This is Chapter II of Kate Sarah’s novel TABOO. If you haven’t read the first chapter, click here.
CHAPTER II : CHHOKADI
Humans are capable of everything on earth. As the master of the planet, we humans are capable of all things great and small. What surprises me the most is our affinity towards destruction. Our inclination towards violence and the nagging murmur when we create our volatile relationship with forbidden practices, towards Taboos which makes it clear that our kind, our race was born to rebel.
We are capable indeed, of great inventions and establishments and we are capable of heinous crimes.
The angels above envy us and the devil below fear.
Emmett Hudson was assigned to the plantation under the supervision of Hugh Andrew Henderson.
Hudson was a graduate from Kent, east of London. A descendant of Scottish clergy on English soil, Hudson was of English breed. Already in the early twenties, Hudson had set of deep green eyes and hair, the locals called corn hair. They were thinning quite rapidly unbeknownst to the world. He was later called Chota Sahib by the local Pahari workers.
Emmett Hudson was a bachelor.
Hugh Henderson was a business tycoon and exporter of revolutionary black teas from the foothills of Himalayas to his country to counter what the Americans called English breakfast tea. He owned a valley at the outskirts of a new town the Lepchas fondly called “Thunder from God”.
He had settled with his wife Mary, who passed away when Elizabeth, their daughter was an infant.
He was among few handful British men who had survived the first great war. Considered next to royalty, Henderson took great pride in ownership of a piece of land, father to two sons and a daughter whose English education was taken care in the town under the watchful eyes of convent nuns.
As assigned, Henderson took young Hudson to his estate stretched vast at the glen. The widespread greenery that shone under the morning sun gave Hudson immense pleasure but he was miles away from home. He already missed his mother and dear sister Catherine with whom he shared a close bond of friendship.
He passed his time writing letters to them about the mundane activity surrounding the far stretched glen. The tea bushes were spurting flowers. The land where the famous botanist had mistaken to be a place unideal for tea bushes which after a decade gave the best tea in the world.
A widower, Henderson lacked no company of women. A stout, plump master had a “comfort giver” to keep himself warm at night. He suggested the same to Emmett who humbly declined being raised with a Catholic belief.
“God is far away, lad” snorted Henderson.
When winter hit the glen, hot winds were suddenly turned into a frozen breeze. The quilts at the bedside became inefficient in their duties.
“Mind if I suggest something for the cold” implied Henderson with a mischievous grin. Young girls near Beechwood lined up for their masters to take care of them. They were Chhokadis, comfort givers, an infamous custom followed by the British soldiers to quench their carnal thirst. The goras were away from their wives and lovers, away from their gods as they believed.
Emmett gave in not because of the weather because of the constant prodding. He was always fragile in decision making. But he had conditions. He would rather prefer a virgin.
Henderson’s debauchery was well known. His cook was a thirty-year-old widow who kept his food and bed warm at night for him.
Emmett also put forward a request that he would have a fair maiden by his side.
“Young lad, this is ridiculous. We aren’t searching for a good wife to you. It is a custom here for a young maiden to submit to their masters.”
Emmett Hudson’s conscience couldn’t let him sleep. He wrote to his sister Catherine that night.
“I hate winter here. They aren’t as white as in the Moors there but it is all so cold. I die every night with a fever and wake up every morning to die again”
They finally found a fair maiden for Hudson at the outskirts of town among the Cinchona plantation workers. She was a kirati. She was fifteen and lived with her maternal uncle. She had just started bleeding.
Henderson paid a hefty amount of money to her uncle. The old man like Emmett Hudson suffered a moral dilemma. It wasn’t money, the forest hunting tribes were rich, but it was other threats hovering around him. The locals favoured the influential goras which forced him to submit his cheli to the blue-eyed creatures.
His son was promised a good rank in the army but the old man could never be recovered from his guilty conscience. After a week, when he parted with his niece Sumnima. He went to the woods to be with his ancestors.
Sumnima reached the village at the glen and was confined in bhansa Kotha of the gora’s Kothi.
First, she was thoroughly checked for it was a strict order from Chota Sahib Emmett Hudson. She was checked to see whether she had any flea, lice or other dangerous diseases that Hudson feared the locals carried.
