The most hostile trail to be traveled lay ahead of us now. The rain that had forced us to take shelter in the abandoned cowshed beside the trail had now stopped and there was the fragrance of the soil that had enjoyed the first shower of the winter. It had rained quite suddenly and we were wet before deciding what to do. We decided to take a short rest before beginning the last climb up the hill for the day.
Binod, who had proposed this journey out of desperation now seemed content to have the hair wet so that it will set properly. Combing the hairs with his fingers he tried once again to justify the trip: "I have not told the lead story of the day and that will now help us to cross this hill. The thing is that you should not harass me to walk any faster as I'll be loosing some of my energy in telling the story. " We were mused by the fact that he had finally anticipated some harassment from us in the remaining part of the journey. Though we were also no more in a position to walk fast, it was better not to let him know this secret. We cleared whatever ration was left in the bags before leaving the stone platforms beneath the Bar-Peepal tree. A caravan of mules came down the trail and passed us as we were beginning to walk up.
The top layer of the earth had been wet though it could be easily told that the dry earth was within millimeters from the top. The sun reasserted its presence above the mountain in the west by giving the clouds a bright yellow hue and it could be easily predicted that the sun was going to set within half an hour or so. The houses in the lap of the hill facing us were now barely discernable in the growing haze of darkness that had made the otherwise green bushes between the villages quite black. With the fall of the day, each of us was feeling increasingly detached from the realities that we had left behind at our homes and we were able to enjoy all these usual things that had never drawn our attention till then.
"All this happened when I was studying the Bachelors in Kathmandu." Binod had eventually started the supposedly lead story of the day. "I was like today, reluctant to start any relationship with the girls. That must be why I had very few girls as friends and, most importantly I cared little about them. Being an average student from a not wealthy family the worries about the study and the seasonal jobs were enough to keep my mind preoccupied. My room partner was, however, exactly the opposite. "
"Now please don't tell that the story is of your friend and not yours." Prashant interrupted: "We can't spoil this evening by listening the story of a third person. How can it be that you were not nuts about anyone during the college years?"
"Of course I also play a part in the story. That is why I am going to tell it now. This thing called love, I get still puzzled while thinking about it. And I am still not sure if the thing I am going to talk about is really love or something else. Whatever that was I am sure that can never coexist with the thing called rationale. However shrewd you may be in other matters, you surely mess up things once you are up to it. Indeed it is this factor of wild messing up of things that makes it so special and mysterious."
"Are you going to give us a lecture in the theory of love or there is something concrete worth dissipating the fatigue of the climb?" Prashant interrupted as he had been doing throughout the day as the dusk gradually covered us with the black blanket. Our sense of detachment from reality increased further in the weather that was close to ideal with the shower having brought the temperature to optimum level. I wished the dusk remain as such delaying the onset of full-fledged night indefinitely. All of us were eager to utilize this nostalgic moment by sharing a story that was romantic yet peculiar as every love story tends to be. But Binod was giving the theory of love that appealed two of us much less.
"I am sorry, but here there will be more theory than practical as I played a little practical and tangible roll other than exploring the theory of love. That will help the bachelor lads like you when you have to deal with things like this. You need not worry about the practice of love as it is cosmopolitan and it is, I assume unique in each case. But there are few things that are worth knowing even though they appear to be over-simplification at the first glance."
Binod could not continue as he found himself panting for breath in the steep trail that had now digressed from the wide mule-trail to enter to the terraces indicating a village was nearby. That would be our destination for the day. We enjoyed the plain part of the trail along the margins of the terraces that dissipated some of our fatigue. Indeed walking at the level or down it was equivalent to taking rest. This helped Binod to proceed with the story as the sickle-shaped moon appeared about to disappear above the hills in the west.
" The first thing is that you speak an absurdity if you claim that the root cause of your love, or relationship, whatever you say, is that you rationally analyzed the prospective relationship. May be, your relationship will turn out to be practically compatible and even ideal, but at the moment of its conception, it is the instincts that determine what is to follow. Sometimes I wonder if I can discard this faculty of judgment from my mind and let the instincts rule everything. In the story I am going to tell, the instincts play the lead role and the judgments the villain role. Both of you have a lot to learn from the story."
" Hey, we are not your teenager students. Now we would be relieved to listen what had actually happened that made you a philosopher like this." This time I interrupted.
In a turn that reversed the direction of the trail midway between the two terraces, Binod gave a glance to the moon, paused, pointed to it and spoke: "Love is like the fantasy of a child who imagines the full moon to come everyday so that the thing called night never comes with its full vigor. It is like the fantasy in which a child imagines how brightly the sunlight must be illuminating the top of the clouds after days of persistent raining and darkness. The child can imagine this land lying above the clouds so that it has never to bear the darkness and the sad rainy days. Similarly in love, you have to become a child again, and enjoy a setup in isolation, not in terms of its relation or interaction with the others. The moment you prioritize these things thinking them to be compatible with love, the thing called love is no more."
Finally we stopped interrupting Binod as we realized that he had little practical things to tell and it was no worth disrupting his lecture as we also had no better stories to tell. He took a pause, ran the stick he was carrying along the top of the wheat plants in the field that had just sprouted, turned back and gave us each a glance. Now the village was pretty close to us and the sounds of dogs barking at distance were accompanied by the high-pitch musical sounds of the insects. We had walked in the level for ten minutes or so and our bodies almost shivered as the sweat produced during the ascent had finally cooled making it wet everywhere.
"I don't know exactly how the story started. But when I became aware of everything, it had been too late. My room partner had been teasing me with the name of a girl who usually greeted me in streets after seeing me with him many times. She was his junior, he told, but she behaved with him as if he were her teacher. I can't guess how the story would have proceeded had my Roopa been devoid of a 'real' girl friend as vigilant as she was. Now he began to convince me that this junior of him named XYZ was the best possible match for me in this mortal world. That was indeed his attitude: to exaggerate everything, even to create things that never existed. I sometimes wonder what a drive the nature has given few people to enjoy the things the way they do."
