Unforeseen Desires

By Anil Chopra

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Arun cycled towards Rajpur Road. On this road were the estates of the elite. Hidden behind big gates adorned with bougainvillea creepers were lush green lawns with groves of litchi trees. He loved to ride his bike on this deserted road. There was never much traffic except for the tourist taxis to Mussoorie. Beyond, he could see the distinctive Camel’s Back outline of the peaks of Mussoorie shrouded in mist. It was a respite to get away from the hospital. Lately he had worried so much about the lost rings that when he walked or rode his bike, he always had his eyes on the ground. He turned his bike to the path leading to the old Methodist Church. Further, the path disappeared into an orchard of litchi trees. Beyond the trees stood an old colonial bungalow with a verandah. There was a small sign at the entrance that read: The Language School.

Perhaps he could learn French or German, he thought. A flock of parrots, like a green sheet, shot up from the trees against the blue sky, and then a swarm of bees surrounded him. He ran for his life until he reached the front door. A squadron of bees had stung him on his face. Breathless, he knocked at the door. A petite Englishwoman in a summer dress opened the door. Her intense blue eyes, set in a pale face with freckles, exaggerated her startled look.

‘Hello, how may I help you?’ Her hello sounded like hell-low, stiff with formal cordiality as she half-closed the door.

‘I have been stung by the bees in your garden.’

‘So you need to see a doctor?’ She closed the door further.

‘I am a doctor…Madam.’

‘Oh, you look too young to be a doctor. For heaven’s sake, come in. Your face is swelling up.’

On the walls of the colonial bungalow were portraits of Jesus on the cross, and some with his chest open, showing his heart with a halo around it. In the corner, stood a grand mahogany piano with a Tiffany lamp on top. He wondered why the language school had so many portraits of Jesus everywhere. The lady had been listening to the world service of the BBC. A Grundig radio stood on the table broadcasting the latest news: ‘This is the Far Eastern relay station of the BBC… Now the news read by Ted Baker. There has been widespread opposition to Mrs Indira Gandhi’s emergency rule. This morning, she arrested…’
The lady switched off the radio, straightened her short blonde hair, and tried to decide where to seat him. She momentarily lifted her arm towards the little stool near the piano.

‘So, how can I help you, Doctor?’

‘I would like to learn a foreign language such as German or French at your language school.’

‘Well. Well. I have never had this request before,’ she said, half smiling. ‘We teach Hindi to the folks who come from overseas to spread the Gospel.’
He was suddenly at a loss for words. He looked out of the window and saw a banyan tree across the lawn. Behind the banyan tree stood a small apartment building under the shade of eucalyptus trees.

‘You have a beautiful place here, so peaceful. Except for the bees,’ he laughed.

The thought of cycling back to the hospital irked him. He wished he could live in this oasis, this Garden of Eden, with the towering mountains in the backdrop. It was a stark contrast to his small room next to the medical ward from where he could hear the coughs of the patients suffering from tuberculosis. He mustered enough courage to ask her if she had any accommodation to spare for a stranger who was going to be in town only for a year, until he completed his internship.

‘Not really,’ she said. ‘I am only a caretaker of the church property until I leave for England.’

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