“Maaji, you should be careful, while walking on the street”, Tilottama lifted a visually challenged old lady and made her sit on the pavement. “Please, move away, let her get some air. Didi, can you hold her head, while I make some cure for her dehydration”, she requested a middle aged woman, and was quick on her feet. She ran into a house nearby, found some little saunth (dry ginger), gently crushed it in a large glass of butter milk, gave a beaming happy smile to the hosts and ran back to the old lady. “Maaji, have this. It would give you strength. Don’t go out in the hot sun,” she gently ordered and the granny nodded in agreement.
Tilottama, true to her name, was a very beautiful girl. She was very popular in her village, not just for her beauty, but also for her good deeds. All of eighteen, she was the daughter of a proud, wealthy landlord. Tilottama’s mother had passed away, giving birth to her. He was a self-made man and had brought her up single-handedly. He was extremely protective and possessive of her. Tilottama, though irritated at his constant interference in her choices, was very attached to him. She always consulted him in all her decisions. His only worry at the moment was about finding a suitor for her.
Besides taking care of all the house-hold work, she also taught small children in a nearby patashala (school). “Hope the monsoons come soon, I am wilting away in the heat”, she sulked and prepared to walk to the river for washing clothes and taking bath. The Shala tree next to the river was in full bloom and looked more majestic and happier than usual. Tilottama, washed her clothes and took bath. She liked lazy, long baths and loved to sing. The branches of the tree swayed as she sang. “Am I imagining? The tree is swaying very unusually”, and continued her song. She held the flower from the tree, in her hands, and sang, while twisting and turning her head.
All of a sudden, she was pushed violently into the water. She lost her balance and took a while to regain ground. Before she could understand who pushed her, a wild pig was near the place that she was sitting and a well-built man was dodging the wild one. “Did he push me into the river? Was he trying to save me? Who is he? What nerve?” she thought to herself. The pig was suddenly distracted by a loud fire cracker from a nearby temple, and ran opposite direction.
“Did you push me?” she was angry. Samaran was smiling at her. That infuriated her more and she came charging towards him. In the bargain, she stumbled and was about to fall. He was just in time to catch her. Her garment tore and she was embarrassed.
“I am sorry to have startled you, but there was no time. The wild pig would have attacked you.” His calmness comforted her. She could not take her eyes of him. “I really enjoyed your song”, he said it with a cheeky smile.
Samaran was indeed very handsome. His broad shoulders, suited his tall frame. He was wearing a dhothi, as worn by Brahmins, but he was not wearing the traditional thread.
“Who are you? What is your name?” quickly changing her smitten face.
“My name is Samaran, and I live nearby”, he said it with an air of confidence, with his hands folded. “There is a hut nearby. You could change your dress there, if you please”.
Tilottama could not way walk to her home with a torn garment. She was very confused about the whole incident and asked, “Again, what just happen here?”
Samaran laughed out loud and silently explained to her what had happened. Everything had moved like a lightening. She accepted his request and changed into a spare garment that she had washed previously. The hut was less than few yards from the tree. She was still consumed by the suddenness of everything. She walked back home, completely smitten by him.
That night, after serving dinner to her dad, she retired early. She could not sleep. The incidents of the evening went through like a dream. “Oh my god! I did not thank him for the help.” she felt bad. She had to find him and thank him for the help. Well, that would provide her a chance to meet him again. She smiled, covering her face.
The next morning, she hurriedly finished the household work. Her father was quick to notice the nervousness and anxiety in her actions, but did not ask her. “Papa, I am going out with friends to buy materials for the school. I will be later for lunch. The maid would serve you lunch”, she lied. Before her father could reply, she was at her feet.
Tilottama, went to the same spot near the river and surveyed the area, but could not find him. She suddenly remembered that young men normally assembled and chatted near the market area. He was not there either. She was disappointed. “Maybe I should ask Partho chacha. He knows everything”. Partho was an elderly person who had lived long enough to know every person in the village. He also ran a shop in the market area.
“Chacha, do you know of any young person named Samaran?” she asked him with a straight face, hiding her excitement. Partho was a wise man. “I have not heard of any Samaran dear, but I hear butterflies flapping their wings” and he laughed out loud. She smiled in embarrassment but was disappointed. After several rounds of asking, she was frustrated and returned home. “Maybe he had gone out of the village, for some urgent matters”, she consoled herself.
