It is extremely rare to see me awake to see me awake before 10 am on a holiday, but my parents had the much coveted opportunity of being blessed with such a sight that day. By the time the clock had struck 9, I was already at the breakfast table having finished my morning rituals.
“Such sentiments, ehh?”, mom asked trying to hide her smile while serving food to me.
“Naah! I just want it over with”, I replied with a bored look.
“Decided on what you going to wear on this special day?”
“Not yet.Will know for sure only after the door to Narnia has been opened.”
“Nothing. I meant that I will decide after seeing my choices in the wardrobe”, I replied quickly realising that I was not among my group of nerdy friends.
“You should be more careful with how you look and present yourself. Four years have nearly passed and you are still single. Have you ever thought of your future? Or have you decided to burden us with your marriage also?,” mom asked feigning a sigh as she went to kitchen.
“Yeah. I have thought of my future. And it is dominated by booze and bikes,” I answered chomping on my delicious bread-omlette. “You know, many parents would be proud of such a noble son who cares so much about his family that he doesn’t want to share his love with anyone else.” I half expected an angelic halo to crop up above my head after that reply.
“And the more knowledgeable ones would worry that their son had decided the path of someone who takes ‘Love thy kind’ a bit too literally and keep it a secret from his parents.” This time it was the dreaded voice of my father, who was infamous in our family for his quick and extremely dangerous wit that had been solely responsible for the decimation of most of my witty remarks. He was sitting at the other end of the table, merrily enjoying his breakfast without even a hint of the sadness in his expression,or even sparing a glance in my direction, after having stopped my ascent into the heavens just when I had acquired my angelic halo. I could hear mom trying to stifle her laughter, apparently not too successfully. At this point I was completely confused between two different courses of action; whether to stomp off in anger, or break into laughter. But after careful consideration and a passive glance at the delicious food served, I decided to bear it all.
Rest of the morning was uneventful, and I spent it controlling a character who had an extremely cocky attitude, but couldn’t jump even if his life depended on it, which usually was the case. When the clock struck 11:30, I turned off my laptop and walked up to the wardrobe, opened its doors, and pushed my right hand into the shapeless mountain of clothes. When I felt my fingers clasping on some decent quality fabric, with all my strength I pulled it out, which had the effect of scattering most of the contents of the shelf on the ground earning me a sharp slap to the back of my head from mom, who, unfortunately, was standing behind me, performing her daily duty of monitoring what I wear. Slowly massaging the back of my head, I looked at my prize. It was grey full-sleeved shirt with black lines crisscrossing across the fabric. With it, I put on my denim jeans and walked over to the shoe rack bringing out the sports shoes. And by 12, I was already on the way to college.
Reaching college, I found Sidharth already waiting for me at parking, which over the years had turned into our special meeting place. All of our special meetings took place there.
“So who all from the gang have turned up?” I enquired as I parked my bike.
“Most of the ones who would come, already have,” he replied.
“Hmm. Let’s make our grand entrance then.”
We started walking up the stairs to the seminar hall at first floor where the juniors had made preparations to celebrate kicking us out of college in such a way that we would thank them for it.
“Do you think she would be here?,” I asked.
“You loony? This is a celebration for CS branch only. And last I knew, she didn’t belong to this branch,” he answered, giving a slight trace of amusement mixed with mischief.
“Beep you! I didn’t mean that one. I meant the second year one. Try to keep up, will you!”
“It’s impossible to keep up with your pace if you change your crush like a baby needs a change of diapers.”
I stopped, held his left arm, and turned him viciously such that he faced me. “There’s a big difference between me having a crush on someone, and liking someone genuinely. And this one, I really like.”
“Okay, okay. Can’t I even pull your leg?”
“Not on the stairs. As it is, I am afraid of heights,” I smiled and started walking to our destination.
As we reached near the entrance of the seminar hall, I heard someone inside shout ‘Stand up! Fourth years coming!’ It sort of felt like the announcement of the arrival of an emperor. As we put our first steps into the hall, all the juniors stood up in unison, kinda like giving a standing ovation to victors returning home. I raised up my right hand to wave at the two columns of students who had stood up to greet us. Sid didn’t do anything as flashy. In fact, he didn’t do anything at all. He just kept on walking straight ahead, without an expression on his face, completely ignoring all those who were forced to stand up at our arrival, either by their seniors or by ritually following the tradition that had been enforced upon them.
