The train rounded the last bend on the hillside. Twenty minutes uphill and she would be in Chanderpur – a small town on the foothills of Himalayas. Its outline was shrouded by the morning fog. At some distance, Khushi could make the blurred edges of the cottages on the outskirts of district.
The train was gradually slowing. The station must be near. On her berth near the door of the compartment, Khushi checked her luggage, turned up the collar of her jacket and fished out paper from her pocket.
Mrs. Anjili Jha,
Nothing much. Despite its succinctness, Khushi hoped that someone would recognize the address. According to her mother, she just needed to say Chandrataal.That would be enough. But then her mother had left Chanderpur more than two decades ago. Much would have changed by now.
Shrill whistle broke her reverie. The train had come to a stop. A porter rushed to her side.
‘Madam, jaldi,’ he picked up her bag. ‘the train stops only for two minutes.’
‘Leave the suitcase. Take this, the easel and the other bag…the red one.’
The porter grabbed the red bag and rushed out. Her tools clanked in the bag. Khushi grimaced as he partially held and partially dragged the easel out of the compartment and deposited it all on the station, and waited impatiently for her, as she pulled her suitcase down.
‘Thank You, bhaiyaa,’ Khushi turned around only to find that he had disappeared through the open door of the train which was slowly moving on. She looked around. The platform was empty. She was the only passenger to disembark. Indeed she seemed to be the only person present at the eerily silent station. Five thirty, her watch told her. Probably it was too early to begin business in the small station. And too cold, the mountain air hit her face and Khushi drew her jacket close.
Probably she would get a taxi outside. She would have to ask for help. For a moment, she regretted her refusal for Mrs. Jha’s offer of a car. She would find her way, she had told the woman over the phone. Indeed, now that she was here, it seemed that she had been trying to find her way to Chandertaal for years. The place had dominated her thoughts and actions ever since she had known its link to her past. Perhaps today was the culmination of long search, an answer to the endless questions that had always plagued her. Khushi wanted to be alone when she caught the first glimpse – the moment from where onwards the house would no longer be a blur on the landscape of memories, a figment of her imagination that grew larger than life every time she heard about it.
‘Madam, chai?’ The voice came from the nearby tea stall. A teenager, in a bulky sweater and a monkey cap was lighting up the stove.
Khushi nodded. ‘I need taxi.’
‘Kahan jana hai?’ the boy put the water to boil and turned around to chat.
‘Chandrataal. Chandrataal Mansion.’ she said uncertainly.
‘Then you must have tea before you go. It would take another hour. It is uphill, the other side of that mountain.’ He pointed at the distance. Khushi she could make out a faint outline of the mountain. ‘But the family does not live there anymore. Not after Bade Thakur passed away.’
Khushi nodded. She knew that Arvind Malik died nearly three years ago. His death had disappointed her so severely that she had almost given up the search for some time. She, who had been trying to find a way to meet the man, demand the answers that only he could give. But the man had passed away before he paid his dues, at least the explanations due to her. And then last year, Chandartaal had found its way back to her life. A special project to restore the old mansion, the abode of Chanderpore’s oldest family. The Maliks had been in Chanderpore for as long as Chanderpore had been in existence. A small team of restoration workers and architects had left the institute immediately. But Khushi stayed back. Her domain was not the buildings but the paintings and the works of art and she could work wonders with the old ones. Her work would start when the rest of the team were finishing theirs.
‘You are a painter.’ The boy was eyeing her luggage with interest. The easel was propped against the side wall of the stall.
Khushi shook her head. ‘No. Not painter. I restore old paintings.’
The boy frowned as he handed her a small glass of piping hot ginger tea. ‘Restore?’
‘When the paintings are very old, sometimes the color fades or the paint chips. I restore them. I set them right.’ Khsuhi explained.
‘Acha hai. There are a lot of paintings in that house. Really old ones. The ancestors and all. Once my uncle went there. He said they were all hung in one gallery – seemed to be staring at him all together. Scary,’ he shuddered.
Khushi smiled as she handed back the cup and then the change for the tea. ‘Will you help me with this.’ Khushi picked up her suitcase as the boy walked out the stall and carefully picked up the easel. The tools clanked once again as he picked up the bag. ‘Careful,’ Khushi muttered as she followed him outside the station and towards the row of taxis there on.
Fifteen minutes later, Khushi was peering through the mist of lower Himalayas as the taxi trundled through the winding mountainous road. Her stomach rumbled. But food was last thing on her mind. As the car rounded the last bend, a ray of sunshine burst through the clouds and she caught the glimpse of blue expanse, the lake and the mansion beyond it – her first glimpse of Chandrataal.
—————- Here’s a new one which is still in formative stages in my mind. It is of course not a fanfiction though you can imagine the actors 🙂 I frequently do. Will update ICHTW – its has 4-5 chapters left. Regarding ‘Dust of ages’ – the publishers take forever to edit and proof read :-(. But I hope to get the final draft in a few weeks. So 2015 is going definitely going to be THE YEAR. Will keep you guys updated on that one too. Meanwhile please read and comment on Chantrataal. It is an experiement with a different kind of writing altogether. Let me know your thoughts. V