Once upon a Night
We jumped one by one across the high wall, carefully avoiding the broken glasses stuck on top of the wall. At each soft thud from our heels, our hearts jumped. In fact our hearts beats were so loud that, we felt our warden might wake up hearing it.
We slowly crept across our college buildings to our hostel in the far end of the ground. There were five of us, Tina, Manju, Sara, Dhanya and Myself known notorious for our daredevil acts. Only we had the guts to challenge the strict rules of our convent sisters, which got heavier and heavier as we found more and more ways to break it. We were well planned and prepared in all our ventures, with duplicate keys of all gates and doors. Technical know how to block the burglar alarms etc, etc. So when we reached the gates of our dark hostel building, I took out the keys of the padlock, quietly to open the gate. To our surprise the key would not fit. Not matter how hard we tried, the lock would not give way. Our warden had changed the lock. Others also tried to pick the lock, but it dint budge. We looked at each other in horror. We couldn’t stand there any longer, if our warden looked out of her window, she would see us for sure.
“Let us hide somewhere” Dhanya whispered.
We crept across to the corner of another building, where we wouldn’t be spotted immediately, yet could see the entrance to the hostel building. We sat down on the ground in the darkness praying that no stray dogs came across the ground at us. There was panic in everyone’s eyes. We never anticipated such a situation in all our adventures. And there were many for us to boast about.
Where is the fun in College life, if we had to follow rules? So every time, a new rule came up, we found ways to break it or loopholes to avoid it. We always had greatest times sneaking out and back into our hostel without getting caught. But today seemed to be our D’Day. We had crossed the curfew, if the warden was to check our beds, she was sure to find them empty. Although we had arranged for substitutes, they would leave by bedtime. Now it was nearing 11.00pm. None of us could think of any excuses to escape her wrath, if we were caught.
In soft whispers we discussed other ways to sneak inside, but no one could think of any solution that would not involve waking up the warden or maids. Then we tried to think of good excuses, but we were all so tensed, that even our creative minds could think of only impending doom. The clock continued ticking
Tina and Sara were the weakest in our group. Neither were they good at lying nor could they brave adversities. But the rest of us were always there with them in all the troubles. We were pretty close knit and always there with each other during all sunny, rainy and stormy days. But this case was different, we are about to face the worst case scenario and we will face it together and separately.
Together we will be suspended from hostel and separately we will be fried by our families. Tina was already whimpering, “My dad will kill me”. Sara had tears in her eyes. Dhanya sitting in between them was trying to comfort them; her face was also very pale. I tried not to think of consequences, because if I had to concentrate on getting out of this mess, I better not think of my Mom’s banshee act. I could tell Manju was also thinking in the same lines, she had her forehead creased in concentration. We were the master planners of this group, and we generally never failed in churning out creative ideas. But today even our brains were failing us.
It was 2.00am, we were chilled to our bones, huddled together on the ground with totally resigned expressions on our faces. All plotting and planning was moot. Even Tina and Sara had grave expressions as though they were mentally set to face the hatchet. We all had been silent for past one hour, just the sound of our synchronised breathing and thundering hearts.
Then, Dhanya softly asked, “Shall we pray?” We looked at her as though she lost her screws. Dhanya was the saint amongst us .Even for lying or breaking rules, first she would pray and then commit the sin. We always teased her, but she would retort, “Even when I am being naughty, my god is with me”. Today, as we were all waiting our impending doom, we welcomed any keyhole strategy out of trouble. So we held hands and bowed our heads in despair. I could not format any sensible prayer at the moment, so I kept chanting silently,” Help, Help, please help”.
After about two minutes of intense but silent pleading, Manju blurted out, “Oh GOD! Please get us out of this mess and we promise not to ever sneak out like this again, please..!
In the silent early morning, the soft sound sends shock waves through our senses. We were still holding hands and I could see terror in everyone’s eyes. We huddled closer against the wall, so that we could literally blend with the shadows. We scanned the night, wondering what could be coming up at us.
I desperately hoped it is not our new watchman; he was a cunning young man, who never fell for any of our bribes and always reported any wrongdoers to the authorities. He was very eager to be good books of our warden. Our old watchman was quite a jolly old drunk yard, who would happily open any gates for us at any time. But one night he was so drunk that he accidentally started singing at the top of his voice waking our whole hostel and of course our matron sacked him that night itself.
Manju pressed my hand hard, forcing me to look at her, Sara who was one the other side was also staring at her. But Manju was staring somewhere faraway; we followed her line of vision, which led to the far end of the corner of one of our college buildings. At first I couldn’t make out any movement, and then I saw, a black shadow deeper than the shadow of the building behind moving towards our hostel. Whoever it was was very careful to avoid the bright halo light that illuminated our hostel porch and entrance. The shadow crept closer and closer to the hostel building till he reached the corner, from where he defineltely had to cross the lighted porch to reach the entrance. He waited for few moments, probably wondering how to cross the wide porch without risking someone peeking out from one of the floors. We also wondered the same; there were always some students sitting late or one of our owls like sisters who loved to study or do their prayers at such odd hours. Then before we could blink our eyes, he leaped across the wide area with very few steps and so silently that for a minute I wondered if it was a human at all. But we saw him clearly before he reached the entrance, a medium built, average height man, dressed entirely in black, even with gloves and a black linen cloth mask pulled over his head with only holes for his eyes.
