CW: Domestic abuse
Once they reached the massive ornate doors of the temple, Keshav turned to the tourist couple and said with a downward nod of his head, “Sir, this is the end of the guided tour. Thank you for giving me an opportunity to serve you. Hope you enjoyed your visit. Have a nice day madam.”
As he moved towards the next batch that he was supposed to take on the tour, the young woman called out “Wait, Mr. Keshav. You said you could interpret the dreams. May I ask you something?”
It was too late for her boyfriend to stop her. Moreover, it was still the early days of romance, so he decided to humour her.
Keshav turned back with a cautious smile. He knew this moment would come. He had noted the sparkle in the eyes of the young woman when he was describing the special gift of Swapnasundari – a nymph who could interpret dreams and had sheepishly supplied the information that he could do the same.
Keshav considered the proposal. The couple seemed to be a better prospect compared to the batch of local tourists who came with large families and moved around noisily.
Keshav moved closer to the couple and cleared his throat, “That would cost you Rupees 500. Please wait outside the temple. I’ll be there within a few minutes.”
The couple saw Keshav hurrying towards them after a few minutes. The boyfriend studied him. He looked harmless enough. In his bespectacled, vermillion dotted, bush-shirt and trousers clad avatar he looked similar to most of the other tour guides in the small temple town close to Hassan.
“Sorry to keep you waiting. I just handed over the next batch to my friend. Come sir, come madam, you must be tired,” Keshav said twisting the handle of his hand purse on his left wrist and signalled them to follow him with his right hand.
They moved towards the stalls surrounding the temple.
“Hey, Ramakka! pass two tender coconuts here,” Keshav continued trying to ingratiate himself to the couple and motioned them to a low bench kept near the coconut vendor. He pulled a cane stool from under the pushcart and sat down. Ramakka didn’t mind this intrusion.
The tender coconuts with straws in their chipped crowns were handed to the couple within minutes.
Keshav prodded, “Yes madam, please tell me about your dream”
The young woman looked at her boyfriend and hesitated for a moment. The boyfriend made his displeasure visible at what this seemed to imply. He stood up grumpily and moved to the next stall that had laid out small idols made of brass and made a show of examining them.
“You can tell me, madam, without any fear,” Keshav said reassuringly.
The young woman took a sip of the beverage and started,
“Last night…I had a dream. Normally, I don’t give them a second thought. But this was the same dream I had when I was a child. I remember it vividly as a few events in the days that followed brought a lot of grief to my family,” she paused.
“I don’t suppose I can ask what events,” Keshav inquired cautiously.
The young woman frowned and said,
“Someone very close to me died and a person whom the family thought was a dear friend turned out to be the reason for it.”
“Oh!” Keshav felt an unfamiliar sense of tenderness in his heart. “Very sorry to hear it madam, what is the dream?”
The young woman sighed deeply, finished slurping the coconut water and handed the empty shell back to the vendor. She then started speaking while gazing at her boyfriend who had moved on to a stall that displayed colourful threads and mounds of rangoli powders in cane baskets.
“In the dream, I was riding a black horse that galloped into the woods even as I could hear a familiar voice calling out to me. I turned to look at the person who was calling, but all I saw was an outline covered in haze. At that very moment, I collided head-on with a gnarly trunk of a huge tree. I felt as if I was going to die and the branches of the tree were out to grab me. The next moment I was an eagle flying in the sky.” She finished in a brittle voice.
Keshav opened his hand purse. The purse had coins, a small water bottle, a pair of binoculars, a packet of fried groundnuts, an address book, a torch and a magnifying lens. He pulled out the lens.
“Madam, please show me your left palm”
The young woman did as she was told and her boyfriend had turned his full attention in her direction.
Keshav noted the delicate hand with short nails. The wrist had purple marks. He did a deep study of the curved lines on the palm extended towards him and did some counting on his fingers.
“Madam, are you sure you were riding a black horse?
“Of course, why do you ask?”
Keshav cleared his throat and said, “In that case, I advise you to be careful about trusting anyone you might have met recently. I have seen your palm. It shows great strife in your childhood and a few minor setbacks in your youth. But you need not be scared madam, nothing untoward is going to happen to you or your loved ones. Be cautious of the outsiders though,” he shot a look at the approaching boyfriend.
The boyfriend asked in a bored voice, “Is the interpretation business over?”
The young woman nodded and handed the money to Keshav with a thankful smile.
Keshav didn’t like the tone of the boyfriend. He said, “Thank you, madam, hope you enjoy the rest of your stay here” and got up to leave.
