The New Beginning (A short story)

Peechmeng, perched on the foothills of Aravali, was a proliferating village that possessed thick woods and an ebullient river which nurtured twenty thousand villagers. The flora and fauna and picturesque beauty of the God’s place enticed many a tourist who flocked there during the peak tourist season.

Ramya, who lived with her father in the village, loved her life. The doting daughter, not only extended full support to the family’s poultry business but also excelled in academics. She had a fixed routine. In the mornings, she hastily used to wind up all the household chores while Timmy uncle, Ramya’s father, would cook. Timmy uncle was a food gourmet who enjoyed cooking myriad food items for his beloved daughter. After packing the palatable food and books in her bag, Ramya would sling it over her shoulder and would dart off to her college which was on the other side of the river. Every day she would hire a canoe from Michael uncle and row it dexterously to the river’s other shore. However, she never travelled alone. Yes, the moment she would hire the canoe, Damplu like a tamed genie would just pop up from oblivion to be with his lady love, Ramya. Everyone in the village knew that these love birds were getting hitched soon. The love struck couple would then embark on the most romantic journey; the bewitched terrain stood testament to their undying love for each other. Damplu would serenade for his Ramya while she would coyly row the boat.

After pursuing his engineering abroad, Damplu had chosen to settle in Peechmeng to ideate innovative agricultural procedures that would assist all the villagers. Damplu and Ramya were engaged and were to enter marital bliss after Pyogana festival –a yearly festival to pay obeisance to the fertile God, Gumpa –in the village.

Timmy uncle and Ramya were very popular in the village. They had amicable relations with all the villagers. At every Pyogana festival, all the villagers would congregate in the gigantic sprawling lawn that stood in front of Timmy uncle and Ramya’s chalet bungalow.

For four days, unprecedented and incessant pageantry would be witnessed in the foothills by not only the locals but also the awestruck tourists. Huge colourful and resplendent parades took over the sprawling lawns with bands, floats and dances. The festival was meant to be a feasting, drinking and merrymaking orgy. Work would come to a halt and all and sundry would engage in the unbridled festivities. This year too the festivities had begun.

However, Ramya’s neighbor Fantoosh chacha who owned ferries and was into fish business could not stand the sight of Timmy and Ramya. The burly man in his fifties ensured that none of his family members engaged in the festivities.  The family wasn’t on talking terms with most of the villagers. Funtoosh chacha never trusted anyone and was chary of building harmonious relations. There’s much hearsay that once his bosom friend had duped him of all his money and he resorted to begging; with the paltry means, he reared his family of ten. Gradually, after exerting painstaking efforts, he again became an indomitable winner in his business. However, after facing so many roadblocks, he acquired an indignant disposition.

Once, over a puny matter, an altercation ensued between Funtoosh chacha and Timmy uncle. Rage escalated to full grown animosity, resulting in no relations between the two families.

While all the villagers immersed in the boisterous celebrations, Funtoosh chacha’s chalet bungalow wore a deserted look. The deliberately shut windows and doors craved to be unfastened so as to witness the inhabitants of the chalet to partake in the celebrations. But, Alas!! They were all crammed in the chalet. Funtoosh chacha’s family -his wife, two sisters, five sons, a daughter, a granddaughter -mutely acquiesced to whatever he said. They abided by the diktats laid down by him, as all of them feared his irascible temperament. Nonetheless, Pakhi, Funtoosh chacha’s three year old granddaughter always showcased her affinity for Ramya.  Whenever Ramya ventured out of her home to go to her college,  Pakhi would sneak out of her chalet and plop herself on the huge stack of hay which lay between the two chalets. She would then frantically squirm her body to attract Ramya’s attention; Ramya would stomp up to her, lunging her cheek near the toddler.

“Sweet Munchkin! If you want two chocolates,  I want  two pecks on my cheek. If you want four chocolates, I get four pecks. “Ramya would aver.

Pakhi would immediately interject, “Ramya, I will give you thousand kissies.. You will give me thousand toffees… No… Ramya… “.

Then both of them would cuddle each other and burst into uninhibited laughter. The propinquity between them in spite of the age disparity would be a heart wrenching sight. Day by day the bond between the two grew powerful.

Ramya felt despondent for her little munchkin as she wasn’t permitted to enjoy the Pyogana festivities. The festivities had been in full swing and today was the last day of the festivities.

All the chalets in the valley including Ramya and Funtoosh chacha’s were old and dilapidated and needed revamping at the earliest opportunity. The panchayat decided that after the Pyogana festival, a contractor would be summoned and all the chalets would be revamped. The first floor of Funtoosh chacha’s chalet bore many fissures. Many bricks in the chalet’s wall facing Ramya’s lawn, gave way to the feisty rainfalls a fortnight ago and many crevices were laid bare. Through one of these many crevices, Pakhi was gaping at the Pyogana last day’s extravaganza; her eyes like glistening jewels were pirouetting at the beats of the thumping dhols. Ramya while gyrating with Damplu on the stonking music, was exchanging affable glances with Pakhi. At the back of her mind, she knew that this was her last Pyogana festival celebrations in her house with her beloved father. After Pyogana festival, she would be married off to Damplu, she would miss her father and Pakhi. It’s not that she wouldn’t meet them, she would, in fact twice or thrice a week but not every day. All these thoughts were lingering in her mind while all the villagers were gorging on the Lamb Rogan Josh, Mughlai Karahi Gosht and Chicken biryani pristinely arranged on the rustic bamboo counters.

