That voice is the voice of the young Ajit, he said to himself, but instead of the victorious tones of his younger days, he is now singing of longing and pain. But in his inner ear he overheard the echo of another voice: that of a youth who when he was meant to sing a hymn had sung, instead, the words of a popular love song. And Siddhant saw, in his mind’s eye, a form bowing from the waist reflected in running water, face tanned golden, great brown eyes, thick black hair coiled loosely on a golden nape, bare shoulders over a white sarong, feet digging into moist soil, the form for which the youth had sung, instead of a hymn, a song of love…
At a moment he considered opportune, when the monks had eaten their midday meal and gone into the forest to forage for roots and fruit, Siddhant called Ajit to him. They spoke in solitude all afternoon.
The next morning, even before assembly, the monks and the nuns of the hermitage were in turmoil. Trishna ran away from her cell last night, Mridul told Siddhant when he emerged from his hut to see what the unseemly turbulence was about. It appears that she had spread powdered petals of the Datura flower that causes sleep, and sometimes causes death, all around the dormitory so that no one would hear her leave. The nuns didn’t wake until the sun rose. And when, in fear, we went to report her disappearance to Ajit, he, too, was gone. He left this for you.
He handed Siddhant a sealed letter.
Shall we go to look for them?
No, Siddhant, looking up without opening the letter. They have gone and will not come back.
He tore open the letter, which he threw on the water of the river that ran nearby.
Our work here is done, he said. Let us go. Leave the inhabitants here to choose who among them will guide them now. You may return with me to the top of the hill and the peace of our hermitage. Your apprenticeship here is over.
Weeks went by. Mridul came back to the more rigorous life of the hermitage, surprising himself that he had adjusted with ease to the severity of life in this rocky place where vegetation was sparse and water had to be drawn from a well at dawn, after the relatively relaxed rules of the forest hermitage where green plants, abundant fruit and flowing water induced a torpor that made even the mortifications of the monks seem more like an interlude than a way of life.
But one morning, he became aware of a change that had been taking place in the air around him. Now there was a voice rising above the plain chant of the other singers, rising, soaring, dipping, improvising, a voice with hoarse low notes and clear, plaintive upper notes, and he wondered how he could tell Siddhant that the voice he heard each morning, his master’s voice, made his heart lurch, his limbs tremble, his tongue seek out new words and sounds, and his voice break with a yearning that until now, in his young life, he had never known.
Born in Karachi, Aamer Hussein moved to London, aged fifteen, in 1970. He studied Romance languages before taking a degree in Urdu, Persian and History from SOAS. He is the author of several collections of stories as well as novels and a novella and also writes in Urdu, including Love and its Seasons, a miniature collection of fables and prose poems.
Artwork from My Art World: Introduced to art, from a very early age, Faiza Sheikh graduated from St. Martins College in London, deciding to paint Philosophy, Politics and Poetry on canvas. Her signature work is marked by the use of gold and silver leaf and scripted with a philosophical message.