Then to our surprise he picked up a set of keys, fitted one of them easily into the padlock and opened it. Then systematically, he pulled out a bottle of oil and poured it at the hinges to stop the creaking sounds of the Iron Gate. Then he opened it silently and entered our girls’ hostel.
Tina gasped “It is a thief”,
“Shut up tube light” Manju chided her between her teeth, and she turned to me. There was no more despair on her face; instead it was shining with wide excitement. I could actually make out a lighted bulb on her head. I understood her plan and whispered to the others, “You guys follow us at the first opportunity, without catching anyone’s attention.
“Wha…” Sara started, but Dhanya stopped her and gave us a thumps up.
Manju and I reached the entrance again and entered though the hostel‘s unlocked gates. The thief was nowhere in sight. We had a hunch. He would have headed to our common room, where a beautiful golden Cross gifted to the hostel by some rich hostellers and a huge box full of charity money were placed. We were collecting the money for orphans. We picked up hockey sticks from the sports team cupboard just off the entrance and hurried to the common room, silently. Our assumption was correct. Just as we reached the common room, we saw him trying to open our charity box. As it was too big to fit in his small backpack, he decided to empty the box. The cross had already vanished.
I was about to move forward and stop him, but Manju stopped me. She indicated to the other side of the common room – an easy escape route for the thief, if he manages to thwart our attack. We needed more hands for this operation. We decided to block him first. Moving in silently behind him, we reached as close as we could before taking a deep breaths and
“ AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHAAAAA ….Kalannnn (Thief!) AAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHAAA ”, We screamed at the top of our voices
The thief was stunned, dropped his bag and ran to the nearest exit. But we were faster, Manju hit him on his back and I dived in like a football player for his legs. He tripped and fell on all fours. We continued screaming along with beating him up with our hockey sticks. But despite both our attacks, he managed to jump up, shake me off and dodge Manju’s wild hockey swing to reach the other exit. Unfortunately for him, our scream had done the intended job. The entire hostel was up, all the lights went on and about 164 girls were headed to the common room .
They covered every exit. He was blocked from all the sides, there was no escape. He tried running despite the odds. A common room filled with estrogen filled females was hardly a fair fight. We caught up with him when he tried to escape from another exit over the common room. Hockey sticks, brooms and bats rained on his back and knees and caused him to trip face down on the floor. He crouched on the floor trying to keep us from ripping of his mask.
Manju was in full swing, “Take that, and that and that” she kept hitting him with her stick from all sides. I realised quite soon that the girls who were surrounding us were still in various stage of shock, watching the scene. Only a handful of girls have reacted. That won’t go well with our plan. So I shouted “Hey, what are you girls staring at? Help us tie him up and get his mask off” That made some girls very enthusiastic. People were suddenly seen issuing order and running around.
“Hey get the rope!”
“Pull off his Mask!”
“Tie his hands!”
“Hit him! B****y thief!”
“Call the Police!”
“Where is the Watchman?” everyone muttered. I took the opportunity to hand the hockey stick to one the bulky girls and ordered, “Keep him down and try to get his mask off, I will go and get the watchman. He is probably still sleeping somewhere!” she nodded and took a ready posture resembling ‘Helga in Haggar the Horrible,’ the figure and the bat that looked like a club suited her well.
Manju was still busy playing Jhansi Rani with gusto. I pulled at her hand and said “Come Manj, let’s go and fetch the watchman”. We were still fully dressed in our day attires and our clothes would kill us and probably ground us for life.
She had not notice my hint,”No, No, you go I will keep him down” she said as she swung her stick.
URGH! What a time for her brains to go blank! I tried again,”No Manj, I can’t go alone in darkness outside” stressing on last two words. This time she turned to look at me, I indicated our clothes and she understood.
“Ohhh… OK!” She said as she turned to others “What are you girls waiting for??? Rip his mask off, we will bring the Watchman”. Then with an after thought she screamed behind her “Don’t let him escape!” We ran in the opposite direction, the warden would be coming. She was surely on her way to the common room.
We ran up to our respective room, and changed to our night clothes in lightning speed, hoping that Dhanya, Sara and Tina took the opportunity to have done the same. We didn’t have time to check their rooms as we ran back to the common room.
When we reached, everyone was crowding around murmuring in a circle with a small space in the centre, where we guessed was the thief held. Our warden the Sister was in the centre with her hands on her hips, glaring at the thief, with a murderous expression. We pushed ourselves through, to see the thief’s face. I was searching for Sara and others in the crowd as we pushed. When we reached the front row, our jaws fell open in shock. The Thief that we caught was our new WATCHMAN!
