‘Its just as I had imagined it would be’, sighed Ha – joon as he looked out of the big window of the A.C. Volvo bus which was taking him from Jaipur to his destination – Barr; a small town in the district of Pali, Rajasthan.
He had always wanted to be in the Aravalis, India’s oldest mountain range and one of the world’s oldest.
In the past few years he had directed his research and concentration so much towards this region that it seemed he had lived there all his life. The truth was that he had landed in India for the first time yesterday. He had stayed at the large villa of his friend in the consular area of New Delhi.
‘Here the Aravalis start, or finish; depends on the way you look at it,’ thought Ha, as he examined the small hillocks of Delhi, which were topped by forts and palaces in various stages of dilapidation, each one narrating it’s own story of erstwhile grandiosity, royalty, tumult, bloodshed, gruesome history and descent into despair.
Today he had flown to Jaipur and now was travelling to a place, about which he had never heard till a few weeks back, but which promised to reward him a lot- Barr, a small quaint town, nestled in the rocky cliffs of Aravali ranges.
Coordinates – 26.0722° N/ 74.1034°E.
These were the coordinates that had cropped up repeatedly as the result in his extensive research and repeated computer simulations, as the region where he would have the maximum chances of finding the ‘rock’ that would prove his theory and would bring about a major change in the prevailing traditional teachings of geology, history and astronomy; atleast he hoped so.
He had been stumped at first. The place which was nearest to these coordinates was such a small town that it didn’t even have an entry in the Wikipedia. And it sounded funny too – Barr, as if someone was freezing. But nonetheless it was the place that he had to travel to.
Ha-joon was an astrophysicist and the youngest person to have been offered a tenured position as a faculty at The Harvard- Smithsonian institute of Astrophysics at Cambridge, Massachusetts.
He was thin, of medium height, with oriental features and oriental boyishness. He wore gold-rimmed glasses on his slanting eyes and parted his hair midway. He was 30 but looked 25 and had been blessed with a smiling face and a gentle, charming personality. But beneath the calm demeanor and ‘nerdy’ carelessness, was an astute and a brilliant mind.
He had quickly made his name in his chosen field and had many influential academic papers in his name. He had been a Stephen Hawking advanced fellow at the university of Cambridge, and had held postdoc positions at various prestigious universities before getting a tenured position at Harvard.
But the research in which he was engaged currently, was not only the most ambitious but also the closest to his heart till date. So much so, that he had obtained a grant and a sabbatical leave to travel to India and follow his surmises.
‘ These boulders have seen so many transformations over the ages,’ thought Ha, as he saw the changing terrain. As the bus had passed through Ajmer, he had witnessed beautiful rolling hills that stood in multiple overlapping layers, forming chains of different lengths and heights. The rugged hills were bright green, in late July, due to the flush of greenery which had suddenly appeared in the monsoon; bursting upon the hard rocky cliffs and draping them in a verdant blanket, masking the thorny shrubs of Khejri, that dominated the mountains for the rest of the arid and dry year. Distant hills appeared blue as they were in the shadow of the setting sun.
But as the Volvo took a left turn after Beawar, he found himself surrounded by shorter hills, at an arm’s length. Most of the boulders were rounded and some others demonstrated fantastic shapes, inviting one’s imagination to visualise different faces and animal forms.
‘ If only I can find a meteoric iron rock amongst the zillions of rocks here..’ pondered Ha wistfully and was jerked out of his thoughts, as the bus halted at the Barr bus stand.
He stood up to get his luggage and immediately sat again – he had palpitations- his heart was thudding loudly inside his chest and he was hyperventilating- ‘ there are so many human beings here!’, he thought.
Although, since he had arrived in India his senses had been saturated by the constant and overflowing sensory stimuli; disturbing visions of countless humans running hither and thither in an erratic fashion on roads, intriguing mixture of aromas floating around due to the ever present street food stalls and urine which undeniably had drenched the walls of the public places, loud foot-tapping bollywood songs blaring away in the buses and taxis intervined with the tinkle of bells of numerous temples and azaan of mosques and the constant rebuffing touch of passerbys as they rushed on the roads or boarded the trains and buses, mixed with the awful and frightful requesting touches of the old beggars and small filthy kids who begged on the streets; but the suffocating vista of the bus stand at Barr had scared him totally.
There were men and women everywhere, cramped in the narrow confined spaces of the bus stand, some were carrying garland’s in their hands and were eagerly looking for someone.
It seemed that the whole town was there and indeed it was true. Unknown to Ha, his friend at Delhi, who worked in the U.S. embassy had relayed a message to the local authorities that a very prominent american scientist was coming to their town on a very important project which would propel their town into limelight. He just wanted to help Ha to have some support and help in his early days at this unacquainted place. He had no idea that it would steamroll into a full fledged circus.
The sarpanch of the town, Mr, Mahendra singh rathore was himself present there along with the M.L.A. of the Jaitaran, the assembly seat under which Barr was situated, Mr. Devendra singh Rathore. He was none other than elder brother of Mr. Mahendra rathore.
Along with them were their extended families and a whole squad of party workers along with casual onlookers. It was too good an opportunity to be lost.
As Ha tentatively came out of the door, there was a hush.
All eyes were upon him. Then heard someone say – ‘Amrican?’
‘ Nahin Japani‘, someone else replied.
There was a lot of talking going on in hushed tones. It seemed everyone was looking at him quizzically and were waiting for him to make the first move.
Ha was at the end of his wits, he didn’t know what was going on. Indeed he had no idea that the crowd had gathered to welcome him.
After few tense moments, a girl strode forward and asked him- ‘ Are you the scientist from America?’
Ha was immediately struck by her beauty. She was about twenty-five and was wearing a sea blue indian suit, that Ha thought suited her particularly well. She had a milky white complexion, sharp features with big, beautiful eyes, a well maintained figure and silky long tresses.
A typical Indian beauty, thought Ha and answered, ‘ Yes, I have come from U.S.A. …Hello, my name is Ha Joon,’
‘Hello, I am Veena,’ replied the girl smiling shyly, ‘ but aren’t you Japanese?’
Suddenly it struck Ha that why everyone had been looking oddly at him – they were expecting a true blue American scientist not an oriental!
‘Oh! I am of South Korean descent but I have been born and brought up at U.S.A, I am an American citizen,’
Veena laughed her lustrous laugh and said,’ Ok, people here are used to see a lot of Europeans and u.s. citizens that pass from this region after visiting Jodhpur, but they seldom get to see nationals from korea and japan, that’s why they were a bit startled to see you,’
While this conversation was going on the crowd had been keenly watching them. Ha deduced that majority of people there were not fluent in english and specially an accented english like his, he was suddenly hopeful that he would get to see Veena a lot in the coming few days because she seemed to be the only one who could converse with him easily.
Veena turned towards her father and told her what Ha had said and immediately the crowd gave a shriek of pleasure and everyone was in tearing hurry to shake his hand and garland him.
There were so many garlands that he suddenly felt suffocated. Veena asked him to remove them and held them for him. She also admonished the crowd not to overwhelm him.
But the crowd was quite enthusiastic, never before this small town had seen a man of this stature who had come there to lift it out of anonymity. Most of them didn’t even know who he was and what he did, but were gathered there anyway.
Few young men lifted on their shoulders despite repeated requests from Veena not to do so, but the festive atmosphere was such that nobody heeded to her.
Ha felt that he was doing to die…He could not understand what was happening. He had hoped for a quite sabbatical and leisurely research in this ‘off the track’ hamlet, but it seemed he was going to be smothered during this unexpected, unwarranted and unwanted welcome.
‘Bharat Mata ki Jai!’ the crowd shouted loudly.
He was taken on to a small stage which had been hastily built an upon which few chairs had been kept. He was seated in the centre and the sarpanch and the M.L.A. sat on his sides. Veena also came up and stood behind her father.
Then there were long speeches by the two leaders. He was given the gist of them by Veena- that it was a matter of pride for Barr that Ha saheb had decided to do this research here. That the town welcomed him and people would do anything to help him in his noble endeavor, that his accommodation and meals would be free…A gift from the leaders of the town…blah..blah..
Ha cringed inside, they sounded as if he had come on a very big humanitarian project which was quite grand and would save a lot of lives or would alleviate the town of its poverty, illiteracy and other stigmas.
