The dust slowly rose from where the workers were sieving sand for the concrete mixture. In the early 1970s, most of the work on building sites in towns and rural areas were still done manually and manual labour was imperative.
“Jairam, fetch the spade from the kit,” the Civil Engineer told his 20-something apprentice.
The young man looked up reluctantly. He had only just started to assist the masons in preparing the mortar mixture.
“ Couldn’t you send someone else to do that?” Jairam asked his Boss. The Boss gave him a disapproving look that meant “Do it now or get the sack.”
Jairam got up and began to walk away from the group to the tool-shed where the workers stored their various kits and equipment temporarily. Jairam regretted being the chosen one, he regretted being picked on by his Boss all the time, his only fault being that he was sincere and good at his job. Even as he made his way towards the shed, his heart began to sink…this time for a different reason.
It was ten days since they’d arrived at the ancient mansion belonging to an aristocratic family to renovate certain parts of the huge structure. Passing by the large garden that was tended to by one of the old ladies who lived in the house, he glanced furtively towards a particular window. He averted his gaze as quickly. Yes, she was there. With her large limpid eyes, long wavy hair left loose to dry just after a bath and a hint of a smile playing on her lips…the young girl he was beginning to fancy. He knew he didn’t have a hope in hell, but her sight took his breath away. Jairam entered the tool shed with a red face and some of the workers who were taking a break there asked him what the matter was.
“Nothing,” he said, grabbing the spade and rushing back. Again he took a quick look. She was still there and she seemed to be waiting for him, this time a hand on her mouth, stifling a giggle. He smiled back nervously and was surprised that she didn’t take offence. With jaunty steps, he returned with the spade and the workers teased him about his sudden changed mood.
“Give him more work, Sir,” a few of the workers teased, “It seems to make him happier”. Jairam chuckled and even the Contractor smiled at that.
Now his heart was set on finding out more about the girl. Fortunately, that proved an easy task.
“Oh, such a pretty girl” one day, he heard two of the female labourers discussing as they bore trays of cement mixture on their heads to the site. He pretended to be busy at work, but he was listening keenly to the conversation.
“Poor thing!” tut-tutted the other, “To think she cannot walk without help…or be like a normal girl.”
As the women left, still discussing the girl, he looked towards the house. He remembered the pretty face by the window and his heart skipped several beats. From then onwards, the physical attraction that he had for the pretty person at the window was replaced by adoration and respect.
This is where I’ll stop imagining their story…how they met, the first look they exchanged and such other things. I can write anything I like…paint a hundred pictures that are more beautiful than the previous one!!! Maybe he saw her on her way to the temple along with her grandmother, aunts and mother; Maybe he never did see her smile, instead a teardrop and a sad song marred her beautiful countenance; Maybe be he wasn’t even looking at whether she was smiling or weeping — he was too smitten even to notice. In the end, they fell in love-that much is true. There were many objections, the girl was from an aristocratic background, he was not. She had a physical problem, he didn’t. He took her away and married her, got ostracized for that bold move by some and admired for his courage by others. Both of them never regretted what they did.
When I met them he was an over forty, tall, burly but gentle “Uncle” and she, the sweet, pretty and chirpy “Auntie” living in the neighbourhood. That’s what I called them. One of her legs had been crippled after a severe attack of Polio that she suffered during childhood. She had to depend on ankle straps, walkers and support to move within her house. When she stepped out of her house, her husband stood by her like a rock. He had grown from apprentice to a well-established Civil Engineer himself. To ensure his wife was safe during his and his son’s absence, he kept two dogs – a Doberman and a German Shepherd. These dogs barked at the tiniest hint of a passer-by. We could hear them yowling all the way down the lane from Auntie’s house to where we lived. Together, with all their differences, Uncle and Auntie made a lovely pair – the veritable duo of Beauty and the gentle Giant!
But we all know happy endings can be possible only in fairy tale books. One day, Uncle passed away. Auntie was bereft. But such was the courage he had instilled in her that she was still strong enough to withstand the immense loss. Her concerned query of “How will I live without him?” when he was alive was replaced by “He gave me the strength to carry on.” Yet you could sense, she missed him deeply.
Within weeks of his passing away, their son and his wife brought joyous news to her. A baby was about to arrive in the house. When it did, it turned out to be a little boy.
I’d like to believe Uncle came back to be with Auntie. That’s the way I would like this story to end. But then that’s just me!