Both Manju and I stared at each other in blank shock. The thief was thoroughly beat up and whimpering on the floor. I wondered when this night was going to END. I recollected how expertly this man had crossed the ground and opened the gates. No wonder the thief knew where to find the most precious things in our hostel. Our warden was fuming, and sweating and I understood why. She had to answer the authorities on why proper background check and police verification was not done before appointing a new Watchman. She had hired overnight, in a hurry at that time to replace the sacked Watchman.
The thief was made to sit on the floor like a hatching hen, probably the idea of our ‘Miss Helga’ who was still standing over him with her bat as though it was a thorny club. Everyone was softly discussing what and how the watchman had cheated whole hostel security system. No one said anything aloud for the fear of hearing an angry retort from the warden. No one talked about us, but I knew in the end, someone would remember that we were the first ones on the scene. I discussed in hushed tones with Manju about a good story for our brave act. After all, we could not admit the truth and we needed the same story that we could use to the end. In a few minutes, one of the helper Girls came running, “Sister, the Police is here…”
“Make way, girls!” The warden said aloud. A Police Inspector and four constables walked into the scene. At first the thief’s position made him amused a little. The poor chap was beaten up, clothes in torn tatters and sported a huge black eye. Not a pretty scene. He cleared his throat and asked few questions to the warden and girls surrounding him, handcuffed the thief and sent him off with his constables. The thief looked relieved that he was now guarded by the police he wished to avoid.
Then the inspector asked the warden,” Who was the first one to see the thief? Who woke the hostel??” When no one responded, he looked at the girls still holding hockey sticks. “Are you the ones?”
“No, Sir, We were given these to stand guard” they replied in a chorus.
“By whom?” asked the inspector…?
They looked bewildered for a minute and then looked around, probably searching for our heads in the crowd. And when they spotted us, pointed our direction and announced.”Sir, it was Rose and Manju”.
Suddenly, we felt the spot light was turned to us. All eyes were on us, some wondering, some sceptical and some green with jealousy. The best response was our warden’s expression. The No.1 mischief makers of her hostel seemed to have saved ….her day?? Impossible! She couldn’t believe her bulging eyes.
The inspector turned to us, “So, how did you girls see the thief and raise the alarm”
Manju cleared her throat and recited our planned story “Sir, we were sitting up late preparing for a test tomorrow, when we saw movement below in our porch. At first we thought it was our imagination, but then we thought we might as well make sure, so we came down and picked up hockey sticks from the cupboard for safety purpose. We went around and we saw him in the common room and screamed to wake everyone up”. She said in just one breath and so fast that even the inspector raised his eyebrows. Our warden’s eyes turned to Slits. There was going to be lots of questions to be answered tonight. The inspector didn’t probe further; he commended our bravery and took our statements.
When he left finally, we tried to leave without any further scenes, but our warden was not to let us go that easily. She held us back and sent the rest of the girls and the maids to bed.
“Since when have you girls started sitting late to study?” the warden asked us. “I did not see any light in your rooms or in your corridor, before I went to BED”
Manju and I looked at each other; our lies were not going to hold in front of this lady who had an experience of running this hostel for more than 10 years.
So I changed the route,” Sister, we lied to the inspector. We were not feeling sleepy. We were sitting by the window ledge and chatting away into the night with only the halo light of the porch outside to see each other. That is how we saw that watchman sneak inside”.
She looked at both of us unconvinced, but we knew that this made a better impact than any other story. “How many times have I told you girls not to chat away into the night, when it is BED time, go to sleep! You will never under stand the…………” her regular lecture continued for few minutes. At least the worst was over, and we didn’t mind her motherly advices and threatening to keep us disciplined. It never worked, of course!
When she was finally done, she paused for a second and then, “Well, I am thankful to God that this night you were awake, or else our precious cross and the money would have been stolen by …that fiend” She gritted her teeth as she said the last two words . And we saved your job as our hostel warden, I added to myself.
“Well, off to bed, both of you,” and then she remembered the others. ”Where are the other three? I have never seen you separated! “
“Uh! They were not with us sister”, I covered up,” they were sleeping and came down with others when we screamed”
“. Oh! I don’t remember seeing them” She thought hard for a minute and then let go “Well, ok then, Good Night…” She turned to leave.
“Sister…” Manju suddenly shouted. Sister stopped and looked at her, surprised.
What now? I wondered as I turned to her. Manju was looking at our warden with wide eyes.
“Um…err…Sister…I wanted to tell you that….err…” she was stuttering. Sister was confused , so was I.
What was up with her, I wondered, but moved to her side and stood facing our warden, ready to back up whatever Manju was trying to do.
Then it clicked….
It felt like my heart had just shot up my throat. I felt the panic on my face and struggled to rearrange my expression to polite interest. It was hard to keep my eyes from wandering away from the sister’s face to the drama behind her. Three girls were sneaking in ; two of whom were supporting the third and slowly tiptoeing across our common room and up the stairs leading to our rooms.
