The 24 hour time display of my Samsung Corby assured me that ‘Malabar Express’ would arrive at the Kottayam Railway station any minute. With quick, hard touches, I opened the message inbox for the fourteenth time in the last twenty minutes. The last message I received was the one wishing me Good night. A classmate of mine had sent it half an hour ago. He knew I was going home, which happens to be at Thrissur, and that I was boarding the late night train as I missed 5.30’s Chennai Mail. Yet, he wished me a ‘good’ night. And, I had obliged him with a curt thanks. But, I checked and rechecked my inbox not to estimate the sincerity of his message. In fact, I have been eagerly waiting for another SMS from another of my classmates. To be more precise, from one of my girl classmates (is there such a usage like ‘girl classmate’? I don’t know. But I don’t care because there are things of more value of which I have no knowledge). I have been waiting for her message for the last two weeks, but it simply did not come.
‘Attention please: train no.6629 Malabar Express from Trivandrum to Mangalore via Kottayam is arriving on platform No.1’
The railway announcement brought me back. I collected my bags, and approached a nearby stall.
‘Tea or coffee, sir?” the boy asked.
“Could I get a Mirinda?”
“We sell only tea and coffee, sir. And the cool bar is already closed. The demand for colas is down in these rainy months, especially at cold nights” he said.
The words ‘cold night’ raised my temper. The external chill did not touch me Inside, I was melting. It has been so for the last few days. I think I knew why.
The train announced its entry with a loud, long whistle. Instantly, I turned my head. The sight of a moving train makes me sick. As it slowed down, I gradually opened my eyes. As expected, the seats were full in most compartments. But, I did not worry as I had a sleeper ticket.
I picked my two bags, and walked towards the door. A middle aged couple was alighting, and I waited. Boarding a train is not that easy, especially if you have heavy bags in each of your hands and there is none to lend you a hand. Anyway, I managed, and started walking to my seat number.
Most of my co-passengers were already fast asleep and the lights were turned off. After some initial hiccups, I found my seat. Fortunately, the middle birth had not been occupied; else it would have been difficult for me to sit down straight.
I kept my baggage beneath my seat, and prepared to lay down when a message knocked at my inbox. In a second, I opened it. To my disappointment, it was a facebook notification telling me that somebody had liked my latest status. At least someone liked what I said. I felt good. But, the message did not come. And, I am waiting for it.
‘Or should I?’ I was confused. If the message did not come for me, should I send her one instead? I did not know. Someone had to do. I touched open the create message tab from the menu, and started typing some pre rehearsed lines.
“How can you do it? My mind kept asking me. She had to start, and then I could reply…
I deleted whatever I had typed, and put the phone in my shirt pocket. I closed my eyelids and waited patiently for sleep to conquer me.
Fifteen minutes later, I knew that even sleep did not bother about my existence. I got up, and with my emotional mind conquering the practical one, checked my inbox one more time. No new messages.
Quietly, I turned on the lamp and took out Chetan Bhagat’s ‘One night at the call center’ from my bag. I had just started the novel today after noon. I stopped as I encountered a line in page 25. It went as follows, ‘It is strange, but ever since we broke up, I find it difficult to talk to her. Even though I must think of her thirty times a day…’
I stopped reading and started thinking. How could authors always hit the bull’s eye when it comes to human sentiments? May be its just that the protagonist change, the situation change or the language change, but the theme remains, as I was about to resume reading, a voice from above addressed me.
”Don’t you know it’s past eleven? Switch off the lights”.
I looked up, but did not see the person. From the voice I could tell the person is not a guy. A lady, apparently in her 20s…
“Er... Sorry. Actually I did not feel like sleeping. So I thought I would read. Does the light disturb you? You got the upper berth right?’’ I replied.
“Am I the only one sleeping here? Do others have to suffer due to your insomnia? And you have been acting very restless! Why did you not send that message after typing?’’
“What? How do you know that?” I was startled.
“You know what! Me got a pair of eyes. When I look down, I see things.” The voice replied candidly.
I was surprised to hear that somebody, and that a girl, was watching my actions for last hour or so.
“Why do you care? Please do not disturb me. I am having a rough night, a rough fortnight exactly. Here, I am turning off the lights. Go and sleep.’’
And I turned off the lights. She did not reply. Left with no alternatives, I quietly closed my eyes and waited. But, I just could not sleep. I tossed side to side, but each second I know I was awake. I withheld my urge to check the inbox. Minutes passed like hours.