Infact, he had come on a very personal and humble scientific project with only his books, papers, a powerful binocular, his laptop, a hand held state of the art metal detector and an object called -XRF – that was a compact instrument to analyse the composition of a rock or a metal, that was all. All of it was in his backpack.
At the end he was called upon to address the crowd. He stood up gingerly and felt his legs shaking. He was a brilliant scientist but a poor orator, specially in front of a large crowd, his class was all right, but this non-understanding gathering of strangers in this completely unknown region terrified him
Again Veena came forward for his help. She told him to tell her about his project and she would translate it to the crowd. She took the microphone in her hand and waves of relief passed through his legs.
As he blurted to her that he had arrived to look for a special type of rock, that was not a terrestrial rock but had fallen in this region, according to his calculations millions of years ago, and was called a meteorite, but a very special kind of meteorite at that which contained a special type of iron. As she translated it, he could feel the disappointment of the crowd -it was palpable. Soon the attention of the crowd wavered and people started talking loudly to each other.
Sensing the mood Veena quickly ended the speech and her father gave Ha a momento and the affair ended abruptly.
Later he was taken to a big house that was three storied and had a big compound in the front, in a corner of which some cows and buffaloes were chewing away at the cud, and at the back was a large field that stretched to the very base of a nearby cliff.
It was the ancestral home of the Rathore’s – the undisputed chief family of the region. Veena’ s father, Mahendra singh himself escorted him to a large room at the top story and told him that he was going to stay there.
Ha tried very hard to refuse, he thought he could not take undue advantage of their generosity. But Mahendra singh was quite firm.
He told him in broken english that it was their pleasure and that he should think this as his home. He instructed everyone severely in his booming and tough voice, including Veena, to take proper care of Ha. There was Veena’s younger brother Vikrant too and he eyed Ha suspiciously. He seemed to be a brute and didn’t hide his irritation which this stranger was causing him by his intrusion into the home and his room.
Ha sat heavily on the cot, his head was aching. He lay on the cot and went immediately to sleep and dreamt a strange dream in which he was standing on the red fort addressing people of India about the importance of astronomy and encouraging the kids to follow this science. People were looking at him suspiciously and suddenly a man in uniform came towards him and shouted – ‘ You are not an American…You are a fraud ..You Japanese!’
Suddenly, Ha was falling backwards from the podium…falling and falling….
× × × × × ×
He woke up with a start and found that it was dark. There was a plate on the table and a chit in a neat handwriting – ‘ Here is dinner, you seemed tired so didn’t wake you up. Please don’t hesitate to give a call if you want the food to be heated or anything else – Veena’
He ate the dinner gratefully, as it is, and found that it was delicious but quite spicy. He didn’t know the name of dishes but presumed they were part of the local cuisine.
Afterwards, he came out on the terrace and sat on the charpai which was lying in a corner. He was still exhausted but as he lay on the cot and looked towards the sky, he found his spirits reviving, as they always did when he saw the night sky.
There, in that lonely part of the world, the night sky was specially beautiful. There was no light pollution to speak of and he could identify many stars which were not visible to his unaided eyes back at home.
He sighed at the brilliant display of the constellations. He often thought that night sky was a big velvet black cloth on which bright diamonds of different colours had been embroidered in different shapes to form beautiful patterns.
This thought had struck him when he was quite young and had gaped at the night sky one night from the roof of his home. His father, a doctor who had migrated from South Korea in the early 80’s along with his mother; also a doctor; had brought a telescope for him after watching his fascination with the heavens. And Ha had been mesmerized for life by the vision that his telescope had opened for him.
Today, after so many years and after establishing himself as an astronomer, he still could feel that child-like fascination for the stars.
‘ Are you looking for your rock in the sky? It’s the wrong place,”
Ha was startled and sat abruptly. He found Veena standing behind him with a mischievous grin.
‘Oh! It’s you…You scared the hell out of me,’
‘I thought Americans were very brave,’ teased Veena.
‘Not this one…by the way thanks for your help today, I don’t know what I would have done without you,’
‘It was nothing and it’s my pleasure to have a distinguished scientist here. I was fascinated to know about your research…How are you going to find that rock?’
‘Are you intrested in astronomy and science in general?’ asked Ha, he was feeling a curious feeling of happiness by the intrest which this girl of this ‘off the grid’ place was taking in his work.
‘Yes I am, very much so… wanted to pursue science but my grandmother insisted that it was not necessary for a girl to study it and I was forced to pursue home science instead,’ answered Veena wistfully as she leaned over the parapet.
Ha thought it was very contradictory that she could speak such good english but was not allowed to pursue science and said so.
‘Actually, to to tell you the truth…my dear father is of progressive mindset, atleast for a man of this region he is quite modern, and he fought with his family and sent me to the best convent school at Jodhpur when I was young. But after I finished the high school, he had to bow down in front of the social pressure. Girls of marriageable age, specially the ones who are .. well, you know… good looking…don’t have the same liberties as everyone else in this part of the world. To pursue a degree in science from a well respected institution would have required me to go far from home and that was not deemed as acceptable. I was enrolled in the girls college at nearby Pali in the home science division and currently and I am pursuing my graduation from there. I am being allowed to talk to you so freely only because I am the only one who can communicate with you,’ said Veena as she squirmed and looked down towards her feet.
‘ It’s very unfair, ‘ bristled Ha, ‘ that you have not been allowed to follow your dreams, I concede that you are very beautiful but what has it got to do with your education?’.
‘You will not understand that,’ beamed Veena at the concealed compliment, ‘ anyway let it be, the girls here are accustomed to such thinking. You didn’t answer my question- How you are you going to find the rock and what is special about it?’
‘Well; it’s not very easy and not very glamorous, if I could use the word, too…I will just have to roam around the area which I have squared upon and look for the rock personally,’
‘Ofcourse, there are certain characteristics of a meteorite that has fallen from the skies which distinguishes it from the other terrestrial rocks and they will help me in discovering it – it’s colour for example tends to be on the darker side i.e. black or rusty, then it has something called a -‘ fusion crust’ i.e. one surface burns up and melts as it traverses the hot atmosphere of the earth. It does not leave a mark when it is rubbed against a ceramic tile and there are higher chances of it being magnetic. There are some other points too like it would be more dense and irregular than a terrestrial rock etc’
‘ But these would be true for any meteorite, won’t it? You said you have come to find a special type of meteoritic rock,’ Veena said.
Ha thought that she had quite an astute and a sharp mind.
‘True, you have grasped that quickly. Of all the meteorites falling on the earth only about 5% are what we call – ‘Iron meteorites’. These rocks are rich in iron, but this iron is different from the iron which is found on earth. It has more percentage of other metals specially nickel which is consistently higher in these meteorites than iron found on earth.’
‘Ok..so they are rare, but is that it? That’s why I you have come here?’
‘ Well…no; these meteorites have the composition of early solar system i.e. from a time when earth and other planets were not even born. So by studying them we can have an idea about the conditions which were prevalent then,’
‘In a way these rocks are like tiny time capsules – wandering about in the vast heavens with their secrets buried within them for billions of years, then suddenly due to some factor like the pull of the earth or something else; they are flung towards us – falling at mighty speeds and burning as they traverse the atmosphere, they ultimately reach the surface in a brilliant firework display. Is it not beautiful and wondrous to you that things should work out like that? That we can know about the past – about the secrets of billions of years ago- by a small piece of rock that has suddenly and abruptly dropped near us from an immeasurable distance?’
‘ It’s beautiful the way you have described it, ‘ Veena said with much awe. She had not seen anyone so passionate about the stars and rocks – it was new to her and it was pleasantly surprising – bewitching.
‘ Sorry, I have been rambling along for a long time,’ Ha was deeply conscious of her presence suddenly. He had not felt such a feminine presence before and was pleased by her attention. He felt a wave of pleasure run through his body as he watched her big, beautiful eyes look at him with wonder.
‘No..No, please go on; I want to know more,’ urged Veena.
‘Ok…Can you tell me when did the iron age began?’
‘Iron age?’, for once the mentally agile Veena was stumped.
‘Yes…The Iron age i.e. the time period roughly when humans began extracting iron from the ores of earth and started smelting it into tools, utensils and weapons,’
‘ I don’t know…thousands of years back I guess; what has it got to do with your meteorite?’
‘Everything,’ continued Ha,’ the iron age began roughly 1200 years ago- that’s pretty recent and is much later than copper and bronze ages that started about 3000 years back. It means humans started using copper and bronze much before they could use iron. In that era the cost of iron was ten times more than the gold,’
‘Fascinating,’ uttered Veena,’ but what is the connection?’