On the last day of the festivities, everyone let loose their diffidence and scurried into the barrel shaped pools which were inundated with RUM…

More than twenty such pools were strewn all over the lawn and all the villagers -first the men and then the women in tow-had the time of their lives quaffing the Rum.

Peechmeng enjoyed gender equality. Women had equal access to education, health care, decent work, and representation in political and economic decision, making processes because of which the place was very progressive. And when it came to exhilaration, they enjoyed all festivities with gay abundance.

Finally at about 2 AM, the jollification came to an end and all the inebriated  villagers staggered back to their homes. Ramya and Damplu had drunk moderately.Damplu escorted many a villager safely to their abodes. Timmy uncle who was jauntily whistling to himself was trudging up to the first floor towards his bedroom. Ramya quickened her steps and clasped her father’s hand.

“My doll.. I did not drinkkk muchh.. I can go uptoo my bed on my own… Go and spend some quality time with Damplu”, Timmy uncle stammered.

“Pops.. You have quaffed liters of rum… You can’t even walk properly… Keep quiet and here you go.. Step on to the bed.., “rejoined Ramya.

Timmy uncle plonked on his bed and passed out. Ramya, after tucking a warm blanket over him, saw him recoil under it. The freckles of toil on his face had smoothed and disappeared, his body totally in peace rejuvenating to bolster against the onset of another day of clamour.

Ramya sauntered towards her favourite spot in the lawn -the two humongous Red Maple trees which faced Pakhi’s bedroom. A massive hammock was suspended between the two trees where sometimes Ramya or Timmy uncle would luxuriate. She clambered into her hammock and lay there, staring wide-eyed and awake looking at the cascading stars in the sky. She lay alone, collected, tranquil, comparing the serenity of her mind with the serenity of nature, the splendid constellation mesmerising her to the core. She basked in the poised moonlight as if consuming ambrosia with her eyes. At that moment, she felt like a diminutive mortal, so ephemeral in comparison to the astronomical world.

Ramya let out a sigh of content while appraising her life. She was the happiest girl on earth blessed with an adoring father, loyal Damplu and ingenuous Pakhi. She paid her gratitude to the Almighty for all her blessings.

“Damplu would now come in the morning.. He told me that after escorting Humpy uncle and family home, he would head to his home for a nap.. “Ramya anticipated, the carousal of thoughts finally dwindling, sleep pooling over her eyes.

The sunlight gleamed through the audacious branches of the Red Maple trees, leaves rustled and glistened with pride as the dew drops quivered in synchronization to the invigorating chirps of the birds. Wind swooped down the tough mountainous terrain, rushing and rustling through the grasses and eventually retreating through the ridges to silence. The first orange hued rays of the sun kissed Ramya’s face. She partially opened her eyes and welcomed the brand new day.

Suddenly, Ramya’s hammock started wobbling as if it possessed a mind of its own. What started with synchronized, gentle movements resulted into something diabolical. She was catapulted to few metres away on the ground. The impact stupefied her, she scrambled across the ground. Her petrified eyes gawked at the cracks which appeared from the ground beneath; it took her some moments to awaken to the fact that an earthquake had struck Peechmeng. She somehow straightened up, her eye balls meandering to contemplate what was transpiring. In front of her eyes, her chalet was toppling like a matchbox, finally razing to the ground.

“Good Lord.. Pops.. He was in deep slumber.. Where’s his bedroom?.. What’s this?… Heap of rubble.. Where’s his bed?.. Pops.. Popss.. “mumbled Ramya. Thousand pieces of glass wedged into her soul; she stood there like a thawed, shrivelled corpse. Her inner world emanating a cacophony of demonic screams in juxtaposition to the ground. She hurtled towards the rubble, her hands pointlessly trying to scoop chunks of concrete amidst the clouds of dust. She dementedly wailed, the caterwauls resonating in the valley.

Popss.. You can’t leave your doll alone.. Come back.. Pops… Popss.. Popsss.. What would I do without you…. “Ramya screeched with every ounce of her body. Her squeals reverberated in the valley. She tried to brave through the piles of debris and twisted and molten metal, hands jostling through the massive chunks. While her hands rambled through the heap, they got bruised, pierced but the excruciating physical pain was nothing compared to her inner barrenness.

Her eyes suddenly get fixed at a mangled arm, an animate thing that could be seen in a sea of inanimate remnants. The spiritless and barren arm was that of Timmy uncle’s. The gory and grisly arm was a testimony of the catastrophe which hit the village. At that moment, some villagers who had survived the adversity, pounded up to Ramya, informing her that teams of rescuers and medical experts were to reach Peechmeng any moment.

