“Paakhi… Come quickly else we will miss the bus.” Paakhi’s mother called out to her. A few miles away from Palampur, Paakhi lived in a kacha ghar in a secluded corner of the village, reserved for dalits. In the plight to escape the discrimination from humans, Paakhi sought solace under shade of the pine trees and the bright sky.
Every year she looked forward to escaping to Palampur in search of a breath of fresh air and some solace. Wearing a faded and stained kurta pyjama, Paakhi ran towards her mom while tucking the dupatta on her sides.
In the bus, she pounced on the window seat and pressed her head against the window grill to get a sniff of fresh air and look deep into the valley. 20minutes later they reached the Darang Tea Estate. Paakhi jumped up and her mother quickly gathered her humble tiffin and water tied together in a torn piece of cloth.
Pratap was standing at the entrance of the estate to hire daily wagers and hand over the plastic apron and bamboo baskets to them. Paakhi and her mother joined the long queue of women. The women in the queue were busy chatting, Paakhi’s mom was chanting something under her breath hoping they get their chance today.
Some 30 minutes later, Pratap was about to handover the apron and basket to Paakhi, when bird droppings fell on Paakhi’s shoulder. Her deep black eyes gazed up the sky, and with stiff lips she muttered, “What a unique way to wish your friend good luck!!” Pratap couldn’t help but smile. Paakhi snatched the basket and apron from Pratap and dashed past him. Pratap refused the rest of the labourers and went to take a round of the tea estate.
As he turned around, he saw Paakhi putting on the plastic apron while delicately tieing the strings on her back. She pulled out her dupatta and wore it as a scarf on her head. The bamboo basket strings crowned her head and she adjusted the basket on her back to start working. All this while Pratap stood frozen in time, observing every minute movement of Paakhi.
Soon, Pratap shook his head in disbelief. He slapped his head, “What are you upto! Is this Love at first sight? But you cannot love anyone. Your parents decide whom to love.” But he felt helpless… He smiled for the first time in ages. He felt his heart beating… beating hard for someone….
A month passed by and everyday Paakhi would diligently pluck 2 leaves and a bud. While taking a round of the tea estate Pratap would willingly and unwillingly catch a glimpse of Paakhi. He made some noises around her to catch her attention but she never responded to human noises on the farm. However, whenever a bird chirped, she looked around and smiled. Her smile lightened Pratap’s day. This continued for days together and Pratap still didn’t know what Paakhi thinks of him.
His mind and heart were at a war. Pratap’s mind cautioned him that she is a Dalit and a Jat marrying Dalit would never be accepted by his parents and the society. But his heart was helpless in hands of love. It felt alive for the first time ever and was ready to sacrifice everything just to keep it alive.
Next day, Pratap gathered all the courage and while walking across the farm, he strawled close to Paakhi , hesitantly hushed and walked past her, “You are quite hard-working and skilled for your age.” Paakhi instantly dig her face in the chest and nervously smiled. After all, in the 20 years of her existence, this was the first time someone admired her. A chill went down her spine and from the corner of her eyes she saw Pratap standing at a close distance, smiling at a beautiful white pigeon clasped on his fingers.
Pratap kissed the pigeon and let it fly. The white pigeon flapped its wings and hopped on Paakhi’s shoulders. Paakhi looked in its eyes and caressed the pigeon while looking at Pratap.
Pratap’s joy knew no bounds. That day, Pratap’s father was not around, so he handed over the responsibility of paying the labourer to Pratap. Towards the end of the day women queued up with their baskets and got paid in proportion to the leaves plucked. Pratap handed over Paakhi’s salary and as she counted the brittle notes, she saw a small note cautiously hid between the currency.
She excused herself in name of the nature’s call and opened the note which read, “In your smile I see all the love I would ever need in my life.”
Paakhi playfully tucked her hair behind the ears as she walked past Pratap. He looked up, smirked and got back to paying the labourer. Paakhi’s mother witnessed everything from a distance and she dragged Paakhi by her arms into the bus. Paakhi’s heart was drumming for the fear of consequences. She sat numb for the entire journey back home. Before entering the home, Paakhi’s mother held her arm, pressed it tight and warned Paakhi, “This love will not lead u anywhere. This inter-caste love will not be accepted and you can even lose your life. From now on you will stay at home.” The warm breaths gushing in Paakhi’s ear expressed her mom’s anger well and Paakhi didn’t dare utter a word.
When everyone went to sleep, Paakhi’s tears soaked the pillows wet. Next morning everyone left for work, leaving Paakhi alone with her miseries. She sat against the wall, curled her legs and wrapped them in her arms. Her eyes fixed on the window, dreaming about Pratap as tears continued to trickle down her eyes. It was almost noon and Paakhi hadn’t moved an inch. But at the sight of a beautiful white pigeon on her window, she pounced towards it. She was reminded of Pratap. She held the pigeon close to her heart, just to realise that it was carrying a Paigam.
To be continued…
Author’s Note: I always thought that pigeons carrying love letters is just a Bollywood thing, but after reading about it I learnt that Pigeons have been used for quick messaging since 12th century. Pigeons especially homing pigeons have strong magnetoreception skills. This ways they can travel long distances and easily navigate their way home. Pigeons were favourite messengers in war like situation and India had one of the final active pigeon posts till 2002.