‘Patience,’ Ha said smiling,’ you know even though iron age began just 1200 years ago or so, weapons made up of iron have been found which are about 3000-3500 years old. Where did this iron come from if humans didn’t know how to extract it from the ores?’
‘From the meteoritic iron!’ quipped Veena triumphantly.
Ha was again impressed by her mental acuity – ‘Yes, you are right. Long before the iron age had started, humans knew that rocks falling from the sky did contain it and they used it to make some precious weapons and other artifacts. And that’s why iron costed much more than gold because it was available in such a little quantity, and so rare. Remember, only 5% of meteorites are iron meteorites and to find these rocks is not easy,’
‘Wow, all this is so intresting. So you have come here to find a rock containing meteoritic iron and to make a weapon from it – Hmmm… quite futuristic and advanced I would say,’
Ha laughed as he saw her mocking him with a quizzical expression.
‘ Ok…Good joke, now listen to me – meteoritic iron has never been found in this region ever, actually in whole of India. There have been some reports but no conclusive evidence,’
‘And that’s why,’ continued Ha, ‘ weapons made up of Iron have never been found in Indus valley civilization. So the current theory is that Harappans never found any iron from meteorites and also did not know how to smelt iron- they had nothing to do with iron in short.’
‘Alright..I am listening,’ Veena said patiently.
‘But this seems very odd. All other civilizations which were contemporary of Indus valley knew about the iron in meteorites like Ejyptians and Assryians. Did you know that the sword of the king Tutankhamen, the boy- king of Ejypt was made of iron extracted from a meteorite?’
‘If these contemporary civilizations were aware then why did Harappans did not know it? They were not dumb- quite the opposite actually. And recently some artifacts have surfaced from different sites of that civilization that seem to contain iron. It’s quite well known that Aravallis were a major source of copper for Harappans, so isn’t it possible they also might have found iron from the meteorites in this region while looking for copper?’
‘There are only two possibilities – either Harappans knew how to smelt iron from ores and thus iron age began a lot earlier than traditionally thought or, more possibly, they did know about the iron in meteorites and used it.’
‘And you have come to find such a rock. It’s wonderful and quite interesting.’ Veena said enthusiastically.
‘Exactly, and well there is one more thing. Scientists have not found major asteroidal and meteoritic activity in the geological history of the Aravallis. That’s why nobody has properly studied this region in this regard. But I and some other planetary geologists think otherwise. I think there was a major asteroidal impact here, near your town, around 65 millions years ago; and that asteroid was an iron one. Infact, we think that this whole region is an impact crater of that asteroid. All indications are towards this conclusion, and my repeated computer simulations, which I created using a lot of data and hi-tech digital technology, pointed this region. That’s why I came here – to prove my theory.’
‘This was the time when India was floating away from Africa and was in the process of reaching the Asian plate. During this time the Aravallis were very high, as high as Himalayas and were the most important mountains on Indian peninsula It is this during this time that an asteroid struck nearby. ‘
Veena was looking at him in a manner that was almost like a churchgoer looks at the statue of God and then she said in a low voice, ‘ I never knew all this …thanks for coming into our lives,’
Ha was embarrassed, ‘ It’s not that big a deal. All this is quite well known. I am just the first person to tell you.’
Veena was mesmerized, ‘Not a big deal! meteorites- Harappans- history of millions of years ! You have made my head spin. This is so exciting..I never knew that stars, history and geology could be connected. I always thought of them as separate subjects,’
‘Most people do, they never realise that everything is connected. Earth was formed by the material left by a star only…we ourselves are made up of stardust only.’
Veena looked towards the sky and saw a star twinkle. She was feeling exhilarated, and liberated. This stranger from a far off land had touched the strings of her heart. In the midst of mind- boggling mediocrity, orthodoxy and monotony of life there, he had arrived as a whiff of fresh air.
And Veena found herself floating…flying higher and higher till she could gingerly touch a star…
× × × × × ×
The next day he surveyed the area which he was going to explore in his quest – acres and acres of mountainous terrain filled with pebbles, stones and boulders of all sizes and shapes; scattered throughout the vision.
It seemed too daunting a task! It was very good to think and philosophise about it sitting in his cozy room, back in his country. But standing there, with half of the town looking at him, it looked as if he had embarked on a fool’s errand.
He had a momentary loss of confidence and he had a strong urge to chuck everything and return back. But Veena was looking at him and sensing his mental state she said, ‘ Don’t worry, you will do just fine. You have come here to prove your theory and research, not to prove your worth in the eyes of these people.’
It seemed to him that she always managed to say the right things. He was filled with gratitude and hope.
He had devised a plan to scourge the area – starting from one end and reaching the other end in about 4-5-months. It was a tedious job and quite monotonous. Initially for few hundred metres some boys accompanied him out of curiosity. But they soon became bored by the routine. Ha was using his hand-held metal detector and the XRF that determined the metallic composition of the rocks.
He was going slowly – examining the rocks closely. He would sit and examine many loose rocks or would dig a few of them intermittently from the earth and would have a long hard look at them. Others didn’t have his expert eyes and the dedication towards the task, and they soon were making fun of him in hushed voices behind his back. He could sense all this but was too absorbed in his work. Having started at last after months of preparations and few initial hiccups, he now was totally ‘into‘ it.
Shortly, everyone left and he was left alone in the hills. He had imagined this peace, this quietness and this solitude for a long time and was finally enjoying it. There was no one near him, except the rocky hardness of the cliffs, thorny bushes and wide blue sky overhead. Occasionally, there would be a rustle and he would find a goat looking at him oddly, as if it was thinking – what is this peculiar man doing here?
When he returned in the late afternoon after a satisfactory day’s work in which he had acquainted himself with the topography and had made good notes about the geology, Veena was waiting eagerly for him.
‘Did you find the meteorite?’ she enquired impatiently.
Ha laughed a short laugh, ‘ Already? No its just the beginning, it’s going to take a long time before I find it, if at all.’
That night he organised a star-gazing session for the household and some neighbours, in an attempt to befriend them.
With his large and powerful binoculars he showed them different highlights of the night sky.
‘ That’ s Jupiter and it’s four moons,’
‘ That’s Saturn and it’s beautiful rings,’
‘ A double star..’
He mesmerized everyone there with those heavenly visions except Vikrant and his friends, who thought it was a waste of time to look at these objects- what benefit could possibly be obtained by observing them? This was there persistent query, for which Ha had no answer.
But Veena was in another world. She had not seen any of these astronomical objects ever, but had fantasized about them. She was ‘over the moon’ and it was quite evident to everyone including Ha.
Later, he was disappointed to know that she would leave for Pali next morning to join her classes. She told him that she would return next weekend and every weekend after that.
‘ I want to see Venus through your binoculars, don’t know why but I have always wanted to a have a closure look at it.’ she asked him before leaving.
‘Sure, but you will have to get up early. Venus is shining early in the morning right now. It’s quite befitting that you want to have a look at it. Venus is the godess of beauty, you know,’ he told her with a thumping heart and later thought why did he behave in such a juvenile manner. That was new to him.
She turned and looked at him abruptly with a smile on her lips and a mischievous glint in her eyes for few moments, then she looked down and went out of the house with her luggage.
Ha felt his heart sinking with her departure…
× × × × ×
As the weeks passed Ha became a regular feature of the town. He tried to blend in an started wearing a kurta over his jeans.
Striding in this attire and with his backpack slung over his shoulders he no longer was a man to be revered. Earlier enthusiasm of his arrival in the town had died down and had been replaced by a curiosity.
What was this man doing here, so far from his home?
He was treated as an eccentric but a loveable eccentric at that. He learned few hindi words in an effort to communicate better.
‘Chai,’ he would demand every morning at his favorite shop – Mohan tea stall, near the bus stand, every morning before embarking on his quest onto the hills.
‘Karak – Karak chai Ha saheb, Good morning’ Mohan would say handing him over the steaming cup.
Then he would spend the day working in the mountains, looking for the object of his desires. Sometimes he would loose hope and throw his bag in anger and would shout at himself for getting himself into this remote place, but then would be distracted by the glint of a promising looking stone and would run after it.
At the house of Rathore’s he had started communicating a little with almost everyone but not to the extent which he could communicate with Veena. He tried to explain to her father about his guilt of overstaying his welcome and offered to shift to a nearby guesthouse, but his reservations were rebuffed gently but firmly by Mahendra Rathore.
