Ahladee[i] understands every word we say but doesn’t speak herself.

Whenever I speak to her, I know from her eyes that she is listening to my every word. One look at her and I know whether she likes my words, or doesn’t.

I travel to the Himalayas every year, where I meet sages and ascetics of every kind. I like being with them. But the more sincere they are, the less they speak. I was lucky enough to run into one such sadhu[ii] last year, one who didn’t speak at all. If somebody went and stood near him, he would open his eyes after a while, and gaze upon him, or her, in silence. The way stars do, from the sky.

As my Himalayan trip draws near, Ahladee attaches herself to me for days on end. She doesn’t eat properly, nor sleep, but comes and sits by me whenever I’m around, her fur grazing my skin. Even at night, she lies next to me on the bed, her back resting against mine, and her head on my pillow.

I have to run my hand across her face and body, and keep repeating, “Do sleep now, I’ll be back sooner this time, and that’s a promise.”

One evening, we all came to realise exactly how far Ahladee understood us. The poet Subhas Mukhopadhyay, with his head full of grey hair that looked like a meadow full of fluttering, white, grass-flowers, had come to spend the evening with us on my invitation -- and we all badgered him till he agreed to read us some of his poems. He took a book down from the shelf, one of his own, and began reading aloud –

O Cloud
                        O Breeze
                                                O Shade
                                                                        Am leaving

As soon as the word ‘leaving’ slipped into her ears, Ahladee started barking. I was taken aback, at least for the first few seconds, but soon knew what the matter was. Whenever we have nice people visiting us -- Ahladee can’t bear to see them leave. The moment they get to their feet to say goodbye, she starts barking wildly and makes a scene. Tell me now, when do people usually say ‘am leaving’? When they’re about to leave -- right?

Her incessant barking made  Subhas Mukhopadhyay stop. He drew her close and recited impromptu, in his lilting tone –

Come, come, my dear Ahladee –
Let’s match our strength in laughter, shall we.

Then he resumed reading –

O River, O Boatman
            Firefly of the woods
                                    O Nest, O Bird
                                                            Am leaving

 

Later that year, upon my return from the Himalayas, I heard that the poet, with his head full of grey hair that looked like a meadow full of fluttering, white, grass-flowers, had indeed left us. Forever.

I have a friend named Rishi[iii] . He isn’t four yet. But he has to go to school every day. He comes over on days he doesn’t have school, and gifts me a bunch of tales, which are almost always about Ahladee. And mostly very  strange and funny. When I ask him – “from where did you get to know of all this?”, the inevitable reply is, “but it’s she who’s told me.”

Eyi, liar! Since when has Ahladee learnt to speak?”

He looks at the floor, upset because I’ve called him a liar, “When I lie flat on the floor next to her, with our noses touching and our eyes looking into each others, she tells me all her stories through those eyes. And I pass them on to you.”

One fine day, Rishi came to me with, “Ahladee comes from a village tucked into the slopes of a snowy ridge. A large green meadow lies at the edge of the village. A blue lake lies next to that.” Rishi stopped at this point and gave himself up to thinking, quietly. Then he released a sigh, foooooosh! and said, “Guess what? Ahladee can’t remember anything of her parents. She’s forgotten their faces even. When do you think she’ll learn to speak like us?”

 

 

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