An Air Warrior who has published over a100 short stories and 10 books on fiction including 6 novels, and 4 books on military history.
(Authors note; This is a true story but I have given it the treatment of a writer of fiction. Such incidents are brought out by Dominic Lapierre in his 'Freedom at Midnight' and heralded the Ango Indians)
In Imphal, there is the Deputy Commissioner's bungalow. it's a lonely place at the bottom of a small hill and surrounded by trees. A little distance away from the house is a spring. The house is repaired periodically by the Central Power Works Department (CPWD)and for the last 150 years has always been the residence of the Deputy Commissioner. During the days of the Raj, this was the emblem of the authority of the white rulers. This bungalow was not always there and I am told much before 1890, there was a much smaller house, where an English man named Daniel lived. He was the DC of the area and his wife was in England and he was sent to this lonely outpost of the Raj to keep the flag flying.
Daniel was the top man in the villages around. Most of the population was tribal. He didn't think much of them because of their weird customs and he needed a housemaid. He asked his gardener that he would like a maid to work in the house.
"Don't bring a local," he had said, "I don't like them."
The gardener told him," hazur(sir), I will bring you a young girl but she is a Muslim and she is a refugee from Burma."
"Why is she a refugee because Burma is also part of the Raj"
"The Buddhists there don't like the Muslims and this girl has run away because of religious hatred. Her house is burned and she has no place to go and she will look after the house, cook food, and do all sundry jobs.
OK," Daniel had said, and then the girl had come. Daniel liked her immediately and though she was a little dusky, yet she was very beautiful and attractive. She could not have been more than 18. He was about 35 and with his wife away in England, he thought it would be a good idea to have a woman around the house; to do the odd jobs and cook the food? But he realized he would have to guide her initially to make the European-style food. The girl's name was Zeenat and she picked up the job very fast. Her youthfulness and beauty were her assets. Many a time Daniel would think of her. He had given her a room to sleep in, just outside the house. She was also happy that she had a shelter and at least she was away from the Buddhist crowds who sometimes harassed her family, despite the police trying to help.
One day he got a sanction from Calcutta, the capital of India for the construction of a new bungalow for the Deputy Commissioner.
The construction of the house began opposite the old bungalow and that was the time his wife came back. There are two things about the house. First, it was a sprawling large house with a big garden. Second, the bedroom had a large glass door at the back which opens into another lovely garden but his wife Emily didn't like the glass door. A contract was given for all the furniture. The man in charge was a burly Sikh from Punjab, perhaps less than 30, and he began the job. You all must be wondering why a Sikh has to come all the way from Punjab to do work in such a remote place but the fact is the tribesmen just don't want to work and all they would like is to sit and drink and go to sleep. It is the women who do the outdoor work.
The housework was on and the carpenter and his team had come and they were building the sofas and the beds to furnish the house. Emily would often go into the house but she didn't like the glass door. Many a time she felt the glass door was unsafe. She felt relaxed when the carpenter was around. Many a time he wore just Salwar and no shirt and the sweat glistening on him, accentuated his manliness.
She used to think that one measly screwdriver stuck into the lock would suffice to split the door, exposing the house. At night, it cast a shadow like a mad broom that developed an evil mind of its own and wanted to sweep her under the rug.
She would spend a lot of time in the bedroom supervising the construction of the double bed and also selecting the bed covers.
Slowly but surely the house was built and Daniel was satisfied. He complimented the carpenter on an excellent job done and told him he would get his payment very soon when the headquarters at Calcutta sent the money.
His wife told him, "the only thing I like about this house is the bedroom and the bed and the fittings, I don't like the glass door. it cuts into my privacy.
Daniel replied, "Why should you bother? the glass door gives us a lovely view into the garden."
"I don't like it because the glass door opens into the master bedroom and anybody from outside can walk in. He or she can also watch from the outside."
"Who is going to watch, I am the Deputy Commissioner."
"You never know"
The house was ready and Emily said there is a need for a housewarming party.
After math of the party
Daniel replied," it's not our own house but all the same if you wish we can have a housewarming party." Many people turned up for the housewarming party, army officers, some Indian businessmen, the local police chief. The party was soon in full swing and the beauty of the Raj with the attendants dressed in the white livery served the scotch and snacks.
Emily was wondering where her husband was. She went into the bedroom and looked out of the glass door and there she saw her husband embracing Zeenat. She didn't know what to make of it and she knew the girl was a Muslim though beautiful she didn't like it at all. Soon her husband was kissing her eyes and then they were glued lip to lip. It was a fleeting moment but the truth dawned on her.
She went through the glass door, outside and she saw the backyard, bathed in yellow with the setting sun, and long shadows. emerging ‘Oh, really?’ she thought, 'have I seen anything?'
Then the shadow of her husband appeared and soon he was close to her. He asked."How did you know I was here? I am foxed."