“Sister, what I wanted to say was that” Manju continued with her nonsense jibber jabber. It made no sense to me or the sister at this point but her stories were always convincing and her persuasive reasoning was hard to resist. “Our old watchman, he was not so bad after all, it could probably be that we were not kind enough on that poor man.”
I thought Manju had lost her marbles. What was she jabbering on about?
“After all, he was a very fatherly and honest man (he used to let us out for money). His only problem was that he could not resist drinks. If he could be warned and given one more chance and…….” She rambled on.
It would have been rather hilarious, if we had not been so tensed. Manju was animated in her attempt at trying to keep our sister engaged, with actions and unbelievable expressions. Behind our notorious warden, three rule breakers sneaking back from their greatest adventure.
I was counting seconds and keeping my fingers crossed as Manju kept going on and on. She had the warden’s complete attention with her unusual recommendation for our old watchman. The trio were now half way up the stairs and the moment the last pal disappeared, she stopped talking, abruptly. My heart nearly stopped. The Sister was too deep into her thoughts to notice. She stood stewing over Manju’s words. When she did not respond for few moments, Manju slowly asked, “Eh, Sister, shall we leave, we are feeling rather sleepy” She then enacted a loud yawn.
“Ok, Go ahead, and yes I think you are right, we should give our old watchman another chance” she said, and turned around and walked slowly to her lair. She didn’t see us doing a silent victory dance all the way to our rooms.
It was a night of celebration. Though we nearly massacred Dhanya, Sara and Tina for keeping us on fire for few minutes, we had to excuse them as our unexpected blood curling scream had shocked the nerves out of Tina. She collapsed right there in our hideout twisting her ankle in process. They barely made it to the hostel in the gap after the police left with the thief and the maids closed the gates, again.
Some nights are never to be forgotten, and this was one of them. We spent the rest of the night retelling and reminiscing each moment. For the first time, we knelt down with Dhanya and thanked the God for saving us and we kept true to our promise…
NEVER AGAIN… Did we sneak out for the rest of our wonder years J
Lost… Are we? – Part 2
Incase you have not read the previous part, find out what happened so far by clicking HERE
“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;”
They stood at the entrance of the building; the same group, at whom I had screamed at in the morning. I felt as cold as ice.
Would they try taking revenge for the day’s episode?
I looked around and saw the professor locking the gates of the building. I hurried to him.
“Sir, could you please give me a lift, till the entrance of the college, please? I can find a rickshaw from there”
He looked perplexed at me, “But I stay in this building… And I don’t have any vehicle here at the moment”.
The group was watching us, so I jumped to the next option. “In that case, would you be able to make a call for a taxi/rickshaw please…”
“Sorry dear, the rickshaw stand at the entrance does not operate this late in the evening and taxi stand is far out in the city….” Then he looked behind me at the boys and continued, “But, I am sure these boys will be able to give you a lift.” He then proceeded to call the group I was avoiding. “Boys, please give this lady…”
“It’s ok, Sir..” I interrupted, “I am sure I will be able to find my way out myself”.
I turned and started walking towards the dark road leading to the exit.
For few minutes, I stumbled across the dimly lit road, bordered with heavy forest of trees, praying that I can make it home safely. I heard the roar of motorbikes behind me. I started walking faster. As the sounds of bikes neared, I shivered.
They crossed me one by one, each of the bikers turning to look at my face. I could not judge their expression in the darkness, besides I concentrated on not falling in the uneven road and kept my expression neutral. It would not do good to show them how terrified I was.
As the last one disappeared into the darkness, I relaxed a bit. After all, as someone said, there is nothing more dangerous to man, than man himself. Now, I only had to worry about somehow making it to the entrance, where I hoped for some sort of transportation.
Again, I heard the sound of a motor bike, this time it was from the direction I was heading. Were they coming back? I got worried. I saw the leader, alone on his bike. He circled around me, once, and stopped in front of me… forcing me to stop in my tracks.
“Lady, this way is not safe for you to go hiking at this hour. These surrounding forests are infested with all kinds of creatures, especially slithering ones. We really don’t feed them enough to ensure that they leave our guests unharmed...” a small smile playing up on his lips as he saw me looking around carefully.
I did not respond, or return his smile. I was not sure what his intentions were, although he seemed to be speaking the truth about the forests.
He continued,” I am a part of this host college and it is my responsibility to ensure that our guests are well cared for. If anything happens to you, I will also be a part of the blame. So please, allow me to do my duty and give you a lift your accommodation.”
He sounded so polite and decent, so unlike the impression I had this morning or few minutes back. Should I accept his help? Will he take advantage? I looked at him doubtfully. Did I have any other option?
His smile became more pronounced, “Listen, this is a bike and I am the rider, there isn’t much trouble I can do, with you sitting behind me. So get any wrong intuitions out of your system and climb on. Besides, I’m late… my mom gets worried if I reach home late. ”
I had to smile at that point, “Mama’s boy” I said as I let my guard down for a second. Slowly I walked around to sit behind him.
“This is the second time that you have mentioned her, today.”
“Oh! So you do have a sense of humour! I thought you were the most serious person I have ever met in this life” He said laughing again as I sat behind him.
