This was an unusual time for it to begin.
But whoever has had a control over it?
It does as it pleases.
The rains came down unexpectedly in full fury. She knew of its effects on Ghevaad.The rains would be gushing out of every crevice in the mountains and gloriously flowing down as waterfalls. That was the beauty, purity and magic of the moisture-laden clouds which opened their hearts on her hamlet.
One of the best things of these showers was that they cleared up the environment and the thoughts, probably!
As the dusty browns transformed, one no longer needed to conjure scenes. They were right in front of her – clean, green and with a sheen.
After all who didn’t need blessings from Narandev.When he had to send a message this is how it came. The receiver had to read the communications correctly.
“Clear all doubts and say yes, you weren’t born to be only a tribal,” she told herself.
Unknown to all, a pair of eyes watched her. They had been doing so for a long time.
She looked at the wall ahead and smiled. It was red, white and being cleansed. They had painted parts of it together. He had stared, fascinated, almost forgetting to take photographs that afternoon.
A drop fell on her face, another on the left earlobe, her eyelashes weren’t spared either. She listened attentively. She knew the answers were here to drench her. There had to be no deviations. This had become her favourite place in the last three years. She would come to this spot on the highlands situated between the village roads and the mountains to observe the sky, the wandering birds and wondered what it felt to see Ghevaad from up there.
“What could be seen? How much could be seen?” She had often questioned herself.
The rain drops poured, kissing her.
The Nun at her school had taught them that one must have a bird’s view to completely comprehend a situation before responding. She used to absorb every word in school unlike her peers. Other children her age were married now, painting walls and looking after homes. She had refused to settle down without giving to life what she wanted from it, “a whole new chance.”
The umbrella of dry leaves wasn’t going to be able to shield her anymore for they were had no knowledge of what it was to be green and alive again.
“I am born to be a rain storm, which can surge. If I want, I can become a boulder that can impact the ground while rolling, I can be the trunk of a tree that supports the fruits up there safely.”
Her mind was clear as her eyes watched the shower of pearls making ripples, adding jewels to the puddle.
“My life is going to be more than just a bubble. I promise myself! I have to morph the darkness with silver!” She continued.
“I want clouds of fulfilment all over Ghevaad, even if it means running against the wind. Prosperity for all, not just a lucky few!” She concluded.
The rains worked like a looking glass as Lalgi took decisions which would affect the lives of all in her Warli village.
Her father called out, “Lalgiiiiiiii”.
She was oblivious to it. Her mind was reliving the past.
“Only the square seems to obey a different ……….” Laurent’s words were reverberating. She had almost caught him that day.
Laurent, a thirty year old had come to her land three years ago from the happy country of France. She knew nothing of him or his native village. But she, Lalgi was to be his guide, assigned by her father. He desired to photograph her father’s work, along with that of others.
She remembered looking at him in awe! All of him as white as the clouds, blue eyes like that sea beyond the cliff, his hair like ripe golden grains and the fingers, like her brushes, long and stiff.
“If I could get to chew those fingers as I do with the twigs to make brushes,” she chuckled at the thought.
He thought, “What a welcoming smile.”
If only he knew!
He smiled, bowed his head and said, “Namaste!”
He was a photographer. He would be staying in their area for three months taking pictures of Warli Art.
Foreigners were not an uncommon sight in their lands.
“Hmmm, the same story. The last time foreigners stayed with us was when I was ten,” she recalled looking upwards, feeling the strong winds. A few coconut leaves were opposing the wind. “Let go, my dear ones, simply flow, resistance has never helped much,” she warned them.
At eighteen, she had to be his local guide. “It was going to be fun,”she thought.
She was chosen because she was a cut above the rest having been a fast learner in the missionary school run for tribals. Her French Nun was delighted to find one student who was capable of learning multiple languages where as others struggled to get just one dialect right. Her arithmetic was too good for someone her age.
She was beginning to get better than her father in Warli art at this age. She could bring up newer variations to the art and yet retain its primitive flavour. Her father was proud of her strokes. Her mother considered her an incarnation of the Goddess of Fertility- Palaghata. After her birth, although a complicated delivery, her family had never run short of peace. They had more than enough to eat and the entire village seemed to believe that she was lucky for all.
He looked at his dusky, beautiful guide and wondered how old could she be.
Being sharp, she guessed his thoughts and blurted, “I am eighteen, you see, big enough to be your guide. I know the hills, the seas, the lands as good as any elder in my village.”
He was embarrassed, “I am sure you do! And you speak English very well.”
“Je peux aussi parler francais,” she smiled.
He was smitten then and there!
“Good Lord,” he muttered following her, “Totally unexpected. Totally!”
That’s how two artists from different cross sections of the world met. Two human beings who were lucky to have the gift of common languages among themselves.
He was an award winning, celebrated photographer known for his “real life pictures that could talk”. He visited tribal people, took amazing photos in their natural habitat capturing true emotions. He had authored books on little known cultures showing their diverse and magnificent traditions. His speciality was establishing artistic features which spoke of beauty and versatility.
For Lalgi, he was just another foreigner, they come, click and go!
