The seeds Aakash threw when he first planted Prakriti were later to be identified in Latin as substances such as Withania somnifera, Carum copticum, Glycyrrhiza glabra and many more. To Aakash they had greater affinity with the cosmic elements than with a botanical dictionary. They responded to the elements of earth, fire, water and air, and the way they replicated themselves as energy systems within the body. His ayurvedic herbs were the medicine of a nation that still held to ancient principles and trusted in the power of the Gods to potentiate their tinctures and cure their ills.
When Prakriti started to reap a handsome profit, Aakash was visited by his father Rahul, with talk of marriage. He was twenty-eight years old and had never questioned the inevitability of marriage. But then neither had he for a minute entertained any concept of a wife. His food was cooked by Hukam-Singh; Deepika, the cook's wife, cleaned his farmhouse, and a rotating assortment of local and migrant workers helped him in the fields. Every need he had was satisfied. And whenever he required conversation, he would spend a few hours on the verandah talking to Govinda his mahout, or he would take a stroll in the moonlight to visit his friend Xavier, the Christian headmaster in the nearby village.
When Aakash was visited by his father there were many long silences when Rahul turned their conversation to marriage. Many open-ended questions that hovered between thoughts. Rahul knew it wouldn't be easy to get an agreement out of his son. He knew also that no matter how well the farm flourished, it was his duty to find Aakash a wife. That there was no such thing as success unless a man was also "settled."
If truth be told, even Rahul found it hard to imagine his son with a wife and family. As a child, Aakash was like a deer: self-contained; poised; silently watching the world from the intensity of his own space. He never tugged at his ayah's sari palla like the rest of the brood. Neither did he feel the need to communicate with any of his siblings until he was at least four or five, when years of silence were ended with complete sentences that seemed to be spoken by a child twice his age. Nobody quite understood Aakash, and Aakash had never felt a need to be understood.
Like most parents in his situation, Rahul carried around the responsibility of his son's marriage like a piece of life's luggage. Only when he had successfully deposited this luggage would his load be lighter and his family responsibilities on earth be finalized. The weight of responsibility was far heavier than the feather-boned Aakash he had picked up in his arms the day he was born. And it weighed heavier still as his son's contemporaries garlanded each other and started having children.
Organizing a marriage for Aakash was like throwing a stick up high into a tree and hoping it would land. Even Rahul didn't dare think about what that married life might entail. The finality of the ceremony itself would satisfy him, like a handover.
The marriage he had in mind was with a family whom he didn't know too well, and that was not such a bad thing. They didn't know about Aakash and his unusual sense of detachment. The beard of a renunciant that he wore, and the eyes that looked only inward.
This unfamiliarity was also an advantage for the family of the bride. They too had an ulterior motive for marrying into a completely unknown family. It was like a marriage made on either side of a screen, with each family parading a shadow puppet for the benefit of the other.
When Rahul went to meet Krishna, the girl's father, he walked into a grand house in Amritsar, and was introduced to a beautiful, heavy-lashed, coy young Punjabi woman who held her head half-covered by her duppata and looked down at the ground. Sitting in the room with her was a cross-looking girl. The first one was introduced as Jyoti, or so he remembered, and the second one as Pyari.
This is a complete excerpt of Chapter 1 from The Seduction of Silence by Bem Le Hunte. Copyright 2003 Bem Le Hunte. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the publisher, HarperCollins Publishers.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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