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The Story Behind the Bottle

The Tribal Story

When Ranga’s boat was ready to leave the banks of Sabari, Malti’s village was experiencing the final blaze of spring. Malti remembered Ranga’s aunt saying, ‘Ranga is like the flowing water of the Sabari. He will flow and take shape wherever he finds creeks and inlets.’ Yet Malti believed that Ranga and she shared a seraphic bond, quite like her and the River Sabari. After Ranga left, Malati started to spend most of her time on the banks of Sabari, on the pretext of washing clothes, polishing utensils……and looking for Ranga’s boat.
All the other girls in the village, who were of Malti’s age were already married by now. Only Malti kept waiting and every night she dreamt of Ranga’s boat anchoring on the banks of Sabari. Malti’s mother got anxious from time to time, watching time to slip away before their eyes and their daughter wither away along with it. Malti’s father had been advised by the village headman to get Malti married to his nephew, Varun, who was a vivacious young man, lived in the village next to theirs and ran a business successfully on their own. Varun’s mother, a chatty old lady, had also come to meet Malti and her parents. She liked Malti and tried to persuade her father into marrying Malti off to her son. But, Malti’s father was helpless. He knew that her daughter’s soul was strongly anchored to the one had left.
Years passed. Malti’s mother calculated and realised that by now Ranga should have graduated from high school. But he did not return to the village as promised to Malti. Malti’s mother’s heart broke every time she looked at her daughter’s face, fading away with the flow of time. Malti’s father was no less anxious. Unable to bear the burden of his daughter’s silent tears, Malti’s father sent for Kalia. Kalia had some obscure business and thus travelled to Bhubaneshwar, from time to time. Malti’s father clutched Kalia’s hands firmly and requested him to go and find out Ranga anyhow and remind him of his promise made to Malti.
Kalia returned to the village a week later. Malti was taking the utensils to the river when she ran into Kalia. Her eyes lit up, she kept the utensils down and urged Kalia to tell her what happened in Bhubaneshwar. Kalia’s face wore a grim expression. She assured Malti that he would visit her father in the evening, now he was too busy to talk. But the love-lorn girl would not let Kalia go without knowing the full account of her lover. Kalia, though resistant in the beginning, finally gave in, to the young girl’s enthusiasm. Kalia narrated to Malti, how he found out Ranga with great difficulty and what a first-rate gentleman their Ranga had become. Malti was elated. She urged Kalia to go on. Kalia groped for more. Looking up at the sky, he said, ‘….and he sent a saree for his aunt and…’, Kalia could barely finish the sentence when Malti said, ‘And for me?’ Kalia sensed trouble. He knew that he was about to break the girl’s heart. Kalia touched Malti’s head lightly and said, ‘It has been too long dear, probably he does not remember you. He was too young when he left us.’ Malti was flustered. She said, ‘But why didn’t you tell him about me?’ Kalia lowered in eyes and said, ‘I did. He said that he did not remember you.’ Kalia left immediately unable to watch the grief-stricken girl.
After Kalia left, Malti plodded towards the river. Her thoughts related to Ranga, the memories of their soirees, her dreams of getting married, everything menaced in her head. She sat on the banks of Sabari for too long today. As it grew dark, the boats that left for business came back to their homes. Malti remembered an old song that Ranga used to sing-“When the tide is high, I will set out my boat…O my lover, wait for me..”


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