Saturday Story 23: The Quest
Last night I dreamt of Kasbai. Her long, lissome figure swaying in the wind. Her delicate fragrance mesmerising my senses. They say people were mad for Kasbai, that travellers passing through the village stopped in their tracks. That she was far superior to all the behenji turned mods, this desi beauty with her old-fashioned name.
“Arey, are you sure she isn’t a figment of the imagination? Tumhe koi ullu to nahin bana raha??”
Well, it was true that Hari kaka was a drunkard, who spent his time lolling around under the peepal tree. I had no choice but to buy him some tharra, to loosen his tongue. But he was a village elder, a storehouse of information. Like a walking-talking village wikipedia. After much prodding, in what appeared to be a moment of sanity, he mentioned Kasbai.
She is just what you are looking for, he assured me. A traditional, hardy, rural belle. The trouble was, he didn’t know where I could find her. No ata-pata, no address. Acchha, you can check in the tehsil office, they maintain all the records. Well, on that sliver of hope I duly landed up at said office but sadly, no luck.
The officer was kind and helpful but had never heard of Kasbai. He went through the register and rattled off a bunch of other names.
“Champa, Jyothi, Kamini, Surekha, Swathi…,” he looked up expectantly at me. “All very nice.”
I shook my head. The more elusive she was, the more I desired her. I thanked the man. Though I knew, from his expression, he thought I was mad.
Well, so did so many others, when I quit my well-paid job with a multinational company, to become a farmer in the back of beyond. I had no regrets, however. In the last one year, I had learnt to till the land, milk the cow and mend the fence. It was hard labour but each time I ate a wholesome lunch of farm-fresh vegetables, I said to myself – this is the life.
My life as a gentleman farmer, however, was incomplete. I was in search of that special someone… As I drowned my sorrows at the village tea-stall, I got the lead I was looking for. Someone had spotted Kasbai in a nearby village. I picked up my motorbike and rushed there. Again, I was disappointed.
“Kasbai is no longer seen in these parts,” said an old man in spotless white cap and dhoti, sitting on his haunches. “But with the blessings of Mahalaxmi, you will find her….”
I wandered around aimlessly, until I found myself at an adivasi hamlet. Tired and thirsty, I stand outside a thatched hut and call out for water. A wizened old lady with thick silver anklets comes out and offers me paani from an earthen pitcher. I bend slightly and stretch out my palms to receive the cool liquid, when all of a sudden, I sense her presence.
The fragrance of Kasbai is gently wafting through the air.
I look at the lady and ask her the single syllable question. She nods casually, yes of course. I try to contain my excitement. She must not misunderstand my intentions. I choose my words carefully.
“Please…I would like to see Kasbai… and take her home with me.”
The woman scowls, what is this unusual request? She gestures to her son to do the needful. I close my eyes and thank Mahalaxmi. My quest is finally complete…
Kasbai, the traditional, long-grained variety of rice, pushed into oblivion by hybrids. She is finally mine, to sow and to harvest. To love and to be cherished, as deserved.
The old adivasi woman takes the two-hundred rupee note from me, and breaks into a smile.
Government schemes do not reach her, nor do new-fangled ideas.
She is planting the same seeds as her ancestors. Using age-old techniques to cultivate her small patch of land. Thank God for that!
I rev up my motorbike and head out into the sunset, holding Kasbai tight.
Don’t miss the audio file Inside the Author’s Mind: Why I wrote ‘The Quest.’