‘You are most welcome here and consider it your house. Let us host you till the time your research is complete.’ he told Ha.
And so the days began to pass – slowly, silently and solemnly. It seemed to him that he himself had fallen off the grid. He was so far away from his home and comfort zone. Connectivity was an issue there and he had been out of touch with his friends and family for the past so many weeks. Social media was a forgotten entity.
It was only the thought of Veena that kept him going for most of the week. Her visits on the weekends had become a sort of an oasis in his otherwise dry and arid life.
She continued to astound him with her sharp brain. She researched and read about various topics during the week and then discussed with Ha later. Her swift progress in astronomy, geology and history had not only left him elated but also amazed. Clearly, she had a high I Q.
Ha often wondered how could a girl like her agree to live a life like hers – curtailed and caged. What inner strength was present in her and other women in this part of the world that let them suffer by the hands of orthodoxy and age-old notions, yet they accepted the restrictions so gracefully. The way Veena carried herself was marvellous. She dealt everyone with so much genuineness, compassion, humility and humanity that he thought she was a duchess and not an ordinary girl of a small town in India.
She has that – Ladylike quality- for which models and actresses of the west would die for, thought Ha often.
‘ How very important is the role of the place of one’s birth..’ he surmised in his diary ,’ a sperm meets one egg one day and a child is born, but where does that child takes birth is such a random chance. This chance however decides the fate to quite an extent, if not fully. A girl like Veena would have shown brightly Iike a star anywhere in the West because of her beauty alone, forget about her intelligence. She could have been anything from a supermodel to an academic. But here, bound by ropes of society, she is rotting away. It’s such a pity because although this country has made substantial progress, there are still a lot of girls like her whose life are being hampered. ‘
Should I take her to U.S..???
He put down the pen after writing this and thought that what was happening to him. Was it love? Or merely an attraction due to the novelty of finding a super girl like her unexpectedly in this quarter of the earth? Was he falling into the trap of the idea of romance with a stranger at an exotic place?
His logical mind wanted to be sure. It wanted to weigh every aspect and option before taking a decision. But perhaps it already had been decided.
May be I am getting attracted towards her because there is no other women in this desolate part of the world with whom I can interact. Perhaps it’s the circumstances that are culpable, he wrote another night.
How is it possible that I, who has always thought my ideal women should be a prominent scientist or a brilliant academic, should feel this way towards her? I have always thought that I should be able to respect the women for her achievements in life before I could love her. Love without respect is nothing, and I have had access to best of the women – fellow scientists and even students- who have dazzled the world with their work; and many of them were quite beautiful too; and admittedly I have had a few flings over the years, but I have never felt anything like I this before. Would I have fallen for her had I met her at u.s. where she would have been just another beautiful face in the crowd?
Is it all right?? Or I am trying to take advantage of a simple girl??
Is it logical?
LOGIC… Should there be logic and reason behind everything in world? Can’t one do something without any reason for once in life???
Ha put down the pen and put his head on the the table and sighed. How could he write the above sentence?
He who had been the supreme advocate of reason and logic. He who thought that love was nothing but an arrangement between two like-minded people who respected each other’s qualities like intelligence and research papers. He who had held on to the strings of his heart tightly for so long in order to find a distinguished and brilliant life partner some day and hand over the reins of his heart to her, because that was the logical thing to do.
It was an unknown and exhilarating sensation to him- to be swinging out of control. To let the heart rule over his mind.
Perhaps I am going bonkers in this damned town…
But is it so crazy? Can’t I love a women for just being herself. Are overachieving intelligence and eugenics that necessary? Am I afraid that what would my peers think about my choice or how my kids would turn out? Am I that shallow a man? Can’t other supreme human qualities suffice.. and it’s not that she has any dearth of intelligence, it’s just the opportunities which has been lacking in her life.
This thought gave him a lot of solace and he began to feel a mighty calm. He began to scribble further in his diary-
When I look at her I feel that she would complete me. That everything would be fine in this world if only she would consent to stand by my side. I am not a hero of a mushy teenage romantic novel, but I have this recurrent urge to have her in my arms. I think everything in my life would fall neatly in it’s place if only she would rest her head on my shoulder and her hand upon my chest.
But does she think about me in the same manner? And if yes, is it alright for us to embark on this path?
I don’t know…It might be troublesome and dangerous, but why are the ways of the world like this here? Can’t two people decide that they admired each other and be together… Wasn’t it enough?
Ha put down the pen and thought that he was entering into the territories of philosophy at that point, and that nobody could possibly answer these simple but age old questions.
He turned towards his left and peered out of the window near the desk.
It was almost dawn, reddish streaks of light had begun to paint the sky above a distant cliff in east.
Shining brightly high above the cliff in the still dark patch of the sky was Venus, the roman goddess of love and beauty…
× × × × × ×
If Ha-joon’s mind was in tumult, Veena’s was completely at peace- blissful, all- enveloping peace.
If he was tormented by searing questions of brutal self- introspection, she was in complete control of her emotions.
She was totally and completely in love with him.
How could she not? How was it possible not to worship this man who had entered her life suddenly and had changed it forever?
She remembered the moment exactly when she had first seen him- standing perplexed and a bit nervous, framed in the door of that Volvo at the bus stand.
She had known at that moment that he was no ordinary man. He was a man of pure brilliance of mind and possessor of a gentle, lovable and an honest soul.
How did she know? She just did…women have a sixth-sense about these matters, and where a man can be puzzled by the nuances of emotions and prickles of conscience, a woman always knows exactly. She does not flounders or dilly-dallies.
And the way he looked at her, she could look into his honest, if hesitant eyes, and reach the bottom of his heart.
A woman can always tell about the character of a man by the manner in which he looks at her. And she knew that Ha not only had an excellent mind but also a compassionate and a soft heart. He would treat every woman with respect, but he would treat his partner like a queen.
And Oh! the way he felt about his work –so passionately. He felt nothing but genuine happiness in sharing the secret of heavens with her and with anyone else for that matter.
He had arrived in her town and lifted her out of gloom. Deep …deep gloom of mundaneness. Lifted her out of the suffocating fog of ignorance and mediocrity that had enveloped her for so long.
And he also felt the same way towards her, she was quite sure. It was evident in his every gesture, every glance and every movement.
But she had to be sure…she had to hear it from himself, whatever might be the consequences….
× × × × × ×
It had almost been four months but his search still had not yielded any positive results and the meteoritic rock had remained elusive.
During these past months he had seen a lot of mining going on in the hills and that saddened him.
It was no secret that Aravallis were threatened by the blatant and over-excessive mining that was going on. Most of it was illegal.
These beautiful hills were an abundant source of minerals like copper and zinc, and stones like quartz, marble,granite and sandstone. For this reason they had been plundered for centuries, but the kind of over-zealous loot that had been going on for past few decade had put the very existence of these hills at risk.
The supreme court of India had passed a judgement restricting mining to few supervised zones only. But despite that, mining was rampant.
He had many times stumbled upon the sites during his search. He would be moving about systematically on a hill and the planes near it to the other end, when he would hear a dull hum of a tractor or J.C B. nearby and hushed voices.
When he would cross the gorge or climb up a big chunk of rock jutting out and blocking the view; he would see it – a wide shallow pit cascading down from a hillock and defacing it. Like a big bite of the mountain had been bitten out of it by a giant, leaving it precarious and vulnerable. Somewhere in the brown sea of the sand would be the shrill yellow of J.C.B. that would be working with its demonic mechanical claw to gouge out the heart of the mountains.
He had thought not to go near the sites, but once or twice he thought he saw Vikrant standing there and directing the operation. Finally one day, to be sure, he had ventured quite close to one such mining site.
It was Vikrant, there could be no doubt. There were some other boys from the town too, but undoubtedly Vikrant was leading them. Ha was unsure how to react. He wanted to confront him, but had no authority, moral or administrative. He was a guest at his home and he felt that infact he was trespassing, despite the clear fact that the vision in front of his eyes was not legal and was sounding a death knell for these ranges.
One day he delicately approached the topic and was rudely shocked by the Vikrant’s response.
‘ You keep your nose out of my business..’ he growled, ‘ do your research and leave this country as soon as possible.’
Mr. Mahendra rathore had overheard the conversation and he restrained Vikrant by keeping his hand over his right arm.