The young woman said without a warning, “Mr. Keshav, can you please guide us through tomorrow’s sightseeing as well?”
Both men gaped at each other. Keshav bobbed his head and said, “Sure, madam”
“Well then, meet us at Water View Holiday Retreat at 9.00 a.m. sharp,” said the boyfriend, stressing the last word.
Keshav cycled home in the evening. His wife had gone away to her parents’ home for a week to help them in her sister’s wedding preparations. Keshav enjoyed the freedom this brought. He thought he would go over to meet his friends at the marketplace after dinner.
The young woman’s face kept coming back to his mind as he prepared his simple meal. It was unlike him to feel anything for his customers. But there was something in her eyes that troubled him. It was as if she feared that her dreams were going to turn into nightmares.
By the time Keshav had turned 35, most of his dreams had turned into nightmares. That is when he had accidentally stumbled upon his new talent; interpreting dreams.
Keshav felt a strange sense of kinship with the woman. He knew the pain of living with the nightmares. He had dreamed of becoming a successful businessman, a loving husband and an affectionate father. But after dabbling in a series of disastrous ventures, he had resigned himself to becoming a tour guide. He had tried to be a loving husband, but now he was just a fearful husband. As far as the dream of being an affectionate father went- well, he had been married for 10 years without an offspring.
After offering his evening puja and eating dinner, he went to the marketplace. With the onset of tourist season, the market bustled with activity. He saw that his friends had not yet turned up at their usual meeting place. So, he went ahead and submerged himself in the flow of people. After roaming around for a while, he stopped near a shop that sold apparel and looked at the mannequins donning colourful sarees. A momentary thought of buying one for his wife passed his mind before he saw the furious form of the boyfriend emerging from the shop followed by the young woman in tears. Despite his better sense warning him, he followed them.
“Wait! Rajesh,” The girl pleaded in a shrill distressed voice.
Rajesh slowed down, but his body remained stiff. The girl caught up with him. They walked in silence for a few minutes.
The girl started, “I’m sorry... I didn’t mean to...” and was abruptly cut in by Rajesh.
“No, Sneha. I can’t take it anymore. I’m tired of your spoilt rich girl ways. Being a fatherless child isn’t an excuse to be so arrogant all the time!”
Keshav fought a surge of anger welling up within him.
How dare he insult his girlfriend in the middle of a busy market? Just as I had suspected. I knew it all along when he was telling her; what to see, how to pose for the photograph and what to eat for snacks throughout the day. I knew that he should not be her dream.
“Rajesh, please...,” The girl was sobbing now.
Rajesh threw his arms up in the air and sniggered, “How typical, creating a scene in a public place. Can’t you just shut up and walk, woman?”
Keshav knew what he was going to do.
The next morning Keshav directed the driver to take the young couple to the places that were left for the last day of their stay.
Sneha had put on a brave smiling face, but the spring was missing in her steps. Rajesh seemed unmindful of it and continued to ask questions about the history and the architecture of the structures. Keshav answered them all most professionally. It bothered him that Sneha was very quiet.
They climbed up to the hilltop to the breath-taking view and Sneha once again posed at the places she was told to and with a smile that didn’t quite light up her eyes.
Then they visited the waterfall and the same routine was repeated.
It was close to sunset and was time to drop them back at their hotel room.
“Driver, stop at the market for a bit, will you?” said Rajesh on their way back.
The car stopped at the market. Rajesh got out but Sneha did not.
“Aren’t you going to pick a souvenir or two?” he asked Sneha.
“I am a bit tired. Please go ahead,” She replied.
“Suit yourself!” he said and went.
Sneha stared at his back with a pained look. She seemed to be struggling to make a decision.
“Madam, yesterday when I interpreted your dream, I missed out on telling you a specific thing”
“What is it Keshav?”
“Your future will be bright and happy. But you have to take care of one thing… You should stay away from any symbol showing an eagle.”
Sneha looked startled. Was there any way this man knew that Rajesh had a tattoo of an eagle on his back? And why should she trust the words of this stranger? She had consulted him just for fun, hadn’t she?
Keshav met the driver after a few days with another batch of tourists. The driver casually remarked about how the young people of the present day had become very casual about relationships and how the young woman and her boyfriend had taken different rides to get to the airport as if they didn’t know each other.
Keshav smiled to himself. He was never going to tell anyone about how he saw the tattoo. He was not going to reveal how the golden opportunity had presented itself when he was desperately looking for a sign. He was not going to admit he had been watching through the binoculars when Rajesh had come out bareback from the waterfall. He would just maintain that he was the best interpreter of dreams in town.