You get up late. Today is an important day. You take a quick bath. Apply cosmetics on your face, hair, armpit, and nails. You check whether the gift is still in your bag. It is a pink tee that you bought from an exclusive showroom on an alleyway at CP. You find that the front tire of your manual-bike is flat. Daddy agrees to drop you in his car. You wink. Everything is happening according to your plan.
I still remember that day. It was August, and I was in my eleventh standard. Sweet sixteen, you know. Those were some days… I used to crave to go to school. We just had had our long holidays. And everyone was full of a new spirit, new plans, new hairstyles, new books, and well, stories of new girlfriends and boyfriends.
Yes, new was the air all around. We would play dumb-charade. We would play truth and dare, and dare to hit our favorite teacher's back when she was scribbling things on the board. I began to loosen up. I started breaking the school's rules and some others of mine. In fact, it was only then that I learned to bunk school to watch movies.
Funny, that time is in a person's life. Isn't it? You feel an inexplicable change occurring to your mind and your body. A strange freshness enters your life and you yearn to do something new. Something different from others. You want to make up for all that time which you now think you wasted in all that mugging and crapping in tenth class. You feel an urge to make more friends; you become more and more sociable. In fact, it is the same time when most of us take an interest in the gender of our choice.
A Flashback: KV Borjhar, Guwahati, August 1994.
There is a 'smart' boy with parted hair and a handkerchief strung over his shirt pocket. There is a cute girl with a pink smiling face, well-groomed bobs, and a yellow-red daisy duck bag strung on her back. With an invisible corner of his left eye, he tries to look at the resplendent her. She is beautiful. But his right eye is caught by a pair of squinty eyes. The teacher makes the new girl sit with him. The girl says 'hello' and graciously offers her hand to the smart boy. But she is a girl!! He says hi and graciously refuses to accept them.
I have this very peculiar theory about boys that most of them want to have girlfriends only because they want to impress their male friends. Having a girlfriend is taken as a symbol of greater manhood. You feel ecstatic when your friends call your girlfriend their sister-in-law. Having a girlfriend is also beneficial in parties, picnics, and all that social stuff. When you have to prove how sociable you are. In fact, the more the number of girlfriends one has, the greater we consider him a dude.
So, I was in the eleventh standard and most of us were fed up with first the boards and then those endless holidays. Results had been out a long ago and people were jubilant (and surprised) with their more than expected percentages. I was especially on a high. I had topped the school and had been continuously showered with 'unnecessary' praises ever since. But despite all that high, there was something that I felt was missing. Something I was very unhappy about. They considered me a nerd. A bookworm. An introvert who seldom engages himself with others. And honestly, I never liked that. I wanted to erase that image. I mean, I was good at sports too. Why did people cannot notice my expertise in games? In short, I wanted to be a hotshot, a dude - one who studies and enjoys life. And I thought having a girlfriend would make me one.
Another Flashback: KV Amla, near Nagpur, August 2003
There's a geeky-looking boy with bespectacled red eyes. Perfectly groomed hair and a badge over his shirt pocket, with class-monitor carved on it. There is a girl with a radiant smile on her face, sitting across the boy on the same desk. The boy offers her a chocolate bar, and she stands up, making way for another girl. There are many of them; in fact, the entire female population of the class, by the look of it. The 'new' girl 'also' ties a band on his hand. The occasion is simple: it is Rakshabandhan.
After a lucky start to the day, the protagonist lands up in school. With a blue-black rucksack, with a pink tee inside it. And as soon as he sees her, he decides to run away.
Being a discipline-prefect was never a cup of tea for me. But then, the principal loved me so much! I had no other option. She called me one day into her private office and gave me the badge to wear. And when I said 'what,' she said 'yes'. I once again opened my mouth to convey to her that the mystery man, who had blasted the teachers' toilet the previous year, was actually the person standing in front of her. But then she entered the office, and I immediately looked down and submitted myself to her (the principal, mind it!!). The italicized she was the one.
Thus, my dear principal made me stand at the entrance of the school to check other students' shirts, pants, shoes, ties, and whatnots. When I thought about the classroom - she must have come by now. Ravi must have come too. He must have greeted her before me.–it put a noose around my head. But then I took a deep breath, tried to relax, and punished a boy by making him stand on his knees because he had forgotten to wish good morning to a senior.
Ravi. Now, you don't know him, right? OK. In the most succinct of forms, I can say that Ravi was my best friend. We used to sit with each other. We used to eat with each other. Sometimes we used to 'sleep' with each other too. But we were not underwear-buddies. Mind it. For me, sanitation comes before friends. Rahul and Ravi had replaced Viru and Jay in our school.
But there was a problem. And it was that I hated him. I hated him more than our chemistry teacher. In fact, I hated him so much that I wanted to break our friendship forever. And I hated him because I somehow thought she had feelings for him.
In the English class one day, the teacher decided that it was time for some break and so she made us enact a dramatization of Austen's "Pride and Prejudice". There was no doubt that she would be made the Elizabeth. Even Ravi whispered in my ears she looked stunning in her birthday dress. (Surprise! It was her birthday.) Considering the moment to be apt, I asked him whether he had greeted her before assembly, but then our teacher saw my mouth open and made Ravi as Darcy (instead of me?).
I said 'what'. My teacher asked 'what 'what'?' Then I said 'okay'. And so she made me Mr. Bennet.
A deviation: I don't know why, but I strongly believe that the parents today seldom know what's best for their children. I mean, take the example of a 15-year-old kid. He goes to school. His parents want him to come first. He goes for coaching. His parents want him to clear all the entrance exams of the world. He goes to the cricket academy. His parents want him to join the Indian cricket team. In short, his parents want him to be a studious geek who goes onto represent his country in cricket or in Olympics after getting an excellent rank in IITJEE. I mean, what the holy fuck is this!