‘ Ha saheb you have come here on a different purpose, please concentrate upon it. Whole town is looking towards you with expectant eyes. Don’t worry about these hills, we love them more than our lives.’
After that, he could not say anything more to him.
× × × × ×
‘ I have already seen these nebulae and galaxies, do you have something else to show me or are your treasures exhausted?’ complained Veena while returning the binoculars to him. It was late October.
‘Well…You haven’t seen the polar ice-caps of Mars as yet.’
‘Hmmm,’ Veena said non-comittally, she appeared distracted, ‘ and do you want to say anything else to me?’ she asked looking at him with her big brown eyes that seemed to bore through him.
‘ Say anything else? Me? …No,’ stuttered Ha, he knew what she was trying to imply. It had been brewing between them for a long time now but he was afraid of letting it out- to committ– to reach the point of no return. He felt very small standing besides her there, in that part of the world where he did not have any real friend, except Veena, merely a lot of acquaintances.
Should he propose to her and open a Pandora’s box? Did he have the courage to stand up against her family? Because surely they would not accept it.
He knew Veena’s patience was wearing thin and she was also fighting the uncertainty of his stand. It was her right to know where he stood, he knew it but he did not have the wisdom, courage and surety of taking that decision…at that point of time atleast.
She looked down at her feet for a few seconds with her her hands folded in front of her chest and replied at length,’ Ok, tomorrow is the first day of Navratri, an important festival here. There is going to be a celebratory dance tomorrow night in the empty plot behind the community hall. Afterwards, we will climb the hillock just near the plot. The night sky would be very beautiful from there. Show me the mars from there.’
All day long the next day he trudged along the narrow pathways on the cliffs, made by years of passage of cattle and their shepherds, gloomily. His heart was not in his search and he dragged along his metal detector behind him, barely stopping to scan any rock. He sat in the scant shadows of the trees, perched upon a granite rock that was burning under the sun, for many hours.
All around him and beneath him was thin and coarse sand of the desert. It knew no bounds and would infiltrate in one’s body unabashedly. He removed his shoes and poured the sand, that had gotten there stealthily, in a gully nearby that was filled with cacti and shrubs.
It seemed to him that he was a persona non grata there. Though he now knew about the mountains a lot more than the locals and as he sat there covered in sand and perspiration, he perhaps was more local than the locals; but nobody would accept that. He would always remain an outsider – an eccentric novelty.
And it was true too. Why would he expect himself to be counted as a local? It was not as if he was going to stay there forever; far from it. His search was coming to an end and regardless of the result he would soon be returning to his world.
A lizard came out from beneath a small rock and peered at him unaproovingly. It was hot and the lizard moved quickly into the shade, ambling on its padded feet. From its perch, under the shades of leaves it gawked at him as if saying- go on odd man, have a life. What are you doing here, burning yourself in the sun and in the flames of your desires?
Despite his mental state, Ha laughed at his imagination and lay full upon the rock. The sky above was spotless blue.
He looked at it for a long time as if looking for a sign and didn’t know when he went to sleep….
* * * * * *
He went weak in the knees when he saw her in the evening.
She was looking gorgeous!
He had never seen her this way- made up and in resplendent traditional dress. He could not believe that someone could look so beautiful.
He has had a lot of experience with American girls and had seen them in all sorts of attires; and well – without it too, a few times. But they did not come close to Veena, not even one bit.
For her part, Veena was determined to get something out of him. And she had worn her best dress- a beautiful blue and yellow chaniya- choli with full ensemble of ornaments. She was looking a queen with her earings, necklace, baajuband, rakhdi and anklets; and she knew it.
She was not disappointed with his reaction. He stood open- mouthed, unable to take his eyes off her. His heart had skipped a beat and she knew it.
She gingerly went to him, holding her chaniya with her hands and lifting it up a bit gently, lest it would be spoilt by the mud; and said- ‘ Don’t forget to show me the ice-caps of Mars later.’
He was unable to speak and nodded vigorously. His mind was jammed by the angelic vision in from of him and by her sweet fragrance.
I can see her navel! And just a hint of her long milky legs, he thought.
His heart was thumping loudly and he was ashamed to know that he was aroused a bit.
I am a thirty year old man! Why am I behaving like a teen who is experiencing the first flushes of puberty? He reflected
But he knew that he was a beaten man. He had to try to make her his.
He just had to. There was no other option. He loved her and there was no getting away from it. He had to be with her and spend his life with her…he could not let her go.
For two hours she saw her dance with other boys and girls. They had adorned sticks in their hands and were swaying on traditional songs that he had not heard before in his life but was under their spell. They were melodious and very rhythmic.
It was as if he was under a trance – the aesthetic lighting, colorful dresses, bright faces flushed with happiness and foot-tapping music had mesmerized him. The whole atmosphere was charged and buzzing with energetic vibes.
Though he was standing on the sidelines, it seemed he was a part of the melee. His foot inadvertently tapped the ground.
Veena was the life of the celebration. As he saw her petite waist gyrating to the tunes of song after song, he thought that she was an angel who had descended on the earth and was now dancing amongst the mere mortals in order to lure a man who was not worthy of her.
Then he laughed inwardly, ‘ This must be love surely…otherwise how could a man like I, who never could think beyond formulae, dry scientific names and theorems of physics and maths; could engage myself in such poetic meanderings of my thoughts. Angels! Mortals- what has gotten into me?’
Around 9:30pm there was a break and Veena signalled her to follow him. He already had his binoculars and a torch with him.
As he went behind her he thought that this night was going to be a special and important night in his life. His heart was filled with a nervous eagerness. There was trepidation also but it was overridden by a curious ‘butteflies in the stomach’ feeling.
Veena started getting up the rocks and he was frightened that she would fall as she would be encumbered by her dress. But she displayed agility and fluidity of a ballet dancer and never did falter once.
There was a plateau at roughly one-third height of the mountain. There were some trees on the side which bordered the mountain but otherwise remarkably clear of any obstacle. They could see the site of the celebration down below, it glittered against the darkness of the town. As everyone was there the houses in the town were dark.
Above, the stars shone brightly and there was a thin waning crescent of the moon dangling weakly at one corner.
Veena shivered slightly as there was a chill in the air. Ha immediately offered her his jacket which she took thankfully.
Both of them stood side by side and looked at the scene. There was no need of words.
Eventually, Ha spoke -‘ Venus…Can I call you Venus instead of Veena? It seems befitting,’
She looked at him steadily with a smile on her face and ascented with a nod of her head.
‘ Venus..I wanted to ask you…that would you?…I mean..What I want to convey is…You know..’ he wrung his hands helplessly. Words were failing him at this crucial moment and she was enjoying his discomfort.
He came forward near her and spoke softly, ‘ I cannot do it as shown in the movies, you know I am not made for it. I will straight away come to the point – would you be my Venus?’
‘ I don’t know how to express it but I have never felt about anyone like I do for you. I did not even know you a few months back but don’t know what I would do without you now. So, would you please answer my question,’ he rambled on.
She came very near him and said yes very very softly. Then it automatically happened, she was in his arms and they were hugging tightly.
After few moments, she leaned over him and kept her head on his right shoulder and left hand over his heart. His right arms was wrapping her.
‘You will have to keep finding ever new things in the sky to show me. I will go away if I would get bored,’ she teased him.
Ha laughed and thought that it really was possible to feel that way- totally peaceful and fully contended. He thought it truly felt that everything in his life had fallen in its place and now he could die easily.
Then he wondered why would he think about death in this supremely happy moment. But it reflected the contentment that he was experiencing then – his life was complete. He did not desire anything else. With her by his side he could face any trouble, any problem in the life. No worries worried him at that moment. No expectations tempted him at that moment. He did not feel any other obligation except towards her.
‘I…Aaaghh!…. ‘ Ha shouted suddenly and fell on the ground and writhed with pain.
‘Ha…Ha…What happened?’ Veena shouted and bent over him but was forcefully pulled away by someone.
Ha felt a thin streak of liquid traversing his face and when he wiped it he found out that it was blood.
There was a severe pain emanating from the left side of his head and he could not stop tears from brimming in his eyes.
Veena was shouting hysterically but was being restrained by someone.
‘Haramkhor!..How dare you touch my sister!’
Ha realised that it was Vikrant.
‘ Pig!…We gave you a place in our home and you are trying to defile the the girls of our town…’ Vikrant kicked him and he doubled over in anguish,’ I have had my doubts over you for a long time …I will not spare you today,’
‘Vikrant! Stop,’ it was Mahendra Singh’s voice.