‘‘You seem really down. Could we talk a bit?’’ the voice re-surfaced.
“Who are you? What do you want? Leave me alone’’ I was too exhausted to spark off a conversation.
‘‘Come on. Actually I too don’t feel like sleeping. We could just chat. You know sharing sorrows would halve them.’’
‘‘It’s of no use. You cannot change anything. And, in fact I deserve this. I brought this plight up on myself.’’
I waited for two minutes, but she did not reply. Probably she was testing me. Something from within urged me to go on.
‘‘Are you listening?’’ I inquired.
‘‘I am all ears. Continue’’.
“Well. I am Muhammed Anwar, a second year B.Tech student of Electronics Communication department of the Govt. Engineering College, Kottayam. All was fine until our juniors joined the college, a month ago.’’
I paused. I was not sure if to tell the rest of the story of my life or not.
"Pray continue’’ she pressurized me.
“Yeah. It’s my nature to befriend others rather quickly. You would see more than 500 friends in my Facebook profile, but I swear I have not seen half of them.”
“Don’t talk in circles. Come to the point.” The voice interpreted me.
“One day, while I was on my way to the college office for a scholarship issue, I saw two of my friends bullying a junior girl. She was almost in tears”.
“Was she beautiful?”
“Cannot say she is beautiful. But not bad either. Average, let us say. Anyway I could not bear that sight. I went towards them, and taking cue from the look on my face, my classmates quietly withdrew. That is how we met each other. She thanked me profusely, for I was her savior. Our friendship grew”.
I kept quiet for a minute. A small lump had found in my throat, and I waited for the ‘clear’ signal.
“Tell me more about the girl.” He voice said.
“Hm. Her name is Ashley, Ashley Thomas. And she is from the Civil Engg. Department."
“A Christian?” the voice asked with a fright, as if I had just announced that I was the master mind of the 26/11 Mumbai blast case.
“Yeah.” I continued, “Native of Kottarakkara, Kollam. We began meeting regularly at the college canteen, reading room or near football ground. The more I talked to her, the more I was drawn to her personality. Her vision about life, human relations and almost everything enchanted me. To put it simply, I began to feel whatever Aamir Khan described about love in 3 Idiots. And...”
“And one fine day, I poured out my heart to her.”
“Just like that? It was a bit quick right?”
“Like what?” I was disgusted. “Excuse me I did not know there was a time table to express one’s feelings.”
“Oh! I did not mean to offend you. Tell me what happened then?”
“She was shocked to hear all that, and tears started flooding her eyes. I could not bear the sight, and I walked away. Since then, there has not been any communication between us. It has been two weeks.”
A dreadful silence engulfed as my voice had gone down while explaining those hard moments. Neither of us spoke for a while.
“So…what next?" She asked.
“I don’t know. Maybe I could convince her.”
“Then what? I could marry her and live happily.”
“Do you think it is that easy?” she pressed.
I was not sure what to say.
“I don’t know”. I replied.
“Do not tell me you don’t know. It is your life.”
That is what puzzles me, it is my life. Why should she interfere? Yet I wanted the chat to go on.
“Well, it is not that easy.” I admitted.
“I have to show her my sincerity right. But, for that the conversation must resume. Right now I don’t have the guts to face her. A message /call is easy, but how can I send her one? She has to send me one first.”
“But, what about your family, your parents, would they agree?”
“No chance.” that I was sure. I belonged to an orthodox Muslim community, and even dreaming of an inter-religion marriage was a sin.
“What would happen in the girl’s house?” the voice asked me.
“I don’t think they would agree either” my voice sank.
“Then what do you suppose to do?”
I hesitated for a while, and spoke up.
“May be we could elope, and settle somewhere happily.”
“Happily?” the voice continued, as if taunting me. “Your plan of deserting your own parents who brought you up these many years with such affection and lead a married life, and you think you would be happy?”
Hearing this, my temper rose. I did not want to continue with the conversation.
“Please don’t advice me! You talk like this simply because you have never been in love. True love is divine.” I retorted.
“What is love, Anwar? Does it happen only between a man and a woman? What about the love of parents to their child? Is it something less than divine?”
I was speechless. She continued, “And what if this girl Ashley had not joined your college? You would not have known her. Yet, both of you would lead parallel, happy lives right?”
I think she had a point there. If she had not taken admission in my college, how could I have known her? And then, I would not have led a gloomy life just because I had not met her. But, that was not the case. Ashley was in my college. And I know her. I was about to talk, but the voice from above continued.