She stared at the blinding concrete tiles until the shapes separated again, his straight and simple, hers like an hourglass. No words were said. She did not answer and looked away and then asked
"Why were you hugging her?"He didn't reply, tongue-tied what to say. After the party later that night, she again asked the same question, before the lights were switched off
This time he did reply, "She’s going through, a dreadful period, I know. If I’d had more money I could have probably been able to afford better. things for her. She was hounded in Burma and I was only consoling her."
"It didn't look like that."
"You don't know what it means to be hunted, parents butchered. A good samaritan brought her here and I gave her a job as the housekeeper because I needed someone and you were not here. There is nothing more to it."
The sheets rustled as they turned away to sleep, she didn't want him to touch her and then said, "maybe, I should go back to England for some time."
As she tried to sleep she recalled the outline of Daniel cuddling Zeenat. How could he do it but then she thought what have I done? Am I in the same boat as Daniel? She shuddered as she remembered that someone had watched her from outside the glass door.
Time seemed to flow differently in the new house, after that. The new rooms didn’t quite understand their purpose. Days passed as new purchases like semicolons, separating one arbitrary chunk of life from the other entered the house.
Daniel brought a painting home and told her it would hang on the top of the stairs, and she nodded. He unwrapped it and stepped back to look at the painting, but she wasn’t looking. There was a red smudge on the lapel of his shirt. ‘What’s that?’ Emily asked. He turned his head to examine it, which gave him a double chin.
"It’s lipstick," she added, and Daniel looked away to the glass door. After a moment he seemed to gather his wits and said, " Yes. she was crying today. Her people were trying to take her away,"
"But that doesn't explain the smudge."
"And she cried and I just consoled her and maybe her lipstick stuck to the collar."
'' I didn't know she had the money to buy lipstick"
She did not reply. Some invisible line shifted closer towards her and she couldn’t inch away again. The shadows took on new colors every time and appeared on different parts of the room. She called the Sikh carpenter and asked him. He looked straight and said,
"She is going through a problem."
What the problem was he wanted to tell but he kept quiet. He wanted to tell the mistress that Zeenat is sleeping with your husband and for all, you know she may be carrying his child. He also wants to tell her that Zeenat and the Sahib went to the nearby spring and then made ferocious love but he kept quiet.
Daniel told her, he would be working late that day but ended up coming home for lunch. It turned out, he was agitated. He saw her in the driveway, so he entered through the back door, turning the almost symbolic, meaningless key in the lock. All he really needed was a hairpin to pick it. He was getting desperate.
He sat in the living room and waited in the corner chair. He couldn’t think of anything useful. He didn’t even spot Emily when she came in. After a moment he saw her.
They didn’t argue and just sat in separate chairs. After a moment Emily said, she wants to get rid of the glass door. He kept quiet and only asked,
"It pervaded my privacy."
She got rid of the glass door right after that day. It wasn’t cheap, but she got it done. There’s now a wall where the door was, and the wound has closed, leaving no scar at all.
They sat in the living room and she said," I have got my tickets from Calcutta to Liverpool. I want to go."
"Not after Zeenat is carrying your baby
Emily was silent for a moment and then continued, " Yes, I wanted to tell you something."
" I’ve always wanted to tell you about this house. It's a secret but you must know. I have slept with your favorite worker, the burly Sikh in our new bed before we ever did. I remember you used to say that the bed smelled like it has been used and you were considered returning it. I did not agree, for that was just his sweat and mine. It's sweat that came from hard work and toil and both our sweat when we toiled on the bed.
Emily paused for a moment and continued, "And when you pointed out the scratch I had on my neck and breasts, that was just signs of his passion. The glass door is my enemy as Zeenat, saw me and the burly Sikh together and then I saw you and Zeenat"
Daniel was stunned
"How could you do it? taking a native to bed"
"You did the same thing but that is not the point now," she replied, "she is with your child. I can't say for me."
As Daniel and Emily looked at each other the shadows appeared all around them and they wondered if they would ever go away.
MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on July 13, 2021:
Bill, it's always such a pleasure to read your comment, It's so invigorating.
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on July 13, 2021:
Fiction plus history....nice combination, handled well by your talented, artistic hand. Well done, great story, fun read! Shadows indeed!
MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on July 13, 2021:
Chitra, so nice you commented.
Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on July 13, 2021:
An engaging story, well written, which kept the interest till the end! As you say, it's a true story! Yes, such incidences do happen! I liked your title!
Thank you for sharing this!
MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on July 13, 2021:
Ishika, so nice you commented.
ISHIKA MEHERE from NAGPUR on July 13, 2021:
It is a very engaging article Emge. I had great time reading it.Hope you have a nice day ahead.
MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on July 12, 2021:
Jennifer, sweet of you to have commented.
Jennifer on July 12, 2021:
What a lovely story I enjoyed reading it very much. Thank you for sharing.