She took him to the guest hut which was to be his abode for these months. It was a rustic and tiny space with some clay utensils. The interior walls were decorated with lovely tiny characteristic Warli patterns. Laurent was enamoured by the red of it.
“I shall come to take you out in the evening, you may rest for a while. The water is kept in the bucket and would you like some tea?” She enquired.
“And be kind to the insects around here, do not kill them if they do not bother you!”
“I’d love some sugary tea, please! And after tea, we could move out straight away,” he hinted.
“We expect our guests to be clean before we begin at our place of worship. And I have to bring the herd home. Please do wait!” She requested.
Ousted, he couldn’t help but admire how the ‘Beautiful Little Missy’ was taking charge.
She was fiercely independent and compassionate. He was already making notes on her.
A curious pair of eyes was peering through the bushes.
She heard her father’s voice and erupted out of the flashback. The clouds were now dripping their last possessions The green magic was looking neat and sorted. She didn’t want to be distracted but when father called, one had to obey. He was her tutor, her faith and her friend. Her father had always agreed readily to all her demands.
She spotted him.
“Phone…. Laaurey,” he said.
She liked the way her father pronounced his name, it always made her smile.
Father and daughter trudged along the muddy path, occasionally hastening their steps so as to not miss the call. Everyone knew Laurent called regularly after his departure but only Lalgi knew the reason behind these calls.
“Yes I will be there,” she spoke bringing the receiver to her ears and tears to her eyes.
He was overjoyed. A sense of peace began to engulf him. The restlessness of the past years began to ease from that very moment. She alone, he knew, could bridge their worlds for she had amassed tremendous courage in her abilities.
During Laurent’s photography sessions, he got familiar with Ghevaad and its intricately done up walls, the Warli painting, a tradition stretching back to 2500 BC and more. This form of painting had generated some interest outside this homely, comely piece of the universe. Laurent decided to try it out himself. He has already spent more than a month with these beautiful people taking pictures of their work, surroundings, sarees, the Dhumsa and Tarpa dance.
He never ceased to wonder at Lalgi’s qualities. A girl who painted like a thorough professional, who spoke many languages and her body language exuded confidence unseen in any other tribal. It made him wonder, what was a girl like her doing here.
He grew to like her more each day. He would forget to click pictures while listening to her in rapt attention.
“These rudimentary wall paintings use a circle, a triangle and a square. We worship nature. Hence we play with elements of nature in our work. The circle stands for the sun and the moon, the triangle is derived from the shape of the mountains and pointed trees. Savari is our goddess of harvest…”
“Why have you stopped taking pictures?” She demanded to know.
The man felt silly but couldn’t confess that he was engrossed in her eyes: those fish shaped kohl lined, luminescent eyes. He muttered, “Yes circle and triangle come from the observation of nature. Only the square seems to obey a different logic.”
“Garcon intelligent!” She retorted.
“Mon amour,” he dared not utter it aloud.
“As if I did not know what he was thinking,” Lalgi on her part had withheld herself.
She knew she was a strong tribal woman mentally albeit from a weak economic and socio cultural background but in no way did she consider her people inferior to any foreigner or her own countrymen.
His camera went, CLICK, CLICK CLICK!
She had begun to notice he was taking fewer pictures of the paintings and more with her in the frame.
Laurent wasn’t wondering why he had begun to make a conscious effort to click her along with other aspects. He was just so head over heels in love with this tall dusky divine Indian woman. Her checkered sarees in bright colours, that neatly done up oily hair, those long legs and the satin chocolate skin kept him awake most nights.
“But it wasn’t quite the need of the hour or the right thing to do.” He reminded himself.
He knew their area, their women, their customs were sacrosanct and no one would be allowed to invade it, leave alone carry off their trophy!
When he expressed a desire to learn painting, Lalgi was quick to ask for a favour in return. She wanted to learn how to use a camera.
His list of appreciation for this wonder woman was getting longer and longer.
So here were two artists exchanging their knowledge and artistic abilities with one another in a remote rural setting.
During his lessons, she explained “The ritual paintings are usually done inside the huts as you have seen in the past one month. Today we are going to make a wall. Beware, your hands will get dirty!”
“Not an issue at all,” he said.
He had taken to Ghevaad like a fish takes to water.
She wondered, “How could a French man merge wonderfully with us tribals?”
One could sense he felt at home sitting on the ground with folded legs, he enjoyed their meals with no fuss. He was captivated by the hot fish broth and the boiled rice. “What more did a guest have to do to make his hosts happy?”
A pair of inquisitive eyes kept constant vigil.
She quickly banished those thoughts as she prodded the stick ahead of her to remove any slippery creature that might want to welcome them.
“Mixture of branches, soil and cow dung, make a wall – red background for the wall paintings,” she reminded him.
“Yes, and then we use only white for the paintings.” He added.
“Quite so, the white pigment is a mixture of rice paste and water…,’’ she was interrupted by him.
“With gum as a binding.” He completed the sentence for her.
“We use a bamboo stick chewed at the end to make a paintbrush,” she turned her face away while saying this, as a month long old memory made her blush.