That evening after having dinner with her father, she retired to her room. It was a full moon day and the moon had lit up the village. To her astonishment, Samaran was at her window. He was smiling and signed at her to come out. Tilottama was ecstatic, but still had to show restraint.
“I came to return the garment that you had left in the hut”, he spoke while standing erect with a firm posture, bright and beaming with a smile. “Thank you Samaran. I am sorry, I did not even thank you for the timely help”, she was apologetic. She invited him to his room and quickly checked if her father was awake. Both of them sat on her bed, and after initial awkwardness, they discussed, laughed, smiled, and listened to each other. Both of them were smitten of each other. It was early morning, and Samaran stood up to leave. She wished, if he would stay longer. He kissed on her forehead and bid goodbye.
Her father had heard voices, the night earlier, but was too tired to venture out and investigate. Tilottama was on seventh heaven all day. After sending her father for work, she quickly ran to the Shala tree to find him. She noticed that the tree swayed unnaturally. She was disappointed at not being able to see him.
Exactly after dinner, Samaran was near her window, bright and handsome. She was so excited at meeting him again, that she hugged him tight, while tears rolled down her cheeks. Samaran wiped the tears and comforted her. After sharing many special nothings, they made love. She was ecstatic.
Tilottama decided that she would tie a belt around his waist, so that she could spot him, next day. Her father had definitely heard voices from her daughter bedroom, and was waiting at the window to see, who was visiting her daughter. Samaran kissed her and bid good bye. Her father was very worried, but was very pained to ask her dear daughter.
During breakfast, he noticed a pink hue in Tilottama’s cheeks. She looked happy. He wished that she would share, what was happening in her life. She was too embarrassed and felt that it was too early to discuss. She had more urgent matters to finish that day. She had to meet him in the day. She rushed to the same spot and was aghast to discover that the belt was tied to the trunk. She was confused. And she began to worry, if she was making any mistake.
She was confident that he would come again that night. Samaran did arrive. “How is it that I don’t see you during the day? And why is it, that no one knows you in the village?” Tilotama confronted him. Samaran calmly replied, “I live near the river that you visit every day. I blossom and give comfort to all travelers, but petty minded people forget me soon”. She was confused, but did not pursue further. The next morning before he parted, she put an indigo-dyed shawl around his shoulders.
Her father was determined to pursue him and investigate the truth. Samaran walked with poise with a swift pace. He went past the market and the landlord pursued him relentlessly. When he reached the river, he suddenly vanished. To the landlord’s surprise, he found the shawl hanging in the branches of the tree. He was now confident that the man who was visiting his daughter was a spirit and not a human being. He was very sad that if her daughter discovered this, she would be shattered. He panicked. He decided to ask the advice of Partho.
After hearing the story Partho replied, “we should cut the tree and free the spirit, otherwise it would come and disturb Tilottama again”.
“I can’t make her live in a fool’s paradise. She would be heart-broken, if she knew that the man she loved was actually a ghost”, he was very sad.
Partho and the landlord called the villagers together and asked their help in cutting down the tree. The men cut and cut, but the tree would not fall.
In the mean while, Tilottama was alerted about the tree felling through her friend. She still had not known that Samaran was a ghost, holding up in the Shala tree. She panicked and decided to witness what was happening. She quickly ran towards the river. She hid herself inside the hut, near the river.
The men led by her father kept cutting the tree, but to their surprise the tree wouldn’t fall.
Tilottama, was watching the action through a hole. Suddenly, she felt something was not right. Her heart was beginning to feel heavy and started panting. The tree was starting to sway unusually again. She felt as if it was reaching out to her. Her father and the men gave the final blow and a chip from the tree flew directly towards the hut. The flying wooden chip entered the hole and struck her in the eye. It moved with such speed that it damaged her brain and Tilottama fell instantly.
At the same moment she fell on the floor; the tree also fell with a huge crash.
Tilottama and Samaran were truly meant to be together. Love did conquer.
This story is part of the series titled, “Stories from far and near” that includes adaptations from Indian folktales, classical poetry and mythology. Copyright © 2012 Sriram V. Ayer. This story may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.