"When I sensed some unusualness in my attitude towards the girl, I tried to logically explain everything: that it had been a mere incidence that I met her. That she was like many other girls whom I had met and forgotten with time. That I was impulsively misinterpreting her gestures and the way she behaved with me was usual for any girl of this age to do so with every other boy they met with. That such incidents come and go in life and should not be accounted for seriously. But later I realized that the fact itself that I needed so many arguments to render my relations with her 'usual' made them essentially unusual. After all, it was the longing for her that took many forms. I eventually began to rationalize our potential relationship even before talking few completed sentences with her. I took it for granted that each smile she gave me was the unique compliment and the symbol of the prospective relationship while in reality, she would give a same smile for a man on a horseback with a heavy luggage on top of his head."
Binod was impressed by the way we were afloat in the ocean of story he had unfolded. Finally a story worthy of listening was coming and we did not feel like interrupting. The moon had touched the mountain in the west and was about to disappear when we sat in the stony platform at the bottom of the village. One of my distant relatives lived in the village when I was a child. I was not sure if they still did but I was hoping to make an arrangement for our accommodation by linking myself to the relatives and the village even if they had abandoned this long ago. That is how you get Bas in a village. Mopping the forehead with the white handkerchief, Binod continued the story as he sat cross-legged in the enormous flat rocks of the 'Chautari'.
"She behaved in a reasonably normal way. But, as my Roopa stepped up his scolding propaganda, my susceptibility to emotional fluctuations only increased. I became increasingly possessive of her. In an attempt to interpret them wisely, I misinterpreted her every other gesture. You know how shy we lads from village are in matters like telling a girl how we feel about her. We would rather eat dirt than proposing to a girl whose acceptance of the relationship is not guaranteed. That is what happened with me. As I kept erecting castles of dream in the imaginary world, in reality I was the same shy bachelor from a little-known group of bookworms in the college. I had no special talent and I was ordinary among the ordinary boys. She was, on the other hand, steps ahead in what they nowadays call 'personality development'. Later I came to know that she had got a multitude of admirers in the college and many had even proposed her."
"As in every other case, both of you know my attitude." Binod continued: "I am really clumsy when it comes to making decisions that involve the risk. I wonder why the nature makes few people like me who are scared of taking risk. From the outset, I argued that the girl would reject any proposal from me. That is what I was taught from childhood: perform the best but be ready to bear the worst. I became increasingly possessive of her but that was not enough to prompt me to tell her directly what I felt about her. Often the status quo does not last for long in such cases. Driven by the impulses, I nearly proposed to her one day but an unrelated incident took place to sabotage the process and for technical reasons I had to postpone the program."
"For days to come I was sure that I was going to take the risk and perform a life-sized experiment, something I had never done before. But for poorly explained reasons, my enthusiasm gradually waned over the days and I was surprised by the degree of detachment I developed within few days while it had taken weeks to cope with the emerging feelings about her earlier during the ascent phase of the relationship. Eventually I began to ruminate how ridiculous it would have been to hear a 'no' from her. Even if it were 'yes', that would have been the end of good part, as I have seen it happen with many other pairs who begin the relationship that way. "
"That was not the end of the story, however. It was shocking to realize how utterly mediocre the things had been all along though they appeared special so long as I was deep in love. To mention one, the way she laughed: that was the best laughter that I had ever seen. The way her well-set teeth glittered as she laughed giving a peculiar shape to the face: that drove me nearly crazy so long as I had the thing in me. The moment the love or infatuation whatever they call was over, I began to see a distortion in her face as she laughed. She somehow checked the extent to which the muscles of the face contracted and that added to the artificiality of the laughter and the ugliness of her face. After all, that was what many of the new-era girls did and the parochialism of this all was really disgusting. What was more disgusting was the way I interpreted the very same thing as one of the criteria of beauty. One after another I discovered so many petty things that keep lightening the castle of love so long as the emotion is above a threshold. The moment it dips below the level, everything turns ugly. I nearly shivered at the thought of getting paired with someone impulsively and discovering this hard truth after everything becomes irreversible.
That must be why people still consider so many factors before making a nuptial knot. After all any emotion can't last for ever at a level required to make everything look good. At the troughs there may be no problem but at the crests of the life and relationship you need something beyond mere emotion that can give a firm support to the relationship. You may feel like going after any girl who is quite beautiful and if you incidentally do so, you will be thoughtless for a period when your judgment will remain dormant. After you discover what had actually taken place, however, most likely it would have been too late to reverse everything."
"In the final year of the college, coincidentally, we taught in the same school. I understood that the journey of my Roopa with his mate was also going through rough terrains. So he was less enthusiastic in seeing me hand-in-hand with XYZ. He merely acknowledged that finally I would beat him by getting married earlier. I had no reason to protest now, so didn't respond. He did not insinuate further either as both of us had been aware of what would really follow. "
By this time it had been as dark as it was possible. We were really tired and each of the muscles in the body was aching and I was fearing for the worse: the cramps that sometimes trapped me in water while swimming. I had got an aura of these just before settling in the Chautari. That was why I did not urge them to begin walking earlier. Now that the cream part of the story was over, we had to lift our exhausted bodies and begin the short journey for the day that lay ahead before we reached the relative's house. I was prompted to ask Binod the final question: did she propose him while they taught in the school?
"Leave that for tomorrow. Another story starts from that point." Binod muttered. I was not sure whether he was serious or just joking as I could not see his face in the dark. Each of the option was possible and we had to wait till the other day to discover what had actually followed.