The Idea – Young Jairam saw Chitralekha by a window…he liked her and decided to find out more and what he learnt changed both their lives…
He was tall, burly and reserved. She was petite, and gentle. As we got closer to our new neighbours, we realized he was also very helpful by nature, though he remained, as always, a soft-spoken person. She became one of the best friends my mother ever had. I heard that theirs was a love story and was intrigued … what tale did they have to tell ? The Beauty and the Gentle Giant!
It had to be chubby-faced Kartu who was employed to do outdoor jobs who could tell me their story. She also worked in their house. She would know. Maid-servants usually did! After hauling dried coconut leaves to one corner of the backyard and sweeping the large compound, she sat down for lunch. She was just about finishing her meal, when I went to my mother’s tinderbox and pulled out a few betelnut leaves and an arecanut.
“Will you tell me something if I give you this?” I tried to entice her as I held out the trophy.
She looked at it suspiciously. Scooping up the last handful of rice and pulses, she relished it, “What do I have to tell you?”
“The story of how Jairam Uncle met Chitralekha Auntie,” I said.
“I want to write their story.”
She let that information sink in, nodding her head slowly, then she said, “Okay!”
About ten minutes later, we were sitting out at the back porch, Kartu with her legs stretched out, a single betel leaf and some arecanut safely in her mouth; Me the eager beaver, ears perked up, sitting next to her on the wide steps that led down to the vegetable garden.
“So what is it that you want to hear?”
“I know Jairam Uncle saw Auntie by the window when he went to her house to carry out some civil work. He was a young apprentice then. I know that when their respecitve families came to know, they wouldn’t let the two get married…I also know that they had to walk out on their families to start a life of their own, to be ostracized by a few, and admired by many others…”
“You know the whole story then…!!!”
“No, I want to know everything in detail…the teeniest, tiniest bits of information…A story-teller needs to know all that.”
Kartu looked at me like I was mad. But then she smiled indulgently and looking ahead, she cleared her throat noisily much like a child out to participate in a school elocution competition!!!
“It was in the early 1970s. You must have been a tot then. Oh!!! Love was not a common thing between strangers those days. And this one is an unusually beautiful story too.” Kartu beamed at me and her eyes sparkled!!!