“I was planning to tell my sis, that I have finally met a woman would never laugh at my jokes…”. He revved his bike and we rode out into the night.
It was good that he came back for me; else I would have been lost for sure. The road to the entrance was longer than I assumed, with many diversions and halfway through, the street lights were not working. Hence, we were riding a bumpy road in pitch black darkness with only the headlamp of the bike showing the way. But strangely, I was no longer afraid. He was into non stop chatter, with little response on my part. He went on about everything, his family, his friends, the description of his college and crowd and minutes just flew by.
“Where are your friends?”, I asked as we finally crossed the college gates.
“I sent them away”, he replied, “in case you thought we were planning a group kidnap or assault!” He laughed, and I joined in.
In this way we went through the closing streets of the town. In the short drive to my destination, I saw the night life of the huge town thought his eyes, heard some funny stories of the road side vendors, rickshaw drivers and so on. Before I knew, I was enjoying the evening thoroughly.
It was when we reached the women’s hostel, where our college group was provided accommodation that I realised that I never actually told him where I wanted to go. Surprised, I got down from the bike and turned to him with a question, “How did you know where I am staying?”
He smiled sheepishly, “Well, as I said, being a part of the host college, we have to ensure the whereabouts and comforts of our guests’ right?”
Understanding the implication, I replied laughing, “ Or rather the comforts of the guests from the girls’ college, right? Very impressive” I teased him. And then a little softly, I added, “I am sorry about today morning. I kind of took out all my frustration on you guys ….”
“Please don’t, we kind of deserved it” He said, “I came to know only later that, she din’t perform, because of us”. He shook his head.
“It is all a part and parcel of such events, so… forget it” I consoled. “Besides you kind of made up for it right now, by bringing her friend back safely.”
“Oh really?”, he said with a wide grin, “I was hoping you would ask me to come inside and ask her forgiveness”. We both stood there laughing and continued for few more minutes pulling each others legs.
And then wishing each other good night, he watched me till I reached the lighted entrance of the hostel, and rode off into the dark night. It was then that I realised, despite chatting non-stop for almost half an hour, he never mentioned his name or other particulars, and I never introduced myself either.
No one in the hostel had noticed my absence; it is like that during festivals. After the first day’s events and competitions, the whole night was spent with the preparations for the next day. We hardly found time to sleep and freshen up. That night I thanked God for the beautiful turn of events and smiled myself to sleep.
During the next two days of festival, I met him many times. He would be seated with his friends and would wave and smile at me as I passed. The gesture was always returned by me. Sometimes, he would pop up totally unexpected from behind me, to chat away for few minutes of our free time. He would only pick times when I was alone, to give me company. We would talk of upcoming events or past disaster performances. I enjoyed listening to his punch lines and funny comments about anyone who caught our attention. Time flew in this manner. I used to be so caught up in his expressions that I never used to realise till much later that I had forgotten to enquire his name yet again.
The Day of Grand Finale arrived, the results were announced and we rejoiced in our overall Trophy for the highest number of medals. As my team celebrated and prepared to leave for our home town, I searched for him everywhere. I turned at every sound of motorbikes, or loud laughter, hoping to see him somewhere smiling. But, when our College Bus started on our return journey, I was left with a heavy heart for not having an opportunity to thank the ‘merely player’, who made that Youth Festival, the most memorable in my College Life…
Lost… Are we?
“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;”
Quote from Shakespeare’s ‘As you like it’..
If the entire ‘world is a stage’ and the stage is our life, ‘merely players’, who come into our life play their part in making a difference to our lives and leave memories either good or bad before exiting into oblivion once their part is done.
Everyone might have a player who left behind some memories….just like the one that I want to share with you.
Lost… Are We?
Youth festival is the season of fun, colour and cultural extravaganza in the life of every college student. Our University Youth Festival used to take us across the state to various colleges to compete in all forms of Arts, music and theatre competitions. It was period of high emotional dramas. Tempers rose high, tears flowed, and laughter echoed in the front and back stage. All who were present were ready to entertain and to be entertained. I loved being a part of College team, not on stage, but behind the stage as a college representatives or as we called it then, ‘Team Leaders’. Our job was to lead each set of performers to the venue and make all required arrangements, including paper works.
At one such festival venue, the stage and dressing room were in two different buildings and it was a 2 minute walk across an open pathway to reach each place. I was leading our team of Kathak dancers from the changing room when, halfway through; one of our participant’s costumes became undone on one side. There was no reason to fret; only another few more minutes of readjustment and the girl could have performed without a hitch. But as fate may have it, a group of boys seated on their Motorbikes nearby burst out laughing, passed rude and embarrassing remarks that were loud enough for other guests and participants in the area to notice the mishap. The poor girl ran back to the room crying and refused to come out for her performance. No matter how hard we all tried, she would not calm down. The rest of the dancers had to do perform without her, resulting in our perfect group dance number to receive no medals. Of course, when the blame was passed around, I had a finger pointed at me for not ensuring… ‘God only knows what!?’.
