I was told to carry her favorite food to the small hut where she used to live .
Normally I did not like to do such type of good boy stuff but she has not been keeping well for last few months, and I knew the border between bad and evil quite well, specially for the 80 year old house help, in front of whom I was born and whose loyalty and honesty towards our family had remained unquestioned for last 50 years. But what I liked most about her was her mannerism and her ways which were quite much more elite than my own grandmother. Sometimes I wished she was my real grandmother, as the real one was always busy in fooling Gods, throwing and attending parties and she was the one who literally raised every child at home she had no blood relation with.
We used to call her “The Old Lady” or “ Budhiya”, nobody knew her real name, rather nothing about her.
I did not have to knock at it as the door made of bamboo sticks slid open with my touch. She was lying in a dark corner and the smell of wet mud was strong as the roof was leaking due to heavy monsoon rain. I go close to the cot made of jute. I call “Budhiya” close to her ears. After few tries I hear her frail response “Who is this”?
“Your Husband”..that's what she used to call me teasingly. I could trace a beautiful smile between heavy mesh of wrinkles.
I hold her to make her sit , she felt soft but cold. I used to play with her dried skin , pinching it and leaving and it remained that way for unusually long and it made me laugh but she never seemed to object.
I tell her that grand-mom has sent her favorite food “ Pittha”( An East Indian food made of wet flour with pulses stuffed inside it).
She did not have pillow to rest her head, I support it with my thighs in kind of role reversal as she might have done several times when I was a kid.
She manages to eat a bit and ask for water which was kept in an open pot. After a few minutes of silence she asks me to check for a small wooden box with lion emblem under her cot.
I crawl down that narrow space and find the wooden box which could have never belonged to her. It had every mark of royalty on it with silver pleating at corners and Union Jack in the middle with roaring tiger just below that.
“Where did you get this? “ I ask her in amazement.
“It was a gift from Mr. Jackson. And then came Gandhi and everything was ruined."
For the first time she had spoken some names. My curiosity was rising with my pulse.
“Who are you…what is your name ..?”
She looks up for sometime and then she looks towards me with a stare which sends shivers down my spine “ I was a Rajput Princess who fell in love with a British Officer called Mr. Jackson. My father was also fine with this development as it would have resulted in better relationship with the British Government. Mr. Jackson was a gentleman, he used to take me to places on his white horse, he even made me meet his parents. They had reservations but he was determined to stand for me and then the revolt happened “.
“All Indian resident British officers were asked to evacuate the place before dawn as there was threat to their lives. My father did not like the idea of me going with Mr. Jackson, but in the middle of night I eloped with him on his buggy drawn by two black horses. We went through the fields and dense jungles and it was the most beautiful moment of my life. Some arms just make you free when they close you in and so I felt in his. He raised a bone-fire to save me from night cold but it also invited a group of bandits. He fought gallantly like a man but was not enough for twelve men on horses with guns and swords and my fate was to change again”.
I was presented like a trophy to their chief. He asked my name.
From that moment I stopped telling my name to anyone. He called me “Jungle Fairy” as he found me there. He married me next day according to Muslim Customs and his name was Sikandar, A strong built man above 6 feet and he had a kind heart too. He used to make sure that I was the first to see and choose things of my liking from the bounty he used to bring. I gave birth to his 4 children 3 sons and one daughter.”
I was speechless like I was hypnotized and she continued……
“One of his associates betrayed him during one of the raids and he was killed by the rival gang and to ward off any chance of revenge the gangs used to eliminate everyone from opponents , entire families not even sparing children"
“Once again was on my own in the dead of night but this time on a wooden boat, hiding all my children under the grain bags and the boat floated on the canal to the river
I could not speak anything. She opens the box and hands me over a small locket and asks me to always keep with me.
Before leaving I ask her “What is your name?”
She says “ Your wife”…and smiles and those were probably last words she spoke to anyone.