Every time she smiled that day, she broke me. And it’s said even breaking glass sounds lovingly musical for a moment.
We sat in the auditorium. The drama competition titled ‘An Ode to Shakespear’ which needed the students to enact scenes from Shakespearean plays and some other bullshit was going on. I sat sandwiched between the two teachers who had accompanied our 23 strong host to the hosting school, the Team Leader with an image of being honest and introvert and thus, good.
I stared infinitely at the stage where School #1, while I didn’t even care to know the school’s name, acted out a scene from The Merchant of Venice, where Portia saves precious scoundrel’s life. And that’s when she came. You know how it happens in the movies, right? A bomb in a red frock electrifying the scene with her amazing smile? Yes…exactly the way you just imagined it! But then my life hasn’t got the meticulous direction of any internationally acclaimed professional and she made an entry from behind where I couldn’t see her till she was crossing over to the other side of the row of seats followed by her 3 classmates.
I gaped for a moment in the dark and then took the wise decision of closing my fish-like mouth before any special notice of my expression was made. She found me and quickly whispered, “Come with us, what are you doing here?”
I shot up like a dart from my seat. Yes! She had hit the bull’s eye! What was I doing there and then how was I going to endure the next 3 hours in that position? The boy behind her was in for a shock as I suddenly materialized between her and him. And then finally I escaped the little hell of sitting between two highly orthodox lady teachers with a clear expression of triumph on my face.
I found a seat vacant beside her. Wait. Let me introduce her before you deduce something drastic about her: she was one year senior to me and was the Head Girl at school and there was no possibility that I used to have butterflies in my stomach whenever I saw her because she was a senior. Like, who cared?
She caught me stealing glances of her and confronted me red handed, “Did you really mean it when you said I was looking like a joker?” It came rushing to me that I had said she looked like a joker while she climbed down the many stairs of the auditorium sweeping them with her frock, about 2 hours back. I grinned sheepishly.
“You want the truth?”
“You want to lie?” her reply made me laugh and I decided she deserved the truth.
“Well, you looked ‘bhayankar’. Translate it to English and you’ve the word,” it translated to ‘terrific’.
“Thanks!” she said with apparent relief on her face. I stared at her while she tried to get updated with the on goings in the auditorium.
“People will now say a junior is hitting on a senior,” she stared back at me. “I’m wondering if you’re a professor’s daughter,” I grinned.
“Sorry dear, I live with my uncle first, who is a sharp-shooter in the police and second you’re not an IIT fellow yet, so better hold your horses,” we laughed.
“You’re threatening your junior, I can do you in on ragging grounds,” I smirked.
“Hello!” she was apparently in a mood to show this squealing junior the dust in this bout of words. “I’m an Indian lady, protected by more laws than I care to count and I can do you in for a lifetime at this very instant.”
“Save me, good gods!” I feigned scare and leaned back. We had both leaned too close to the limit of being socially accepted. “This beautiful lady who this ruffian here had been eve-teasing is aware of the all the laws which were never enforced since their birth! What am I going to do now! Save me!” I grinned to her shriveled up nose.
“Poor joke,” she finally snapped and looked away angrily.
“Don’t worry, people like me are still alive,” I said in a mix of apology and reassuring tone.
She looked at me momentarily with shining, admiration filled eyes before I continued, “People who love hitting on the beautiful senior.”
If her face was shriveled like a dry brinjal till now, now it was a roasted dry brinjal. I grinned wider than ever.
She balled her hand into a fist, not knowing what to do with it, brought it down on her own thigh.
“Yeah,” I mocked. “Shit happens.”
She stared wide-eyed at me, eyes filled with fury and admiration at the same time. Her lips quivered in the vain attempt of wording her thoughts.
“Exactly,” I explained. “That’s why I though you looked like a joker back then. You see, I have a knack of seeing the future.”
She turned away instantly. Not having anything to fight with, the opposition had called for cease-fire as it appeared. Battle #1 won as the School #2’s performance came to an end.
What was I doing? Why was a gibbering away like an idiot with this girl? I had never felt the need to talk to her much before today, then why today? I saw Macbeth vowing and swearing as the three witches worked hocus-pocus at their cauldron. What was the meaning of me acting so foolish? Why couldn’t I simply collect myself and be the solitary-reaper I once was? This was not the Anubhav Singh I knew, this was the ‘forever-happy genius playboy’ image which Allahabad had forced me to live with.
I held my face in my hands and doubled over in the
“Anubhav?” she called softly, concerned.
I chose to ignore. There was already too much conflict of emotions in my head. I didn’t need any more.
“Are you tired?” the concern in her voice forced me to look up.
“Yup! This mask is too heavy,” I replied from the trenches of my turbulent sea of thoughts.
She stared clearly fuddled.
“You can’t see it,” I grinned. Anubhav, good fellow, she doesn’t understand a single thread of your heart. Whatever made you flow in that lot of philosophy has gone over her head. “A good mask never reveals the true face.”
She stared clearly fuddled.
“I’m crazy right?” Help her, she’s lost track. This is the moment where you either put her on the train of lies or the one to truth where you must open up. And you know it well that those who don’t understand you, hate you.
“Yes,” something seemed to click in her head. Your jig-saw fit. She’s picked up the easier journey on your train of lies.
I looked up to the cieling. A multitude of lights of various hues danced creating a perfect imagery of the huge mess of thoughts inside me. Why was I lying to her? She can’t hurt me. She won’t. Why was it then that I had come so close to truth and then backed off? What was it that scared me? Was my history so scarred that I was afraid of revealing it?
