“Arindam – what are you waiting here for” – Anushka asked.
I used to be a shy,introverted, ever-confused person in my childhood. As a child, I would struggle to speak with people, make any conversations, shy away from visiting father’s friends. I spent my early years in a small town called Sindri (now part of Jharkhand, India). Like any other small town, everyone was conservative – very conservative. While families did interact with each other, kids like us would be kept on a tight leash – no roaming around after school, no eating from the roadside kirana shop – and yes – absolutely no girlfriends!
Life changed when my father moved to Delhi, the capital of India in the early 90s. As shy introverted thirteen year old from Sindri who landed up in a metropolis – Delhi, everyone in school- seemed far… far better than me. They spoke fluent English, cracked witty remarks, thought like I could never do – and responded to the teacher’s questions with élan.
The toughest subject for me was Hindi (The Indian national language). I spoke Bengali (another Indian language), and I had Bengali as my language subject in Sindri, where I lived earlier. Hindi was a very tough subject for me. The learned “pundits” from yester-years had spoken (or written – I am not sure) few words of immense wisdom – usually not more than 2-4 sentences. Our Hindi teacher, a very learned man himself, would spend almost two hours explaining the tatparya (or meaning) of Surdas / KabirDas ke dohe (the sentences of wisdom by the learned pundits). We would have frequent tests asking us to do Vakhya (or explaination) of these “Words of wisdom”. The key to passing the exams would be to ensure that you took notes in class, and were able to articulate them well in the exams.
Around September, we had to make an urgent visit to my hometown since my grand dad got ill. When I came back, I had to somehow get the Hindi notes from my friends. Strangely, in those days in Delhi – some of the better note takers – who invariably got better marks – suffered from the “Negative competition” syndrome. They thought that if they shared their notes with someone – that fellow may read and get better grades – which was completely unacceptable to my esteemed colleagues.
The only person who could help – in my mind – was Anushka(name changed)….
Awesome Anushka – as most of us called her – was brilliant in Hindi – well she was brilliant in all other subjects as well. She was sharp, intelligent, asked the right questions in class and the teachers were all “gaga” about the quality of her “homework” and “classwork”. She also was known to be very helpful.
You may think that she was nerdy – the thick glasses, the toothy smile, the plump girl in class. Well, she was far from it. She was beautiful – as beautiful as a girl can be as she steps into her teens – Beautiful eyes, lovely curly hair and the near perfect body. In the class of 40 guys, all 40 of them were “lattooo” (or bowled over) by her charm. If God had intended to combine beauty and brains into one being – it was Anushka.
I don’t think I had ever spoken to her in that semester. I was shy enough opening my mouth in front of the “super smart” boys – so talking to Anushka was a distant reality! But I was faced with a predicament – I had to get Hindi notes. Any other subject, I would have survived – but not Hindi! After lot of deliberation, I finally decided to tread over fire…. I decided to request Anushka to lend me the Hindi notes.
It was Friday afternoon. All the classes were over, and we were packing our bags to get to the school bus. Anushka was almost always one of the last few to go out of the class. I packed and waited, near the class exit. She packed, looked around one last time to check if she had not left anything on her desk, turned and started coming to the exit.
I looked at her coming towards me. Such beauty, such elegance, such confidence! I wondered how she handled all the attention – all the guys drooling over her. I am sure she would get a million calls a day.. Does she have a boyfriend? Not that I cared – she was… well.. Too good for me – the “shy, can’t speak, can’t express hopeless romantic”. Was it a sin to be a hopeless romantic? Would girls think of folks like me as “not manly enough”?
The sweet voice of Anushka shook me out of my daydream..
Anushka: Arindam – what are you waiting here for?
ME: I..errr… well.. Nothing really! I was.. Well.. U know.. Waiting to speak with you.
Anushka: (surprised.. I am sure she would have had her share of guys wanting to speak with her) Really!! What’s it about, Ari!
I looked at her – in front of me. The surprised look on her face – the eyebrows slightly raised, yet she was ever-smiling. What a beautiful smile she had – radiant and warm! I wish I can someday get out of my shyness and speak to her – properly. By the way, what was I really wanting to tell her.. What was it?
In her eyes and smile and the daydream, I had forgotten what I was standing there to tell her!
Anushka : Ari.. Are you ok?
ME: Yeah, yeah… can you meet me BENEATH the stairs please?
I ran off.. Feeling ashamed at myself. What did Anushka think? A useless fellow, a hopeless romantic, a good for nothing guy who could not even speak one sentence properly. And what a stupid sentence I uttered in the end – meet me downstairs!! That was like a statement you made when you wanted to tell something private to a girl.. PRIVATE!! Jeez! At thirteen, what would you want to tell a girl that’s private. Was my sentence indecent – asking her to meet me near the stairs? Oh.. I said BENEATH the stairs.. Who asks a girl to meet beneath the stairs.. That’s shady! Will she complain to the class teacher?
Good lord! What have I done?
I stood quietly near the stairs, thinking. I did not realize when Anushka came alongside.
She smiled, gave me a comforting pat on the back and said – “Ari – tell me – what is it?”
Girls have no idea what their touch means to a boy. A casual comforting touch even! My brain had frozen, and whatever grey matter within was trying to figure out what sense to make of her “comforting pat”.
ME: I.. Well.. I was wondering if you could.. I mean, you would..
Anushka : Yes.. Yes.. Go on!
ME: I mean.. I missed.. You know..
Anushka: (Gives me the go on and say it look)
ME: Well.. I mean.. I missed few classes last couple.. Of weeks.. You know, so can you share your Hindi notes… you know.. With me.. Please?
Anushka burst out laughing. She took out the Hindi notes from her bag..
Anushka: Ari, here, take the notes, and hey.. Take a chill pill, dear! And hey! Don’t let those morons in class put you down. They just talk too much, and DO nothing. I hate them. You are VERY good, and you know it! Believe in yourself.. ok?
ME: Yeah.. (letting out a weak smile… and a sigh of relief)
Anushka patted me again, and walked away towards the school bus.
I stood where I was, still in a daze! Awesome Anushka had bowled me over – her beauty, warmth, her smile and her candidness. I hoped that I can be friends with her – somehow, someday.
Little did I know of things to come….