This is the second of a three-part story inspired by my family's journey to the United States in the 1970's.
27/2 Dixon Lane
EXPLORER is the son of a poor farmer. MUSE comes from a long line of cardiologists. India’s caste system is alive and well in 1977 and a marriage between Explorer and Muse, despite their stark difference in family wealth, is a logical union. Tradition may have brought them together but their desire for the undiscovered is what ultimately bonds them.
Explorer arrives in Sealda after two stifling hours on the bus. As he steps away from the roar of the engine, he realizes how light his left hand feels. His umbrella is missing and it’s monsoon season in India. He is unable to shield himself from the raindrops that feel like black arrows through the city smog. Explorer runs to take cover under the roof of a convenience store and rakes back his unruly ebony tendrils. It’s useless. He should have listened to Baba about getting a haircut yesterday. Now, I will look like a wild horse. Just as well, maybe this will shorten our get-together. This meeting with Muse is a formality, a half-hearted promise made to his parents in the hopes of finding a suitable bride after University.
The word had spread that Calcutta’s preeminent classical female singer was of wedding age. For the past two months, young men journeyed from cities hundreds of kilometers away for the chance to see her in color. Those who did spoke of her porcelain skin and knee-length black hair, which were even more striking in the flesh than in her black and white photos.
Their first meeting is held in the tea garden on Muse’s family property in the heart of Sealda, a bustling and posh neighborhood in Calcutta. Fully blossomed orange roses that look more like freshly cut cantaloupes outline the rectangular garden. The heavy and consistent monsoon rains mask the sounds of the city. Close to the city-center, people spend their days scurrying to and from office buildings, doing what they can to keep their feather-light clothes dry.
“Namaskar,” Explorer says. “The rain delayed my arrival, Miss. I hope I didn’t keep you waiting long.” Explorer bows forward in respect, hands clasped right below his chin.
“Namaskar, welcome to my father’s home,” Muse says and takes in a deep breath. "Please do not worry yourself. I had my vocal lesson on College Street and my driver ran late because of the rain. Please sit, I will call for the maidservant. Do you like sugar in your cha?” These arranged interactions were often painfully awkward for Muse, but it was either this or her parents would pick her husband for her. At least this way, she would have a chance to find someone who understood that music would always be her first love.
Explorer prays his face doesn’t reveal his awe. Her long, flowing hair looks like a calm river at midnight, steel-gray eyes that emanate defiance, a cerulean sari with golden hand-made stitching, all set against the garden’s vibrant green and orange hues. Explorer finds his voice and replies, “Sugar would be most appreciated.”
Muse sits down at the small patio table and Explorer follows suit. He is still walking towards her, and she notices his confident stride. Muse then glances at his hands, which are balled into fists, and this makes her smile: He is nervous.
Muse knows very little about this man but when sitting across from him, she feels something snap inside of her. She can’t sit through another mundane tea ceremony. “The rain has let up. What do you say we skip the tea and you come on an adventure with me?” Muse leans in and asks with a mischievous smile. The maid is approaching and there are only a few seconds left to respond. “We can grab a rickshaw down the street. I bet you have never been down by the arts district. You will like what I have to show you.”
Explorer, intrigued and drawn to Muse's audacity, hesitates for a moment then gives his answer by getting up out of his chair and reaches for Muse’s hand. "Shall we?"
Together, they make a run for it.