By Rakhi Dalal
“Dada!! You are completely drenched in the rain! Hurry up inside or you’ll catch pneumonia!”
I turned abruptly and saw a rickety Chatterjee swaying from the columns of the porch. A sudden pang of cold seeped through my bones and I realised I was completely drenched. A torrent of rain was pouring over me. How did it happen? I remember seeing a peacock crossing over the hedge and landing in the front lawn while I was out for a stroll, but I can’t remember anything after that.
“Hurry up dada (elder brother)! Why are you still standing there??” Chatterjee shouted again.
I rushed in and was taken hold by Chatterjee who was himself sopping wet. He made me sit on a chair in the porch and brought a towel for me.
“Ki (why) dada, I was out calling you for so long, you didn’t even listen. What were you thinking standing in the rain?” he asked. I handed the towel to him and asked him to dry himself.
“When I was out for my evening walk, I saw a peacock flying into the lawn. Out of curiosity, I moved nearer and saw it had spread its wings to dance. The view was so mesmerising that I stood enchanted. But after that I don’t remember anything. I don’t know when the rain started.” I said.
“There’s no poison in this,” Grandma said.
The teacup rattled, sending spurts of black liquid onto the saucer. Grandpa grunted. He ignored the wafts of steam that curled out of the cup like fine strings floating in the air. He kept his eyes on the typewriter as his fingers drummed on the keys, weaving crisp black letters on paper. Grandma shook her head, knowing that there was no way Grandpa was going to inch away from the machine.
For as long as I could remember, it was the same routine every morning at ten. Grandpa, or Tok as my siblings and I fondly called him, would crouch on a stool in front of his butter-yellow Remington typewriter. He would take a Good Morning towel and rub the machine until it gleamed like Aunty Noh’s marble table. Satisfied, he would load a sheet of paper and turn the carriage knob. After adjusting the paper arms, he would set his fingers free to do the jig on the keys, competing with the sound of Grandma’s ladle on the wok as she busied herself in the kitchen.
“I have always loved books,” the head librarian confessed, “and my love of books led me to the love of scholarship. After reading so many books, studying so hard throughout my youth, it was a dream come true when I was appointed as a librarian here. What better place for me to have ended up than in the greatest library in the world, among so many books, so many treasures of scholarship. So I read and studied, until no one could match my erudition, not even the librarians who were older and had been here longer. So it was inevitable that I ultimately became the head librarian.
“But then, in the midpoint of my life, I was overcome by a terrible loneliness. I had spent so much time among books that I had lost touch with everyone I had known, including my family. I knew that both of my parents had died at some point, but I was too busy with my studies to attend their funerals. I know that they loved me, and I vaguely remembered loving them, but all that seemed like a story I read in book a long time ago.
“One day, while I was perusing a newly acquired work in my study, I heard some voices outside the window. When I looked out, I saw one of the younger librarians speaking with a girl from the town who worked as a cook at the library. They were holding hands, smiling at each other, and saying things that made them blush with happiness. The way the sun was illuminating them, they looked so fresh and beautiful that it caused a terrific pain in my heart. Perhaps it was a vision of what I missed out in my life, or perhaps it was the awakening of a feeling that lay dormant in my heart.