I still remember those gone-by days, feeling Anjali’s innocent dance steps. Her slim little body would dance to the beat of the music like a daffodil in the breeze. She was the queen of our school, and even the bees would wander in a daze over her fair face, her beauty comparable to that of the most stunning blossoms.
When she was on the school stage, glittering like a sunrise, everybody would cheer up and become excited, admiring her. For me, I was hopelessly addicted to her performances since I was in fifth standard. She performed a nursery rhyme, ‘Dancing Butter’, in 1997 when she was in third standard, a landmark moment in her dancing life.
Our fathers were classmates, alumni of Jakar High School. In school, my father was an academically gifted child with great leadership skills. He’d received a number of awards and certificates for his excellence in academics and leadership. On the other hand, Anjali’s father, Rajesh, was less academic, but he had shown himself to be an artful student on many occasions.
My father gave a welcome dinner party when Rajesh and his family first arrived in Ura. He got his transfer placement at Pangkhar Forest Check-post, a branch of Thrumshingla National Park. We spent a most agreeable evening, and it was there that I first saw Anjali, Rajesh’s daughter. When the moon cast its white light on the warm tones of Anjali’s face, I went dumb, gazing in admiration.
That night was the first time that I suffered insomnia. Anjali’s beauty consumed my mind; even when I closed my eyes tightly, I would see this young girl, in the full bloom of childhood. A real cutie. Her thin dress made her look like a glamour girl, her silky hair dancing in the breeze.
Later that night, I fantasised about proposing to Anjali. My negative thoughts disturbed the cheerfulness that I had enjoyed for a while, albeit only in my imagination. I fished my poetry notebook from the basket and translated my wild dreams into rhymes and rhythm, a poem:
‘Your face beats the beauty of the moon’,
But she blushed like a loon,
Letting my heart bleed.
‘Your lips beat the beauty of a rose’,
But she stared with a pose,
Letting my heart bleed...
That night, I realised that words come easily when our feelings are sincere. I enjoyed the breezy manner of a poet for a while. I remember my father once said, ‘A doleful expression makes a good poem’. I never fully agreed with him until that night. I had always believed that we become true poets when we are in love.
Sometimes, I felt like I was inviting disgrace into my life. I worried that admiring an eight-year-old girl could be disastrous. Nevertheless, if there was something to be blamed for that, it was her exceptional beauty. I’d never witnessed such extreme loveliness.
In school, we used to stay together most of the time. She was in third standard, and I was in eighth. On the way to and from home and school, Anjali used to hum the nursery rhymes that her teachers had taught in the previous classes. Sometimes, she used to pose questions like,‘Do you like my voice? Do you think I will become a singer when I grow up?’ I used to exaggerate, comparing her voice with that of the skylark,saying that people would prefer her voice once recorded.
My father once read me a poem, ‘Ode to a skylark’by P.B. Shelley. He said the skylark is a small brown bird that sings as it flies high up in the sky. Ever since then, I’ve always thought of the skylark when appreciating sweet voices.
My father was an English teacher at Ura Primary School. He is an aficionado of the poetry of Keats, P.B. Shelley and the Shakespearian cannon. His friends sometimes refer to him as a walking encyclopaedia. He often uses the phrase ‘the milk of human kindness’ from Shakespeare’s play ‘Macbeth’. Perhaps, the phrase inspires him to be good and kind to other people. Today, he spends his time reading the works of the most illustrious Poet Laureate, Alfred Lord Tennyson. Sometimes, he even tries his hand at poetry, but I now realise that he is a little selfish. No matter how good or bad his compositions, he keeps them in his folder, refusing to share them with the world.
Anjali’s early interest in dancing developed into an abiding passion. Even at home, she would often play Hindi music on the radio and start tapping her leg with the pace of the beat. I would remain quiet, silently admiring her dungkhar akhel, her right-turned conch-shaped hands that would swing in the air.
Her father, a tall man with a sharp elongated face, is the strictest man I have ever seen. My father calls him Rajesh Dajo, meaning Brother Rajesh. As soon as he arrives, the room goes silent. He gets mad when he sees Anjali with her songbook or in her dancing dress. Her father has never watched herperform on the stage.
I remember once, the school administration invited Rajesh as a chief guest to the annual school concert. He rejected the invitation after learning that Anjali was to perform, admonishing her for participating.
That evening, I was with Anjali, holding her, consoling her. She cried the whole night and refused to dance. She cried and cried bitter tears, as if she’d lost the most important thing in her life. It is really painful to see someone so close to your heart shed tears. I couldn’t do much to calm her; instead, I cried with her until the end.
In spring, she’d pick the wildflowers that would bloom all along the paths and make bouquets of daisies. She used to stare at the flush of the flowers and shed tears of admiration. ‘Flowers have to live’, she used to say. Sometimes, we’d completely lose ourselves collecting various flowers and belate for school. When we would realise that we were late, Anjali used to go pale with fear. I’d feel a sudden chill, aware of the scoldings and beatings ahead. But I’d try to remain dry-eyed in front of Anjali.