The baronial gate of a small bungalow smiled at Lakshmi as she watched it from a distance.
Heavy grills bathed in golden paint secured the house, with lions engraved on either side of the iron latch.
‘I will get in one day,’ she sighed.
It was the house of the zamindar of her village Asansol. A small village in the interiors of Bihar, where most people lived in huts or kaccha houses. The only big house was owned by Krishna Chandra Rai, the zamindar of the village.
His heart was as big as his house. Unlike other ones, he did not exploit anyone during his reign. Instead, he helped many people get their lands back that were encroached on by his ancestors. He was the king, and people worshipped him like God; they called him ‘Rajaji’, and his house was known as Mandir-Mahal.
Lakshmi was a thirteen-year-old girl. Every day, she walked home from school; she waited at the Mandir-Mahal for her mother, Kaveri, who worked there. Lakshmi had to wait for almost an hour, but the hour usually flew off. She used to sit under the neem tree across the road.
The only concrete road in the village that led to mandir mahal.
Beyond the impregnable gate, there was a driveway that led to the white and blue bungalow. On either side of the driveway, there laid a green carpet of grass surrounded by a beautiful symmetrical hedge. Amid the lawn facing the bungalow, a colourful umbrella stood tall, sheltering some bright furniture. Lakshmi saw it for the first time when she came to Mandir-Mahal to call Kaveri. She wasn’t allowed inside, but the umbrella was gigantic, and she was mesmerized.
Lakshmi had never seen such a huge umbrella before.
Since then, Lakshmi spent almost an hour after school watching the colourful umbrella beyond the massive gate as she waited for mother to come out of the bungalow. Today, it was her last day of school. In Asansol, middle school was the highest education. Like always, she was beholding the colourful umbrella, which was shinier than ever before under the clouds, when Kaveri slid out wicket gate and smiled to Lakshmi,
‘I have spoken to Rajaji; he has agreed to hire you for work. Also, you should prove your credentials; perhaps they will give us the servant house within the compound. Then, we won’t have to walk for half an hour every day.’
‘Oh really,’ Lakshmi pretended to be surprised, but she knew that she’d be hired. Kaveri was a dedicated employee, and Rajaji was kind enough to engage his dedicated maid’s daughter.
Lakshmi couldn’t sleep that night. It’d be the first time that the gate would be opened for her. She’d be walking on a clean path amid the green carpet, and see the umbrella, up close.
The following day, Lakshmi and Kaveri walked towards the Mandir-Mahal at the usual time. For the first time, Lakshmi crossed the gigantic gate and stepped into the palace. As she entered, the umbrella appeared brighter than ever before. It was huge and so colourful as if a rainbow appeared on earth and looked up to the sky with pride. It took around five minutes for them to walk up to the house, but Lakshmi couldn’t take her eyes off the umbrella.
She entered the house and met Rajaji for the first time. Though she answered all his questions and was hired, she remembered her first encounter with the umbrella. After that, she started coming to work with Kaveri. Every day she leched at the umbrella, coming and going. She never saw anyone sitting on that white furniture that consisted of six chairs and a centre table. The umbrella was rooted in the grass, firm and straight.
After a few months, Rajaji fulfilled Kaveri’s dream with an increment and a servant quarter behind the lawn. Kaveri and Lakshmi shifted to their new house. A single room, a kitchen with an attached bathroom. It was nothing less than a palace to Lakshmi. She opened the window to see the bright blue sky, but the umbrella smiled at her from the lawns. She had a direct view of the umbrella from her house, and she was on cloud nine.
Her dedication and commitment to Rajaji grew havoc.
‘Did he know it? How? Or it’s a coincidence?’ She contemplated but didn’t want to waste her energy on useless thoughts. The day was spent in settling themselves, and the mother-daughter duo was wretchedly tired.
Kaveri slept as soon as she switched off the lights, but Lakshmi couldn’t sleep. She stood at the window and looked at the umbrella. It was the Taj painted in colours drenched in the silver of the moon. She looked around, and the world was fast asleep.
The guards at the gate were too cautious checking the boundaries, and there was no one near the umbrella,
‘Shall I?’ She looked at Kaveri, who was fast asleep and then looked at the umbrella. It was too tempting. She wanted to go once and touch its colourful fabric or sit underneath but then decided otherwise and slept.
The following day, Rajaji called for Lakshmi,
‘We have some special guests coming in the evening. The weather is great so we have a party at the lawns. You should be there to take care of the guests.’
Lakshmi couldn’t utter a word but smiled. She couldn’t express her happiness, and there were still six hours to evening. By six, she was all set to serve her joy to the guests.
The lawn was lit up, and so was the umbrella. She walked in with a tray of colourful drinks for the guests. As she served, she stood under the umbrella for the first time.
It was magical. The rainbow colours were spilt across the cover, decorated with the fireflies of light.
It was such a wonderful feeling.
She couldn’t have asked for anything more. It was the best day of her life. Four hours went by in a jiffy while she served only the guests who sat under the umbrella. The umbrella, too, had caressed her being.
The party was over, and Lakshmi was overjoyed. She ensured to clean up the lawn at night to spend some more time with her love.
Finally, she returned to her quarter. The night was tranquil. The silver plate was missing from the sky while stars tried hard to break the darkness.
Lakshmi couldn’t sleep in excitement and went to the window. To her surprise, the umbrella was closed. She was perplexed.
‘They never do it. Why today?’
She tried to see through the inky blue night but couldn’t see anything.
Unexpectedly, she saw the fabric of the umbrella move a little. She quietly walked out of her quarter and hid behind the hedge. She could see the umbrella walk.
Was there someone inside?
If she shouted, they could have escaped, hurt her, or worst, tear the umbrella. So, she decided to keep quiet and watch. The umbrella trudged towards the gate; Lakshmi was now shivering. Still, she wanted to save the umbrella. She followed along the hedge,
‘Is someone trying to steel it? Why would they walk to the gate then?’
Umbrella took up the speed and deviated towards the backyard, and Lakshmi was now sure that there was a thief hidden under the umbrella.
‘Stop there,’ she yelled and caught hold of the umbrella, but the umbrella started to sprint, and Lakshmi fell before she gripped the fabric.
The umbrella was running at full speed and dragged Lakshmi behind. She shouted, and the bungalow was lit up as guards tried to save her and the umbrella. In a few minutes, everyone was there on the lawns.
The grass of the lawn was ripped apart into patches, but the umbrella was unstoppable, and Lakshmi refused to give up.
At last, the umbrella banged into the wall, and a set of horns emerged out of the colourful canopy.
Lakshmi was seriously injured.
She tried hard but couldn’t save the umbrella. She woke up in the hospital, and all she remembered was the brutally withered umbrella.
Tears slid out from the corner of her eye as she saw her mom.
‘A cow intruded through the gate as it was opened for guests. While it was trying to eat the green decorations hanging from the umbrella the umbrella collapsed and it got stuck inside,’ informed Kaveri.
In a few days, Lakshmi recovered, but the pain of losing her favourite umbrella was irreparable.
The lawn looked bland without it.
Everyone thought that Lakshmi wanted to save the house from intruders. Rajaji gave her a hefty tip, but nothing could ease her pain. As she witnessed her love withered apart, she was heartbroken.
She worked there for another year but finally left Rajaji’s Mandir-Mahal with the memoirs of her favourite umbrella.
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