As we were walking through the betel leaf and areca nut gardens, I was reminded of the famous lines of the poem ‘Sphulinga’ of the Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore:

“I have travelled miles for many years,

Spent a lot in lands afar

Gone to see the mountains, the oceans;

Not seen yet opening my eyes,

Giving just two steps from my home,

The dew drops that rests there,

Over the ear of the paddy.

(My own translation)

The leaves of betel leaf trees that winded around arecas and climbed up to touch the top of the tree and then the sky perhaps were looking like the wings of love for areca. Suddenly, a young man picking up betel leaf, hugging an areca at half height, came into our views. “Hey, Brother, are you plucking betel leaf?”Rabi asked. He slid down immediately and greeted us giving some betel leaf and smiling. As there was no guide we asked him the way to the river Piyain, the hanging bridge that had united two neighbouring countries and the location from where one could see the panoramic  scenery of two countries together. Instead of giving the directions, he ushered us to the location cordially. Before reaching the river bank we’d crossed many clustered houses which they call punjy. Many Children and old people were found looking at us with great inquisition. No adult women were noticed in the yard of the houses. Our eyes were moving to get glimpses of them – the luckiest girls and stronger sex who hear the joyous shouts after their arrival in this world and are at the center of its society with all the power.

But none came to our vision. We felt ourselves very unfortunate. From the bank of Piyain as we looked far we saw girls were crossing the river by small boats wearing colorful dresses. 

Suddenly we came across a young man of our age from the plain amidst our

disappointment. His name was Asad. During our conversation, Asad claimed that he came here at a very early age with his father, a migrant rock-collector, from the same village where my friend Nihal was born. Asad had settled here in this lovely piece of heaven marrying a tribal woman. “You can relax for hours dipping legs in the clear water underneath simply sitting on a stone’’ Asad said. “That’s why I couldn’t think to leave this unworldly place ever and therefore got married here.’’ He added. Asad became very intimate with us in the course of time. ‘’Hey, Asad, where’re these girls going by boat?’’Nihal asked. “They’re going to Dauki  bazar of Meghalaya state.’’ Asad replied.

“Now we understand why we haven’t seen any girls in punjees’’ I said. “We want to have some photographs with these brave girls. Is it possible for us, Asad?’’ Rabi asked.

“You’re here from my village. You’ve made a request! How could I decline it? Don’t worry, consider the work is done. But the problem is that today is Tuesday. Most girls go to Dauki for marketing. My wife Rosanna has also gone there.’’ Asad said. “It’s better to stay tonight in my house. I’ll be glad if you accept my invitation. Rosanna will be happy too.

Long days! Don’t see anybody from my village.’’ Asad added.” But we’ll have to go back to town today as we’ve an invitation in Rabi’s girlfriend’s house’’ I said. “We’ll go there tomorrow’’ Rabi interrupted. 

“Okay, I’ve some chores to finish before noon. Rosanna will also come back by this time. Therefore, you’re staying in my house tonight. Tomorrow we’ll go for boating in the river Mari. Then we’ll go for strolling in tea gardens on the other side of Mari.” Asad said. “We’ve not decided yet’ Asad’’ I interrupted.” we don’t want to miss the opportunity” Rabi said. June was silent so far. Now June accosted with Asad. “Hi, Asad, do you’ve special drinks to offer?’’ “They love rice- beer. If you don’t like it, I’ll manage other drinks if you give me money.’’ “Asad answered. “Why’ll we give money? You’re saying that we’re your guests’’ June said. “You’ll have to spend money for consuming good things, understand, brothers! I’ve other better things too, very juicy. You’ll just give me money and get things, squeeze for more juices.” Asad replied. “What’re you saying brother Asad? It’s hazier than their vernacular.’’ I said. “I’m telling about our oranges, nothing else. They’re so juicy that whenever you’ll peel them juice will drop down at once.” Asad said smiling. “Oh, I see! We’ll have to pay for oranges also.” I said. “It’s better to be paying guests than accepting your invitation. Please, do something for us today if you can” I added. “We want to stay here tonight’’ everybody told me shouting. “But I don’t! I’m afraid of ominous feelings of bad things to come here!” I whispered. “Okay, Brother, we’ll be happy if you accompany us in the visit to punjees to have peeks into their colorful life and some snaps.’’ I asked. “I said you earlier that no young women are there in the villages today. And without young women nothing can be colorful.’’ Asad replied. 

