Amin uncle’s office was in the outskirts of the town. About 20 km away from it was the family graveyard, where uncle had been buried. I had the car and driver at my disposal and my train was in the night – a full 8 hours away. Though Amin uncle’s wife had called me over for lunch, I had regretted.I wasn’t in a mood to socialize.
So I decided to visit the graveyard and offer prayers to the departed. To reach there we had to drive on a narrow road through furrowed fields. It was quite hot. The monsoon was just days away.
An hour and half later, as we neared the place , the road became a dirt track I decided to leave the car and walk to the graveyard which was located in a clearing surrounded by Neem trees. On the other side of it ,visible through the trees was the state highway.
Uncle’s grave was closer to the highway. Unlike most of the graves, his and Sakina Mami’s which were side by side were not concreted… since Sakina Mami hadn’t wanted it. I stopped for a moment at my grandparents graves and offered prayers before moving to uncle’s which was at some distance. As I neared uncle’s grave I was surprised to see his and Mami’s graves encircled with rose and jasmine plants! I wondered if Amin uncle had arranged for it. I went over to the hut where the old caretaker stayed. He had been with the family and knew Amin uncle. His wife informed that he had gone to the town on some errand. The flower plants, she said, had been planted by her husband , on request and payment from a lady-, whose name she remembered as Hajra.
“She is also paying him for watering the plants .She is very kind. She says, she is a relative.”
I knew no relative of ours or Sakina Mami with the name of Hajra. I thanked her and went back to the graves and offered prayer. There were a few jasmines blooming – I was about to pluck these to place them on uncle’s grave, when I heard the sound of an auto. I got up as it halted on the state highway and through the gap between the Neem trees, I saw a burqa clad woman getting down. I immediately rushed behind one of the trees and observed her walking towards the graveyard while the auto stood there – perhaps the driver may have been asked to wait. Was she the same lady whom the caretaker’s wife referred to as Hajra? From the distance I could only see her slim profile .But there was something familiar about her gait. She made her way straight to uncle’s grave, and stood, her head bent at a respectable distance. Then it suddenly dawned on me: could she possibly be Jamila? I stood transfixed as she lit some frankincense near the two graves. The next moment I saw her kneel down and pick up a handful of dry mud from uncle’s grave and put it in a small cloth pouch. A few seconds later she lifted her hands in pray. A memory flashed through my mind- her hands reminded me of another pair of fair hands with fine tapering fingers, with gold bracelets encircling slim wrists. I was certain she was Jamila. But who then was Hajra? Were Hajra and Jamila , one and the same person?
The next moment, I saw the caretaker coming through the dirt road. Seeing him the lady went over to him and handed him some money. Then she briskly walked to the auto. While I deliberated whether to accost her, she got into the it and drove off.
The caretaker was astonished to see me appear from behind the trees. "Sami sahib! When did you come? Is it your car near the field?”
“Yes. Who is that lady and where does she live?”
“You don’t know her? She said she is a relative and her name is Hajra. She started coming only a couple of months back. I think she lives in Jalna – a two hours journey by bus.”
“Is she going to the bus station?”
“Yes .That’s what she does. Why don’t you come in and have tea? ”
“I am in a hurry. You are maintaining the place well.”
I gave him some money and rushed to the waiting car and told the driver to drive to the bus station.
The bus station was a few miles away and it took us time negotiating the car out of the dirt road. When we reached the bus station, the bus for Jalna was about to leave .I had no time to confirm whether she had boarded it. Despite the driver’s hesitation, I decided to take a chance and follow it.
“I hope you don’t miss your train.” He cautioned me.
I nodded. I would perhaps, and therefore may not be able to attend an important official meeting, but if I didn’t confirm the identity of this lady, I knew I would have misgivings for the rest of my life.
To be continued...