The whole evening, we drowned ourselves in disappointment at the outcome. A huge amount of money, efforts and patience was spent at perfecting the competition item. If anything went wrong, there were lot of answers and even more questions that got thrown around. But, the Show must go on. I continued with my assigned duties.
The next day, at a different venue, I was standing with another couple of contestants for their turn , when I heard some more snide remarks from behind us. When I looked around, I noticed that it was the same set of boys, who caused all the trouble the previous day. I was not yet over the previous day’s foul mood and seeing them again got me fuming all over. I was worried. If their comments discouraged our already tensed participants, I was going to be in big trouble. I glared at the boys.One of them, a tall dark broad built guy, who looked like their leader responded…
“OOO…the body guard lady is going to beat us up….I’m scared…mummyyyy”….. A roar of laughter erupted from the group. That was it… I lost my temper.
“Oh yes I would!! If you boys think you are being heroic by teasing us, then you do need some good spanking……”£$ %&*?@>”
I don’t remember what I said after that point. But I do know that once I got my entire anger out of my system, the whole hallway of the venue was quiet. The Chest number of our college was called and the contestants went in. I turned away from everyone and stood facing the ground outside. For the entire event, I stood like that, trying to control the tears that were threatening to ruin my tough performance. It was very rare that I lost my temper, but when I did, it would end in tears.
Thankfully by the time the participants came out, the boys had left, sparing me another round of whatever would have followed. The day went ahead uneventfully. Lucky for me, my performance was not publicized, so I was spared from the wrath of our convent sisters.
In the evening, the Clay modelling competition had only one participant from our college. The venue was in the lab building of another area. It was in the far out corner of the huge Campus which spread out in about 3 acres of forest woods and the buildings were spaced out by a few Kilometres to each other. It was not possible to walk from the main building/venue to the lab building, where the competition was kept. We were dropped off by the college van. The van had to leave for commuting other contestants from various other venues, and we hoped to catch a lift from the host college representatives. The competition was scheduled for 3.00pm in the afternoon, and we hoped to leave by 5.00pm. However, the event got delayed by nearly two hours. The contestant’s father was present with his scooter to take her away as soon as the event was over. Clay modelling was a messy affair and she was almost half covered in mud and clay. I was not worried as there were plenty of people at the venue and a painting competition still in progress. It would be easy to catch a ride to the main gate. I went up to the top floor to finish the closing paper works, as was my responsibility. There was a queue to wait out. I was the last to finish the paper work. Since, it was nearly 30 minute ride back to our accommodations; I stopped to use the wash room.
When I came down the building, the area was deserted and it was quite late, almost 7.30pm. The street lights were spaced far out barely showing the way out. It looked eerie. I tried to call a friend from my mobile; there was no range in the area. I cursed myself for not having sent a message with the contestant itself. I was wondering on what I should do, when I heard footsteps behind me. I turned around, thanking my stars for having someone else around and then I froze…
“Well, well…..Lost … Are we? He smiled. My heart sank.
To be continued……..
The clock was ticking towards 2’o clock, and I was staring at the door, listening for footsteps or any sound of a car parking at our doorstep. My 8 year old son and 6 year old daughter were fast asleep. I considered waking them up, but what was the point. He had been late before, but not this late. I tried his number again… I heard the operator’s voice on the other side “The number you have dialled is currently switched off or out of range”… I cut the phone…
Earlier in the evening, I had called up his office; I was told he was attending a conference on behalf of the company in a 5 star hotel. When he didn’t come home till 9.00 in the evening, I picked out the hotel number from yellow pages and called in to enquire if the conference was over. It was over at 8pm itself… Where is he?
I started pacing. I tried not to panic, but try as I may, I could not keep out horrible thoughts from coming into my mind. Car crashes were so common…Some drunken driver…or unruly youths in fast cars… it may not even be his fault. Should I call the police and enquire, No, I am getting simply hyper. I should just be little more patient.
I am not usually this hyper. I am used to his work schedules. It has been 10 years since our marriage, and he has always been home, sharp at dinner time. He did not like being disturbed at work, I called only when he was not home by dinner time.
Ten years, sound like a really long time, but these years just passed in sheer bliss. Ours was a typical arranged marriage. I was 22, working and independent. During my youth, I wanted a love marriage, or at least marry some one I knew. How do you live with a person you met for few minutes? How do you decide who is the right? Does asking a few typical questions that came to mind at that insane second help you to judge?
I argued, day and night with my parents and the elders. The only reply I got ” You will know my child, when you meet the rite person” Yeah, Right!! … Kuch kuch hota hai version … typical….. So, I waited. And prayed for the Cupid to strike me and say here is THE ONE!!
After a zillion Proposals, fashion parades in saris and tea trays, his proposal came.
