The mist was beginning to clear and in the tea estate, tucked away in Darjeeling’s picturesque dell, tea trees spreading endlessly in every direction were becoming colorful and distinct. In the center of the tea estate a two-storey house stood in such conformity with its surrounding that it appeared to be a natural outgrowth of the earth, its gabled roof of red tiles glistened as giant rose in full bloom, its walls crisscrossed by variegated creepers like branches of a flowering tree.
On the porch of the house stood Zeba Mishra, gazing wistfully at the sky, painted with a bright rainbow. Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½It is my rainbow, which shines over my domain,’ she murmured with boundless satisfaction. If not in the sky, then at least on the ground, all that was visible from the porch was indeed Zeba’s domain. Her husband, Alok Mishra, owned the tea estate.
Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½What a beautiful place my estate is,’ she thought,Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½even fairyland could not be more enchanting.’
Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½The weather is clearing up,’ the maid said coming into the porch from inside the house.
Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½Looks that way.’ Zeba said. Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½What is the time?’
Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½The clock says 4.’
Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½Then it is time to think about dinner.’
Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½There is mushrooms and cauliflowers in the kitchen,’ the maid ventured.
Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½We had mushrooms and cauliflowers yesterday. I want something different today. I think fish will do fine for today.’
Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½I will go and get fish from the market.’
Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½No, I will do that. Get my overcoat and handbag from inside. Don’t bother getting the car keys. I prefer to walk.’ The maid went inside and returned with the overcoat and handbag. Zeba donned her overcoat and with her handbag in one hand walked out of the porch into the narrow road cutting through fields with rows after rows of tea trees.
The aroma of tealeaves was in the air, Zeba breathed deeply and felt invigorated. Droplets clinging to the leaves, coruscating like tiny diamonds, were a beautiful sight to behold. Laborers, with deep baskets on their back and broad bamboo caps on their head, working among the tea plants, seemed like giant beetles hovering on the greenery. The horizon, many leagues away, was lined with mountain ranges, their peaks shrouded in mist and cloud.
Few minutes of walking brought Zeba to the bifurcation, which led to the building from where her husband managed the tea estate. She stood at the bifurcation and gazed towards the office
building, located only about 100 meters away. She contemplated going inside the building for a tÃ?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½te-Ã?Â -tÃ?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½te with Alok, but decided against it. It made no sense to disturb him in his work.
The market situated on the outskirts of the tea estate was a small affair with only about half a dozen ramshackle shops and few hawkers. Zeba purchased two kilos of fish, had them wrapped in a newspaper and before setting on her way back she purchased some potatoes for finger chips to go with the fish.
She was in the living room watching TV when Alok returned home at 7, an hour later than his usual time. He looked tired and harried as he dropped down on the sofa, chucking his briefcase beside him.
Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½So what was new at the office today,’ said Zeba.
Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½If it was only routine work they why are you looking so tired,’ Zeba smiled.
He didn’t respond. His lethargic attitude didn’t go down well with her. She wanted him to feel as happy and contended as she was feeling today.
Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½The problem is, you are fixated with having a bigger estate,’ she said complacently. Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½You should learn to be satisfied with what you own. When the time comes you will definitely have a bigger estate.’
It was a fact that Alok was ambitious and he was not satisfied with size of their holding of about 50 acres. He wanted to own a tea estate of at least 500 acres. But Zeba could hardly understand why he wanted a tea estate that big, when they managed quite comfortably with income from their 50 acres of land.
Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½I am feeing down today,’ he muttered.
Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½You crave ceaselessly, that is why you feel down. We have everything that anyone could ever wish forÃ¢Â?Â¦’
Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½I have lost everything,’ Alok blurted.
Alok cleared his throat several times before he spoke. His voice was tremulous, but the words were delivered quickly. Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½The stock market has crashed. I had made some investments, which are now worth nothing.’
Earlier in the day Zeba had watched on TV the news of collapse in stock markets around the country. But she was learning only now that the crash had hit her family directly. Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½I had no idea that you were dabbling in the stocks.’
Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½I was only attempting to earn us some money quickly. But now all is lost.’
Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½Oh stop being silly,’ Zeba snapped Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½surely all cannot be lost as long as we own this estate. We will recover in a year or two whatever you lost on stocks.’
Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½I had used our estate as collateral to raise money for playing on the stock exchange. Lawyers representing my creditors were at the office today to take possession of the estate.’
This information, so unexpected, utterly unbelievable, found her too dazed to respond.
Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½The creditors are going to auction the estate to recover their dues,’ he said.
Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½But we live here. Our home is on the estateÃ¢Â?Â¦’
Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½We will have to vacate.’
The enormity of the disaster finally dawned on her. Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½My goodness,’ her voice was a hushed sort of horror. Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½Surely they won’t make me vacate my home.’
Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½All I was trying to do was to earn some extra money for us, so that we could get a bigger estate.’
Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½Bigger estate, bigger estate,’ Zeba with rising fury, Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½that is all you care for. Your ambition has turned us into paupers. I always said that you should learn to be satisfied with what you have but you won’t listen.’
Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½Lets not get into I said this and you said that. I know that I have made a mess of things. But now the damage is done and we have to find a way out.’
Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½Oh how am I going to live for the rest of my life,’ she uttered and then looking beseechingly at him asked, Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½they are not going to take this tea estate from us, are they. They will allow us to work the estate and clear the debt in small installments.’