Fatima aunty scuttled to Ramya and clutched her tight consoling her. ‘Ramya… Beta.. You have to compose yourself… Bulldozers are on the way.. They would scour through the rubble and pull your papa and Damplu out “yelped Fatima aunty.

“Damplu… Wait.. Why..Where’s Damplu.. He told me he’ll come in the morning… “whined Ramya. It sprang to her mind that Fatima aunty was Damplu’s neighbor.

Fatima aunty while thumping her chest savagely, bellowed, “Damplu’s chalet collapsed immediately after the 8.2 magnitude earthquake hit Peechmeng. Damplu and his family members are feared dead.”

Ramya was traumatized at the vicissitudes of events. They were to be united in wedlock in a fortnight.  Life is an exam where the syllabus is unknown and question papers are not set. The two indispensable pillars of her life had crumbled, despondency reached deep into her heart. The blistering pain, heavy like coarse metal and cold like snow, was present in every ounce of her body. She was a living grave now.

Suddenly multitude of emotions raced through her mind and body.

“Pakhi… Pakhi.. What happened to my sweet munchkin? “muttered Ramya.

She scuttered laboriously to reach to Funtoosh chacha’s chalet which was reduced to dust by the lethal earthquake.

“My Pakhi is gone too.. How could God be so unfair to the tiny tot… My Pakhi reduced to ashes… Can’t be.. “lamented Ramya. Warm tears of despair welled up in her red eyes and her cheeks were on flame.

As military helicopters hovered over the valley and ferried relief supplies to victims, scores of bodies were been transported to the crematorium ground opposite to the relief camps set up by the government. Scenes of desolation continued to unfold as rescuers battling grinding fatigue and mounds of debris, raced against time. The harrowing rescue work was underway even when the rescuers were aware of the dwindling hope of retrieving people alive beneath the rubble. Scenes of solidarity were seen in the quake wrecked village. Volunteers armed with shovels were braving the obdurate debris to search for survivors.

Relief makeshift camps were set up in Peechmeng where all the survivors showcased unprecedented support for one another. The strength and resilience of the people were laudable. Ramya was forcibly taken to the camp as she was refusing to budge from the place where her deceased father lay.

She wondered what would her father, Damplu and Pakhi would experience after death. Her friend used to say that a robed skeleton holding a scythe welcomes the deceased. Some said that the deceased went to heaven.. Some said that they reincarnate. While others mentioned how they transformed into ghosts, Ramya was confident that her loved ones were sleeping enveloped in the arms of eternity. Her mind was clogged with a series of webs of thoughts. She threw herself in distributing food to the survivors.

The next day Fatima aunty stomped towards Ramya puffing and blowing.

“Ramya.. your cutie pie  Pakhi was safely pulled out from the rubble of her chalet which was obliterated in the earthquake. All her family members perished except her.. “, rejoined Fatima aunty.

Ramya’s eyes gleamed with hope.

She rushed to the relief camp makeshift hospital where Pakhi was getting treatment. Luckily she escaped with a few cuts and bruises. She recounted her ordeal to Ramya, that how when her chalet fell,  the force of the  two floors above collapsing violently knocked her down,  but a wall of concrete stopped just short of pulverising her.

Pakhi,  the cynosure of  Ramya’s eyes let out an impassioned cry when she saw her. Her eyes twinkled as she clutched Ramya with all her might.

“Ramya.. Abu.. Ammi.. All others have died.. Ramya.. I’m scared.. “whimpered Pakhi.

Ramya held her close to her bosom and provided her some succor.

“Everything is going to be alright.. Little Munckin ” averred Ramya in a  reassuring tone.

That evening, the gargantuan ground besides the relief camp, hosted the cremation ceremony of more than two thousand deceased. Timmy uncle and Damplu’s pyres were getting readied. The villagers didn’t permit Ramya to see her dismembered loved ones. They stacked the pyres with timber, burned the carcasses at the customary time. The loved ones smouldered into pious ashes and soot and disintegrated into oblivion.

That night, Pakhi and Ramya held each other and cried profusely.

The next day, Ramya picked up her broken self; she had to live for her Pakhi. She experienced the meaning of life which lies in the effortless mingling of letting go and holding on.

After a month of withstanding the cold and discomfort in the relief camps, the survivors were getting engaged in the resurrection activities. The government had announced compensation to the survivors to rebuild their lives. The compensation dispensing officer was handing over cheques to the survivors after registering their names. Ramya’s turn approached.

“Ramya Zungpa… Here you go.. You receive a cheque of ten lacs.. “rejoined the officer while handing over the cheque.

“Who is this little one? “, quizzed the officer pointing at Pakhi.

“She is  Pakhi  Zungpa.. My.. My daughter”,mumbled Ramya.

The mother -daughter duo started a new life of hope, faith, love and serenity.

The resplendent sky, filled with pure sunlight, was invigorating enough to propel Ramya and Pakhi to live a bountiful and great life.

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