Amahle’s deep, dark eyes had a faraway look. She gazed at the verdant, dense canopy woven together by the ancient trees, celebrating their togetherness. Her silky, chocolate skin reflected the hues of the setting sun. Her curves were accentuated by her figure hugging dress with bold, multi-coloured geometrical designs. Her springy black hair was braided beautifully, each one decorated with delicate, coloured beads. An overwhelming wave of nostalgia washed over her mind. How she missed her homeland! A whole continent away, she thought back of her family in KwaZulu Natal, a province in South Africa, the place of her birth and childhood as the privileged daughter of the headman. She sighed as she pulled out her incomplete assignment, and was soon engrossed in her work. Turning off the lights, her mind wandered dreamily through the gentle humming of the ugubu and the rhythmic beat of drums of her village until her eyes succumbed to slumber.
Amahle woke up with a start as her alarm beeped into her ears. She got ready to leave for college. She loved the easy bohemian culture and the happy chaos that prevailed within the institute. She could not help looking eagerly to her left as she walked in. She smiled as she saw Prateek, sitting on the ground, his concentration on his sculpture intense. His delicate hands chiselled lovingly, every stroke giving life to the stone. He looked up and their eyes met.
“Hi Prateek, can I see her today?” Amahle asked teasingly. Prateek blushed. “She is still in slumber and not ready to meet anyone yet. “He mumbled, but his eyes held mirth.
“Shall we meet for coffee after my lecture?” Amahle looked into his eyes. Prateek nodded, looking pleased. His heart never failed to skip a beat when this girl walked in.
“Tell me about your family. Amahle asked him, as they sipped coffee, taking his delicate hands in hers. She loved those exquisitely long fingers.
“I belong to a small village in Bihar, a state in the North of India. “It was a struggle leaving home to study art. I am expected to take over from my father who is the chief of the community, and a very respected man.” He sighed wistfully.
“They are your people and you must respect their customs.” She said seriously.
“What actually brought you to India?” Prateek asked her.
“The troubled history of my country incensed me and ushered me to my roots. I opted for a specialised course in African Culture and Studies from the KwaZulu Natal University. I also found a kinship with India, a country that shares a common turbulent past and an equally diverse culture. I hope to write my research paper in a comparative study of both, after I complete my course in Indian Culture.” Her passion touched him.
“What does Amahle mean?” Prateek asked softly.
“Beautiful one.” She answered.
“That name is perfect for you.” He whispered, slowly moving closer to her. She turned around and kissed him with her full, luscious lips. “Let us go to my place.” She said.
Amahle’s fingers traced the outline of Prateek’s oval face. His eyes were dark, mysterious pools, and his slim but athletic body would have made a great model for his own sculptures, she thought.
Amahle played some African music and her beautiful body moved in perfect rhythm to it. She pulled Prateek up from his chair.
“I don’t dance.” He protested weakly. Amahle laughed, her eyes crinkling with amusement while her feet thumped to the music.
“Your body and soul have a rhythm Prateek, just follow it. Does not your Shiva dance to the rhythm of the universe?” She asked.
Prateek slowly swayed to the beats and found himself letting go of his inhibitions. They collapsed in a heap on the bed, laughing. He looked at the glistening beads of sweat on her face. Her earthy fragrance, ancient, intoxicating, evoked in his mind the vision of “Shakti”, the female energy that guided his hands as he sculpted.
Two blissful years went by.
“I would like to share my life with you, Amahle.” He said, his eyes tender and his voice full of sincerity. He could not imagine a life without his muse and soulmate. He had never felt so complete as he did in her company.
Amahle looked at him, her eyes shining. She too had fallen deeply in love with this sensitive, quiet artist.
“Don’t your people desire girls with fair skin Prateek? My tribal customs are complex too.” She looked away.
“Anyway, to marry me, you will have to offer a dowry of 13 cows to my father Prateek.” She smiled, mischief in her eyes.
“Serious?” He asked, surprised. “In my community, your family would have paid a handsome dowry to get you married to the headman’s son!” There was a twinkle in his eye.
“Prateek, it is time for me to return to my country. I love you, crazy artist but our paths part ways here.”
“Don’t go beautiful one.” He whispered in her ears, softly caressing her face, though he knew she would leave.
“I have something to show you. “he said. “Walk with me.”.
He dragged her to his favourite spot in the college and unveiled the thin cloth that covered his sculpture. She gasped as she stared at the beautiful statue of herself in the form of Devi. It looked alive and the eyes shone with the life he had bestowed on it. It was an intense labour of love. “I have a gift for you Prateek, she said, handing him a beautiful beaded mat that she had made herself. “I have woven the songs of my ancestors into it.”, she whispered.
They stood at the airport terminal, holding each other tight, not wanting to let go.
“Will you wait for me, Amahle? I promise I will come to you.” Said Prateek.
“If our ancestors wish. Hamba Kahle my love.” She smiled.
Hamba Kahle – stay well
Ugubu – a stringed musical instrument