“What are you thinking?”
I shook my head, forcing an unconvincing smile. Damn her. Why did she have to use the same words as my special someone would? And the tone. Were both of them batchmates in the class of ‘Questioning Boys’?
“You’re too silent all of sudden, so…” she whispered.
I have to think you see, a good actor knows all his lines beforehand.
“I’ve just now found the answer to the question that has been bugging me for an year and a half,” I whispered back, and nodded sincerely.
She sat quiet for some time. I took to calming my mind. Closed my eyes and concentrated on the soft background music while School #7 showed us ‘Et tu, Brute!’.
“Can you tell me what’s been troubling a crazy soul like you for so long?” and for the first I saw she didn’t mean the adjectives.
“You want the truth?”
“Can’t help it,” she smiled.
“Fine,” I took a deep breath. A good breath before the hardest part in the act. “Have you heard of Artificial Intelligence?” She nodded. “There is a branch in it which deals with understanding natural language. Its termed Natural Language Processing.” She listened like a good student. “What troubled me was how to extract information in a multi-dimensional array from a huge paragraph, analyze the extracted information and derive facts and assumptions from it.”
She took a deep breath. You’ve got her again on the other track. Congrats buddy! Well lied.
“Anubhav,” she stared hard at me. “What’s your age?”
“Seventeen,” I replied truthfully. Though my birth certificate showed sixteen.
“Hey!” disbelief ruled her face. “I turned seventeen 4 days back!”
“Yes, you came distributing chocolates in a lovely dress and when I was the lone one who clapped, our class teacher half-killed me with his dagger eyes.” I recalled.
“You’re elder to me!” she seemed to be quite happy about it.
“Exactly 11 months elder. And yet I see that your ears are bigger than mine,” I chuckled.
She quickly covered her ear on my side with her hair crudely and fumed in indignation. I had once said to her, “People with bigger ears are usually stupid.”
That’s enough. Take off this mask, Anubhav. She has the right to know the person she’s talking to. You’re cheating on her emotions with this act. Let her know what kind of hopeless she’s dealing with.
“You know,” she still had the rage in her eyes as I spoke not looking just in them. “A few days back while I was coming back from school, I made a huge mistake. We use to stand under that banyan tree at the crossing. That day when we reached there, I found none of our hang-mates waiting. I was with my two classmates.” I looked at the aurora druggedly pulsating on the ceiling. “Then came this little girl in tatters. She had a infant on her. Probably her brother, both equally filthy. She put a palm in front of me. I didn’t have a single rupee on me. I looked at my friends and urged them to move on quickly. She dogged us a long way. Then she found an elderly man and her palm was still empty as she put it in front of him.”
I looked at her. The colors on the ceiling reflected on her face.
“It wasn’t your fault,” she said softly. “You didn’t have anything with you to give.”
“That’s where I was wrong,” I could no longer look into her eyes. “I had love to give.”
She stared at me fuddled.
“I could have apologized to her. Am I that big man I couldn’t even speak humanely to her?”
She stared at me fuddled.
“I am a smaller man since that day. A much smaller man. There are hundreds of them out there. Everyday I see them, wonder about their lives. We have money, we dream of bikes and mobiles, we get them. They don’t have money. But they still have dreams, right? What happens to their dreams?” I looked back at her. “Their dreams die everyday only because they were born where we weren’t.”
“You want to make me cry?”
“I want to give them all a life. I want them to dream and have their dreams come true. There are millions of them in this world. And trust me most of them are much more intelligent than you and me, you can’t deny it. I want to give that intelligence a better option than stealing.”
She stared at me. I don’t know what she thought then. I was too lost in the relief this release of emotions had brought.
“I’m going to call you a ‘Saint’ now on,” she muttered.
“Don’t,” I laughed. “I’m a junior hitting on his senior. Emotional drama is a part of a writer’s life.”
She took a deeper breath this time. Apparently cursed her gods twice or thrice.
“You believe in love at first sight?” I asked her.
“Ummm…no,” she replied after a bit of thought and looked at me, expecting another volley of unpredicted words.
“Wow! That’s a nice miser!” I grinned. “I fall in love at least 50 times a day! Every 15-30 minutes!” I traced a hand around the auditorium. “Today it has been every 2-3 minutes.”
She stared harder. I roared with laughter.
“How is it that one moment you’re something and the other moment entirely opposite?”
I quietened immediately. “Look around yourself. From every student in this room I sense talent. They’re the bests from their school. I fall in love with that talent. And then I think about those children out there in the slums. If these puppy-faced-big-eared-mumma’s cherries have so much talent, then what amount of talent is India losing out there? And again I fall in love. We’ve hundreds or say thousands times the population strength of Japan, yet where are we? Do we even have a percent of refinement in us as they have? What would happen we brought forth all our human resources? And as the final phase I fall in love with the thought of an India which develops at half that population ratio.”
She stared dazed at me.
“What is it that I can do today and now to achieve my dream?” I asked.
“Nothing,” her voice betrayed the dejection. She made no attempt of covering her ears which she had bared in tucking her hair behind.
“We can’t. Right. And that’s why I choose to be merry at the moment. If I were to go down with depression now, will you stand for them tomorrow? No? So, its better I keep myself healthy. They say,” I smiled. “Laughter is the best medicine. Besides, I am not a miser.”
She balled her hand into a fist, knowing not what to do with it, brought it down on her own thigh.
“Yeah,” I grinned. “Shit happens.”