She was indeed a virgin and rose among weeds. Sumnima was fair among the dark skin mangars and limbus. So fair that even the lepchas looked a notch tanner.
It was because the place she belonged to had a pleasing sun and clouds kissed the mountains. Here the sun was cruel and filled with wrath.
Her eyes were tiny at an equal distance with a shy nose in the middle not to disturb the symmetry of the round face she possessed. Her hair was dark, shiny and long that had never tasted a sharp blade. Her hands ached as she plaited it.
She remained in the bhansa (kitchen ) for a week not knowing what she was here for. She soon became the subject of ridicule among the servants.
The cook pitied her but she too despised her for how pure Sumnima was, unmarred by the desires of men.
The cook began to starve her. Watching her going feeble day by day, Henderson suggested Hudson to either keep her or feed her to the dogs.
She was fed on leftover broth and bed crums, most of which the chef sold to the prospective villagers.
The goras ate less and wasted more. Their food mostly consisted of a plain chicken stew boiled white and bread raised with excess yeast. A meal that reminded them of their British heritage. It wasn’t like the locals, who mixed their foods with chillies to spice up the tongue of their children.
Sumnima got accustomed to the new time and people.
The first night Hudson took her to bed. She shook with fear. To her utmost surprise, the Englishman became an absolute gentleman and decided to use her body just to warm himself.
“You aren’t a talker, are you? Good” he told her.
The servants tortured Sumnima more when they were unable to find colour on the bedsheet. She was called a lowly whore.
She was asked the account of her nights spend with a blue-eyed young master. She knew not what to answer and would go quiet. Thus a new name was born. Lati.
Every night, for a week Emmett Hudson went to bed with a woman and would not give in to his senses. This news soon reached Hugh Henderson that his manager was unable to consummate with a woman.
Upset Henderson subtly hinted Hudson’s sexual preferences and commented to provoke
“You are still a boy. ” Henderson made people laugh even when it wasn’t funny because that’s what fortunes are for. It makes people do drastic things.
“I prefer playing with my food before savouring it” came a reply.
Emmett tried to prove his heterosexual preferences but his accuser was not convinced.
Emmett did not pray that night. He wrote a letter to Catherine confessing the crime he was about to commit and when he signed the letter, he tore it into bits and it fed it to the fire.
When He finally took her. He noticed how fragile she was, how delicate in his arms. His passion knew no boundaries.
That night, he woke up with a pang of guilt. The vision of David on the rooftop haunted him. As he looked beside him. He could only see Bathsheba.
“This wench is to blamed”, he thought and struck her. Poor girl, she coiled at one corner.
The next morning, the servants cleaned her wounds and wept together and were never hostile with her again.
Every night after intercourse, Emmett Hudson struck Sumnima in a fit of rage because of his guilty conscience not knowing that she could speak and wasn’t a mute.
She began to grow with her bruise and thus was never pale or colourless again. Her skin turning like a palette of a skilled painter changed different hues.
By the time it was spring, Hudson became more gentle towards Sumnima.
Hudson heard Sumnima for the first time. Her first word was “Sahib”
He then taught her English. She knew a few words like “London”, ” Church” and “yes”. Sumnima was a keen observer. She picked up the accent well and could imitate the exact east London accent.
Sumnima knew not what to feel, she wasn’t sad or happy. She was nothing. A sense of pride was found when the cook told her the privilege of being the second wife of a gora.
How fortunate Sumnima was because Hudson was still a bachelor.
She asked the cook whom she fondly called Nana if the Bada Sahib loved her.
Nana replied “He doesn’t beat me like my late Husband. Farak pardaina (it doesn’t matter)”
Meridith Hudson was seventy when she passed away. By the time, Emmett received the telegram it was already late. He received a second telegram asking him to visit Catherine who was bedridden after her mother’s sudden demise.
Hudson was given permission to take leave. He further asked Sumnima to return to her uncle’s household. The latter became thrilled at the news knowing not that it was his last meeting.
On parting, Hudson gifted Sumnima a cold silver ring and shared a word with two syllables that haunted him for the rest of his life, “goodbye”
Sumnima returned it with English accent “yes” jumped up gayly to receive a gift.
She uttered something to him.
