I was put in charge of hospitality committee and while preparing, since filtered water was available only in the teacher’s common room, had to drink untreated water many a times. This had distorted the texture and pitch of my voice temporarily. I love my voice, both literally and idiomatically. So it was a major setback. The croaky voice was intelligible only to me. Two days after the event was over, I was going to my classroom via the library corridor. She was walking towards the library and I was walking towards her. She waved her hand and helloed. I mumbled something that I don’t remember now. She asked me if I had drunk raw water from the supply taps. I had a silly smile on my face while nodding affirmatively. She smiled. That was magic, a surreal encounter of charm and power of beauty.
When the children of the parallel universe were reading Harry Potter, I was trying to understand the reasons of our existence and act like I understood them all. When the students at my school were mugging up sonnets of Shakespeare, I was trying to decipher the application of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty principle in our real, practical lives. I was fighting my own battles from a very young age – I was fighting every day to choose my heroes and ideals– Mahatma Gandhi versus Subhash Chandra Bose, Napoleon versus Alexander, Vegetarianism versus Non-Vegetarianism, Policed State versus Ram Rajya, Life versus Death, and what versus what not! Chewing upon one of such questions with a conviction that the continuity of world depended on my finding answers to it, one day I walk into my classroom and she wishes me for something I had heard of only in some passing reference – Happy Friendship Day! I tried to act smart.
‘Oh, yeah. Thanks. Happy friendship day to you too. So, what plans for today?’
‘No, it’s not today. It was yesterday. It’s always the first Sunday of August.’
My bluff was called. She always called my bluff and in her own way taught me a lot of things. She taught me what friendship with a girl felt like. She was the first one to wish me on all those fancy dates and I got a welcome break from the seemingly complex questions I was juggling with. We lost touch soon. She moved to a different city.
I happened to meet her on a busy street of her city – unplanned, unannounced after a couple of years. I never had her contact details. I just happened to be in her city for some work of mine and I was out for an evening stroll one day. She was recognizable amidst a chaos of human faces from some 500 meters. I kept walking in her direction with all the pretense I could muster up. I knew she had recognized me. So running away was not an option. We reached each other. The background in its entirety – chaotic heads, frantic feet, pompous vehicles, restless cries – blurred in that one moment – all hazed, like a magician casts his spell – nobody moved for that moment. The stillness of a summer afternoon had paused time. This was magic. She took me to her place. It was not very far from where I stayed. I took the tea that was offered by her mother. I wasn’t drinking tea then but I needed a prop to have the conversation. I returned after spending a respectable amount of time there. I was still as reclusive as before. I didn’t make any attempt to meet her again during my stay in the city. I used to be mostly quiet in her presence. Not because I deliberated on anything. I just had no idea of what I was supposed to speak. I didn’t know how to react properly to a ‘Happy friendship day’ or a ‘Happy Valentine’s day’. I was essentially zero at taking cues and continuing a conversation. That said only on such matters. I had scared the shit out of a guy who was doing his bachelor’s in Modern History and wouldn’t stop abusing Mahatma Gandhi. Most likely I was in Std. 8th when I had shut him up.
I had debated with her in classroom discussions. When our conversation was to be observed by students and scored by the teacher who was moderating the debates, I used to be my eloquent best. However, bring her in front of me when I’m alone and I would surrender to her every single time. Was I scared? No. But something took over me every single time she was there and I was there with no one else around. Contrary to what you would like to deduce from whatever I have told you, actually I used to live for her presence. Things were all fine if she was there in the classroom as if I was entrusted to keep her safe. So all was right if she was safe. One day she gets absent and I would lose my mind. No! I didn’t tell anyone that I was losing it. That’s not me.
A few years later, I met her in a different city. She had not changed much. She was still speaking the same, perhaps more than she used to at school. Only this time, she gave it away. It was here that she expressed her love for me. This was when I realized I loved her presence and not her. I could not reciprocate, she started distancing. I didn’t want to trouble her with any of me. So we seldom spoke. I travelled to a different city after my college for a job. I didn’t meet her before leaving.
On my first day at work, I sat in the first row for an orientation session. The seat to my right was unoccupied. After some 10-15 minutes into the session, I found her sitting there. Was I surprised? I don’t know. I just stopped feeling the air around. I found myself in a vacuum, a limbo of sorts. I saw her. She saw me. This time with the background, I felt blurred too. I ceased to exist for the moment and for several days that followed. We didn’t speak. Perhaps neither of us was brave enough to break the ice that lay undisturbed for years now. We were assigned to the same group for the joining formalities. I needed to speak with her. She refused to acknowledge me. I was nobody to her. Days later, an opportunity came. My friends wanted to discuss some project work with her. I was there. I told her my name again. I extended a meek hello. I asked how she was. She smiled and answered. It was not very different from the first time. At school, she couldn’t understand a lesson and during the lunch break, came up to me to ask if I understood the lesson and if I could explain it to her. That was our first conversation, obviously initiated by her. Then, I had explained whatever I could with a tinge of nervousness. She had that effect on me. This time though, I was more confident and she a shade hassled. She smiled at a friend of mine while leaving so as to not betray any predilection towards me.
My birthday was near. She accepted the invitation to the celebrations but didn’t turn up. It was a hesitant acceptance anyway. I was prepared for her absence this time. I didn’t lose my mind. I was duty bound to entertain other guests. Subliminally my eyes kept hoping for her arrival.
The no-show notwithstanding, we started liking each other’s company all over again or at least I thought so. On the Christmas afternoon that year in sweltering sun, I went up to her residence with a gift. I was in love with her. I don’t think I ever spoke better or will speak anything like that anytime in future. I was not nervous. I knew what I was doing. I knew she had someone she loved. I didn’t care. Perhaps I was expecting some magic. But there is this thing with magic – it happens when you least expect it but not when you are prepared to die for it; it’s called magic for a reason. She told me she had someone she loved. There was no magic this time. Perhaps it had given up on me. She accepted the gift but declined me. The background was still blurred in that moment – the tree she was standing against, the street she had walked across, the sky she was breathing under – everything started fading out. Somebody had spilled water on a painting I had left out to dry. The water was coursing through different strokes on the picture. I don’t remember where I was in that flood or how I got drowned. I just remember that I gave up when the water touched her face. I let go when the blur had started setting on her.
As told to bookstalkist.