By the time we had reached the VIP seats, where the rest of our batch mates were sitting, I was hurling out flying kisses left and right, walking backwards. Suddenly I felt my left hand being yanked and I was brutally pulled down to a sitting position on a poor, empty and malnourished chair, which groaned pitifully under my weight. But with a will strong enough to compete against any Green Lantern, it held on, saving me from falling on the day my bum was being ceremoniously kicked out of the institution that I had given the grace of being a part of my awesome life for four long years. I looked at the one who pulled me down. He, or rather it, was one of the few who could be able to pull off pulling me down without hurting himself. Code named ‘Bear’, Piyush resembled a dark furred yeti than he did a human. And he had the strength of one as well.
As I sat down massaging my delicate arm, I asked him, not too gently, “What was that about? Why did you stop me midway between my victory lap?”
“Well, if I didn’t, then you would have gone on torturing poor souls who couldn’t retaliate,” he whispered in his usual gruff voice. “And today I have decided to go the philanthropic way.”
“Then stop showing your face in public. It is scarier than having to watch RGV ki Aag in theatre. Alone.” I quipped.
And with evil eyes and even more evil intent, he attacked me the only way he was assured of victory; by tickling me. And he succeeded in achieving what my faithful chair had prevented from happening. With his incessant and focussed attacks he brutally tore down my defence and made me fall down on the ground, laughing. I got up, brushed off my pants, looked at his beaming face and promised myself that I would make him go through the same pain and humiliation that he made me go through. With a look up to the heavens, a view that was blocked by the ceiling, and a quick prayer to BappiLahiri I jumped on Piyush without further warning and the plastic chair he was sitting on gave up beneath our combined weight and was pushed off with such a force that it ended up 3 feet away, plummeting us both to the ground with me ending up on his lap, and his butt touching the ground.
By this time, a considerable crowd had gathered and they were furiously clicking pics on their cell phones. Not to disappoint them, I struck a pose with my arms around Piyush’s neck. But with unsportsmanlike conduct, he pushed me off while murmuring ‘non-sense’. The next minute was spent in rearranging the chairs before the teachers made their entrance. Five minutes later, the teachers did come, with the principal leading the way, closely followed by the HOD of our department and the other teachers bringing up the rear. Their entrance strongly reminded me of the entry scene of the lead antagonist in South Indian flicks, where the head honcho is followed by his cronies. Somehow such an entrance had been integrated in the college’s culture. All the students had risen up in their seats and the silence was absolute. Even though I had been unfortunate enough to have to bear this scene 7 times before, it still was near impossible to hold back my laughter. Still I had fought it off before, and I didn’t want to start losing this fight the last time I had to.
On the invitation of one of the four anchors for the event, a third year guy in navy blue suit, the Head Honcho went on to the stage to light the lamp, and ended up wasting 2 minutes of our time by restating all that we had heard being spoken before by two of his predecessors. Like it wasn’t enough, each of the staff members called went up one by one, and for 20 minutes they tried their level best to put us to sleep, albeit unknowingly.
After that, it was the turn of the official events, which included group dances by the different batches, and a stand up comedy show by a third year guy. Then at exactly 2:20pm, it was announced that lunch was ready. Our college was quite notorious for the food quality during farewells. And I had to digest it for 3 years. And I didn’t have any intention of spoiling the last time with such tasteless mass. So I had decided to skip lunch, focussing instead on the ice-cream that had been ordered for us. After lunch, the teachers didn’t return to the hall. Their part in the event was over. When we reached the hall again, the situation was quite different than it had been when we first entered. It was a hell lot more rowdy and this time we, the seniors, had decided to occupy the last benches. And now the fun events were also going to start.
The first event was the paper dance competition, where the official couples of our batch were the participants. And it was extremely tragic to see that none of my inner circle of friends was in it. And even more tragic was the fact that I was not a part of it. I turned to look at Priyanka, the second year girl that I had referred to. She was in lemon green kurta, and black jeans. And as usual, looked exceedingly stunning, at least in my eyes. I had put every effort and all my courage into talking with her during our college fest a month back, and succeeded. I was now on talking terms with her, something that not many guys could boast of. I fantasised about what could have been if I had proposed to her. And then I thought of my terrible luck that didn’t waste any opportunity to stomp me down, and was relieved that I hadn’t.
Then came the event where a ‘random’ girl from any batch except fourth year would be chosen and a fourth guy would be asked to propose to her in the most filmy and romantic style possible. Such events were rigged, of course. The next event was couple dance. Here ‘random’ guys and girls from fourth year would be paired with those of the opposite sex from any other batch or even same batch. The couples went onto the stage one by one as their names were announced.
