When Noorzia returned to the bungalow after seeing her husband off on his journey she found Reg distributing gifts to the servants after unpacking his belongings. These were items he’d acquired in England he knew would have interest to them. Each of the servants chatted excitedly as they received their gifts and pronounced a blessing on him for his generosity. Noorzia smiled happily. He was a good boy, then she paused and looked at him again. No longer a boy but a man handsome and well built. She looked on him as a son rather than a Sahib.
Reg’s face lit up with happiness when he saw her and quickly offered namaste. Then beckoned she should wait while he quickly raced to his room. He returned with an expensive silk sari he’d purchased in Delhi as they’d paused to rest there before the final journey to Dehradun. He extended his gift with both hands watching for her reaction. Tears formed in her eyes and she extended her hand to touch him in gratitude.
She spoke. “Thank you, I will now relieve Titali and take over caring for your Mother. I think she will recover in a few days but apart from visiting from a distance in her room you should not get close to her until she is well. She is so excited to have you back home.”
Ten minutes later Titali emerged from the room and headed for him smiling. She spied the other expensive silk sari in his hands and looked at him inquiringly. “I bought this in Delhi for you Titali. I hope you like it?”
Titali radiated happiness. “Before I receive this from you brother I have something I want to give you.” She reached into the cloth purse hanging from her shoulder and extracted something.
“Perhaps you know what this is? It’s not a custom in Bom Boret Valley among the Kalash people I belong to, but it is a nice custom among Hindus I would like to recognize now. This is a Rakhi thread armlet. Please give me your hand. She tied it around his wrist. This is a protection embellished with love and affection of a sister for her brother. If you receive it from me it invests you with a share of responsibility for my potential care. My father is looking into marriage prospects for me. It’s somewhat late as girls in our valley are married off well before this and here I am eighteen. My education in Calcutta took me beyond the usual marriageable age. But even if marriage takes me far away I want you to remember your sister and promise you’ll be there for me should I need help.” She looked at him searchingly for that promise and seeing it silently given spoke again. “Now, I can receive your gift gratefully.” She offered namaste as he handed it over.
Reg was in shock as he quickly processed what had been said. Titali to be married? The chance he may not ever see her again. He reflected on the closeness of their childhood together and how much he’d missed her during his stay in England for education and how hard he’d worked to finish his education early so he could return to India. The pressure put on him by his uncle to choose a bride from that list and his rejection of them all. None of them touched his soul like Titali. He reacted quickly and with urgency.
“Titali I wonder if you have time to take me to the stables to see if the horses still recognize me?” Titali nodded and they both headed for the door leaving the servants chattering happily over their gifts.
But on the way and out of earshot of servants Reg asked her to stop. ‘Titali I couldn’t bear to see you leave us would your father consider me as a marriage partner for you? I worked so hard to complete my education quickly so I could return to India and I know much of that haste was because I wanted to see you.”
Titali gasped in surprise. This was totally unexpected.
“Brother this is not wise! You are the son of a Sahib and I am a woman of the sub-continent. Your parents accept us, but your nation does not approve of such an arrangement. The people of my valley may accept it, but they are an exception. Children of such a uniting of disparate cultures would be considered chi chi, or impure. What possesses you to ask such a thing knowing this and in any case it is up to parents to decide this not us.”
But Reg persisted desperately. “If I ask your father would he be willing to consider me?”
Titali shook her head. She felt sick inside. Of course, she loved him and would be happy to be his wife, but it was quite impossible. Their lives would be lived with continuous discrimination from both cultures and their children would suffer.
“We need to get back to the bungalow if that was your reason for asking me out here.” Titali shifted uneasily on her feet. Her heart was racing at the exciting thought of marrying this man who she’d loved from childhood, but society wouldn’t allow that to happen. She’d carry the happiness of his just stated love for her throughout life, but that happiness would only be in memories not reality. She needed to talk with her Mother urgently and get her advice. Perhaps they’d ship her back to the valley as soon as her Father returned. She’d not mess up this beloved man’s life. Eventually he’d find another to love.
To be continued.
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