I became more doubtful about his character as I read somewhere once that some unscrupulous men from the plain marry these natural women only to take advantages of all the privileges, they’ve in the matrilineal society and simultaneously maintain relation with fallen women who don’t want to bother with a husband and these men ultimately jeopardize the future of the tribe. I was seized with misgivings if Asad is of that type of guy – ‘a caged bird that hunts a bird of same feather’. Eventually while we were walking through the punjy, Asad accompanied us and talked with many families in their languages. We noticed that old women coming in the balcony of their cottages built on stilts hailed Asad smiling mysteriously. And every time, he was telling us “I’ve mentioned you earlier that with whom you guys want to have snaps aren’t at home now. Okay, let me check the last one cottage. They’re twin sisters. Most attractive ladies in the punji! As they can dance well they’re little bit arrogant. There’s a believing here – ‘better the dance, better the crop.’ Very astonishing! They obtain the best harvest of every plantation in punjees. Guys don’t be afraid! We’d play together in our infancy. They’re still unmarried as they didn’t find their bridegrooms as per their choice.”Asad added. “We’re praying to God to get rid of this importunity as it’d become now a matter of ego”. Finally, Asad put an end in our persistence by saying “I don’t have much time to spare. I’ve some works in the local market. Brothers, if you decide to stay in my house, please tell me now because I’ll have to manage everything for your entertainment. Do you’ve enough money for funding? Enjoyment is very costly here. Otherwise, pay me for guiding you so far and depart.” “It’s better for us to leave now as we don’t have enough to pay you’’ I said hushing up everybody. “Okay, still I’ll wait for your final decision till afternoon in the market. Listen! Everything is juicy here.” He said giving a wicked laugh.

As Asad left us, everybody was abusing me in filthy language. “This type of opportunity comes rare in life to have fun in the green. Asad is from our village. Boys of our village cannot be as mischievous as you’re thinking of, Farhan” Nihal said. “I wished to drink rice-beer, oh, it produces better inebriation. Who’d have seen us if we enjoyed a night here.” Rabi commented. ‘’God sees our every action, isn’t it?’’I said. “Moreover, I didn’t like the attitude of Asad. And omens what’re looming large in my mind, if it happens, we’ll be the caption of tomorrow’s newspaper.’’ “Problems lie there as your prophecies so far have come true. I consider you a guru in this regard. But guru, you’re a back-number!’’ June said.

“Okay, let’s move to the river Mari’’ I requested everybody. We started to walk without conversation. Anyway, I believed everything would be fine shortly as we’d experience the amazing beauty of Mari. We hired a colorful boat. We all were enjoying boating and beauty of green hills beside the river and the colorful stones into the water. Seeing the very clean water of Mari Nihal said” I’ll have a swim. At least I don’t want to miss this opportunity for my chicken-hearted friend. You all will listen now, don’t swim here, Nihal, you’ll drown in Mari.’’ Not bad, at least Nihal was scolding me but others were not speaking with me as I opposed them to stay in Asad’s house. They were talking themselves about the beauty of the place and calling me by different names. At an  embarrassing situation I’d to change my position and sat on the other side of the deck. I myself was enjoying the beautiful view of Mari. My eyes unexpectedly fell on a young woman, coming down from the bank across a slope to a solitary point of river-surface. It seemed by her carried clothes that she’s coming to bathe in the clear water of Mari. I was eyeing her without any hesitation and being bothered by the consequences whether she noticed me. I believed “it won’t be a sin if I look at her with an unblemished mind. She was stripping off the pieces of clothes of jainsem that gave her a cylindrical shape until putting off. Now, light yellowish- brown skin of her body was exposed before my eyes.

She’s rubbing it with soap. I could see everything as she was in my long sight.  I was under the spell of her beautiful celestial body. I thought myself a transgressor as the boat was approaching the bank. “Now it’s not enjoying the natural beauty of Mari, now it’s a young girl bathing in the river Mari”. As I was going to withdraw my eyes from her, I could understand that she was noticing me also. I was obsessed with fear, as she was looking at me by turning her nape back repeatedly while she’s going back after finishing her bathing and remembering the event that I read once that a men’s right movement did emerge in the locality but petered out after hundreds of women turned up at once of their meetings, armed with knives. I was imagining that the young lady was coming toward me with her confidantes, knives in hand and stabbing me accusing that I was peeping at her bathing. And my friends were laughing at me saying “Fie! Fie! Farhan! Now you’re the caption of the tomorrow’s newspaper. I was climbing up the bank with my friends being worried of the outcome and then walking toward the end from where we’d take the next transport to the town. Right that moment the girl came into my view gazing at me through an open window ten to twelve feet distant from my position with her dreamy eyes wearing china-roses in her chignon. Now everybody noticed her looking at me. “Wow! She’s so beautiful! Where had she been so long? We’d be happy if we could have a snap with her.” Nihal said. “Now I also intend to live here forever in this scenic place.” I replied.

“What happened to our angel seeing this fairy? You’re sitting on the boat appearing as a sage so long! Look everybody, now the sage is also awake! But won’t go back to Asad’ June said. “It’s better to leave the place now as twilight is appearing. After a while we won’t have any transport here to go back to town’’ I said. “And no boat to go there back and stay tonight.’’ Nihal said. We’re moving forward. And I was looking back again and again to the window. Still she was standing there staring at me with a mesmerizing smile.