“And how could you tell I have never experienced the true love, Anwar? I have experienced it, both head and tail of the love coin.”
“You did!” I was surprised. “Please tell me about it.”
“Alright. For your information, my name is Neha, a member of a high caste Hindu Brahmin family based in Thiruvananthapuram, and I work in an IT firm at Kozhikode. Well, I had my schooling from a reputed school at Pattom, Trivandrum. That’s where I encountered the foretold experience.”
“Hold on!” I said. "I too had my 10plus2 from Pattom. From Kendriya Vidyalaya”. Of course, it was a point less statement in the context, but she picked it up.
“Didn’t you tell me your home is at Thrissur?” she asked.
“Yeah. But we stayed at Pattom for two years thanks to my father’s ever transferable job. He is the General Manager of State Bank of India, now at Thrissur. Hey, leave it. Continue with your story.”
“O.K. I belong to that genre of students generally tagged as ‘bookworms’. I must admit it was true to an extent. I did not have many friends in my class. But, one of my classmates occupied a special place in my heart. I do not know why, but he always came into my dreams.”
“Did he too love you?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I never asked him.”
“What? You never? Oh! He belonged to some other caste right!”
“Worse. He was not even a Hindu. Actually he was a Muslim. The days passed and never did I mention my love towards him. Well, clock ticks as always, and I have moved on. Today, I do not feel the same kind of attachment I felt towards him years ago. In fact, I do not know what has become of him.” She continued after a pause. “What I am trying to tell you are that time heals everything. We must not be selfish in our lives. We must think of others who are close to us as well”
For a second, I did not know what to say.
“But do you think that two persons cannot marry and live together just because they happened to take birth in different communities? It’s weird, right. They say there is only one God. Yet, a man who worships God as Jesus cannot marry a woman worshiping God as Krishna. What a system is this!”
“It is how the world is.” She told me, “Its rules were laid long before our birth. I do not say it is the best pattern, but we are helpless. Can you convince the six point something billion population of the Earth to believe in a single God so that the problems of multi religions die down?”
“I would rather climb Mt.Everest that do what you said.”
“That is it. We cannot change anything overnight. It is just as it is. I am sorry for you. But, please understand and move on.”
We turned silent again. Tears knocked at my eyes. I wept. I think she is correct. The system may not be good but we don’t have a choice. I checked my watch. It was past one. The train would Thrissur shortly.
Again silence gloomed. I hate it. As of to break the silence spread, I spoke, “Yeah. I think you are not wrong, although it is all crap. Well, it was a nice time together. Thanks.”
“My pleasure. Hope to meet you again someday”. She replied.
“So what is your number?” I blurted.
I did not know why she said that wh-word then. Either she did not hear me, or she was surprised at me asking her phone number.
“I asked your cell number, Neha” I said, this time with less confidence.
“But why? Why do you need my number?”
I wished I had not asked.
“I felt it nice talking to you. You were talking sense and I thought we could maintain a good relationship” . I knew my plan A flopped.
She remained silent for a minute.
“You see I don’t give numbers to strangers. But you do one thing. Give your number instead. If I feel you could be a good friend, I would call you.” she presented her plan B.
I found her reply amusing. Even after discussing with me her first crush, something about which even her parents have no idea about, she calls me a stranger. And what‘s so special with girls’ numbers? Could boys give their number to anyone passing by? I felt the system was in real, bad shape.
Thinking so, I told her my ten digit phone number, hoping she would call some day.
It was when the train slowed down I realized that we almost reached Thrissur station. I bid her ‘bye’, ‘good night’, ‘take care’ and other cheesy words before I took my baggage and climbed out of the train. As I walked towards the exit, a bag in each hand, something kept ringing in my mind. The ‘voice’ I spoke to. It sounded strangely familiar. I just could not pin point the source…
|coutrsey: my dear sis Krishna|
My vacation a.k.a ‘sem-break’ had become one week old, and I was at the Ravikrishna Film Theater to watch Zoya Akhtar’s ‘Zindagi na Milegi Dobara’.
The movie had just begun, and I was just getting into it when all of a sudden my phone blared Delhi Belly sponsored ‘NakkadwaleyDisco..’ loudly. Yes, the ‘penchar’ song was my ringtone, ever since my heart was punctured.
Now, I hate it when I am disturbed while watching a movie. Everything else could wait when it came to movies. I just disconnected the call without caring to look at the caller’s name.