“And the next couple on stage is Priyanka and …”
“Which *beep* dared to name her for couple dance!!!” I hissed, waiting with bated breathe to hear the next name to be called, the name of the person who was going on stage to dance with the one I loved, the name of the person who would soon be crushed under my weight.
I was stunned. I looked at Sid. He solemnly looked ahead like there was something quite interesting in the stage. And I understood. It was him. He had leaked the info. And I felt elated and apprehensive at the same time. Elated because I had friends who would go to any extent for me. Apprehensive ‘cos what was now transpiring wasn’t in my plan. But I knew what I had to do. I couldn’t let her be exposed to any thing that would cause her embarrassment.
I closed my eyes and sighed. Opening my eyes and giving an expression of mock horror I shouted, “I won’t go onstage!! No, no!! It’s beyond my level. “And clutching my bag tightly I sat on my chair like a kindergarten student watching a horror movie, silently rocking in my seat. My ‘friends’ tried pulling me up, with Piyush employing the maximum effort. But with the power of gravity on my side, I was invincible. I stuck to my chair like a child to its favourite toy. Finally after 2 mints they gave up and I was finally at rest. But amidst the confusion of trying to throw me onto the stage, I had managed to steal a glance at Priyanka’s direction and found her sporting a confused expression. I was glad to be able to see another of her expressions before I would stop being able to see her ever again.
The rest of the events continued on without any further incident that tarnished my reputation any more than it already was, not that there was anything else left of my rep to further disgrace. Just as they announced the end of the penultimate event and the start of the most awaited one, I silently got up and without anyone noticing, and slipped away.
Normally the DJ night was the time I looked forward to the most during any college event. But that night wasn’t just any other night. That night I wanted a break from it all. That night I wanted to be alone, away from all the noise. Away from my friends. Away from all those memories, about all that had been. I trudged to the SAC through the lonely path flanked by trees that gave off a ghostly aura in the dark. I remembered the jokes we used to crack in the very same path, the girls we ogled at, the teachers we commented on. It was all coming back. All that had come to an end. We would all go our separate ways. This college had failed to teach us anything except one; the need of true friends. And I intended to remember that lesson and respect it. I walked up to the tree near the entrance of the SAC that had been bordered by a cemented podium of 10X10 feet, of knee level height, which provided a sort of sitting place. The SAC was nearly empty, except for a couple of lovebirds, who wanted privacy of their own, and as such, would respect mine.I was busy in my thoughts of the four years that I had spent there, when I heard her voice snap me out of my memories.
“What are you doing here alone? I thought that you liked the DJ event the most,” Priyanka asked.
“To quote from any random movie, ‘I could ask you the same question’.”
“Saw you slipping out, and as such decided to follow. Now tell me why you slipped out like a thief.
“You were following me! Such an honour!! To answer your question, I didn’t feel like destroying college property the last time I get to enjoy being a part of any official event. The last time I danced, two tiles of the seminar hall had to be replaced,” I answered with a straight face.
“Come one. Don’t lie to me. What are doing here alone?”
She had the supernatural ability to elicit any answer from me, and she was using it now, effectively handicapping me. “I was just reminiscing about the past.”
“So you will miss this college? I thought you were not the emotional type.” Her eyebrows were raised.
“Not the college, but some of the people I met here,” I replied. Then somehow I felt like confessing all that was in my mind, regarding what I felt about her. “Listen. There’s something I have to say to you. Something that I wanted to tell you a long time back, but couldn’t. I don’t know how you will react, not that it will matter anyway, now that this will probably the last time we will ever meet. I just request you to listen to the very end, and not interrupt me while I am speaking.
“It was not when I saw you sitting on the first bench, surrounded by seniors during the senior-junior ‘interaction’. It wasn’t when I called you to try to bully you, something that I really suck at. It wasn’t even in the next two months when I saw you everyday in the canteen. I felt my feelings for you, when I didn’t see you for a week.”By this time, my heart had started working overtime and beating so furiously that I was oblivious to almost any other noise.“I was reminded of the humility in your face, the unfathomable depth of your eyes, the simplicity of your thoughts, and most importantly, the innocence in your smile. The anxiety I felt, the impatience. I knew it was love. And every time I saw you next, I fell for you over and over again.”
I had closed my eyes during the last phase of my confession, and I expected her to have left, or shout angrily at me. But she hadn’t done either. When I opened my eyes, I found her sitting down beside me, looking down at her laps. And when my gaze reached to her face, my heart found its hard work had not in vain. I saw the most beautiful view I ever hoped to see. Her smile.