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Published: June 12th 2013
Sunita wrote: My mother will never let us marry, and I cannot disobey her. Thank you for being so understanding. Your beautiful, intelligent, English girl-friend will make you very happy. Yours faithfully, Suni
He wrote: Come over to my place on Saturday and we can discuss the matter. Love Frank
She wrote: I will be visiting friends with my sisters. Yours truly, Sunita.
And so her visits to his flat stopped. Their working relationship necessarily continued, but all intercourse was politely formal, and purely verbal. Frank drew what little comfort he could from her occasional smiles.
He related his unhappy story to his Nepali teacher, a young man his age, who comforted him by telling him a tragedy of his own. He, a Brahmin, had been in love with a girl from the Gurung tribe and at first had great difficulty in getting his parents' consent to marriage. At last they gave their reluctant agreement, and marriage ceremonies commenced, but she didn't turn up because her parents had heard of his parents' initial objection, and forbade her to marry him. He took Frank to a café, and they drank raksi
, a rice wine, until they were both inebriated. They talked nonsensically about the British Raj, and how Mrs Gandhi got her name, and then they staggered back to his flat.
They sat in a befuddled state for a while trying to sober up with a glass of tea. Slurring his words, he remarked that the flat was depressing, and surely bad for Frank's health. Frank was aware of this. His flat was dark and dank, and not a pleasant place to be in, except when Sunita was there to entertain him.
“The rats like it,” he said. The qualities that did not commend it to him were appreciated by the underworld of the animal kingdom: toads, bats and, worst of all, rats and shrews. These last two species took turns to avail themselves of the facilities the flat provided. When the rats were around, the shrews kept away, but the shrews were able to negotiate a time-share with the rats for a small part of the year, and the rats considerately made way for them.
When Frank woke up, his companion was no longer there. The poor fellow must have had a long walk back to his place in a distant suburb; and he had been considerably more addled than Frank. Whether it was because he felt ashamed of his inebriation, or regarded Frank as corrupting company, he never returned to continue their lessons.
As the days went by without any sign of a thaw from Sunita, Frank spent much of his free time cycling around the valley, or climbing the hills surrounding it, or frequenting the watering holes of the hippies and travellers, most of whom had made their way overland from Europe in clapped-out buses.
One of the better known of these hippy haunts was called the Camp, and one night Frank was engaged there in a discussion about hasheesh and the meaning of life with a French hippy. He had shared his observation that hash seemed to narrow the focus of the smoker's mind to the contemplation of past and future smokes, leaving little capacity to ponder other matters. The Frenchman was a keen advocate of the 'hash' experience, and was quite insistent that people should not talk about others until they fully knew themselves. The other customers chipped in from time to time, and the conversation staggered all over the place from one weighty topic to another, as 'joints' were passed around.
A group of them then moved to the Cabin where 'hash candy' was readily available. This packed a bigger punch than the hash joint. A plateful was brought, and his companions picked up mouthfuls.Frank was wary and restricted himself to a few crumbs, and remained sober. The conversation continued its course in an increasingly surrealistic manner, leaving him behind as it careered ever more wildly over the intellectual and sub-intellectual terrain.
In any case, he was more interested in sharing his emotional troubles than talking about hash trips or philosophy, and he homed in on a couple of girls, dressed in multi-coloured Rajasthani garb, and adorned with braided hair and beads, who were minded to take an interest in his case. They eagerly told him about their own troubles. The American girl recalled her parents' opposition to her relationship with a boy of mixed race. The Dutch girl recounted how she was going to marry a boy who decided, at the last minute, to become a priest instead. It was comforting to hear that he was not alone in being troubled by the torments of frustrated love, but of course that awareness was not going to bring Sunita back to his bed.
Having done their best to console him, they left him to his sorrows muttering 'Om-Krishna' very quietly to themselves as they departed.
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