They painted for some hours. He was a patient man, who drew like a first timer. They enjoyed their art class together. They had managed to make some parts of the wall quite perfect, but a pair of French hands would always cause some unevenness much to the annoyance of this lovely teacher.
“The wall paintings are done only for special occasions such as weddings or harvests. So what is our special occasion?” He teased her.
“To stop you from falling in love with my village,” she said it as a matter of factly, rubbing her hands to clean them.
Her response blew him away!
But the French couldn’t be defeated, that too a man in his own territory. And certainly not while washing hands!
“Correction Lalgi, not just with this village! No one has been able to stop me from falling in love with you!”
“You should not. It is unwise to do so. Your family will be ruined,” she barely managed to speak. She was not prepared for any romantic liaison. The clouds up in the sky suddenly began to play hide and seek with the Sun.
“I take that concern for my family as a reciprocation, My Dear Lalgi!” Laurent said, shading his eyes from the suddenly peering golden Sun, which made his hair look like a heavenly halo to the young adult.
The eighteen-year old’s cheeks went as red as the walls. The innocent one gave a reply as pure as the colour of the motifs.
“I know I like you very much but am not sure if this is what is love. And you will be gone in another month, back to your world, I’ll be here in my land amongst my dreams. So, what is the use of reciprocating?” She looked sideways avoiding his sapphire eyes.
At this point of time, a pair of iridescent eyes was watching this exchange of irrelevant words between two pure hearts.
Laurent was touched by her honesty. She catapulted to insurmountable heights in his mind.
There was a breeze always, at this time of the day, somehow today it left behind a satin touch on the new shores of love.
He came closer, put his arms around her shoulder. She shrunk! He removed his hands at once.
“Lalgi, you have nothing to fear from me. I am not going to hurt you. I love you. It will not make me turn into a villain if you cannot reciprocate. It is perfectly alright to not love someone back.” He was trying to sound his age while assuring her.
He was lying. He wanted her love but held back the truth. That truth which could break barriers only to cause anguish was not worth getting to the tip of his tongue.
The sun had begun to settle down. The clouds too were doing well on their part.
“If I may ask, what is your dream?” Laurent enquired trying to change the topic.
Lalgi managed an exodus of words,” Laurent, my dream is …. my dream is that my people have access to the outside world, outside Ghevaad, far away, into your lands, other lands. This village is not a zoo where outsiders come once and vanish thereafter. Talented people live here and they need a chance at life. Our condition has to improve. We have to be known all over the world. I don’t like the idea of a lone foreigner coming once in a five years for some shoot, glorifying us for some nights of moonshine and then leaving.” She gave out a deep breath.
“Deserting us as though we are nobodies. I want more people like me, who think about exploring the best possibilities in the outside world and introducing them here.”
Laurent was amazed at this incredible woman’s point of view.
“What are the headmen saying?” He asked.
“Only my father understands, others don’t quite. They won’t till they see some results and for that some action is needed.”
“Lalgi, that is the government’s job,” he reminded her.
“Yes we are thankful to the attention they are giving us but we have to mobilize ourselves,” she replied.
That night, Laurent revisited the conversation and decided that in order to win her love if this was it, then so be it.
The next day he wrote lengthy letters back home to as many people who mattered. He was very wealthy and sought after but here he was in a remote corner seeking a brilliant angel who wanted to champion the cause of her tribe. And for her sake he would leave no stone unturned.
His last month in Ghevaad went in teaching Lalgi some finer aspects of handling a camera while he took more pictures of Warli art, maximum of hers, met up with the school missionaries and set the ball rolling in favour of Lalgi’s dream.
On the last day of their meeting, Laurent apprised her that an exchange program of school students would start between his town and her school. Every six months a cultural union would be initiated. If this continued unhindered, her people would have a fruitful exposure to the outside world and their art form could become a part of the French system too in due course of time and a lot of French artistic pursuits could begin here. “One step at a time,” he promised her.
“Will you marry me, if all goes well,” he knew the answer yet this love lost puppy asked her.
“I will, with my father’s permission.” Madame announced.
A pair of confident eyes watched Laurent do the cartwheels while the teenager gleefully clapped her hands like a baby.
For three successive years, Lalgi waited to see her dream come true. She worked in the school, took her herd grazing, painted and photographed her people crazily. Laurent kept his word. He would call frequently to check on the bureaucratic regulations, passports and other necessities. Sometimes he simply wanted to hear her voice and tell her how much he loved her.
“Did you like the photographs, I sent you?” She would seek his approval for it involved many people making an effort to air mail them to France.
That was in the nineteen ninety.
Tonight, fifty year old, Mrs. Lalgi Laurent Beaumont is making fish broth for her husband and the new batch of artists from Ghevaad and its surrounding areas in her Warli styled kitchen inside the family Chateau.
The pair of eyes, now content, no longer watches them.
This journey for them was meant to be smooth for they were destiny’s favourite.
The artists had managed the art of love well.
Ghevaad – An imaginary Warli village
Narandev – The God of Rains
Palaghata – The Goddess of fertility.
Savari – The Goddess of harvest
Garcon intelligent – Smart boy (In French)
Je peux aussi parler francais – I can speak French too
Mon amour- My love
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