But it seemed the caller too was determined. When the song started puncturing me again, I checked who was dying to hear from me.
The phone listed the caller as ‘chinnu’, and on seeing it, I felt my heart in my mouth.
‘Chinnu’ was how I addressed Ashley. I could not believe this. I had lost hope that she would call me, but now there she was, persistently calling me even as I disconnected once. I was dying to hear from her. Even Farhan Akhtar could wait when it came to Chinnu. In a dash, I was out of the cinema hall.
“I am Ashley.”
Like hell I knew it.
“Hi! Ashley. How are the holidays?” I managed, thinking of no better start.
“And how were the exams?”
“All fine Anwar” she said.
“Nothing. I thought it was pretty long back we talked, so I just wanted to check out on you. All is well, right?”
“I am sorry, Chinnu.”
She did not say anything, but I could hear her sobs. Two gentle teardrops came all the way down to my lips. I continued,
“You know I was blind then. Now, I see light. I know it cannot happen. So let us be friends.”
And then I told her something about how the system went and how we had to abide by it although it was nonsense. She might have thought I was nuts, but anyway she was relieved it was all over. I too was relieved. The call had finally come, after waiting for twenty days. I had missed core part of the movie, but I did not care.
On my way back, my mind asked me if I was completely happy. I was not sure. Of course, I was happy Ashley had called. But, I was also waiting for another call, though not as strongly as this. I expected Neha to call me and we could be friends, just friends, mind you. So far, she had not called. But her voice still felt vaguely familiar. I was sure I had heard it before, but do not know where. And I know it certainly is not Ashley’s.
That day I woke up to the incessant ringing of my phone. Cursing the unknown caller, I picked up my phone. It was Eldo, my old buddy from school.
"Hello! Why do you disturb me so early in the morning!"
But his reply sent a chill down my spine. He told me that our classmate Athira Subramanian, had just passed away. My whole body felt numb. But my brain would simply not accept the fact that one of my classmates was no more. Not that I really cared for her while at school. She was not a great friend of mine. In fact I don’t clearly remember her face either. But I did not expect any of my friends would die this soon. Cardiac arrest was the culprit.
I put my phone aside, and logged in to my facebook account. My old mates at KV, Pattom had already started paying homage to the deceased soul. I did not know if I could click the like button. What would that mean?
Searching further, I found one of my friends had uploaded a video, featuring Athira reciting a poem in some competition at school.
I chose the play button and listened. She recited well, getting us involved too much into it. ‘Lord Ullin’s Daughter’ by P.B.Shelley was the poem. At the end of it, I knew I was ready to burst though I did not know if it was because the Scottish Lech had taken Lord Ullin’s daughter and her chieftain, or if it was because the voice who recited it was no more.
Then, it occurred to me. I know it was absurd. Yet I played the video once more. Now I was more perplexed. I don’t know why, but this voice seemed …..er, familiar. It was, obviously. But I started comparing the voice of my late classmate to that I heard in the train.
Yes it seemed strangely coincident. A thousand questions ran over me. Could it be? Could both these voices be of the same person? I tried to reason out. “Neha” was that girl’s name, so she had said. But, she just said that. She did not show me any identity card with her name. Neha worked in an IT firm in Kozhikode. Athira was a second year B.Tech student at NIT – Calicut. The common factor Kozhikode even startled me.
Besides, ‘Neha’ had just told me she worked at a firm. How could I be sure? I had not seen her face. Or was it that she did not want me to see her face? I asked for her phone number, but she instead took mine. Perhaps it was that her number already existed in my contact list, listed as ‘Athira’, and she did not want to give away.
My head began to spin. Could it be so? I kept telling me it was not, but a voice within me told I may be wrong. If she indeed was Athira, that would mean that the Muslim class mate to whom she had a ‘soft corner’ was none other than me. For, there were no other Muslims in our class. She had told me she studied at a reputed school at Pattom. Kendriya Vidyalayas do belong to the top bracket schools in the country, and the one at Pattom were I, that is we, studied is one of the best.
I closed my eyes. I was too tired to think. An image of a full moon appeared in my mind. It always does, whenever I feel down. I started praying, this time the most sincerely I have ever done. I wished all this was just my imagination. I cannot bear to think it was Athira I talked to and she had a liking to me. I hope Neha would call me one fine day and declare we could be good friends. One call from her, and it could end my misery. Would it come?
I am waiting.