A Journey East

As a free taste, here is a story I wrote called A Journey East.

A Journey East

By

Vivek Rajkhowa

 

It was raining. Arjun smiles, it was just like when he was a child. Coming from a rather rainy place in Scotland, to where his family originally came from in Guwahati, he was always expecting it to be hot and sunny, yet every time he came here, without fail, it would rain. That was reassuring. Still a small part of him knew that he shouldn’t have come to Guwahati at the beginning of the monsoon season. The roads were flooded, the drains were overflowing, and the snarls of the car horns echoed in the streets in the distance. Yet there was something about it that was reassuring. Strangely, it reminds him of better times, of more innocent times with his grandmother. His grandmother was the reason he decided to come back to Guwahati after so many years, she’d passed away a few months ago, leaving him something. The guilt at not being able to see her- damn exams! – and the curiosity to see what it was that she had left him, had drawn him here, to the very place they’d last been together.

The rain gets heavier, and as he sees the two stone statues standing guard outside the entrance to the Temple-her temple, their temple- he smiles in relief, it will be something to get inside the warmth. He quickly scans the surrounding area, there is no one around-one of the benefits of having a Family Temple- once he is sure he is alone he walks with great purpose toward the temple, up the steps, minding his step against slipping on wet stones. He comes to the entrance, stares at the two stone guards, a bull-headed man, and a crow headed man briefly, before walking into the temple, and the inviting warmth.

As he enters the temple, Arjun finds himself remembering the times he would come to the temple with his grandmother. They would always come here first, after arriving from the airport. They would come and pray, and talk, catch up about school and work, and where in the privacy of the temple his Aita would teach him Assamese- a language he can still speak, if not as well as he could when he was younger- yes he has definitely missed this.

Arjun takes a moment to look over the icons in the temple, seeing his Aita’s handiwork in some of the grand carvings of Gods and Goddesses, she would always bring him here, and would talk about what had inspired her to make the carvings-always speaking in Assamese, it was important for him to learn after all- he smiles in remembrance at that. He moves from the entrance, and towards a stone plaque with his Aita’s mother’s name on it, denoting that she had laid the foundations for the temple with her family. His Aita had always been very proud of that, and would always point it out to him. Reminding him of his heritage. He grins as memories of years past come floating through his mind. Memories of celebrating the anniversary of his parent’s marriage here, of celebrating birthdays and other important events here, the Temple truly has seen some of his most important life events.

From the plaque, he finds his feet leading him toward the small room off the main hall, where they would always keep certain accounts and books. His uncle Mitu Papa has told him that his Aita had left him some things there. His feet lead him to the entrance to the room, a door, engraved with a carving of Mother Goddess, he closes his eyes briefly in prayer, an old chant his Aita used to say before she would put him to bed as a child. Once he has finished, he opens his eyes, and pushes open the door.  The room is small and cramped, but homely at the same time. It smells a little of ash and old abandoned fires, most likely from the fire place on the left side of the room. He moves through the room, picking up papers, reading and seeing what has been left behind. Nothing of note stands out to him, just some old records from the days before he was even born, most likely from when his father was a boy, and some before even then. Arjun sighs, perhaps there isn’t anything here for him after all, maybe his Aita forgot? He wouldn’t blame her if she had, she was very ill towards the end. Still, he finds himself hoping that perhaps it was kept in the cellar. He moves towards the rock at the end of the room, a well-guarded secret, Arjun has to move his hands up and down a stone slab before he finds the door. He presses hard and then pulls his hands back.  The slab opens, the door opens, a flight of steps are revealed to him. Just like the first time he saw this happen, he is surprised, his heart rate picks up, his breathing gets a little louder. He says a quick prayer, then begins walking down the stairs.

The darkness is all engulfing, he knows he should have brought a light with him, but he has been down here twice before, he should know the way down. He looks down, the darkness prevents him from seeing anything, so he looks up. As he does so, he trips and falls down. Grunting at the slight pain in his legs, he startles up as a chuckle sounds from somewhere in the distance. His heart quickens. “Who’s there?” he asks, first in English, then Assamese when he doesn’t get a response.

The voice that responds is deep and rumbling, like a thunderstorm. “Is that you Arjun?”

Surprised, Arjun asks. “Prabhat Deo, you?” as he gets up from the ground.

From somewhere a light appears, forcing Arjun to squint slightly as the brightness takes some time to get used to. When he finally has, his sight restored, he sees his old teacher sitting on a bench in front of a rock that contains so many different secrets. The man has a flowing white beard, and no hair atop his head. He is as thin as a stick, but his eyes, his eyes show his great power. Speaking in Assamese, the man says. “Your Aita asked me to wait here for you.”

“My Aita passed away four months ago Prabhat Deo, surely you haven’t been waiting here for that whole time?” Arjun asks.

Prabhat Deo laughs. “Oh no, of course not. I am dedicated Arjun, but not that dedicated. I spoke with your uncle Mitu, and he told me  you would be coming. So, I came a few hours ago and waited.”

Feeling anticipation rise inside of him, Arjun asks. “Do you know what Aita left me?” He knows his Aita and Prabhat Deo were close, they were childhood friends he thinks.

“I do yes.” Prabhat Deo responds, but then his voice takes on a serious tone. “Before I give it to you, I want to ask you something.”

“Okay.” Arjun responds cautiously. He is not sure what exactly his former tutor would want to ask him, but he is willing to answer.

“Do you know the importance of this temple? Why your Aita, and her Mother, and her Mother before her all were tasked with maintaining it?” Prabhat Deo asks.

“I do.” Arjun says, and when he sees his former tutor looking at him expectantly he elaborates. “The Temple has been in our family for generations. No one knows exactly how old it is. But it is a part of our heritage, a part of our society, and as such it must be maintained and preserved. History has been made here, and history will continue to be observed here. It is important that it remain in good condition.”

He sees Prabhat Deo nod his head, the smile that comes onto the old man’s face suggests that he is pleased with the answer. “Very good.” A pause, the silence echoes a little bit, though how that is possible, Arjun does not really know. The silence is ended when Prabhat Deo picks up a heavy, leather bound book, and gets up, handing him the book and speaking. “This is the book your Aita left you. She wanted you to have it, as she felt you would benefit from it the most.”

Arjun looks at the book in his hands, he reads the title on the cover of the book. “The Life and Times of the Varman Dynasty.” He smiles. “She remembered.” He murmurs to himself. A memory of him as a child looking around his Aita’s house searching for a book he had seen once, but had never seen again. The dynasty, the history of early Assam having fascinated him as a child and ever since. He looks at his tutor. “Thank you.” He says softly.

Prabhat Deo smiles. “Not to worry. Now, look after the book and make sure it is preserved and read. It is a rare one.”

“Of course.” Arjun responds. As he turns to leave, he stops, there is a gathering happening at his Uncle’s house tonight, in honour of his Aita, and so he asks. “Are you coming to Mitu Papa’s house tonight?”

Silence follows his question, and Prabhat Deo replies. “Yes. I wouldn’t miss it.”

Arjun nods, says his goodbyes and then leaves the room. He walks back up the steps, looking at the book in his hands adoringly. He comes back into the small room, leaving the door open for his tutor, and then he walks out back into the main temple. The rain has gotten heavier; he can hear it hammering against the temple walls. Sighing, he knows his uncle is going to make him clean up the dirt left by the rain when he gets back. Still at least he has something to while away the time now. He gets to the exit of the temple, stopping one last time to have a look around. His eyes run over the carvings, and the words, he smiles and whispers. “I’ll see you again.” With that he turns and walks out into the rain, running down the steps, and back into the car.

******

 

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