Slowly Ha sat up on his knees and looked around him, there were around five men surrounding them. All had lathis in their hands. In front of him was Mahendra singh and by his side was Veena, sobbing uncontrollably while looking down at her feet.
Ha realised that those were tears of shame and humiliation.
‘ You have crossed a line Mr. Ha that should not have been crossed, ‘ growled Mahendra rathore in an angry but a restrained manner.
‘ Mahendraji…Please let me explain; I love your…’
‘Please!’ Ha was cut off in mid-sentence by Mahendra singh who was holding his right hand up with palm facing towards him, ‘ there are certain things in life which just cannot be, this is one of them….Vikrant, escort Mr. Ha to the bus stand without hurting him and make him sit in the first bus going towards Delhi…He cannot remain here anymore.’
‘Veena….Come with me,’ with this command he strode off towards the town and Veena remain rooted there for few moments. Their eyes met and so much was conveyed in that glance- regret, sadness due to the death of their future, ashes of their dream world and love; but no hope.
Both of them knew that it was over and in all probability they would never meet again. Suddenly, helplessness outweighed the pain and Ha started crying softly. Veena put her hand to her mouth, stifling a deep sob emanating from the depths of her soul after watching him reduced to this state, then she was pulled by her father and was gone – forever out of his life.
He stood up unsteadily and was pushed again on the ground by Vikrant.
‘ You will go to Delhi but not before I punish you…You filthy Japanese bastard!’
Ha found anger rising within him, ‘ You should be punished not me, you brute…You are killing these mountains by illegally mining them. I have done nothing wrong,’
‘What did you say…You nosey son of a bitch! I will kill you,’ shouted Vikrant and started kicking him as he lay on the ground. His friends also joined him.
Ha rolled into a ball and put his hands over his head for protection. He started rolling on one side to dodge the blows and all of a sudden went over the edge.
It was a gentle slope on this part of the hill but there were a lot of sharp stones and thorny bushes. As he slid he was mercilessly cut and bruised. He desperately tried to break his fall and came to an abrupt stop due to a large rock and got his wind knocked out.
He could hear footsteps and shouts behind him. Desperately he tried to stand and find a hiding place. It was dark and it was difficult to get his bearings. Before he could act he was violently shoved by Vikrant, who had reached there much ahead of his friends, and fell into a ravine that was behind and downwards that large rock.
Vikrant came after him,’ I kill you..And will bury you here in this ditch,’
To his horror Ha saw Vikrant lifting a large stone above his head in attempt to crush his head. There was a curious glint being reflected by one surface of that stone due to the light coming from below where the celebration was going on and Ha stared at it as if he was mesmerized for the fraction of a second which he got before reacting.
Instinctively he kicked Vikrant in the shin and he fell backwards, still clutching the rock. Ha jumped at him despite wincing in pain. There were voices coming from above that were approaching nearer very fast. He had to act fast.
There was a mighty scuffle between them as they rolled over the ground. Then Ha, perhaps due to the power of his flooding anger or heaving desperation or both; overcame him. He punched him repeatedly in the face forcefully, despite hurting himself badly in the process. He saw his nose crumble and his jaw crack. Vikrant was stunned and paralysed by the pain.
Ha got up fast, lifted the rock that was lying besides Vikrant and then he was running…running for his life…
* * * * * *
He jumped from one ravine into another and from one cliff to another for about an hour. He had left his pursuers behind, probably because he knew the topography better than them. He had a rough idea where he was and so despite it being dark and despite being injured he had gained upon them.
There was a small natural cave few yards ahead that he had discovered during his search. It was well concealed and nobody knew about it, he was convinced. He was going towards it. It was vital for him to reach Delhi safely. He did not have his phone and the torch with him as they had been lost during his fall. He could not contact anyone right now.
The cave was in the section of the hills that were quite near the village of Sendra. Ha had thought that he would pass few hours there and would walk towards Sendra as soon as dawn would start to break.
As he reached the cave he quickly checked that it was not occupied by any animal. Then he kept the stone carefully at one end.
He got out and collected some branches from the trees and shrubs nearby. Then he slithered inside the cave and covered the entrance with those branches. There was just enough space for him to lie down on one side with his body folded around the rock like a child would sleep around a precious toy.
At rest finally, he found his heart beating away like an engine and his legs shaking due to grief, anger and exertion.
He could not imagine what would be happening to Veena. He prayed that she would not be punished severely. He just hoped that Mr. Mahendra would not go to police to track him, atleast before he could contact his friend at the U.S. embassy. Although, he had an idea that the family would not go to police and rather would try to suppress the matter as it involved Veena. And they would not want to spread the scandal by involving the authorities.
Fortunately, he was still carrying his pocket diary in his jeans in which he had the number of his friend and the U.S. embassy. He would ring them first thing in the morning from Sendra. That would make him secure against any action taken by Mahendra singh’s family. He just needed luck to be on his side for few hours.
As he plotted the route to Sendra and onwards in his mind, he thought that how could he be so systematic and organised after what had happened.. hell…he should have gone to pieces, it shouldn’t have been possible for him to think clearly, to plan things. Yet, he was in full control of his mental faculties. Perhaps, he was in a shock and the defence mechanism of his brain had kicked in and had blocked all thoughts, or perhaps he was running on sheer adrenaline that was rushing through his system.
He stared at the Stony ceiling for a long time and tried to catch up few hours of sleep, but his body was in an overdrive, his central nervous system was fully awake and showed no signs of switching off.
Finally, life started to stir around him. Birds started chirping and the sky started getting brighter in the east.
He came out of the cave silently with the rock in his hands and started to walk briskly towards Sendra…..
× × × × × ×
Veena said goodbye to his son who waved from the window of his school bus. As she returned to her home, a big villa in the fancier part of Bikaner, she found her husband getting ready to go to his factory. She immediately served him breakfast and prepared his tiffin, along with the maid.
After seeing him off she roamed around the house, in a distracted manner, to see whether anything needed her attention. Not that she had to do this, there were enough servants to take care of everything, but she wanted to keep herself occupied.
Finally, she sat with a thump on her bed, ‘ it has been six years since that fateful night,’ she mused.
Today was Navratri sthapna i.e. the first day of the nine days festival, same as the day when she had seen him for the last time.
Generally, she was able to forget everything and remain focussed and reasonably happy in her life, but Navratris always bugged her. The past seemed to clutch her in its strong hands during these days and seemed to crush her, slowly but firmly, till she could not breath.
She let out a loud sigh and absently looked out of the window that showed her the vision of life going on normally in the street. People were coming and going with a purpose, kids were playing cricket, as it was a holiday, the vendors were selling their wares as usual. It seemed to her that she was the only one who was feeling distraught, the rest of the world was getting on with the daily life as always.
She wondered what Ha would be doing at that moment. She understood that the pattern of his life would be very different back at his home than hers and probably he would be too busy to remember her. Probably he had forgotten all about her, then she thought that it was not possible. She knew him well enough to know that it could not be like that.
Was he happy? A part of her wanted her to be unhappy without her. Then she was ashamed of herself and thought that he would want her to be totally happy in her life…he was that kind of a man; and wasn’t true love like that?
Was she happy?
Well… she was .. Almost; on most of the days atleast. Her husband was a good man and treated her with love and respect. He was ten years elder to her and that did give him a maturity even in the initial days of their marriage, that perhaps was lacking in the men of lesser age. He was a thorough gentleman, and a respected prominent businessman of the city.
She had all the material comforts which a lady would want from her husband. She also had a lot of space and liberty provided by her husband, who understood the need of them in the life of every person.
But the apple of her eyes was her son- Samar. Now four and a half years old and very naughty. He occupied her time and mental space for most of the time.
But on days like these she started feeling uneasy- itchy and irritable. Of course, it did not hurt her like in the early days when the pain was unbearable. It had dimmed to a dull ache that suddenly burned acutely on some days.
She had thought of ending her life many times in the initial few weeks of their separation. The grief and humiliation was too much to handle. Although, her father did not punish her or even shouted at her, but others in her home did not spare any excuse to torment her, specially while Vikrant was recovering. And her father had gone into a sort of shell. He did not talk to her and responded in monosyllables, and that only if required. His silence riled her more than the taunts of others.
