He sat perched on a branch of the Chempaka tree by the window, looking at her with his soulful eyes and smiling. His skin glowed, bathed in the golden light as the sun started to set. He was not just handsome but so beautiful….and ethereal. “Was he one of those mystical beings called “gandharvas” who loved to haunt Chempaka trees?” she wondered. She wanted to put out her hands through the window and run them through his hair as it fluttered in the gentle breeze but her shyness and reticence held her back.
“So, why are you here on top of this tree?” she asked in a whisper. She did not want the rest of the household to be alerted.
“To see you of course” was the prompt reply and his voice was music to her ears. She glanced around quickly to make sure that nobody else in the house had heard him and admonishingly put a finger on her lips, to hush him. He just laughed.
“That is what I want to know”, she continued to whisper. “Why do you want to see me?”
“I want to make you mine”, he said. “You are so breathtakingly beautiful, I can’t keep away from you”, he replied. “Your dark mysterious eyes, your heartbreaking smile, everything about you is so enchanting…” His words caressed her and her eyelids drooped as she sighed in happiness. She stretched her hands out through the window to touch him…
The door opened suddenly and her aunt stood there shouting “What are you doing standing there day dreaming? Are you not getting dressed? They will be here soon and please, please try and get presentable.” She left the room all in a flutter as suddenly as she had come in. She felt sorry for her aunt who had looked after her ever since she was orphaned. Now her aunt was so burdened with having to marry her off in a place where marriages were arranged and money and looks meant everything. As fate would have it, she did not have a big inheritance or money…
She glanced back through the window at the mystical Chempaka tree. Dusk had begun to cast its gloom on the leaves and he was nowhere to be seen. She slowly moved to the dressing table and began the usual process of making herself “presentable”…. She had gone through this process so many times before. Hurriedly she wore a silk sari and braided her hair. She applied black kaajal not only around the rim of her eyelids but also on the wisps of grey hair that age seemed to gift her with. She tried to cover up her deep scars and blemishes with foundation and makeup. The accident and fire that happened when she was a child, had not been satisfied by just taking the lives of her parents.
No matter what she did, the mirror could never say “she was the fairest of them all”. Mirrors of course, reflect back only the exterior physical ugliness. She heard a car enter the driveway and knew that it brought another man home to see her and reject her for her looks.
The door opened again and it was her aunt peeping in to check on her. “Not ready yet?” she asked. “If this boy is also going to reject you, we will have to stop looking any further. Nobody seems to want to marry you. You are already above forty and …” The door closed again as her aunt left without completing the sentence.
She heard the guests being welcomed into the drawing room downstairs and the sound of their chatter tumbled in as she opened the door and listened. She quickly walked back to the dressing table and sat down looking into the mirror to do some final touch up. She could now hear her aunt call out for her to go downstairs.
Slowly, she took up a wet towel and cleaned all the makeup from her face and loosened her hair from its tight braid. Casting away her silk sari, she went and stood by the window, daydreaming and waiting expectantly for her gandharva, the mystical being who made her feel beautiful…..