Young Hudson reached Darjeeling town on Friday evening, slept with another Chokkadi from beechwood and mulled over his cold goodbye.
How do you say goodbye in Nepali, he kept on thinking not knowing the word goodbye did not exist in their vocabulary. He, however, asked the Chokkadi to explain the words that Simona had whispered and laughed all alone knowing the meaning as the Chokkadi next to him explained. He kept saying the words three times before he fell asleep. “Feri bhetawla ” (I’ll see you again) something the chokkadis of the governor palace were promised too many times.
Next morning, a group of local children begged him for baksis. He playfully spat the American candy that had just started forming into a gum on his mouth. The children all jumped to search for the fallen treasure.
Emmett Hudson looked at them like they were lost congress of baboons. The scene disgusted him. He was accompanied by Lord and Lady Lytton to Calcutta.
It took him two days to reach Calcutta, and three more to Bombay. He booked a ticket to London and the ship sunk in the English Channel. His body or whatever was left of his physical self was washed ashore after a week. There were however disparities among the people because a certain Edward Bailey Hodgson was also in the ship.
Thus closing the chapter of Emmett Hudson.
His chokkadi Sumnima returned to the tea estate six months later with a swollen belly.
When she came to know about her master’s demise, she mourned for him silently.
The cook, Nana took her home. Her younger brother, Bhanu took care of the pregnant woman. Since both of them were Kirati, they formed a mitayni saino.
Sumnima wasn’t someone who enjoyed the idle time. Hence she enrolled herself in the Kaman and started learning the art of tea plucking.
The autumn flush teas were blooming, a delicacy for tea lovers.
On her eight-month, she fainted at the tea garden. The pain grew immense at the lower belly. She screamed with all her might. The siren covered her scream and she fainted again. She was woken up by the wailing baby. The baby lay on the lungi, covered with blood and placenta. She picked a sickle and cut the cord off. She drew the bloody baby near and looked carefully at the genitals. A warm smile formed on her tired sweaty face. She was overwhelmed to see a tiny lump of an organ. A girl child could’ve been more of a misery than a burden. A son, however, was always pride. She couldn’t move for an hour or so. When finally the sun started setting down the horizon, she mustered all her strength and rolled the bloody placenta and threw it under the bushes. Staggeringly, she reached home to her brother not knowing her son had been born with blue eyes.
When her mitayni brother came to see a son in her bosom. He fed the village men Jaad for three days. His own wife had given him five daughters and no son.
Sumnima survived two days and died before christening the boy, Hudson
The young boy had black hair and fair skin with blue eyes. He was never called Hudson, he was called Quirey, officially Quirey Hudson Henderson Rai. He was called many names in his younger days, a bastard, a swine, gora, radish, a mother fucker, a mother killer, father killer, an autumn child (kathikey) and rose, because of his rosy cheeks.
Catherine Hudson heard about her nephew being born to a Pahari woman and came to rescue the child. Bhanu denied to entertain her. He didn’t allow her to meet the child who was now five years old and called Bhanu father.
Quirey was Bhanu’s pride, a gora’s son under his roof. He never raised his finger to work. Quirey was treated like a royal. He was given his father’s silver ring, a wooden cane to walk and received formal education in one of the missionary school. He failed in school thus decided to return home to his foster family.
Bhanu died when Quirey was twenty. Catherine visited again to take back Quirey but the later already had a family of his own. He was married to a distant relative of his adoptive father and had a son.
Aunt and nephew exchanged a few words in broken English and accented Hindustani language.
Quirey received a small token of love from his aunt for twenty-five years, a kind of monetary favour. His son and his grandson served under British army. His great-granddaughter was five when Quirey breathed his last. He had named her Rose because she was as beautiful as Rose and had a curious set of eyes. All his sons and grandchildren had dark brown eyes. It was Rose whose cornea had a hint of grey in it and skin that was pale and red at the same time just like Quirey’s.
Rose alike Quirey had no knowledge of her mother who had died in her infancy. She lived with her great grandfather until the latter’s death.
Her father, however, married another woman after Quirey passed away.
Rose’s stepmother was an absent mother who favoured her own blood over her.
Rose and her father never met an eye with each other.
This became the reason which separated Resham from her father. Resham could never understand why her mother had an English name and why her mother refused to share the love of her father.