Her Eyes11 mins 375 11 mins 375
“Roll no. 25!”, the professor ranted.
“Present sir!”, she sang.
“Finally! That voice!”, I sighed.
The remaining roll calls passed in a haze, for her voice was still reverberating in my mind. That’s what love does to you; even the simplest of things that are taken for granted seem to acquire great significance. Yes, this humble fellow named Shekhar was in love with Swati, the girl of his dreams. I’m a pretty average ‘desi’ looking bespectacled guy, and she’s a shade darker, an inch taller and wears contacts. The first time I saw her, was when she was asked by the Physics professor to move to the front bench from the last since she seemed distracted. As luck would have it, she came and sat beside the most innocent-faced guy in the class, yes, you guessed right, yours truly. Being the sincere student that I was (still am), I didn’t pay heed to who was sitting beside me, especially when the class was in full swing.
“So, what’re the two types of charge carriers in a doped semiconductor?”, asked our sir.
Before I could blurt out the obvious “electrons and holes, sir”, Swati chimed in, and sir was impressed. So was I. I finally turned to look around the girl whose response was faster than mine, who had hitherto gone unnoticed. And then it happened. Our gazes met. Her eyes. I still remember staring deep into her eyes. They were dark, and there was a twinkle in them, and something deep, yet soothing. I was seeing myself getting reflected in those dark pools of tranquility. Then something changed. I could feel it. A long-forgotten, lost, buried feeling started welling up in me. I felt vulnerable, for a second. My bosom shook with this old familiar feeling. Love. Was it? Had it struck me again, for the second time? When I was floating in my ocean of emotions, came the shrill voice of the professor,
“Shekhar, where are you looking? It seems someone bested you!”, accompanied by giggles from the backbenchers. My cheeks turned red, and the remainder of the class passed uneventfully. My mind though was in a different place altogether. I wanted to see those eyes, know them, and the person who was their proud owner. Little did I know that time that my wish would be granted sooner than I thought. Just after the class, she skidded to the last bench again, as if pulled by a magnet. In this case, it was her friends, and yes, they were my friends too. They were speaking in Telugu, as I’d come to know later. She was giggling, and those eyes of hers, my God, were smiling even more! Here I am, a Bengali guy, hopelessly in love with the eyes of a girl, who didn’t even know me. My damn luck!
Later that day, I finally mustered enough courage to approach her, disturbing her from her earphone-engaged, musical slumber. Instead of showing signs of being disturbed, she gave a simple smile, and I sat beside her. Then began our chats – her love of everything north Indian, the Hindi language, movies, junk, and spicy food and jeans.
“Wait, jeans, what’s so awesome about them? Those are pretty common things…”, I trailed off, and my eyes rested on what she was wearing, it was a simple salwar kameez. I understood.
“Yes, at my house, daddy doesn’t allow me nor my younger sister to wear jeans. He dislikes fashionable things. You know Shekhar, in my B.Tech., I secretly did an online fashion designing course, and no one knows about this!”, she chimed in. I felt elated, for she shared something personal with me, a person she just met ten minutes ago. I was her little secret-bearer, and I couldn’t help but applaud her desire to do something that she was forbidden to do!
“That’s radical, Swati! I didn’t know there was a little rebel hiding behind that smile!”, I said. On listening to those words, her eyes turned a little watery, just for a blink-and-you-miss-it moment; but there was something there. I felt it. I knew it. So, in this way, our casual first-day encounter ended. Returning back to my hostel room, the evening slipped silently into the night, and I slipped into a deep sleep, with the elation of seeing her the next day. I wasn’t disappointed.
Three weeks had passed since our meeting. I and Swati were sitting in a corner of the campus garden, listening to ‘Tum hi ho’, one earpiece in my left, the other in her right ear. It was during lunch break, and we had hastily finished our lunches to engage in our taste for music. So, there we were, sitting side by side in the garden. I was pausing the song after every line, translating it into English and explaining to her what it meant. She desperately wants to learn Hindi, as much as possible. She had told me earlier that she had studied Hindi for four months during her bachelors, but was still weak in spoken and listening skills.
“Tera mera Rishta hai kaisa means, your and mine relation is such that, ik pal door gawara nahi, we can’t afford to stay away even for a moment, and the next… ”
“Wow, this song is so, so amazing!” Swati interjected, before I could finish myself.
“Yes, this song isn’t the love anthem just like that. It’s really soulful”, I explained.
“Moving on to the next lines…”
In this manner, I explained the entire song, just in time so that we could attend the next set of lectures, as the lunch break came to a close. Aw man! I really want to spend all my time translating all the romantic songs for her, and not attend these pithy, boring masters level lectures!
We’re in the class, but I was least interested. How could I be? My muse, my student, my soul-friend, was sitting right beside me, on my left. Yes, she’s not a backbencher anymore! I must admit, as frontbenchers, Swati and I did a pretty decent job of fooling the professors. All serious on the outside, but least bothered with the subjects in real! I couldn’t wait for the class to finish. Every once in a while, I offered water to her, as she didn’t carry a water bottle. I am like that - an Aquarian, both by stars and by nature, the water bearer. For some inexplicable reason, I started caring for her, in the simplest of ways. Reminding her to drink water had become a habit per se.
I felt a nudge and turning sideways slightly to see Swati showing me some scribbling on the back of her notebook.
“Chahun main ya na,” I murmured.
OK, so this is the next song in our music cum language study class. I looked at her, and there were those eyes, expecting, romantic and enigmatic. My internal Hindi translator was already running, faster than the Google’s, churning out the English phrases of this song, which I obviously knew by heart.