It was her grandmother that lashed at her the most – you have blackened the name of our family! – she would shout or – you have made your father’s head bow down in front of the whole town and for what sort of a coward, who chose an useless rock over you and ran away with that stone? What sort of a lover would do that? And he has not even returned for you. These firangis are like that – unreliable– you should have known that,’
Though her father was the strongman of the town and everyone was afraid of him, the scandal had quickly engulfed Barr, it was not possible to shut everyone’s mouth.
She flinched as she remembered the barbs hurled down at her by the boys when she ventured out alone sometimes to get an errand done or simply to get some air-
‘ Hai – hai, how can someone love a piece of stone more than this beauty…perhaps he was not a man enough,’
‘ Choose me baby, I would never leave you…even for another girl leave alone a rock,’ then there would be a volley of laughter as the boys would crack up at such comments.
She made it a point to walk through slowly and with her head high. To not to react and walk away with dignity was the only thing to do. It would have been a mockery of their love not to do so. Those shallow men could not understand him and their relation.
She completely understood his actions. He had to do what he had to do.
She did not held him guilty of abandoning her and she certainly did not rue the fact that he had gone back with the rock, that he had so miraculously found that night in the hands of Vikrant.
What else could he do?
He certainly could not have come back to Barr to take her away. This was real life and not a movie. Things did not work that way.
What could he have done against the might of his father in that part of the world where he was alone and barely knew anyone?
Of course he had to go, she understood that. His work was important to him and to the world. It was important to her.
His devotion and passion towards his research was what had attracted her towards him in the first place.
He had taken the right decision. It didn’t matter to him what others thought of him and it certainly did not matter to her too. Not when the goal was so enormous and lofty.
It would have killed her if Ha would not have been able to fulfill his dream because of her. She was infinitely thankful that he wrested the rock out of Vikrant and was able to get away, specially after what her brother had done to him.
Their love was doomed anyway, and had been from the start; she now knew and accepted it. Then what was the point that he should have sacrificed his aspirations and life’s work for it too?
It was not cowardly of him to go away with his prized possession rather it was quite brave and wise of him to do so. Stakes were very high for him.
And what if he would have decided to show up in Barr in an attempt to meet her or take with him…What then?
She thought that it would have been futile not only because she had been caged in her house for weeks and was allowed to venture out later only when the news percolated down to her father from his political connections that Ha had left India; but because she didn’t have the courage to go against the wishes of her family. Despite her views about the liberties of women she could not have done it when it would have mattered. One look from her father and she would have wilted. It seemed an insurmountable obstacle to her to have rebelled against her family and go with him to another country to live an altogether different life. It was too much to demand from herself, she admitted frankly.
Then why did she temp him? She was hell bent on taking herself to the task that day. He had showed remarkable restraint, perhaps he knew the outcome in advance, but she had provoked him to propose her.
‘I was young! So young…only twenty four’ she said to herself, ‘ and I needed to know,’ God! How desperate I was to hear from him that he too aspired for her companionship, that he considered herself worthy of being his life partner,’
‘ So would you behave in the same manner even today if the circumstances were similar?’ she was blank for sometime in the face of this question raised by her own conscience.
The answer was – no probably; or yes in all probability- she did not know.
Was it correct what they said- that it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?
She thought how easy it was to say that to anyone who was experiencing the pain of separation or a break up, but how difficult it was for that person to just take it on its face value and be solaced by it.
‘ But, ‘ she pondered, ‘ I am infinitely grateful that he came into my life. There was no way I could not have fallen for him; not a chance. Perhaps I would behave differently if those circumstances were to be repeated today- more maturely perhaps. But no doubt I would love him nonetheless and perhaps it is better to have loved and lost than never to love at all; after all,’
And he certainly knew this too. When their eyes had met for the last time, she could see finality in his eyes. He had grasped the situation firmly. His sharp and logical mind had signalled him that the battle of their love was lost. She would be gone from his life forever, even if he somehow defied her father and her brother’s gang.
To make the correct and the right decision in extraordinary circumstances was not easy for an ordinary man, but he was no ordinary man. Rather, if he would have stayed than he would have fallen in her eyes, and he knew it.
How did both of them know all this about each other without discussing it ever? She did not know that. Perhaps that was what true love was. To under stand each other and trust each other completely no matter how things worked out, no matter what people said, no matter whether they remained together or not and no matter whether they did not meet again ever in life.
She got up and went to her bookshelf. There were a lot of books on astronomy and history. She had carried on her reading about these subjects and now had a telescope at her home. Her husband and her son loved it when she showed them the wonders of the night sky, and she now knew the happiness that this sharing bring forth in herself and could imagine why Ha was so enthusiastic about it.
At the end of the shelf, pressed against the wall was a thin magazine. She took it out. It was the June issue of Science magazine of two years ago. She had begun to read a lot of such magazines with the hope that she would find something about him one day and she had not been disappointed.
She remembered clearly the day when she was flipping though this one and had encountered the page and article – U.S. astronomer rewrites the history of Aravallis : a meteorite reveals an asteroid impact that changed the world.
There was a photo of Ha- joon, the prominent astronomer and planetary geologist of Harvard-smithsonian institute of astrophysics. He was smiling in his easy charming manner.
She had reacted involuntarily and had said – oh! loudly while sitting up with a jerk. Her husband had been sitting near her in the living room and their son was playing nearby. He asked what had happened with concern. She had said that it was nothing and she was feeling nauseous all of a sudden.
Then she had gotten up and had gone into the bedroom with the magazine and read the article eagerly.
It elaborated that how Ha-joon had searched for and had ultimately found a special type of a meteorite that had long been suspected but never had been found earlier. This meteorite confirmed the usage of iron from such rocks by the inhabitants of Indus valley civilization. It went on to state that Dr. Ha-joon and his team had also proved beyond doubt with the help of their theory, simulations, analysis of this meteorite and few others that had been found in Aravallis later, and with the help of studies of geology of the region; that there had been a massive asteroidal impact roughly 66 millions years ago in the region of western Rajasthan that had changed the course of life on earth along with the other asteroidal impact at Chicxulub, Mexico and the volcanic eruptions that had been going on simultaneously in that era in the Deccan plateau of India. All these events had lead to extinction of dinosaurs and changed the pattern of life which emerged later on earth.
Dr. Ha also revealed that there has been an addition in the geological timeline of the earth after his paper and a new event – Veena event has been added to the geological chronology of earth. This event was the time period when that asteroid struck the Western part of Rajasthan till a few thousand years after that. It has been named after the guest house where Dr Ha had stayed during his stay at the small town of Barr and behind which he found the meteorite.
She had cried for weeks after that and till today her eyes easily got wet just by thinking about the effect the article had had upon her.
She opened the page and caressed his picture. She knew why he had lied about the reason behind naming the event as Veena and respected him even more for that.
He wanted to protect her reputation and her privacy, yet wanted to give his association with the her supreme importance.
It was as if he was speaking to her from beyond this world; this world of orthodoxy, of bondages, of rules, of biases and preconceived notions.
She knew it was easy for him to find her. With all the technology at his disposal he could have come there to meet her but he did not want her life to be disrupted; again; and she did not want him to come. What would it achieve? It would change nothing. She was a married woman and the mother of a child. That was a fact, an irrefutable fact.
But she knew she held an important place in his heart and his life. And it was all that mattered to her.
She thought he had made her immortal by naming an event in earth’s life after her, which would live in the history forever. In a way he had linked her to himself for eternity. Whenever his name would be taken inevitably the mention of his most important work would be done too and so her name would live with him.
She felt their relation was like Radha- krishna. Like Radha she could not be with him but her name would be linked with him always.
She got up smiling and thought what he would think of this analogy. ‘Nonsense!’ he would day in his accented voice.
She kept the magazine on the shelf and went to prepare for the festivities. She could live with the thought that their love had not got wasted and had resulted in something tangible.
It was enough for her…
× × × × × ×
Ha disembarked from the Volvo about two kilometers from the Barr bus stand. The driver and the conductor looked at him oddly as he got down. There is nothing here except the hills and bushes, there stares said.
Of course they didn’t know that he had come to meet the mountains only. He had no intention of entering the town.
As he started walking uphill on the narrow pathways made by the shepherds and cattle, it seemed that it was only yesterday that he had been there.
He remembered each gully, each branching of the footpath and each turn.
How time flies he thought as he sat on a rock jutting out of the ground. It had been almost seven years when he had left those hills.