But luckily, my parents never demanded me of anything. One day, I told them I wanted to join a coaching institute to prepare for IITJEE and they said OK. I tried telling them that our neighbor Mr. Iyer's daughter also attended the same institute (who, by utter coincidence, is in my class. wink), but they didn't listen and pretended to pay more attention to whatever they were doing. By the way, did I tell you she lived very near to my house? And she was from a state in South India?
After being haunted by a new appellation of Mr. Bennet for the rest of the periods, I decided that giving her my gift just after school-hours would be impractical. So I decided to do the 'rituals' after the coaching classes. I would also propose her at the same time. The evening is the most romantic hour of the day. I thought. I also decided to neglect the unusually long discussion between Ravi and her at the cycle stand.
A Flashback: Connaught Place, Delhi, August 2006
I am here in CP. My favorite place to hang out. And guess what? I am here to buy a gift for my girlfriend. OK.OK. Soon to be a girlfriend. There are some more people with me. My male friends, a few with their girlfriends. But they don't know that I've come here especially to get a gift for Iyer. Ravi is in a very pensive mood. But he agreed to the plan easily and almost excitedly. What is he thinking so fiercely about? Anyway, we are frolicking around doing the usual thing that we prefer doing when we are here.
A deviation: Let me tell you a little secret of mine. I am an ardent fan of the famous ornithologist Salim Ali. I revere him. I revere him because I like birds. I love them. In fact, I love birds so much that once I had decided to become an ornithologist instead of a dentist. It is another reason that I failed to become even the latter. Anyway, it is my unfathomable love for birds that I like to go to CP. There is a whole paradise of birds there. From ducks to sparrows. From koels to hummingbirds. Even birds from foreign lands flock there. But I especially like chicks. They are the best.
Flashback continues: So, I was in CP. With my friends. Doing the thing we like the most - Bird watching. Or rather, bird-hunting. Yes.
Another Deviation: There is a lovely poem by John Keats. You must have read about it, I am sure. Its first line says: "A thing of beauty is a joy forever." I love this line. I like to see birds, not because I want to keep them in a cage. I just want to enjoy the beauty around. And what do you call beautiful? Something which arouses your senses. Something which forces you to say 'wow'. Right? Then tell me, what is wrong with bird-watching if I am a man and I feel good when I see a kind of beauty in birds?
Flashback continues: So, I was bird watching in CP. After buying the gift. And there was a bird. She was breath-taking. Really. Her perfume blocked my nose. But then she was wearing a flaunting black skirt. So I didn't run away. An enormous bag hung over her shoulders; a bigger uncle beside her. "Hey, what are you doing?" he barked. And the next second, I was back in my home. Too much observation is actually not good for health.
So, after the coaching classes, we took our cycle and started going home. Yours truly, Ravi, Rohan, she and three other friends of hers. I calculate I will get only ten minutes after everyone leaves. Best of luck.
I have a very peculiar theory about girls. And it is that most of them want to have boyfriends because they are always in a need of someone to carry their shopping bags and lipsticks and diamond rings. They are in search of some kind of porter, a porter who also pays for carrying their stuff. A boyfriend also comes in handy when they are in a mood to see some bull-fight. For fun, you know. There are many examples - Ramayana and Sita. Draupadi and Mahabharata. But then, it's not always true. They like indulging themselves in cat-fights too. EktaJI being the general. But most importantly, they want someone to shower on, all the love that they have in their larger-than-life heart.
"So, happy birthday. What are your plans for today?" I say to her.
"Oh, nothing in particular actually. Why?" Iyer says.
"Nothing. Nothing. Just asked."
A few seconds of silence.
"Rahul, do you consider me as your friend?" she asks.
"Friend? I love you, honey."
"Oh, nothing. Yes. Why?"
"I'll tell you one thing, but please don't laugh at me."
"Hehe," (To show her that I am a funny character.)
"I think I am in love."
"What? Shit!! I mean when? How? Who is he?"
"Actually, I don't know whether it is love or just infatuation. I need your help to sort it out."
"But who is he? That Baster… I mean, it must be only an infatuation. I mean, it can't be love. I mean love does not happen at such an age…" (Useless argument)
"You don't believe in love, then?"
"I believe in it. In fact, I feel that love is the most important thing in the world. The world revolves around it. Only the luckiest of people fall in love. But most of us are not that lucky. Not everyone gets the love he deserves from the one he loves. (Like me…). But that is different. Temme, who is that lucky guy? Ravi? He is good actually."
(Seconds pass…) (Her phone rings.)
"Listen, I am in a bit of a hurry. Talk to you later."
"Hey, but wait. I got something for you. Hmm. It's a gift, actually. Hmm. I hope you don't mind."
"Give it to me tomorrow. I am really late. Mumma must be waiting. B.Bye."
A tear trickled down my nose. I was sad. Quite a day it had been.
You get up early. You feel like sleeping once again. Perhaps you didn't sleep the previous night. Your father is shaving with a forest of white froth on his face. You say good morning to him. He replies with a nod. And then:
"Your Mumma found a pink tee-shirt in your bag. Are you in a drama or something?"
"Mmm… Oh, yes, papa…"
"And who is this Lady Goulian Finch?"
"She texted you."
"When? What did she…? No. It is 'he' actually. What did he write?"
"Check out for yourself. And who is she… I mean he?"
"Just a friend. A drama-guy."
And then you see your inbox. There is indeed a message from Goulian Finch. A message sent exactly at 12 AM. And it reads: "It's you."
How do you feel?