I still remember the day, coz it was so funny. I was at a good friends’ place, with plans to spend the day out till late evening. Her marriage was already on the cards and she wanted a spinster party. We decided on a Girls day out, I was excited. As we were about to step out of her place, my parents called up. They wanted me home immediately. A new proposal had come; the boy worked outside and was travelling today, his family wished him to see me before he went. They were already on their way. I tried to argue, but failed immediately. Irritated to the core at the inconvenience caused and postponed the party plans, I travelled back home on my scooty. I had to drop off another friend at her place. I was purposely riding slowly to delay my arrival. Who wanted to parade in front of another family, I was so sure that even this was not going to work. I had to comply with my family’s wishes.
I reached my friends place, and we stood outside chatting. After few minutes a Red Maruti Suzuki stopped beside me, the tinted window by the driver’s side rolled down with a good looking chap looking perplexed.
“Excuse me ladies, could any of you tell me where the 37th street is?
“Sure”, my friend volunteered, “go straight, take the 2nd left, then the next right and then left… and then third right.”
The guy looked at her as though she had just spoken Latin, I giggled, and chided my friend,” You might as well have told him to go around entire colony till he finds the 37th street, stupid…” I could hear laughter from inside the car. The car was full of people; I caught a few faces looking out through the dark panes.
Deciding to be the Good Samaritan, I volunteered “Boss, I am headed in that direction, why you don’t just follow me.”
He smiled and nodded” Thanks, that would be really great!”
”Bye, see ya later, got to get ready for the moron who is coming to see my fashion parade” I said as my friend wished me luck. I zoomed off in my bike making sure that the car followed me. I rode carefully keeping them in sight. On the way, I waved to my neighbour aunty, called out to the kids playing cricket and responded to snide remarks from the local youths. When I reached the mouth the 37thstreet, I stopped. The car stopped beside me. ” The 37th street begins here” I said as I waved at a grandpa next door. The driver thanked me before I shrugged and moved on.
My house was the last one at the corner of the street, just before the beginning of the next street. My mom was waiting at the entrance, all red faced and fuming. I ignored her and casually parked my bike, humming a tune. “DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA, HOW MUCH TRAUMA I WAS GOING THROUGH TILL NOW. DO YOU WANT ME TO GROUND YOU TILL YOUR WEDDING?!”. “ Sure, sure… if you want me stay single for the rest of my life” I responded.
“Go inside and get ready, FAST! They will be here any minute now!” She muttered as usual, under her breath, “This girl is becoming more and more unmanageable by the day; I don’t know what she will do in another house….”
Her qualms will never end, I sighed. When I was in diapers, she was worried how I will fare in school, when I was finishing school, she worried on how I will fare in college, then it was how I will do in my work and now this… her worries just got bigger and bigger.
So, I locked myself up in my room and relaxed in my bed. Barely a minute had passed, when my mom softly knocked on my door, “Are you done, they are already here”. I jumped up from the bed shocked,” What, already?!”
“Yes, come out fast” she hissed. I hurried through my lipstick. There was no point in changing. What they see, is what they get! In less than five minutes, she was rapping on the door again.” Coming mommmm!” I said taking deep breaths trying to calm myself.
As I entered the hall, I froze, and then nearly ran back to my room. Seated there was the Direction Guy with the same people who looked out of the car. I stared; I had called him “A Moron”. He looked surprised and then amused at my discomfort. A small smile was playing up at his lips and one of his eyebrows arched up. Why didn’t the earth just open up and swallow me alive!! I was surely a worth candidate for it!!
I stood rooted to the spot; I had gone red in face and could feel my heartbeat race. I looked around once and then stared firmly at the floor. His family looked amused. His younger brother, who looked like a school goer, was grinning from ear to ear. My dad was surprised at the sudden change in atmosphere. Something was amiss. Everyone was smiling, like they were sharing a secret that he was not in on. He slowly asked, “Err, are we missing something?”
His father, whom I had seen sitting next to him in the car replied, “No, it is just that, we had met your daughter on the way here. She had so generously showed us the way. Since we had not seen pictures of her, we didn’t recognise her”
My Mother looked like she would faint; I was wearing one of my most fashionable attires, tight jeans and a cute top with deep neck and body length that stayed above my waist. I was all dressed up to freak out with my friends in city hangouts. Decent for me, indecent for my family. The boy’s family had seen me in that! This proposal was already being disposed or written off already in her mind. Poor mother. I was waiting for her to swoon.
I continued to stare at the floor; unable to look at anyone in the face, there was going to be hell and more to pay for this after these people left. The dressing sense was surely considered moot by the old folks. Good bye freedom!
Small conversations continued between our families. I could feel heavy stares directed at me, but I continued to stare at the floor, still red at face. Nobody asked me anything, so I tried to calm myself instead. Its ok, it ok, relax, relax…I chanted in my mind. I was about to finally relax for a second before my father asked, “So if your son and my daughter would like to speak privately, they could move to another room”. NO!!! I screamed silently. I silently led the way to another room. My heart began to beat in double speed and my face was all red again. There was absolute silence for few minutes; I was again trying to calm myself. I could not look up to his face and I could feel him staring up at mine. He was probably waiting for me to speak; I didn’t know what to say. I was trying to think of someway to start a conversation. But I could not remember any questions that I had used on my suitors before.