From his position he could see the town of Barr in the distance. Life was going on there as usual but it did not have Veena in it’s pulsations.
He knew she was far away in Bikaner, married to a widower, who had no kids from his first marriage.
It was not the first time that he had come there after that fateful night. He had come the first time roughly ten months after that.
Ten months had elapsed before he could manage to come. He had his hands full till then. When he had got down at Barr last time he had straight gone to Mohan tea stall, where Mohan was alarmed to see him.
‘Ha saheb! Why did you come back? It is not safe for you. There is a lot of ill-will against you still. Please go back right now, you can be hurt here,’
He had heard from Mohan about Veena as a sickness had spread over him. He told him that she had been married off just few weeks after his departure to a well respected man of her community at Bikaner by her father.
He had returned back immediately and had not come back – till now.
He came out of his reverie and started reflecting about that strange night and the events that had unfolded after it.
When he had called his friend at U.S. embassy the next morning, all hell had broken loose. His friend was livid with rage that he had been beaten and wanted to take the local administration to task. But He had asked him not to do so.
He had seen the humiliation in her eyes and did not want it to be increased in any manner. Also, it was paramount at that moment that the meteorite reached Delhi and later U.S. safely. Mahendra’ s men were after him and if he fell into their hands he could be severely injured and the rock could be damaged or misplaced.
He requested his friend to quietly arrange a police escort for him and to arrange to transport him to Delhi, which his friend duly did.
Once he had reached Delhi and was being treated for his injuries, there was a further frustrating delay of two weeks in which it was notified to the relevant Indian authorities about his discovery and the need to take it to America for further research. The Government eventually accepted his request on the condition that the rock would be handed over to India when the research was over.
During the intervening time he experienced pure hell. He was half mad with grief and anger. And with indecision – should he go back or not? How was Veena being treated?
There were so many questions playing on his mind. He was strongly advised by the embassy not to go back. He was an American national whose life was important to his country. If he did go back and something untoward happened to him then who would be responsible? They asked him and he had no answer. He had flatly refused to press charges against Vikrant and his friends in order to suppress the matter and protect her name from being further maligned, so their hands were tied.
After a lot of thought he had decided that it was useless to go back. She could not and would not come with him even if he somehow managed to contact her, which was impossible.
She was a brave girl who could stand for her principles, but not when it involved her family. The way she and other girls had been brought up made them incapable of defying the wishes of their family, however unreasonable those wishes might be, and they even felt guilty for thinking about the same, even though they were absolutely right. He had understood this much during his stay.
Moreover, she genuinely loved her father and could not think of hurting his feelings. She would always choose her father over him. He knew this and accepted this as a fact.
She had to do what she had to do.
There were no hard feelings in him towards her for being so provocative towards him yet being so non-rebellious toward her father. Some things in life can’t be changed and have to be accepted. And frankly he had loved her for this quality of hers to take care of the feelings of others, specially of her family. She would not be the woman whom he loved without this aspect of her personality.
She was quite young then, perhaps she would have acted differently today, he did not know. But that changed nothing.
Moreover, there had been the rock. He had found it in such extraordinary circumstances that he hardly believed it was true. So big was the coincidence and so miniscule the probability of him finding the very rock he was looking for in the hands of his attacker at the very last night of his stay was; that he sometimes thought that the universe had compensated him for loosing her by giving him the meteorite.
It was like he could not have it all. Whatever gods there might be, if at all, were keen on maintaing a perfect and balanced ledger in the account of his destiny.
Thank you very much for transecting with us.
So it was logical that he would do what he had originally come for – to find and analyse the meteorite. She would want him to succeed, he knew.
So he threw himself feverishly in the process of analysing the meteorite then writing his paper based on his findings. Later he sent it to peer review and was exhilarated when it was accepted to be printed in the most prestigious journal of the country.
Not only that his proposals and conclusions were enthusiastically received the world over but soon there were calls to decide the matter of an asteroidal impact in the Aravallis once and for all. So there was a lot discussion, committees were made, action plans were drawn and various expeditions dispatched in due course of time to find other evidences. He of course was in the forefront all this time, it was his brain child after all.
Eventually after about four years of his departure from Barr, he and his team published a landmark paper that had defined The Veena event.
He always maintained that he had named the event Veena after a small but lovely guest house by the same name where he had stayed and had had a wonderful time there. It did seem odd to his colleagues and scientists that he would name if it after a guesthouse but he was adamant and had stuck to his guns. It was his call anyway.
He could have easily stated the real reason but somehow he deeply felt that it would put her name and honour at stake. He could do anything in life but an act that would drag her name to mud. Though they had done nothing wrong and he could easily state her name in his society, he understood that things were different in her world.
‘How did I become this way, so responsible and mature’, he wondered, ‘ I had gone as a nerdy boy to her town and had returned as a man.’
Perhaps this is what true and deep love was all about, in which he thought more about her name and honour than what was right or what ought to be done. It had taught him that while one might not always attain one’s true love but one could always cherish, respect and protect it.
That love was not always to be vocal about it or to whine about the injustices met at the hands of the society but it was to be silent, for her benefit. It did not need to be shown to the world vociferously but could be kept quietly and safely in one’s heart.
Though he was quite sure that anyone in Barr would ever hear about The Veena event, as those people lived in their own small world and were not bothered about things such as science, geology etc, he hoped that she would come to know about it someday. She had started taking keen interest in these subjects and it was not very unlikely that one fine day she would come across it while flipping a magazine or browsing the net.
He hoped that she would find immense satisfaction to know that he had succeeded in his endeavor.
He wanted her to be absolutely happy in her life and that’s why he did not want to meet her because it could do no good apart from inflaming old wounds; but he did want her to know that he had named the event after her so that she could understand that their relation had meant something to him…everything to him…
He had come find a rock and had found it, but it was not the stone – it was her.
She had become the rock of his life, the solid base on which his life revolved.
He thought that she would want him to be happy and settled in his life and had eventually married three years earlier to Elsa, a doctor of Swedish descent, but even here his choice had been influenced by her. Elsa had all the qualities which he had admired in Veena – same feminine presence, same concern for the others, same depth of character and though he did not want to admit to himself but she did resemble Veena a bit.
He thought that even after loosing one’s first love it was still possible of loving again and in a better way too, because one knew what the loss of one’s love was and one did not want to loose this one too. One tried not to committ the follies which one might have done in the first relationship.
Also true love made one more humble and a better person. He had become a better man after meeting Veena. More sensitive, more sincere and more mature, atleast he had tried to be such a man.
They had a daughter six months back and he had named her Venus.
When he took her into his arms he thought he could die for her, he loved her so much. He again thought that why did he always thought of death in his moments of happiness. Perhaps because it equated that moment with utmost and supreme happiness in front of which there was no other moment of life and that after attaining so much ecstasy he could easily die because he had attained the level of satisfaction which could not be surpassed by anything else in life.
He hoped that he was a good husband and would make a decent father.
Also her association had given him a new mission in life – to make those girls, and even boys, provide an opportunity to pursue studies in scientific streams and other streams, who could not get the avenues to follow their determination of doing higher studies due to any reason.
He had started a N.G.O. with some of his influential friends and they were doing a lot of work in many countries including India. Infact he had come.to Jaipur to attend one such event and on a whim had decided to visit Barr, a place that had given him so much and that had taken away so much from him.
This philanthropic work of his too had been inspired by Veena. He thought a lot about her will to study science professionally and her helplessness in not being able to do so. There were many women like her and he wanted to lend them a helping hand.
This project of his gave him immense satisfaction and had become one of the pillars of his life along with his family and his scientific work. It had given a strong and meaningful purpose to his life.
As he saw the sun go down behind a hill he took a deep breath and reflected that on the whole his life had turned out well. He could have been broken by her loss but he had faught and had strove to make her love his strength and not his weakness.
He hoped she would have done the same and he did hope that she would have understood his motive behind going away with the meteorite.
He just wished that she would somehow come to know about the Veena event so that she could get her closure. So that she could know that it all had not been in vain. That he named it after her to tell her that their love had become immortal like the stars above and would shine forever. Nobody could take it away from them.
He wanted to convey it to her that though their romance had not materialised in physical and day to day intimacy, it had been able to transcend above the obstacles like prejudices of the ignorant, biased notions of lesser mortals, restraining chains of xenophobic societies and baseless and fragile yet omnipresent differences of religions, nationalities and castes.
He thought that this was the least that he could do for her….for them…..