Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Tale of a Girl

In the rolling grasslands of the Turkmenian Karakum there roamed a pretty young Bedouin girl called Amira. Many a mad wind of the Hindukush having roared down the mountains with fierce pleasure, have reached the valleys, where, taken aback by the sudden greenness of the grass, the tinkle of bells on four hundred sheep and the scent of Amira’s hastily tied hair, the fierce winds have calmed down to a gentle breeze and have blown over Amira’s face, causing the drops of her brass earrings tinkle against each other in mild appreciation of the world. In situations like these, Amira was foolish enough to laugh aloud to herself and to fling whatever she was holding up in the air, simply for the pleasure of watching the wind carry it away.

The sight of such silliness gladdened Amira’s many grandparents who, seated outside their tents, chuckled quietly among themselves but fell silent as soon as they caught a glimpse of Amira’s father herding his animals across the fields. Amira’s father rode a fine Arabian steed, owned 3 wives, 14 children and a gun which he has never been seen to use but which he polishes regularly and keeps in excellent condition. It was said that he had once made a whole tribe of the deadliest of Tatar bandits flee with a single roar. However, Amira and her brothers and sisters who had almost never heard their father speak, only sniggered among themselves while listening to these stories. With every passing autumn, Amira’s father spoke lesser with humans and more with his animals. He longed to be able to read and this longing produced in him a strange sadness that found no place in the valleys cradled by the harshest of the hills. But since no one in his family had ever believed that a nomadic horseman could desire anything other than a life of valour, they thought that the sadness in his eyes was because of the fact that he had 9 beautiful daughters to marry off and everyone knew that in the valleys where the nomads roamed free and the mad winds calmed down to tease the sequins on the blouses of young girls, eligible grooms were impossible to find.

It so happened that one plain summer afternoon, when the wind was engaged in a merry game with the clothes hanging by the stream, Amira who was sitting nearby and mending a hole on a rug, came to the conclusion that the time was ripe for her to get married. And immediately, the mind of this wandering nomad who had learnt since birth that for her survival she was not to attach herself to any earthly constant, descended with unnatural firmness upon the prospect of losing itself to a man who would be the prince of her dreams. The wicked wind of the valleys murmured their approval and immediately began to flirt with the red silk thread with which Amira was working, making it flutter frantically quite like Amira’s foolish little heart.

The following night, long after all the fires had been put out and the sheep were snoring in their pens, Amira woke up with a start. As the cloth window of her tent flew open at the command of the conspiring winds, Amira saw the shadow of a man standing by the river. Driven by curiosity and shielded by the protection only the innocence of youth can provide, Amira brushed her sister’s sleepy arm off herself and crept out of the tent for a better look. Her eyes followed the moonlight which in perfect harmony with the scheme of the winds led them to the stream. Amira’s heart leapt to her mouth. There was a man standing with his horse on other side of the stream. In the faint light cast by the moon, he appeared to Amira like a warrior prince who had travelled across the mountains and braved the deserts to win her heart and steal her away to his kingdom. His face, half-lit by the moonbeam, showed off the rugged beauty that Amira was convinced came only after having fought many a brave battle. She had only heard of princes like these in stories recited to her by her many aunts and which she herself had recited to her younger sisters more than once. Little did she know then that her heart would one day beat as fast as a galloping Bedouin steed for a prince who could only be found in the fairytales of the nomads of the grasslands. As her knight lifted his face, his eyes, Amira felt, beheld her in the way Husrev’s eyes first beheld Shirin as he watched her bathe, in the fables of Nizami. It was beyond Amira to translate the maneuvers of the mysterious wind of the valleys and so the faint rustle of her skirt, the gentle tinkle of the water of the stream and the murmur of disquiet in the lone camp fire’s flickering light together reached her ears as the quiet and deep voice of her gallant groom to be.

‘Come with me, Amira,’ she heard him say. ‘Marry me and we will ride away to happiness.’

Amira’s cheeks were warm with emotions that had spent a million years rehearsing in preparation for this very moment. Her palms were sweating like the time when she had been caught stealing a sweetmeat by her father. The cunning wind was meanwhile whispering in her ears more words she thought were being said to her by her stranger of a suitor.

‘Fear not, Amira,’ she heard. ‘Only the stream lies between us. Come to my arms. I have been waiting for you since time immemorial.’

A thousand storms raged inside Amira. Outside the sly wind fell quiet in greedy anticipation of her actions. Amira clutched at her scarf, looked at the reflection of the prince on the stream and as if convinced by the promise of the shadow on the flowing water, slowly started walking towards the stream. At the edge of it, she stopped and looked up at her fabled warrior. In the one moment that passed before he silently stretched his hand to help her across the water, Amira felt herself hesitate. The most abnormal feeling of uncertainty strangled her for a moment and she stopped and looked back at the tent she had been sleeping in until a little while ago. The night was deep and though her family was fast asleep Amira felt everyone beginning to stir in realization of her absence. She paused anew driven by the sudden recognition of the fact that she could not swim and the waters were perhaps too turbulent for her to wade through. As if acting on cue, the wind orchestrated every sound in the valley to enter Amira’s ear for a third time as the voice of her beloved.

‘I yearn for the moment when we will be united, my princess. I have travelled far and wide in search of you. I am weary and thirsty. Will you not allow me to drink the water of the stream from your hands?’

Like a wildflower tossed in a winter gust, Amira threw herself on her suitor’s arm as if the very question of her survival depended on it. Clutching at it, she crossed the stream, the cool waters of an unnamed river caressing her ankles as if to say goodbye. She forgot about her father, her sisters, her grandparents, and about the colors in the carpets she and her family had made off the wool of 400 sheep. In front of her stood the traveler, her hand in his, his eyes upon her. The wind, mad once again in raucous celebration, became a fierce gale, blew out the camp fire and made the tents sway to an unheard rhythm. In one of these tents, Amira’s oldest grandfather sighed in his sleep and turned.


The next morning when Amira’s father woke up to the cry of one of his sons, the winds smirked and blew over Amira’s raped and lifeless body for one last time before heading southwards.

Soumashree Sarkar, UGIII

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