History, they say, repeats itself. Ama, like aaiya, also met with the same fate. Ama was not as strong-willed and adamant as aaiya. She tried taking her life after the desertion. Aaiya rescued her and brought her back again to our house amidst the apple orchard. By then ama'd conceived me. What a woman! I uttered to myself as I came to the last page. Looking out the window at the star-studded sky, I said my silent prayer. I felt proud of aaiya and disdainful of the hypocrites at the same time.
Sorry, I've to draw the curtain here. I'm oath-bound not to reveal anymore of aaiya's story. Let her soul rest amidst the apple orchard.