Sunday, June 25, 2017

Hands That Stir the Pot - I

Shravanti walked down the path, her hips swaying gracefully as she balanced a pot on her head and a sickle in the other. Her youthful body was wrapped in fine, soft cotton that highlighted her curves. If one were to overtake her and catch a glimpse of her face, their heart could not be blamed for forgetting to beat on seeing the delicate features that seemed to be engraved perfectly.

It was not yet light and she ventured deep into the forest, her eyes darting from side to side. One maybe forgiven for thinking that she was scared of the wild animals or the robbers that were said to frequent these places, but they would be wrong. For she feared no man or beast, only her strict parents. And she feared being caught venturing so far away from the boundaries she was allowed.

The brook that flowed closer home took its path through the forest. That is where her parents expected her to go. But Shravanti liked to seek out clearing in the jungle which the wild beasts used as their watering hole. She had encountered predators, but rarely close enough to worry. They fascinated her and she craved for a closer encounter. She sought danger the way a young damsel seeks a lover.

Today too seemed to be a disappointing day as the forest lay still. There were no warning calls and nothing seemed to move. She cut some wood with practiced skill and then headed for the river to fill water, alert. Her caution seemed vindicated when she sensed a change in the air. She changed the grip on the pot to her left hand even as her right went to her waist. She turned around in one swift motion and went down on one knee. Her hand arched back before thrusting forward, and she rolled away as the beast that had risen to attack her fell where she had stood but a moment ago.

She was startled to see an arrow sticking out from its back. She looked up, and much to her dismay, saw a young hunter walk towards her with a smirk on his face.

"Your lucky day," he said smugly. Seeing her nervous expression, he said coolly, "Don't worry, I only hunt animals, not women."

Shravanti looked at him sardonically and her lips stretched into a smile slowly. Without a word, she turned towards the beast and rolled it over with her leg. "Ah, the animal is too dead to fight back," he said sarcastically as he bent to pull his arrow out.

"You think your arrow hitting its flank killed the beast?" she asked scornfully.

"Your charm did?" he retorted with equal contempt.

As the beast fell on its back, the hunter's jaw dropped in surprise. A small knife stuck out of its bleeding abdomen. He looked up at her amazed. "Who did that?"

She plucked the knife silently and washed it in the river.

"You!?" he asked incredulously.

She ignored him studiously and collected her things. He blocked her path, not allowing her to go her way. "Where did you learn to do that?" he demanded.

Her eyes met his and mesmerised him with their challenge. Then, just as he seemed to drift into eternity, she tossed her head dismissively, snapping him back to reality.

He chased her with questions that she did not deign to respond to. As they neared her house and she realised the danger of being spotted with a stranger, she stopped and said in a commanding tone, "Not a step more. I live in these parts and know quite a few bandits who would willingly cut your head for nothing. So keep still as I make my way home. Don't try to follow me or find anything out about me."

The man seemed amused as he quipped, "My knees are knocking in fear..." But her respected the boundary she set.

Next morning, her eyes darted a little more eagerly, out of eagerness to meet the presentable hunter. When he jumped right in front of her, the brave girl nearly dropped the pot and made much ado about his startling her out of the blue. "But you were expecting me!" he teased her.

"Why should I?" she frowned and walked on, secretly pleased at his following her, and also irritated at being so obvious. "Don't you have better things to do?" she demanded.

"Nothing can be better than this," he said laughing.

He watched her cut the branches. "My god, you are not one to be messed with," he openly admired her, making her blush.

Ajay, for that was his name, met her every morning. Slowly she opened up, revealing how she had secretly observed her father teaching the boys the use of different weapons. The bow and arrow were her favourite, though the sword came a close second. But she had to be content with the knife for it was easy to hide in in her person without suspicion. When she had learnt the basics, she needed practice. So she had cornered one of the younger but better students into practicing with her. "It was tough. My mother always misunderstood my intentions. She thought I was interested in the boys," she grimaced, as if such a thought could not even enter her head.

"You mean you weren't?" he winked and got slapped on his wrist as his reward.

That was the thing about him, his humour. She often found herself smiling, thinking of the way he made her giggle just when she tried to prove what a good shot she was, or how good she was with the sword and the knife. She didn't mind missing an animal or a bird she was targeting, but hated failing in front of him.

Knowing she could not openly use the weapons in her father's armoury, he brought his for her to practice with in the jungle, where true action was. He even helped her improve her strikes, her aim, posture, everything that was needed to become better at using the weapons.

And she... While her confidence in her skill improved, his gentle touch as he guided her lingered in her mind, making her less sure of her feelings.

Why did she seek him out every morning? Why did she lie more to her mother when asked about her returning later than usual...

The time spent with him was so different from anything she had experienced that sometimes she hated returning home. She wanted to be with him always, meet his large family, his many brothers, his strict father, gentle mother. "At least I am a younger son and so no one talks of my marriage. Why have you been spared?" he asked one day.

"Maybe no one wants to marry me..." she shrugged, talk of marrying anyone other than him suddenly shooting poisoned arrows in her heart.

"Yes, that's true... Poor man, will get nightmares," he said and laughed. "I do, and I only see you in the mornings!" he said and ran. She chased him, her hair flying. "You liar!"

And she crashed into a man who stepped suddenly in her path.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...