The late August skies opened up like a spigot washing Darjeeling into a delicate newness. Through the thick mist rolling over the Himalayan foothills, the breeze carried with it a hint of tea aroma rising from the plantations. Acres of luscious green fields were dewy under the monsoon shimmer. Residents around the tea estates were used to inhaling this fragrance, it had an especially wistful feel after the rains.
Gorkhas or native people of the Darjeeling area depended on tourism, timber, and tea as their main industries. Long after the end of British colonialism, mountain bungalows, evergreens, and tea estates remained key features of Darjeeling’s generous landscape.
These misty foothills, evergreens, and the fresh air of this hill station were among the many features of her native land that Maya loved. Gazing toward the hills under the midmorning sun, she drew in a deep tea-scented breath and put down the book she was reading, after underlining the paragraph that mesmerized her. She looked outside the kitchen window, past the luscious droplets that clung to the glass, into a yet dark sky not quite done with all it’s grief. There was to be residual weeping and pouring, of that she was sure. Except, the sky was folding inward momentarily amidst dark clouds and thunderous rumblings, as if processing the many misgivings it witnessed humanity expedite with careless abandon.
To read mystical poetry while gazing at the dewy landscape was how Maya spent many rainy afternoons this time of the year. The monsoons of South Asia had a special ferocity to them. Roughly between June to August, not much work could be done when the skies would crack open like a broken heart and pour forth mercilessly upon all of nature below it.
Tea picking and plantation would have to wait till the season was over.
Maya reminisced the quote she had just underlined in her book, “The wound is where the light enters,” wrote the 13th century mystical poet Rumi from Anatolia. She continued meditating on these words as she absorbed the view outside her window, letting her thoughts travel into the sacred land of her dreams where she saw herself and where life had found her. The quote felt like a bridge that would take her into the fullness she ached for.
Her silent monologue continued as she wondered, ‘if scars and wounds were what our lives were ultimately defined by?’ She suspected that that was true, for so much of who she was and the decisions she took in her life were inspired by the need to avoid a familiar pain. ‘Nobody likes getting hurt and most of us design our lives to avoid pain of any kind,’ she thought.
It was then that her phone rang and upon answering, Sara’s voice traveled across the ether. Sara was a well-bred American girl. The two had met for the first time in college several years ago. Maya had traveled half way across the world on a scholarship, and the two unlikely girls hit it off immediately, both enchanted by the enormity of differences between them. Maya, an upper-middle class Indian girl and Sara a well-bred all-American girl from the peaceful terrain of Fairfield, Connecticut. They had remained in touch long after graduating from college with Sara even visiting Maya’s native Darjeeling and falling in love with the serenity of the simple, yet exotic Himalayan foothills.
Lately, their conversations had been about Sara’s divorce. She would often call Maya and pour her heart out to her. It helped that Maya didn’t belong to Sara’s immediate environment and could therefore give her a somewhat objective perspective on her plight.
After the conversation and their farewells, Maya wished her luck for the upcoming child custody hearing, and said a quiet little prayer for her friend. She got up to make herself some tea and replayed the conversation in her head. Maya had offered words of courage to her despairing friend, and was reminded of the time when soon after graduation, she had fallen in love and immediately married the young man she envisioned to spend the rest of her life with. She was only nineteen and so adamant to be with Adam, who was only a year older than her. They were both excited to start their lives together, not knowing at the time that youth, in its impulsiveness often wounds, leaving indelible scars. But ‘these are the things we never talk about,’ she thought. Their marriage lasted all of five years, and despite the fact that they had a beautiful baby girl, the two had drifted apart rapidly leaving their marriage febrile. Maya was divorced at twenty four and had to suddenly leave America to take care of her ailing father and only parent, and his tea estate.
The sudden strike of the rolling thunder outside pulled her out of her reverie and she gazed outside the window at the heavens that seemed to roll and argue. She sat down with her tea and closed the window a little more, as the cold breeze carrying sharp droplets of rain was startling her skin. She was reminded of the same merciless monsoon when she had arrived in Darjeeling soon after the divorce. Maya recalled the days when her whole world felt like this thunderous sky today. There was anger and unresolved love, stuff that went unspoken and got stuck in the process of questioning everything.
Life gave her the gift of love and a child, but then decided to take it all away in some measure. The marriage to Adam became beyond repair, her only living parent was soon to depart from her life and the place where she had found love, in the smiles of her baby girl, was all to be left behind.
“I don’t know how you can seem so composed when all this is going on?” inquired Sara that summer of her reckoning.
“Not all scars can be seen. Some fester quietly in the heart, I guess.” Said Maya.
“They must be talked about Maya! You are carrying too much pain in your heart,” pleaded her friend.
“Sometimes the pain is far more than we can fathom, and perhaps words fail to communicate the depth of the wounding. That’s why so much goes unsaid.” lamented Maya.
She returned to Darjeeling to help her father and his tea estate into convalescence. She had made the difficult decision to stay in her homeland and leave her daughter in America to be raised by her ex-husband and his parents, whom she trusted. Maya knew life was asking of her a great deal. Suddenly, she found herself divided between two continents, and in both, a piece of her heart lay whimpering and aching for fullness again. She knew her daughter would be given the best that she deserved, while Maya was tied by fate to that which her father had entrusted her.
Twelve years had passed since the time she took that difficult decision, quietly trying to make sense of the scars fate had bestowed on her and the repercussions of decisions life had forced her to take. Now, as she reflected she saw that her entire life had been dictated by the emotional trauma of making sure she was there for her father’s last few breaths, helping to restore what her family had spent years creating, while leaving behind her two year old daughter to a fate she thought better than the struggle she envisioned for herself.
Even though she lost her beloved father in the months after her relocation to India, restoring his tea estate provided her with the means to spend all her free time in the US with her daughter, and bring her to India on all her school vacations.
Despite the travel, or because of it, Maya’s young daughter was growing up into a well-rounded teen. Both her daughter and the survival of her father’s business gave Maya’s life a purpose.
As she looked back on her life and the roads fate had shown her, she realized she had no choice but to tacitly accept and move quietly with grace, knowing she was doing her best to provide those she loved with what she could. Though she could never quite understand destiny’s manifold directions, Maya was determined to alchemize the pain of her scars into a soothing balm for herself. To that end, with the profits of the recuperated tea estate, in the fourth year of production after Maya took over, she began laying the ground work for a hostel where divorced young women with children could live in a safe haven and leave their children with while they went to work.
In the years, to come, Maya’s daughter would take the decision to move to India after she graduated from college and help her mother in running the ‘Little Haven For Women and Children’ hostel in Darjeeling.