Finally, I conjured up enough courage to look up at his face and ask something. His expression stopped me short, it was not amused. I was rewarded with an understanding smile, like that of a mature man who looked on at the attics of a mischievous child. He took a deep breath, “I am a person, whose career and ambition keeps him out of the house and on his toes all day. I love my family and love to spend every possible moment with them. It is difficult for my parents to understand my passion and it is difficult to live with me without understanding my freedom. But an independent person like you … would probably understand my life style. Do you think you can handle me… as a life partner??”
The clock struck 2 am, waking me up from my reverie. I went to window looking down at the empty street below. Few cars passed at this hour. I tried his number again, no response.
It is good thing tomorrow is a weekend, at least I don’t have to go for work, else I would be yawning away in office. He never encouraged me to stay awake like this. He would always say “Please don’t play typical orthodox wife. Eat when you are hungry and sleep on time. My work spoils my health; I don’t want your health also to be spoiled. So whenever I am late, I will manage my own dinner and will sleep when I am done. You don’t have to stay awake for me”.
If only he could call and tell me how late he is going to be, I would have relaxed a bit. Initial days of marriage had been as difficult as he had warned me on the day he came to see me. We had shifted to the place where he worked. He tried his level best to reach home on time and spend some quality time with me. Everyday was a new revelation for both of us. Each day we learnt something new about each other. Some good things and then some bad. After all, no one is perfect. I found myself a job thereafter, and then it became easier. I spent majority of the time in office and when I reached home, I would finish off housework, before he reached home. And when he came, we would sit chatting away, for hours till midnight, relating each other’s office experience and problems. He was a person with whom I could share anything, and I found his experiences fascinating.
I have heard of friends becoming life partners, but for me my life partner became my best friend.
We were gifted with a son and then a daughter. Life was perfect, with a few fights and arguments over the order in the house and cleanliness. Some days were even more difficult than others. I had good job and money was getting good. Days became shorter to get all the work done and chores got bigger and worse. I would return after a tough day at work to find broken vases, dirty clothes strewn on the floor and a relieved maid hurrying to leave the house. I wouldn’t have enough time to finish the children’s homework and cook a special dinner before he reached home. By the time he was home, he would be even more tired than me and finding our house in a mess would initiate cribbing, “Is this house a garbage dump or what?” “What is all of THIS?” he would bellow. His temper was really explosive.
He would then throw whatever he would find into the nearest garbage bin, while we would be running around to pick and save valuables from under the sofa or behind the curtains. If spotted during the cleaning parade, they would be lost forever. When the temper had ridden its course, he would inevitably retreat into the bedroom. We would noiselessly retrieve all valuables from the dustbin and arrange it neatly in proper places.
Dinner was always on time. Two things that I learnt foremost about him were that he wanted a clean house and a hot dinner ready when he reached home. Absence of any would ensure a lost temper. When he was fully fed and satisfied, he would be his good jolly self. Best friend for the children and a romantic partner for me. It was always fun to watch him playing with our children, he was closer to them than me. They would sit and relate all school stories for the umpteenth time and he will listen patiently. Some days, when I am exhausted with work, I would doze off in the living room itself only to find out that he had put the children to sleep and carried me to off to bed.
I missed him when he was not there. Our home felt empty when he went for his business trips? Even the kids would be gloomy when dada was not home. He tried not to be away from us for long. I couldn’t understand what was keeping him today. Was he hurt? Should I call the police? Did I miss a call? I debated mentally
The phone rang…I jumped to pick it up…”Hello? ” a male voice spoke on the other side.” Hello, Madam, I am calling in from the traffic Police. Is Car kl-4-25368 your husband’s car? “.. My heart stopped beating” Yes”, I whispered. “Your husband had an accident…..”.”Nooooooo”
I woke up with a start…. It was 2.30am. I had dozed off on the sofa; it was only a dream… I was sweating.
I heard the door close behind me. I turned slowly. My husband was standing at the door, with his coat and tie and suitcase in his hand. One minute we stood staring at each other and then I ran to him headlong nearly knocking him on the floor. “YOU MORON….WHY IS YOUR PHONE SWITCHED OFF…WHY DIDN’T YOU CALL ME IF YOU WERE GOING TO BE LATE…WHY ARE YOU SO LATE?! YOU DON’T EVEN CARE !! SOMEONE LIKE ME IS WAITING FOR YOU AT HOME…”I rated as relief set in and tears poured out.
“Shh…shhh…sorry, sorry…My phone went dead in the afternoon, no battery, I forgot my charger in office when I went for the conference and on my way back, my car broke down….at a deserted place…..no place where I could call you… had to wait for 3 hours before I found someone for me lift…. so sorry… I didn’t realise you would be waiting for me….sorry love….” He pacified me….I was crying heavily into his shirt, but we stood there like that for few minutes…till we heard my son call out…” Dada…Mom…Where are you…” all my screaming had woken up the kids …
“Rite here baby” their dad called back…and he pulled me slowly into the room with him into the little perfect part of our wonderful Life…