Alok shook his head with frustration. Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½I wish it could be managed that way. But the answer is no. We have to vacate the estate within one month after that the estate will be auctioned to recover the debt. I am sorry Zeba.’
Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½And where will we live after we vacate this house.’
Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½I have given that matter some thought. We can shift in a rented apartmentÃ¢Â?Â¦’
Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½How dare you ask me to leave my house for any apartment,’ Zeba interrupted.
Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½I don’t have any money andÃ¢Â?Â¦’
Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½Oh I hate you. I hate you as I have never hated anyone before. You gambled away my home,’ She broke into sobs and buried her face in her hands. The room was filled with the sound of her bitter sobbing. Alok had never heard such sobs; they seemed to shake her from head to foot. Her ranting went on, but fresh paroxysms of sobbing would shake her and make her words incomprehensible, finally she stopped making any effort to speak and surrendered totally to her grief.
His face ashen, he watched her for few minutes and then rose from the sofa. Zeba screeched, Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½where are you going?’
Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½To my study, I have to check some papers.’
Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½Do something for God’s sake! We can’t leave this estate,’ she cried before sobs took over again.
Wordlessly he entered the study and shut the door behind him. Minutes later a bang was heard. Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½God, what was that!’ cried Zeba. An intuition sent her rushing into the study, where her worst fears were confirmed. Alok was on the swivel chair behind the desk, his head thrown back, from corners of his mouth poured thin but steady line of bright scarlet blood. His neck and shirt were wet with blood. There were drops of blood on the glass top of the desk. The revolver lay beside his feet.
Thinking he had taken his life, Zeba flung herself against his chest crying piteously, Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½Alok, Alok, what have you done! We could have found a way out. There is always a way outÃ¢Â?Â¦’ Suddenly Alok’s right hand moved and brushed against her back, from his mouth came a guttural sound. Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½O my God, you are alive,’ Zeba cried, Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½I will save you, I will call the doctor.’
The ambulance arrived in few minutes but to her traumatized mind those minutes measured like hours. After examining Alok’s wounds the doctors at the hospital told her that it was a miracle that her husband’s life was spared when he shot himself in his mouth, the bullet had missed his brain by merely a couple of millimeters, a slightest deviation in the bullets trajectory would have made it fatal. The surgery lasting five hours was successful and the doctors managed to remove the bullet.
But Alok was not out of danger yet, his condition was not stable and there were still many things that could go wrong. Everyday Zeba came to the hospital and spent hours in the intensive care unit, sitting on a chair beside the bed on which Alok lay, unconscious and uncomprehending of her trauma. From time to time she tried to talk to him, hoping that he would suddenly open his eyes and recognize her and maybe say a few words to her.
Four days after he had been brought to the hospital he opened his eyes and looking at the pale thin woman sitting beside him mumbled some incomprehensible sounds. Due to the operation in his throat he could not speak coherently but it sounded to her as if he had spoken her name. Overcome at finally getting to hear his voice, she fell to her knees and thanked God for his infinite mercy.
The doctor arrived and Alok’s vital signs were checked. The doctor advised him to avoid speaking for few days till the wound in his throat was fully healed. Alok could not speak but his eyes spoke volumes about the emotions that his heart harbored. The eyes were full of tears as they watched his wife who was herself sobbing.
When the doctor left, Zeba sat beside Alok and opened her heart to him. She told him how much he meant to her. He believed every word she said but he could only convey his own feelings for her by the affectionate expression on his face, the tears in his eyes, and the warm pressure that his hand applied on hers.
The passing of another five days saw Alok’s vocal chords getting repaired enough to enable him to speak and they talked about the terrible events of the past few days. He told her how sorry he was for losing the tea estate and their home. Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½There is nothing we have lost that we are not capable of regaining in the future,’ said Zeba. Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½The loss of tea estate matters very little. With you I will be happy anywhere. I swear I willÃ¢Â?Â¦’
Her words filled him with optimism about a new future and he wondered what kind of madness it was that inspired him to attempt suicide. The day came when he was finally discharged form the hospital, a hale and hearty man.
A week later the tea estate was auctioned, but now they were primed to take that loss in their stride. They vacated the two-storey home and moved into a rented apartment. Zeba had learned computer programming during her college days and it was easy for her to get a job with a local software firm. Alok became a manager with another tea estate. It was a big downfall for him from being the owner of a tea estate to being a mere manager of one. He felt upset. Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½The way to the top starts at the bottom,’ Zeba reminded him.
In the end it took Alok only one year to convince some financers to lend him money to buy back his old tea estate. He kept the progress on the deal secret from Zeba hoping to bring the tea estate to her as a surprise gift. When the deal was clinched he took her to the tea estate that they had once lost, but now owned once again. As they walked slowly under the tea trees, sweet and sour reminiscences flooded Zeba’s mind.
Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½Why have you brought me here? It breaks my heart to realize that all this,’ she said moving her hand in a flourish to indicate everything around her, Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½is now owned by someone else.’ Finally Alok disclosed his secret that the tea estate was once again their property. She looked at him and found him smiling like a child. In an instant she knew that he was telling the truth. She was once again the mistress of this glorious land.
Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½This estate is my surprise gift to you,’ Alok said.
Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½But I am not surprised at all,’ Zeba laughed. Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½I always knew you would get it back for me one day.’
The rainbow would once more shine over her domain.