“Alright shona,” I said. Wait, did I just say ‘shona’ to her? What the hell? Oh my god, it’s a little bit too much. Maybe. I don’t know. I’ll talk about this later. The rest of the class passed on, with the occasional cat-calling of our names, since it was kind of official that we were a quasi-couple. Apart from that, there was actually nothing much going on.
In this slowly, but surely manner, my feelings blossomed into full-fledged love for her. Every song that I translated for her was like explaining my own feelings to her. Days rolled by, months came and went with all the assignments, project works, and examinations in tow. Amidst all this hectic workload, we still carved out our own happy-music time. Her never-ending desire to know and learn the songs, and my unceasing desire to give her my all. I was her teacher, who fell in love with his own student. I think she felt my feelings too. Only time would tell.
My feelings were becoming heavier. My soul was gasping to let the love flow from me to her. I wanted to know what she thought of me, and would she reciprocate my love? So, I decided. One afternoon, a very ordinary day, I approached her.
“Swati, there’s something that I’ve wanted to say for some time”, I said.
“What Shekhar?”, she quizzed.
“I love you, Swati.” It came out fast, flat, and just like that.
There we were, sitting on the bench, like two peas in a pod, and I proposed to her. I was expecting her to say yes and no, both at the same time. Wait, did anything like that even exist?
“Shekhar, give me some time”, she surmised, and somewhere, in a distant region of space inside a heart, a supernova of love and expectations exploded into a multitude of colors. I said “OK”, but inside I was glad that she’d at least think about it. It’s better than an outright no, which I already faced, a few years ago in my school.
Nonetheless, I secretly believed her response to be affirmative. I was really hoping because anything other than that would be disastrous for me.
That night, I slept, with a touch of uneasiness. The next day would mark the beginning of a new phase in my life, was my dream.
The next day, Swati was absent for the first half. This was odd, given she didn’t do so, unless there was something really urgent that kept her. Every few seconds my eyes would dart towards the door expecting to meet those familiar eyes. There was no sign of her till lunch. As I was leaving the class to go have my lunch, I hear a familiar voice calling my name. I turned around, and there she was, my angel. This time though, her eyes were vacant. There was no longer the animation that I had grown used to.
“I thought about you, about us, and I’m sorry Shekhar, we can’t be together…”, she trailed off.
I couldn’t process her words, not immediately, but the tsunami had already hit and smashed everything that I had built with so much love and care. Saying that I was dumbstruck and hurt would be a gross understatement. My heart was shred to ribbons. My eyes ebbed, and tears started flowing down, as if to extinguish the flames of anguish in my heart, something that they were failing to do. Thankfully, the class was vacant save for us, and pushing past my choking voice, I croaked, “But why Swati? Why? Things have been so great for us, haven’t they? You know that I love you for sure, isn’t it? You were always so close to me, then I beg you, why?”, I wailed.
“Because I’m already in love with someone, Shekhar. He works in Mumbai, and I’ve known him for over two years.”, Swati said.
“But you never told me about these things before Swati. All this is new for me! Why you would….how could you do this to me?”, I cried.
“See Shekhar, truth be said, you never were my type. I don’t mean to be harsh, but we aren’t compatible, never were.” She was adamant.
“You mean that all this time that we spent together was a pastime for you? What were we really doing then? I thought we were getting close to each other!”, I pleaded.
“See Shekhar, to be honest, you came in my life when I and Suresh weren’t on speaking terms, for we had a violent fallout. You did take a place in my heart, but as time passed on, I was trying to find my Suresh in you, and that felt wrong. Since you proposed to me yesterday, it felt wrong to lead you on, and so, let’s end it here. Shekhar, from now on, we’re just classmates, nothing more. I’m sorry. Hope you understand.”
She turned around, and walked out, not just out of the door, but also my life, never to return. My hunger at that point had vanished. I felt hollow, cheated, used, or was it because I expected too much? For the second time in my life, my love was misplaced. Why? Why does this have to happen to me always? I felt like a victim of emotional trauma, but I had to keep up appearances, for the world is always ready to sneer at lost, heart-broken lovers like me.
Back in my room, I started thinking about everything. As things slowly came into focus, I couldn’t help but smile at my own stupidity. Her love for everything north-Indian, her desire to master Hindi, and all her little quirks were more for her lover and less for her and absolutely nothing about me. I was just an instrument, a bridge that she was building to walk on and cross to the other side, to be with her love comfortably. Now that bridge was burned. The chaotic feelings of the heart were getting covered by the ashes of this burnt bridge. I was a nomad, lost in this vast expanse of desolation. I was running towards a pool of love, only to find that it was a mirage.
Even the ‘electrons and holes’ recombine at some point, but we’re parallel lines now, never to meet again. All the dreams of convergence had been eclipsed by someone else, whom I hated, but when have things ever been fair in love and war?
I plugged in the headphones and started playing the songs, the ones that I and Swati bonded over. Arijit’s voice came to placate my soul – ‘Sun raha hai na tu, ro raha hoon main…’, yes I was crying, but no one was listening. Only my pillow knew all the tears that it had soaked. I had no idea how the rest of the semester would go. Awkwardness was a casual mask, that’s needed to be worn. As I was pondering on all these, sleep kindly came to embrace me, and the last thing I remembered were those shining, enamored, lovely eyes before everything faded to black. Black, just as the darkest night outside, and the emotions within.